Tricks for mounting a new skin

One thing players often overlook when choosing skins is how they will be mounted.  We have seen many different mounting techniques over the years and here are a few tricks that can help tweak the sound of a new skin:

  • Tight or loose mounting-  Tight mounting means pulling the skin tight across the flesh hoop and really stretching the skin as it’s mounted over the bearing edge.  Loose mounting is where you leave extra slack in the skin so it lays easily over the bearing edge and very little stretching happens during the drying process. Tight mounted skins will be thinner than the original material and tend to have higher volume and less movement during break in.  Loose mounted skins are warmer and can actually end up a little thicker than the starting material.  For instance a loose mounted skin at 1.6mm can dry to 1.8mm thick.
  • Skin drying temperature-  Once wet mounted, drum heads can be dried hot or at room temperature.  Hot drying is very fast and causes the skins to retain their original density and thickness.  It can be done at around 90-100° F.  A small space heater placed in a half bathroom will do the trick.  **BE CAREFUL OF FIRE HAZARDS-SHOWER CURTAINS, ETC!!!**  Room temp drying takes much longer and the skin tends to stretch out more and get thinner as it dries.
  • When mounting a new Premounted head, turn the head upside down like a bowl and put about 1/2″ of warm water in it.  Leave to soak for about 15-30 minutes.  You don’t want it to get wet all the way through, just on the underside where it will conform to the bearing edge of the drum.  After it has soaked, dump out the water and towel dry the skin.  Mount as normal on your drum and leave it to dry for 24-36 hours.

Which skin should I choose for my drum?


The answer is about personal choice- what do you want to feel, and what do you want to hear from your drum.  When choosing a skin, there are three main questions to ask.

  1. What kind of animal?
  2. How is it processed?
  3. How thick should it be?

Every kind of skin produces a different sound and feels different to the hands.  For example, a thick mule skin will be more dense than a calf or cow skin and give less rebound and bounce, but it’s sound will be brighter and have more high end character than the cow.

Now consider how the skin is processed- is it natural or “bleached”?  Drummers refer to skins that are translucent or more colored as “natural” and opaque (from tan to white) skins as “bleached,” though there is no bleach actually involved in the process.  Natural skins are skins that have been dried with a salt type solution and can be with or without hair.  The fibers of naturally processed skins are bound tightly together and vibrate faster, so natural skins are more bright and give high cracking slaps.  Bleached skins have undergone a further process which opens up the fibers and sort of fluffs the collagen fibers and they have often been saturated with oils.  The looser fibers soak up the overtone ring that can be produced by a drum so opaque skins tend to have warmer and more mellow tones and round sustained bass undertones.  There are many different recipes for curing drum skins and each gives its own individual character to the drum.

Skin thickness depends on the size and type of drum- even what setting the drum will be played in.  For example a set of congas for rumba or folkloric music might have thicker warmer heads than a set used for a congas in Timba band.  Generally, thicker skins like to vibrate slower and do very well on larger drums, but putting a very thick skin on a requinto can really muffle the drum’s potential.  As skins get thinner, you get more volume and higher register overtones can become present.  Thickness is really up to personal taste.  Some people really like the very thick skins on every drum and some would rather have skins matched to the drum sizes.




Byron Powell of Island Transfer and Tours, Jamaica

If you’re planning a trip to Jamaica, there’s only one person to contact for your travel arrangements and tours: Byron Powell at Island Transfer and Tours.  Byron knows every inch of the island and his tours are absolutely the best around.  When you meet Byron, you know instantly that you’ve met a friend.  Whether it’s a family trip, honeymoon or just sightseeing, Island Transfer and Tours will make sure your trip to Jamaica is top notch!  They have a fleet of clean, safe and modern vans ready for your group and at very reasonable prices.  Byron is extremely knowledgable, and even knew the answers to my own questions about the trees and wood in Jamaica.  Click the logo to check out Island Transfer and Tours, you’ll be glad you did!  Irie!

New Urban Forestry, LLC and Sustianably Harvested Urban Hardwoods

As a solid-shell drum maker, I am always concerned with the issues of deforestation and poor land management practices.  At Manito Percussion we use sustainably harvested local hardwoods to ensure that our process is as low impact and environmentally friendly as possible.

I recently had the chance to ask my friend John Ritzler a couple quick questions about the advantages of using sustainably harvested local wood.  John is a certified arborist and partner at New Urban Forestry, LLC, the major supplier for the wood used to make my drums.


Manito Percussion: Could you tell us a little about what is meant by sustainably harvested wood and the differences and advantages of urban forestry over agroforestry?

John Ritzler: Sure.  Well if you’re talking about FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) wood products, and you’ll see FSC certified lumber or paper, you’re talking about material that’s been harvested from forested tracts where 2%-5%  of the quality trees are left to reforest on their own.  That’s sustainable forestry in a mainstream, agroforestry enterprise.   But if you’re looking at cities, you’re looking at the fact that only 1-2% of the trees within a city tract of land are going to be harvested in any one year.  US Forest Service tracts are stable.  They are not growing and they’re not shrinking in terms of acreage.  Privately owned forested tracts are shrinking in the United States.  Urban Areas are growing rapidly and the urban forest is a viable concept because where people live, they choose to live with trees.  Period.  If there aren’t trees there, they put them there.  So we’re seeing an urban forest rate that’s growing and a harvest rate of only 1-2% per year.  You’re also going to see that wood material in an urban forest area is going to be much older, have more character and be more interesting because they’re not just growing for a profit cycle, they’re growing for the tree.  The trees are much older now in an urban tract of land than you’ll find in a forested area.

MP: Are there any other aspects of using local urban woods that make it advantageous?

JR: There are a few advantages that I haven’t talked about.  First you get much more species diversity.  You get more character wood that artisans like, but high volume sawmills do not like.  Also because of the age of the trees, you get the big logs.  Modern high volume mills can’t handle big logs.  They are looking for smaller logs, pulpwood logs.  So when I say big log, it’s not just “cool that’s an old tree,” we’re talking about a tree that has had enough time to develop it’s heartwood instead of sapwood.  You can’t do that if you’re trying to grow trees like a crop.  The most famous example is heart pine.  People say “how come the country is running out of heart pine?”  The answer: well, we don’t let pine grow long enough.  So you’re getting yourself better quality material by letting these trees grow to a larger diameter, and that’s what we get from the urban forest.

If you’re in the Northeast GA or Atlanta area and looking for high quality environmentally friendly lumber or wood products, check out New Urban Forestry by clicking the link below.  You won’t be disappointed!


Why Solid Wood Shells?

People often ask me why I make solid shell congas instead of the traditional stave construction.  Though there are many answers to that question, the main reason is simple: Resonance.

Solid shell drums resonate as one, their tone is crystal clear, and the volume is unmatched in comparison to stave drums.  Glue lines and stave edges act as barriers to the sound waves traveling inside the drum shell, which really defeats the woods’ resonance potential.  Add to that the fact that most factory built congas are not only made with stave sections, the individual staves are actually made of 2 or 3 thin strips glued together into plywood.  The density of the glue is much greater than the wood itself, resulting in drum shells with multiple layers of very different densities.  The effect of this on the motion of sound waves inside the drum shells produces very irregular wave patterns which can cancel each other out or worse, add up to a loud annoying overtone ring.  Solid shells create a sound environment that allows the full tonal character of the wood to be projected.

Another important reason is that solid shells allow the full visual beauty of the wood grain to be revealed.  Each and every log hides something gorgeous inside in its natural state.  Some woods like Rainbow Poplar have dramatic mineral streaks within them which enhance the look of the grain with deep purples, blues, and blacks.  Every wood has it’s own visual character and building solid shells allows the full expression of nature’s beauty.