Saturday, December 19, 2009

Tuning the Congas

Today I tuned my congas for the first time.

The main things I learnt were:
  • The quinto is tuned to a high-E
  • The conga is tuned to C
  • The tumba is tuned to G
Recall that the quinto is the smallest of the three, and the tumba is the largest (the bass drum).

If you are just starting out like me, chances are you bought just a pair of congas. If that's the case, you most likely purchased a quinto-conga set.

I own a couple of electronic tuners (from my old days of playing guitar - badly). So, I just used these to play the appropriate pitch per drum, and then tuned the drums in accordingly. If you own a metronome, there might also be a pitch feature that will do the trick.

In terms of performing the tuning, here's what I learnt:
  • Try to keep all the fasteners to approximately the same setting (i.e. don't purposely have one side of the drum way out of balance with the other).
  • Tighten/fasten all fasteners in a row... i.e. don't tighten one on one side of the drum, then move to a fastener on the other side.
  • It only takes a slight adjustment of each fastener to make a big difference... i.e. a 1/32nd of a turn on each fastener can raise the pitch of the drum by more than a note.
  • Make sure that all sections of the drum have the same pitch. Check this by placing your finger in the centre of the drum, then strike an open tone on the rim just above each fastener. Adjust as necessary.
Some people say that you should detune your drums each night to take the pressure of the skins... but I don't bother. Other's say to just detune the quinto (the one that is tightened the most)... again I don't bother... but maybe I would if I owned better congas with real skins.

Another bit of advice is that the weather can affect drum skins. I don't think this is too much of an issue for synthetic skins, but if the humidity changes greatly over the course of a day, and you are using natural skins, you might find that you have to tune up or down the skins. Also, if the humidity drops suddenly, I would consider detuning any natural quinto skin... as that could really contract... I think.

Here are some useful videos to watch:
Good luck, and remember... if it sounds way too high... it probably is... detune it before it breaks :)


  1. Nice sharing... I like salsa dancing.

  2. Congas are the moderator of salsa dancing. Without this, dancing salsa would be impossible. It is all in the hands of the instrument player.

  3. Salsa is a syncretic dance form with origins from Cuba and Puerto Rico. It is fast becoming a global phenomenon.
    Private Dance Lessons