All congas may look similar but they are not created equal! Although most congas are manufactured in Bangkok, Latin Percussion congas (including the brands LP, LP Matador & LP Aspire & CP) are quite unique. Every detail of the design and construction of Latin Percussion congas is the result of collaboration with the world's greatest designers, musicians and craftsmen. With 40 years of experience, LP has learned to pay attention to even the smallest detail. You might wonder what makes an LP brand conga superior. Hopefully, the following information will answer the big question:
Why buy Latin Percussion?
In this first part we'll take a look at the type of wood used and creation of the conga. Part two will go into detail regarding the LP finish and the type of hardware. Lastly, we'll follow up with a brief summary. So lets start from the beginning and go through the production process.
The Beginning...The Wood
Several types of wood are used in making the different models of wood congas. Whatever type of wood that is used, the most important characteristics are sound quality, strength and durability.
Latin Percussion congas are made from plantation grown wood. By using renewable resources LP protects the world's forests. This helps insure adequate wood supply to produce congas for generations to come. The wood is sorted and graded; only top quality wood is used. LP brand congas must not only look good but also stand up to diverse climates and vigorous playing conditions.
The wood used in LP brand congas is kiln (oven) dried. Why is that important? Using kiln-dried wood allows LP to control the wood's moisture content level during the manufacturing process. Wood, even after it is harvested, expands and contracts. The wood used to manufacture all fine wood instruments, including congas, must have just the right moisture content level to help prevent the instrument from cracking and breaking. LP congas are played by the world's most demanding players in all seasons and climates, in every region of the world, using kiln dried wood helps the conga stand up to many different environmental and playing conditions.
The Creation...Conga In The Raw
After the wood is sorted and kiln-dried, it is cut into precisely measured strips called staves. The most attractive staves are reserved for the exterior of the conga. Wood after it is sorted and kiln dried.
The width of the stave is important. Latin Percussion congas use more staves compared to other manufacturers. Using more staves does add cost to the process but the benefits are great; because the stress on each stave is reduced, creating a stronger and durable drum. The staves are glued together using several layers of thin wood, called plies. (LP and LP Matador brand congas use three ply and LP Aspire brand use two-ply). The reason for this is it reduces the stress on each piece of wood making the drum stronger and more durable. If one was to use one thick piece of wood, and bend it to shape, it would likely break or crack. Congas are curved by design, so the wood must have the ability to be shaped without breaking or cracking.
By using plies and layering them with specially formulated glue, LP Music Group creates a strong and durable foundation. After years of research, LP has developed special glue for each type of wood. The glue is applied to the plies in a sandwich manner. It is then placed on a form in the shape of a conga, and a specially designed press applies tons of pressure, bending the staves. An ultrasonic tool is also used to help cure the glue.
Each stave is then finished with a precision compound miter edge. This guarantees that the staves will nest together snugly during the construction process. Holes are then punched on each side of the staves and steel pins are inserted into the holes. Steels pins do two things: (1) they make the assembly of the drum easier, and (2) they add strength to the conga, eliminating the need for exterior bands and ensuring durability of the shell.
Other manufacturers use exterior metal bands rather than steel pins to strengthen their congas. A wood conga is constantly expanding and contracting, and when the wood expands it puts pressure on the metal band, and enlarges it. When the wood later contracts, the metal band becomes loose. Keep in mind you won't see a loose band, but you certainly will hear it rattle when the drum is played!
Once the staves have been cut, a skilled craftsman sorts them, carefully matching the curve of the drum. The staves are then numbered and positioned for production. Glue is applied to the sides of the staves, and the conga is assembled by hand, stave by stave.
With the glue moist, and the staves nested together, the drum is ready for another custom press. This press applies temporary gluing rings in three different positions on the conga. The rings secure the staves in place until the glue is cured.
Once the gluing rings are removed, the drum is placed on a custom lathe (a machine that holds and spins the drum). While the drum is spinning, an automatic tracing tool re-fines the shape, cutting off the excess glue and wood edges, preparing the conga for the finishing processes.
Up Next: Part II (The LP Finish & Hardware)