“How on earth do I make a choice when there are 742 djembes to choose from? This is simply not possible!”
Relaaax, aight? There are simple ways to get this question sorted out. Follow me.
Since the two types of djembes are both found in less expensive and more expensive form, it’s a good idea to start picking your style of djembe first. You got pretty much two options: rope-tuned or key-tuned. Let’s check out the OG style – the rope-tuned djembe.
Originally, the djembe was tuned using a specific pattern with ropes. The ropes were put around a for-real for-real wooden shell, thus making the animal skin on top go under severe pressure. It’s obviously a legit way of tightening the instrument and it’s been done ’til this day (I’m writing this on a Friday, for example). Anywho – the trouble with ropes and animal skin is that this stuff moves. And quite a bit. So be ready to tighten you drumhead with those ropes after a year or so.
If you take good care of your djembe, it stay in tune for longer. Don’t bring your rope-tuned djembe outside when it’s raining. Don’t leave it next to a fireplace for too long. Don’t leave in in the sun for… oh, wait – it was made and played in sunny climates… okay, you can leave it in the sun. Just make sure to use a cream with SPF 30 or stronger. And if you really mess up your djembe with sun screen then it’s not my fault. Just laugh at the joke, don’t take it literally and move on.
Now, the second style is the new school shizzle. That’s the oh-we-don’t-do-no-ropes style. Because we are now using a key-tuned system. Yes, the basic square shaped drum key is what’s used to tune the djembe. In my experience, a key-tuned djembe needs tension adjusting every 2-3 years. Meaning, it holds its position of power like an African dictator. Firmly.
So, next up – size. Forget the height of the djembe. Go with the diameter of the drumhead. The minimum is 12 inches and you probably don’t need a bigger diameter then 14 inches. The latter is what I use mostly since it has such a great bass character and also isn’t lacking the top end high pitched sound. My cup of tea has been a 14 inch Remo djembe for more that 15 years.
The prices are from 100-400 USD, roughly speaking. Nowadays, even a 100 USD djembe made from fibreglass can sound pretty awesome. The 12 and 14 inch Remo djembes are around 300-400 USD outside the United States. Since Remo drums are made in USA they can be less expensive inside their country of origin.
My suggestion is that you let the goat keep its skin, let the tree keep its trunk and keep your own life simple by not dealing with ropes. Till this day, I have not found a better djembe than a Remo product.