All three are from bovines- cattle. A cow is a female, a bull is a male and steer is also male, but has been castrated. The main difference in the tonal quality of the skins comes from the level of the testosterone in the animal. Testosterone in bulls produces a thicker, denser, tougher hide.
When it comes to the rawhide, there is very little difference between cow and steer. Most tanners will tell you they can’t tell the difference between them after the hide has been processed. The way that they are processed can make more of a difference in the look, feel and sound than the sex of the animal. I have found that mostly what people want when they ask for cow is a skin that looks lighter in color. The color is due to processing with lime or certain other chemicals, and it also gives a different sound characteristic than the way our steer skins are processed.
Bull rawhide is normally much thicker and harder than steer or cow. I don’t normally use bull for drums because it doesn’t resonate as freely, is harder to get a good sound from, and can be very hard on the hands.
We carry a thin mule skin with hair that is a perfect match for any djembe. For bongo machos, we have changed to using horse skin. Horse is a bit brighter than mule skin, yet it is every bit as tough and tonal.
In the past we offered what we thought were thick mule skins for congas, but a DNA test from a major agricultural university revealed that they have absolutely no horse, mule or donkey genetics. They do have some bovine DNA markers, but it is possible they are actually water buffalo or cow. These skins can perform well especially for the thick conga head aficionados and we do have them in our store.
Pre-Mounted heads are designed to take the work out of stretching your own heads. We mount our premium skins on 1/4″ stainless steel flesh hoops, ready to mount on your drum. With a little preparation, they can be placed right on the drum and be ready to play within 48 hours.
The best way to mount them is first to turn the head upside down like a bowl and place about 1/2″ of warm water in the head for about 30 minutes. This will soften the skin where it meets the bearing edge of the drum and lubricate it a bit for mounting. Tighten the tuning lugs across from each other in pairs until you have it at a medium tuning. You don’t want it loose, but the head isn’t ready for high tuning yet. The head will then mold to the bearing edge and create the perfect fit with the drum. Once mounted, allow the head to dry for 2 days before tuning it up high.
Drum shells can carry an inherent ringing overtone quality depending on the material type, construction method and the dimensions of the shell. For example, fiberglass drums are known to be a bit louder, but usually have a lot of ring. The tonal quality of the drum shell itself can be heard by removing the head, placing your ear next to the shell and LIGHTLY knocking on the drum shell. Be careful because the tone can be very loud right in your ear!
Matching skins to the tonal qualities of the shell is very important in getting the purest sound from the drum. For drums with more high end overtones or rings, a thicker, lower density skin is often preferred. This would include thicker steer white steer, or cow. For drums with a dryer sound, a more lively skin can be used to pull out more tone, sustain and volume from the shell. Medium or medium/thick steer, cow or camel skins are a good choice for this, depending on the size of the drum.
The thickness of skin, no matter what type of rawhide, can make a big difference in the sound of a drum. As the thickness of a drumhead increases, the tones tend to be more muted with a decreased overtone potential and lower volume. When choosing a skin for your drum, the bearing edge or playing surface diameter will help determine the thickness you want.
After over 20 years of experimenting with different skin types and thicknesses, we recommend the following:
For Quintos in the 10.5″ to 11″ range: 1.6mm-1.8mm
For Congas in the 11″ to 11 3/4″ range: 1.8mm – 2mm
For Tumbas in the 12″ to 13″ range: 2mm-2.2mm
For Super Tumbas over 13″: 2.2mm+
For Requintos or Rumba Quintos thickness can vary. A thicker head will give a drier Rumba type sound. A thinner skin will have more of a bell quality that’s great for a full conga setup.
All of that said, the most important factor in choosing a skin is knowing what type of sound you are looking for. Individual preferences vary all over the map.
Remember, a thinner skin will tend to be louder, brighter and have more overtones. A thicker skin will tend to soak up overtones and have very smooth and warm open tones.
To mount flat or rolled skins on your drum, it is important to have a large enough skin size to make it easy. Having a slightly larger skin can make the difference between an easy job and a struggle.
We recommend the following sizes:
For up to 9 3/4″ Requinto – 16″ or 18″ skin.
For 9 3/4″- 11″ Quinto – 18″ or 20″ skin.
For 11″ up to 12 1/2″ Congas and Tumbas – 20″ skin.
Over 12 1/2″ Tumbas and Super Tumbas – 22″ skin.
We spend a lot of time choosing the right suppliers and building long term relationships with the most skilled tanners we can find. A great deal of time is spent sampling new skins from processors, and we only choose the best skins for our drums and yours. We cut whole cow, steer and horse hides into rounds that are A+ quality so our customers don’t have to worry about receiving skins that are of inferior quality. There is often a good deal of loss and extra skin from whole hides that we just can’t use for a variety of reasons. At Manito Percussion, we also offer a very liberal exchange and refund policy to make sure that the skins our customers receive are exactly what they want for their drums. Our quality and prices reflect a commitment to you, the musicians dedicated to the art of drumming!
Having an even thickness is important in choosing any skin, but some small variation is ok and sometimes preferable. I know, some of the drummers out there just gasped! I’m not a big fan of sanded or planed skins which are processed to have perfectly even thickness. There is something too clear that happens in the tone, a sort of loss of warmth. I often compare it to the way Pan Flutes are made in Peru. When they’re first tuned it’s to perfect intervals. They then go back and push the tuning ever so slightly out of perfection because it just sounds better, more organic to our ears. Much like the gain knob on an amplifier, it gives the skin some growl and meatiness that feels and sounds more natural and less processed.
Yes. We are happy to exchange any skins and PreMounted heads that are in original condition. When you receive your flat or rolled skins, be sure to check them over. If you have any concerns let us know. Remember, soaked and cut skins are not eligible for exchange.
Modern conga and bongo hardware is comprised of several metal parts.
The CROWN is the very top metal rim that has “V” or “U” shaped pieces that the tuning lugs attach to. This is an example of a crown:
The Flesh Hoop is the smaller ring that goes inside the skin. Our flesh hoops are made of 304 stainless steel and TiG welded for extra strength. This is a flesh hoop:
There is a simple way to measure the crown of your conga, bongo or other hand drum. If you’re ordering a flesh hoop, we will need some measurements from your drums.
By removing the heads and crowns of your drums and taking pictures like these, we will be able to determine the perfect size to make your custom flesh hoop or crown.
Follow the simple steps as shown in the pictures below for traditional crowns.
For rounded comfort crowns, follow this method:
For the modern comfort crowns:
For half-round crowns: