No matter how carefully a set of conga drums is handled, or the amount of time spent playing the congas, these Latin percussion instruments will need to be tuned periodically in order to ensure the best sound and playability. The trick to tuning the congas is not the actual tuning of the drums, but rather the knowing that there is actually no “right” pitch for congas and that each conguero can tune the congas per a personal preference or for a particular song.
To tune the congas, start by loosening the rims of each drum evenly, but not enough to remove the rim entirely. If the rim or drum head seem dirty, quickly wipe away any debris with a damp rag. Begin replacing the rim back on the head of the drum by tightening the lugs in a clockwise or counter clockwise motion, being sure to keep the amount of tension equal between the lugs and the rim level across the head of the drum. While the pitch of the drum is not important, it is important to maintain the same pitch over the entire surface of the drum head. Be sure that the sound is even and equal, and eliminate any sound discrepancies on the drum head by tweaking the tension of the lugs.
After the first drum is tuned, move on to the next drum and tune them in a likewise manner, being sure to test the sound of the drum in relation to the other drums. While it is true that there is no absolute way to tune the congas, it is recommended that they be tuned with an interval of a fourth between each drum. Once the drums are in tune, be sure to play over all areas of the surfaces again to be sure that the entire drum head has an even sound and an open tone when played alone and in comparison with the other drum or drums.
As with most natural-skin drums, loosening the rim after playing the congas can prolong their life. With enough practice and effort, tuning a set of conga drums will become second nature giving the conguero the ability to hone talent and share with others the magic and gift of music.