Buying a new doumbek
I can tell that you are thinking about buying a doumbek. Sweet!
Here are a few tips so that you can be happy with the new drum!
- Avoid buying any drum without playing THAT drum.
First and foremost, do your absolute best to buy only those drums that you have actually held in your hands and played. Online sellers, be it an auction site or online store, provide a valuable service and some are quite reliable. But even with that said, if you haven’t heard it, you cannot know if you will truly be happy with it. Doumbeks are nearly always hand made. Even those that are cast aluminum are going to be slightly different from each other. Different batches of aluminum, different guy that poured the mold, different guy that did the drilling and threading, etc… No two are alike.
So, not only do you want to make sure that it has a good sound to begin with, but more importantly, a sound that you enjoy hearing. When it comes to practicing, and performing, with a drum the simple truth is you will not pick up an instrument that you do not like. Buying the drum you know you like is crucial.
- Take a very close look at the drum body.
Make sure that there is no visible damage. The first step is to check the opening on the bottom of the drum. It should be perfectly round. If it is oval, or has a flat spot, that means the drum has been cast poorly, or worse, taken a fall or been hit to cause it to be misshapen.
This kind of damage nearly always means the body of the drum is cracked, and a cracked drum body will produce a buzzing sound when hit. You can test for a cracked body by flicking the drum body with your fingertip. It should produce a soft, clear bell like tone. Any buzz, or muffled sound, indicates a crack.
While checking the body make sure that the drum’s finish is in good condition. There should be no rough spots, or sharp areas where someone forgot to sand it smooth. The paint/enamel/inlay work should be smooth to the touch, and thickly laquered.
- Inspect the rim.
The rim should be flat and even with the drum head. If the drum head is raised or recessed, even a small bit, it will greatly effect the sound of your Teks and Kas. Such imperfections can also make those techniques more difficult, or even painful, to play.
The countersink holes for the bolts that hold the head to the body should be smooth, and have no burrs or rough spots. The bolts should be well recessed. Very little hurts more than smacking the underside of your knuckle on a bolt head while playing a Tek. I personally once ruptured one of the small veins on my ring finger doing that, and trust me, it not only hurt like madness, but it took weeks to heal.
- Inspect the inner rim, or seat, of the drum.
Ask the drum owner, or clerk, to take the rim off so you can look at the inner rim. If they won’t do that, it is a bad sign. Think of it like someone selling you a car that minds lifting up the hood.
Watch them remove the rim. Did they have trouble with the bolts? Bad sign if they did, because it means you probably will too.
Once the rim is off, check that the inner rim is smooth and flat. Any bumps or dips produce gaps between the inner rim and the drum head, and that can cause buzzing. Be sure there are no burrs that might cause the drum head to wear out prematurely.
Look to see if there are nuts that the bolts thread into, or if they simply thread directly into the drum body. Nuts usually means a higher quality drum, and are less likely to produce buzzing, or strip out later.
Watch the clerk put the rim back on. Did they have trouble lining up the bolts? Did it take a long time to get it to tune back up? Bad sign if it did, because it means you will too.
- Take a look at the drum head itself.
There should be no tears, rough spots, wrinkles, or holes. Ask what material it is. Unless you are specifically looking for it avoid fish-skin. Make sure that the drum comes with a spare head, as well as the allen wrench for tuning or changing the drum head.
- Get a good case for it.
Most drums come with fairly cheap cases. Thin nylon, bad stitching, no pockets or straps, etc… Your local music store will have a better selection. If you can, you might even go to the surplus/camping store in town, buy a nice canvas duffel bag, and line it with good quality foam for protection.
- Make sure you pay a fair price.
Here is where the online options really help you. You can go to your local drum shop, or the vendor at the fair or festival you are at, and have an idea of what you can reasonably expect to pay before you ever pick up a drum.
If this is the first doumbek you are buying you can get a very nice quality drum for between $100-$150 dollars. The more detailed finishes tend to be more expensive, as more labor produced them.
I recommend a standard sized doumbek (17″ tall) with an aluminum body, a painted finish with a single solid color, nice and thick laquer, and mylar heads.
These are fairly indestructable, will give you a great sound, and will literally last for decades. I still play the first one that I got. It is still the first drum I pick up for nearly any gig, and certainly for anything involving the outdoors or travel.