After many agonizing months of decision making, you have finally realized that you need a set of bongo drums!
Perhaps you are an aspiring Afro-Cuban percussionist or a multi-instrumentalist looking to expand, or maybe even the rhythms of the bongo have been intermittently haunting your dreams!
Whatever the excuse, we are here to help you find the best bongo drum for your skill level, playing needs, and budget! So read on to find which best ten bongos will give you the most bang for your buck.
Signature Bongos with Ash Shells, 7-1/4" and 8-5/8" Natural Rawhide Heads, Gold Tone Hardware, and Comfort Curve II Rims - Natural.
When you are buying any instrument, it is wise to at least have the basics down before making a purchase.
The average reader of this article is likely a beginning or intermediate player of the bongo, so a little review of the fundamentals can’t hurt!
The exact history of the bongo drum is not very clear, but we do know it was first documented in Cuba and has its roots in central and west African drums.
The most important aspect of the bongo is that it is one of many instruments in the Afro-Cuban percussion family. European music focused on the beat, while African and Caribbean styles focused more on the offbeat and syncopation.
If you like funk, dance, pop, and basically any music genre that gets you moving… you have Afro-Cuban polyrhythms to thank!
Bongo drums are not to be confused with other styles of drums like the conga. Bongos are always two small drums connected together.
Because they are smaller, they make higher-pitched sounds compared to conga drums. Both bongo drums are the same height but slightly different diameters, the small one (macho) from 6-8 inches and the larger drum (hembra) 6-10 inches.
In the early days, they were made of mostly wood and animal skins, but now you will see many popular models using plastic, fiberglass, and other modern materials for the head.
Like many musical instruments, you will get what you pay for, being too cheap can leave you with a set of horrible sounding bongo drums!
It is such a simple instrument that some players think they can spend as little as possible and get a bargain. In reality, if you want a great set of bongo drums, then you need to have a decent budget.
Bongos are normally played with the fingers and palms in repeating eighth-note patterns.
There are some very basic bongo rhythms that every new player should know, and it doesn’t hurt to check a few out to get you psyched for your bongo purchase! After a few lessons, you will be ready to try out one of the top bongo sets we’ve listed below.
The Best Bongo Drums at a Glance
|Editor’s Choice||Latin Percussion Galaxy Giovanni|| |
|Runner Up||Pearl Elite Series Oak Bongos|| |
|Budget Pick||Meinl Percussion Headliner Series|| |
The above table shows our top picks. For a more in-depth look at each, be sure to keep reading.
1) Toca Synergy
Afro-Cuban design and sound with EasyPlay hoops.
This is definitely a low budget bongo model; it will not sound that great. It comes in a few different colors, has heads made of rawhide, and a body of plywood.
The smaller drumhead is 6″ and the larger 6 3/4″. At this low price, you are getting close to a kid’s toy drum.
With proper technique and playing, you can hopefully get some larger life out of it. It has plenty of customers who have left happy reviews!
- Very affordable for those on a low budget
- Sleek and colorful style
- Comes with the tool to tighten the heads
- Not that much resonance with plywood
- Better for kids instead of adults
- Tuning may not hold with cheaper hardware
2) Meinl Percussion Journey Series
Bongo Drums with ABS Plastic Construction, 6.5" Macho and 7.5" Hembra Heads, Buffalo Drum Heads, and Tuning Key - Black.
This budget model is made of ABS plastic with buffalo drumheads. The smaller or macho sized head is 6.5,” and the larger or hembra sized head is 7.5″. It also comes with a tuning wrench and adjustable hardware.
As you move up in cost, the sounds and resonance will improve, and your drum will be more suitable for playing in larger crowds. This is one of the best bongos on a budget based alone on great reviews!
- A great model for a low budget
- They look like a quality brand
- The sound you get for the low price is great
- Some players don’t like the sound of plastic
- Only available in matte black
- Not the best option for intermediate players
3) Remo Rhythm Club
Introduces children to rhythm in a fun and engaging way.
This is the lowest budget model on the list, mostly sold as a kids bongo drum. If it weren’t for the many great reviews, this drum would not have made a roundup!
However, there is no denying Remo is a well-known manufacturer and customers clearly love this drum! It is way smaller than other bongo drums at 5″ and 6″ for each head. The best part about the drum is likely the colorful and inclusive design.
- One of the lowest priced but real bongo drums on the market
- Easy to take camping or to outdoor events
- Small and cheap with many happy customers
- Probably best for kids and beginners
- Small heads equal less resonance
- It has a very childish look to it
4) GP Percussion B2
These low budget drums have shells made of hickory and heads made of natural rawhide. The smallest head is 6″ and the larger one 7″ so they are a tiny bit larger than most cheaper models.
They have a tuning wrench included for tightening the tunable heads. Quite simply, this is another model where you may be disappointed with sound quality, try moving up in budget.
- It is often sold out so clearly folks buy it
- For camping and outdoor activities, it works fine
- A great starter instrument to get a student playing
- The materials won’t provide the best sound
- Probably not for a potentially serious player
- A few more bad ratings than most budget models
5) Latin Percussion Aspire Series
6.75" and 8" Siam Oak Bongos with Natural Rawhide Heads and EZ Curve Rims. Havana Cafe with Brushed Nickel Hardware.
Now we are moving into intermediate best bongo models; these are for the players who are looking to commit more towards the craft.
This model’s smaller macho head is 6.75,” and the larger hembra head is 8″. It is made with real rawhide and Siam oak sides. It has a fantastic finish to it and is great for players who care a little more about aesthetics. The Latin Aspire sounds nice and looks nice too!
- More resonance with larger heads
- Siam oak is used in a variety of Latin percussion instruments
- Easy to tune with the included wrench
- The style may not be suitable for all
- Could be larger drumheads for the price
- You may not like the Siam oak tone
6) Meinl Percussion Headliner
Set of 6.75" and 8" Rubber Wood Bongos with Buffalo Heads.
Meinl makes beginning to advanced models of percussion instruments, and this wood bongo series is priced around the intermediate range.
It has rubberwood decorated in a sunburst fashion and comes with buffalo drumheads in the sizes 6.75″ and 8″. Whether you want to play them in a small show or at the campfire, the Headliner series will be a great buy!
- Great mid-budget range for most buyers
- Can be found on many Best Bongo lists
- An excellent buy for a new student
- Some may not care for the vintage sunburst look
- If you don’t like the sound of buffalo drumheads
- Rubberwood may not be the best resonance for you
7) Latin Percussion Matador
Set of 7.25" and 8.625" Bongos with Siam Oak Shells, Natural Heads, and Traditional Rims.
As we move up in price, we find the nice Black Nebula style of Matador bongos by Latin Percussion. They are made of Siam oak and have traditional heads sized 7.25″ and 8.625″.
Like the lower-priced models, it also comes with a tuning wrench and adjustable heads, in this case, with chrome hardware. This is one of the best bongos to buy in the intermediate price range.
- Siam oak provides projection
- Larger size than cheaper bongo models
- A great model if looking to upgrade
- At this price, you need to like the style
- The tone may not be to your liking
- It lacks in customer reviews
8) Latin Percussion E-Class
7.25" and 8.63" Siam Oak Bongos with Rawhide Heads and Comfort Curve II Rims.
As we move up in price, we get into the more professional range of bongos. Despite also being made from Siam oak and authentic rawhide like other models, this particular LP bongo is almost twice the price.
However, the wood is kiln-dried, and of course, far more time is put into the build. The smaller macho head is 7.25,” and the larger hembra head is 8.625″, similar to other models. The E-class label comes from the well-known percussion family, the Escovedo’s.
- A fantastic sounding bongo
- Great for professional use
- The name recognition alone usually means quality
- Like any star sponsored brand you will pay some for the name
- You may not like the style
- If you aren’t a serious player, this may be too high in budget
9) Pearl Elite Series
7" and 9" Thai Oak Bongos with Natural Buffalo Heads and Contour Crown Rims.
Pearl is synonymous with the best drums and percussion instruments out there, and this bongo is no exception. The drums come in 7″ and 9″ sizes made of Thai oak and natural buffalo hides.
They have a warm sound, and the larger than normal hembra drum gives a little more bass to the tone. This Pearl Elite model is gorgeous and absolutely recommended for anyone that has the budget.
- Perfect for professional use
- Very easy to tune with the included wrench
- These look like they cost a lot
- Not the kind to take camping probably
- As usual for that price, you must like the style
- Too high of budget for most players
10) Latin Percussion Galaxy
Signature Bongos with Ash Shells, 7-1/4" and 8-5/8" Natural Rawhide Heads, Gold Tone Hardware, and Comfort Curve II Rims - Natural.
The LP Galaxy is another high-end model that has hardware in both gold and chrome. The gold ones, in particular, give off a very pricey and fancy look. The macho head size is 7.25,” and the hembra size is 8.625″.
They are crafted with kiln-dried wood and natural rawhide drumheads. Like most high-end professional models, these have a lot more work put into them.
If you are especially looking for a fancy looking set of bongos, these will be a great choice.
- Very flashy for those who want that look
- Regardless of flash, they sound great
- Sponsored by another famous percussionist Giovanni Hidalgo
- Perhaps too flashy for some
- For the price, a slightly larger head would be nicer
- Quite expensive for basic bongo needs
Do We Have a Winner?
Of course, your budget and tastes will define the overall winner, but you really can’t go wrong in the $100-$200 price range.
The Meinl Percussion Headliner or the LP Matador would both be great buys for a new student who wants one of the best bongos for a moderate budget.
Just remember the amount you spend will determine whether your bongo is only great for small campfires or loud enough for large crowds! Happy bongo-playing!
Great article! In my opinion, the number one aspect of bongo that make them sound good and desirable is the bearing edge. I have spent $300 for the LP Generation III’s and while they have a good sound and 9″ hembra, they are very painful to play martillo on because of the extremely sharp bearing edge, same with the $300 dandy’s. When you add bearing edge into perspective, the number one bongo on this list in terms of price and professional sound is the Matadors. I dont know why you say that a person might not like the sound of Matadors, they are the most comfortable to play with that professional sound. I have played matador bongo for 7 years, so I can vouch for them. They are the only professional bongo with a fully rounded bearing edge which gives that nice tone to the Martillo. Matadors for the win, everything else on the list is garbage, especially the higher end models because of the new style of bearing edges.
Wow, that’s interesting that there’s a connection between Africa and Cuba, in terms of drums. Definitely enjoy me some hand drums, I’ll have to come back and check this again when I’m ready to grab my first bongo drum. :)
I have to agree w Mike, Matadors are my favorite as well, Ive tried more expensive models but always go back to Matadors. Ive been playing them for over 20 years and love them.
I was disappointed that we didn’t hear the LP Matadors “miked” as we did on the LP Galaxy. To me, the galaxy was by far the best sound of all in the miked video. I’ve played for over 60 years but not professionally for about 40 years and probably never to the level of Miko. I was interested in his comment regarding the comfort of the bearing edge. I found that the more regularly that I played that the tougher and more resistant to pain my hands were. I feel that the bearing edge has a great impact on the sound sharpness of the drum and assume that LP, according to Miko, has a less forgiving edge on their pro-level shells. I want the best sound and can live some discomfort. I might mention that I watch Sully Erna with Godsmack, who I think is one of the best hand drummers that I have ever watched regarding speed and power. I can’t believe that his hands don’t hurt but then again I don’t know. The sound of his hand drums is fabulous. I want to research the bearing edge impact on the drum sound and differences of the edge on the LP models which have always been my choice. Thanks for the good article, Nick with Drum review!
If you are serious about investing in a good bongó, and how they sound, look, material used, manufacturing process, size of the macho or hembra, thickness of head, you ought to consider custom made bongós. Bongó players have LP bongós, Pearl, Meinl, or Tycoon or Toca – which are really good and solid bongos by the way but not mentioned in the article- but just a few bongó players can say my bongos were hand made just for me
They are much more affordable than you think- starting at just $475
You choose what size you want,
Often you choose from a variety of wood to use
You choose the looks; traditional/comfort curved rims, chrome hardware, stain less steel, color, etc etc
Hand made for you
Custom made bongós are a conversational piece
Much more expensive
Definitely not bongós to take on a camping trip