By Contributing Author Dango
Whether you’re a beginner percussionist or have been at it for a while, we’ve got you covered with the best bongos available for all experience levels.
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Bongos are probably the most recognizable hand drums that anyone can think of.
From seeing them in cartoons as a small child, to elementary music class, to seeing them in mainstream media today, most people are familiar with these drums.
Originally from Afro Cuban descent, bongos are two small drums together that have an open bottom and are different sizes, traditionally 7 and 8.5 inches, or close to those specs.
People often confuse congas and bongos, and some people mistakenly call all hand drums bongos.
Traditionally, these small drums were made of wood and covered with a calfskin head. Today they are made from wood or fiberglass, and still have calfskin heads on the high-end models, and some synthetic heads on the lower-end models.
Today we’re looking at the best mainstream options for bongos that are available worldwide.
6 Best Bongo Drums
Bongos originated in the 19th century in South America, but have spread in popularity all over the world, being used in almost every genre of music.
There are a lot of small companies making drums today and some percussion can be found still being made totally authentically by hand in South America.
The leaders in most world percussion are LP- Latin Percussion, Meinl, Gon Bops, and Toca. You can sometimes find a great small company but I stay with the big ones because they’re reputable and can deal with repairs, replacements, warranty issues, etc.
I tour so much and can’t afford to have a part break that requires a 6 month wait for repairs. I want to go into any drum shop and be able to get what I need.
So for our purposes, we’re going to look at the best bongos available from mainstream brands.
LP Galaxy Giovanni Bongos
- Premium North American Ash shells
- 7-1/4" and 8-5/8" natural rawhide heads
- Natural finish with chrome hardware
Giovanni Hidalgo is one of the most famous percussionists of all time, and his signature line of products with LP are some of the best available.
He has a whole series with congas, bongas, and other products.
These drums are made from premium North American Ash and feature natural rawhide heads.
They are available in chrome or gold hardware. These are some of the best sounding bongos I have ever played.
Meinl Percussion Free Ride Series Woodcraft Bongos
- Woodcraft Series bongos — fit for any touring or recording musician, along with serious hobbyists, the Meinl Woodcraft Series bongos are built with special features like thicker rims, resonance...
- American white ash stave shells (antique mahogany burst finish, gloss) — solid American white ash staves are assembled based on uniform qualities like color and grain for a consistent sound — the...
- True Skin cow skin heads for a classic, warm sound — outfitted with Meinl True Skin cow heads, their response leans toward more warmth and depth along with superb mid-range tone and an outstanding...
Meinl has a lot of great options of congas and bongos. I selected these as a top pick because they are very high-end, and also versatile.
Made from American White Ash stave shells and Meinl True Skin Cow heads, this setup is 7 and 9 inches. These are a great addition to any percussion setup.
Meinl has a lot of nice finishes as well on their various models of congas. This set is definitely worth checking out!
Toca Custom Deluxe Bongos
- Asian Oak with a high gloss finish
- Contoured shell bongos for comfortable playing
- 7” & 8-1/2” bongos
Toca has made great percussion products for a long time. They make their products overseas in Asia and are able to keep their prices down a little lower than the other companies because of it.
These drums are made from Asian Oak and feature a natural bison head. They are 7 and 8.5 inches, and come in a few different colors.
These also sound nice for a little less investment than the Meinl and LP options. They aren’t quite as fancy and don’t have as many cool finishes, but still a solid choice.
Gon Bops Lenny Castro Signature Series Bongos
- Asian Oak Shells
- Teardrop Comfort Top Rings
- Natural Rawhide Heads with Lenny Castro hand-drawn skull logo
Here’s another signature line based on one of the all-time greats in world percussion.
These drums come in 7 and 8.5 inches and a very cool finish with skulls and detailed artwork. They are made from Asian Oak and have water buffalo heads.
These also sound excellent and may be my favorite looking on the list.
I don’t know if I could justify the $400 and pay more than LP or Meinl, but they’re great drums.
LP Compact Bongos with Mount
- Special aluminum alloy
- Full-size 7-1/4" and 8-5/8" heads
- Drum key tunable
These are a super cool and unique product from LP. They are basically bongo heads floating on a rim, with no shell.
They have somehow figured out a way to make these sound great and be super compact and easy to travel with.
These can easily be used for gigs or sessions and are not a beginner set. They were designed by Giovanni and are a great replacement option for bongos.
LP City Series Bongos
- Siam Oak shells
- Black powder-coated hardware
- 9/32" lugs
LP’s City series is their entry-level line for beginning players. These are only about $100 and will be a great first set for any percussionist learning to play.
Made from Siam Oak Shells and rawhide heads, they’re also available in a couple different colors.
This sunburst is my favorite of their options and looks the most expensive to me.
It’s worth mentioning that these drums are smaller than normal, at 6 and 7 inches. These can easily be played by an adult, but the size lends itself to children also.
They aren’t fancy and won’t sound as good as the others on this list, but this set will make a great budget-friendly option for beginners.
What Size Bongos Should I Get?
Personally, I don’t think the size matters all that much when buying bongos. Most players will only own one set, and it may be in addition to congas.
Whether you get slightly smaller or slightly bigger, they won’t sound like congas either way. There is such a distinct difference in the tone and depth of bongos and congas.
The different brands also make some different sizes in competing drums so unless you’re an authentic hand percussionist, you probably won’t notice much difference unless they’re right next to each other if you’re playing 6 and 7, vs 7 and 8.5.
I would recommend choosing based on sound first and appearance second.
What’s the Difference Between Bongos and Congas?
The main difference between bongos and congas is their size.
They are drastically different because congas are so much taller as well as having a larger diameter.
Congas also have to sit in baskets or on a stand. Bongos are often on a stand when accompanying congas, but they can also just be played in your lap.
The beauty of bongos is their small size and ease of use and travel. Bongos naturally have significantly higher pitches than congas, as you would expect.
Once you learn the difference, there’s really no way to confuse them.
Things to Consider When Buying Bongos
Bongos can be a great addition to a setup, whether you’re a drum set player or a percussionist.
They can be played with your hands, rods, mallets, or even sticks. They are a cheaper and an easier option than congas and can add some Latin flair into any style of music.
They are easy to play basic rhythms on which is a nice plus if you’re layering them for recording, even if you aren’t trained in authentic Latin.
If you don’t own much percussion gear then it will often come down to bongos or a cajon as your first purchase. I would probably lean towards the cajon first based on what I do, but you could go either way depending on your needs.
Our Top PickS for Best Bongos:
I favor LP products and will always play their stuff, however I don’t think you can go wrong with any of the bongos on this list.
If you can, try to go to a drum shop and check some out. Or if you’re ordering online, remember that most retailers will allow you to return items, so you can order more than one to try out and send back the ones you don’t want to keep (just be sure to verify the return policy beforehand).
My favorite set we looked at is the LP Galaxy Giovanni Bongos. Any of their LP series are all killer and there’s several different looks available. I don’t think you will be disappointed investing in any of these.
As for a great budget option, check out the City series from LP in the sunburst fade.
Enjoy expanding your setup!