Remo, Inc. has been at the center of drum and percussion innovation for a long time, and the company has a history of not only creating unique products to fill the un-filled niches, but also of building on its own successes and reinventing its inventions in ways that are both surprising and fun. You can trace the history of the new Versa drums from the recent NSL (Not So Loud) line of educational hand percussion and 2007’s Modular Drum, all the way back to the PTS (Pre-Tuned) heads first introduced in the 1980s. All the innovation and forethought Remo’s design team put into those inventions comes together in the new Versa line.
The Versa drums seem to be aimed at a few key and perhaps under-served markets. School systems, educators, music therapists, and drum-circle facilitators will find the flexibility, light weight, portability, and eye-catching color of the Versa drums a winning and affordable combination. Percussion students on a budget and professionals alike, however, will have an interest in the sheer amount of “drum” one can get out of a set of three Versas.
If you’re looking for variety of tone, the Versa drums might be just what the doctor ordered. There are three Versa drum shells in the basic line – the Djembe, Timbau, and Tubano. While all three have different shapes and slightly different lengths, all three drums share the same head circumference (13"), and the pretuned drumheads are interchangeable. Three drums come in a set, with an additional fourth NSL head available; also, each pretuned head can be used separately as a stand-alone frame drum. That gives the hand percussionist four different tunings and tonal options for each drum shell, plus use of the heads individually, for a total of 16 different “drums” with a set of three Versas! The heads pop on and off very easily; a simple tool (called the Versa Tool) is used to remove them quickly. Changing tuning on the fly on the gig or at school is simple; there are no lugs to turn and no ropes to tighten, and no extra keys or hammers are needed. When it’s time to break down the gig or store the instruments, the Versa drums can “nest” one inside the other when the heads are removed.
The soprano drum in the Versa choir is the djembe, which stands approximately 23" tall, with a traditional tapered-cup shape. The tenor drum is the timbau, based on the Brazilian conga/ashiko-type instrument popular with samba drummers, and it is the tallest of the Versas at nearly 25". A Remo invention, the Tubano (a tubular conga-type shell with a sound reminiscent of a traditional tumba) rounds out the drum choir – filling the roll of bass drum tonally, it stands almost 24".
Each shell is made from Acousticon, Remo’s proprietary synthetic material created from 100 percent recycled wood fiber, with a coated-rubber interior and a protective rubber ring at the bottom (except the Tubano, which has four rubberized feet). This gets the shell off the floor, which helps with projection and bass resonance, and also alleviates the need for an additional stand or to tip the drum while playing. The other two will need to be held between the legs or used with a stand (which I am told is a forthcoming accessory) for a seated playing position, but all three can also be used while standing with the included strap. They are very light as well, so the backaches associated with using other drums while standing and moving about do not come into play here. The Tubano comes in a fire-y orange finish, the djembe is light brown, while the timbau is a luminescent green; it is also available in a special multicolored Carnaval finish. There are only two bolts protruding from each side of the shell of each Versa – these are for leverage when inserting the included Versa tool for quickly and easily swapping heads.
The Versa heads themselves come in four varieties. Three of them feature Remo’s SkynDeep synthetic hide texture. The fourth is an NSL head for quiet practicing or very low-level jamming. This could come in handy not only in educational settings, but also for apartment dwellers, students still living at home, or on un-plugged coffeehouse gigs that require a very reserved approach to volume. The SkynDeep drumheads are designated TF-20, TF-15, and TF-10, from lowest to highest pitch – TF stands for “taper fit.”
The Versa line seems to be well-suited to educational and therapeutic utilization – they are tough and can take a beating from well-meaning but over-enthusiastic students, and can be played with the hands or even light mallets. Kids (of both the young and old variety) really seem to like the colors and finishes of these drums, too; you’ll get lots of requests to try them. But professionals, drum circle facilitators and participants, and worship team percussionists shouldn’t overlook the versatility, portability, and value that a Versa drum package has to offer.
While the SkynDeep drumheads do not have the resonance or tactile response of a genuine calfskin or goatskin head, they are more than playable, and have a unique texture and “give” all their own. Once a player acclimates to the feel of the synthetic heads, all types of tones are possible – they responded well when creating open tones, slaps, muted tones, and finger strokes. The djembe produces a surprising amount of bass for its size, and the timbau could be a decent substitute for a conga in a pinch (with a much smaller footprint on-stage). While not as distinctive sounding as either the timbau or the djembe, my favorite was the Tubano. I liked the beefy tone it had with open strokes and palms, and there is something about the tuning of the TF-20 SkynDeep head matched with the Tubano shell that makes it seem like the most sonorous of the possible pairings that the Versa line offers – the Tubano could fit into a number of musical contexts and sound “right.”
One feature that I found to be a utilitarian “luxury” – the Acousticon shells are very light, but strong. They were easy to move around, and when I tried each drum with the included “Ricardo” strap, it was very comfortable to move and play, something that would be helpful for those needing to stand and/or walk with the drum for extended periods. The shells also stood up to multiple student interactions, and while most of my review time with these drums was in the classroom or with small circles, I’d have no worries about taking them to a gig, rehearsal, or outdoor drum circle event. The only issue regarding live performance is that they don’t project as well as some larger drums with more organic shells and heads – the Versas would need to be miked-up in a live band situation.
These are nice, simple, easy to play, lightweight, good looking and decent sounding hand drums. For the educator, therapist, or percussionist on-the-go, the Versa drums could be a real boon (or is that “boom?”).
Three styles/sizes – djembe, timbau, and Tubano, in various colors/finishes; Acousticon shells with internal protective coating and rubber feet/protector rings; one SkynDeep drumhead, Versa tool, and drum strap included; NSL head and other SkynDeep/TF heads sold separately.