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Servicing your djembe

Paul Marshall (c) 2002

Just as your car requires a service to mend any faults or to prevent faults occurring, a djembe will require periodic maintenance to ensure that it stays in good playing condition. 

Occasional checks

  • Is the skin in good condition overall, are there any nicks or cuts that could rip?  If there are, keep an eye on them.  If there is significant damage, consider replacing the skin;

  • Does the skin still produce a good tone? If the drum has become dull and tonally lifeless, the skin may have reached the end of its playing days, either play it 'til it drops or retire it;

  • Is the edge at the top of the drum flat? use your eyes and your fingers to check.  If there are any significant inconsistencies in the edge, you need the full service to rectify them;

  • Is the rope in good condition? is there any fraying or signs of weakness?  Keep an eye on damaged ropes, they will rarely give way unless cut but should be replaced at the next re-heading;

  • Are the welds in the metal rings sound (as far as you can see)?.  If the welds are starting to crack or give, make investigations into having new rings made either by yourself or at a local engineering facility.

  • Are there any cracks anywhere in the shell? the base of the stem can be prone to this. 

  • How many rows of horizontal knots do you have in?  If you have 3 rows or more, I suggest that you remove all the horizontal knots and tighten the verticals as far as you can before re-installing a few knots to bring it up to playing pitch.

 

Full Service.

Having the head off the drum allows the player to adjust, repair and replace elements of the drum.

  • Bearing edge. This is a critical factor in the drum's sound.  This is the very top of the drum where your hand strikes.  It should be absolutely level.  There is a page on re-working the bearing edge of a djembe.

  • If your drum skin is damaged or old, consider re-heading a djembe, it is a straightforward but time consuming task.  What about skins?

  • If your vertical ropes are damaged and need replaced read about re-heading a djembe,

  • If you are want to know about the roping (and tuning) of a djembe read about the beautiful Mali weave

  • Minor cracks can be treated with woodglue and sawdust mix.  Collect the sawdust from sanding the inside of the drum.  If there is more significant damage then you may consider using epoxy to stick it with webbing to hold the bits together apart from that seek a specialist.

  • If you   have many rows of knots and the drum still isn't high-pitched enough, you need to take all the knots out and re-tension the verticals. Read about it in the Mali weave.

  • Some advocate the application of wood oil to the shell, I think this is useful to stop the drum totally drying out and potentially cracking.

  • I can't help you with the welding, sorry.