Great skins or heads on cheap drums – okay, it may sound like a contradiction in terms, but consider this for a moment – if the issue were congas, it's of course a different story; but because bongos require a fraction of the wood or fiberglass that congas consume, the overall sound quality depends more on the skin and the player than the drum's body or even its hardware system. So again, consider the idea of not spending hundreds for upper echelon bongo drums. Instead buy a pair of the cheapies featured on this list for $100, and if the diameters match, invest in some quality hide or synthetic Remos. You should grab a mirror to check out the look of pleasant surprise that formulates on your face once you start playing! Even without high quality heads, the bongo drums here are pretty darn decent for extremely low prices.
Toca Traditional Series Bongo Drums
Toca Sheila E. Player's Series Bongo Drums
Pearl Primero Bongo Drums
GP Bongo Drums
LP Aspire Fiberglass Bongo Drums
LP Matador Wood Bongo Drums
LP 200XF Fiberglass Bongo Drums
Meinl Free Ride Series Wood Bongo Drums
Pearl Bobby Allende Signature Bongo Drums
Toca Rafael Padilla Signature Bongo Drums
These are $150 but well worth it. Toca makes the best affordable drums, and the Traditional Series is a perfect example. Even without the skin upgrade recommended in the introduction, these are a joy to play. They feel and sound like bongos of old, a terrific break from today's over-sized trend in bongo drums. The best is the traditional rims, which are unfortunately rare to find as a factory-issued design. Toca's Traditional bongos are a great low-cost option for professional bongoseros. Beginners will get a set that they'll get great use out of for years and years. These are very well made.
Sheila and Toca have done it again! These are unbelievably solid, no-nonsense bongos that are perfect for beginners. They're not too heavy, come with traditional rims and again, sound impressive for a $100 instrument. Sheila E. Player's Series bongo drums have a 7-inch diameter macho and 8.5-inch hembra, which makes them appropriately sized for synthetic heads. They really sound great with Remo Nuskyn heads. Construction on these is very sturdy, including four carriage bolts with each drum's side plate.
Pearl has really earned its reputation as a top maker of drums and percussion. These affordable Primero bongo drums indicate a company that really has its stuff together, as well as being soundly in touch with consumer's needs. For the beginning bongosero, these drums are just about tailor-made. Primeros are nearly clones of the Toca Sheila E. Player's bongos, save for the curved instead of traditional rims. Like Sheila's Player's, these are right for Remo heads. Synthetic Nuskyn heads make these bongos sound amazing, just about as good as expensive, hand-crafted drums. For under $100, these should be considered by anyone curious about bongos.
GP is one of those no-name brands that has a tendency to surprise with bits of low-cost excellence. It's actually the Sam Ash house brand. These hickory bongos are amazingly solid in both design, manufacturing and sound. The hardware is a little on the heavy side, but the rims are comfort-curved and less brutal on a beginner's hands than traditional rims may be. The biggest surprise from GP is the smooth, very playable skins that come with these drums. That's a plus because synthetic heads only come in 7- and 7.25-inch diameters for the macho. Like GP drum sets, these inexpensive bongos go a long way for such a small fee.
Here's the biggest-selling cheap bongo around – the fiberglass upgrade, that is. No other percussion maker in history has been so successful and long-standing, and it's nice they've upgraded the dreadful wood Aspire line with this awesome low-cost fiberglass option. A slight drawback here is that pros seeking a great workhorse or practice set won't be able to synthesize the macho skin because of the 6.75-inch diameter. The 8-inch hembra, though, will accommodate a Remo head. These are nicely lightweight for fiberglass and definitely priced to move at less than $100. These are great as a stand-mounted drum kit accessory because of the added volume from playing them with sticks.
Meet the prototype for the modern bongo. Matadors are LP's unsung heroes, their design reflects the first generation of products that put this trailblazing percussion company on the map in the late-1960s. The wood is trusty Siam oak, the same as most of LP's standard-setting drums. The no-frills, no-nonsense design is what's best about these, it's what makes them lighter than anything else on this list. Matador bongos even come with superior stock rawhide skins compared to LP's more expensive models with water buffaloes. And with higher quality synthetic or custom-made mule or rawhide heads, Matadors truly project the sound of vintage salsa like no other. Viva el Matador!
If you need to be loud and that means just about any bongosero today who works with, or sometimes against powerful amplifiers these LP fiberglass wonders are it. The tone is by no means too bright or ringy. They really scream when tuned high and tight but also demonstrate excellent tonal versatility toward the low end. The hembra especially impresses with it's tonal versatility. This is a set of bongo drums salsa players will love because of the relatively dry tone they put out compared to lots of other fiberglass bongos. They're also extremely durable, again, this is a great choice for player's who gig and tour often.
The only reason these don't rank higher is because taking them out of the house could mar their breathtaking, wavy-grain finish. Meinl continues to amaze with the Free Ride bongos. First of all they're completely handmade from white ash wood, hence the inflated price. But the really interesting aspect of these is the patented Free Ride Suspension System there's no center block with a big screw through it holding the drums together! So, hence, no unexpected loosening in the middle of a gig. Meinl's reputation for superbly tough hardware comes through here as well.
Remo Fiberskyn 3 heads are stock on these beautiful Bobby Allende signature bongos by Pearl. Other than Remo's bongos, which do sound nice but are ridiculously heavy, no other company provides Remo heads on their drums direct from the factory. Bobby Allende signature bongos are great live because of impressive projection power, and in the studio, their responsiveness and flexible tunability really come in handy. These bongos are light, loud and are some of the loveliest fiberglass drums to be found. Pearl calls the finish "Café Con Leche," which gives these fiberglass drums a warm, natural appearance.
These are a steal for only $150, kudos to Toca! It's an unfortunate rarity to find such quality for such a low price, especially for a signature item. Rafael Padilla is a pop player, but his drums are very traditional -- a great throwback design. These are amazingly sensitive and responsive, great for recording thanks to their dynamic responsiveness. This is mainly due to the reduced diameters compared to most contemporary bongo drums, which also makes them very ergonomic. Bongoseros who prefer to play with taste and dynamics rather than ferocity should give these a shot.