Hands-On Review:Tradition plus technology = killer sound
Among the world's great timbaleros and congueros, Latin Percussion, Inc. is the premier name. Over the decades LP has earned that reputation by designing and building percussion gear that's both roadworthy and loaded with the sonic properties that help make adequate players sound good, and accomplished players sound like masters. It's no wonder then that the company has attracted some of the greatest names in hand percussion to their stable as endorsers and collaborators. When Musician's Friend asked me to review some of LP's latest Artist Signature instruments I jumped at the opportunity to get my hands on the gear.
When Tito Puente passed away, his death was mourned throughout the Latin jazz community. No other instrumentalist was as revered as Tito. His influence was felt throughout the realms and tributaries of Afro-Cuban percussion. Although he's gone, his name lives on thanks to the hundreds of recordings on which he played as well as the thousands of percussionists whose techniques have been shaped by the maestro. LP is doing their part in keeping the flame alive with the introduction of their new range of Tito Puente Timbales.
The new Tito Puente Bronze Timbales are the result of intense study of Tito's sound. A crucial part of the accomplished timbalista's repertoire is the Afro-Cuban cascara/palito rhythms that are produced by playing the sides of the timbales with sticks. Getting an authentic cascara sound is a direct function of the drum's shell construction. The new Tito Puente shell is crafted from a special bronze alloy that is thicker than in past models. This is the same stuff from which cymbals are made and is prized for its warmth and bite.
I immediately fell in love with the shell sound. Played with my sticks, hands, or fingertips, there was an obvious boost in resonance and the dynamic range was huge. The heads were hot too, dishing up plenty of pleasing harmonics while rimshots rang out powerfully with plenty of sting. The heavier shells should prove to be extra bulletproof on the road. LP includes a heavy-duty, height-adjustable, tilting stand; a cowbell bracket; a pair of sticks; and a tuning wrench.
Cadillac of congas
Next out of the box was a pair of the new LP Galaxy® Giovanni Series™ Congas. LP has reworked them with Extended Collar Comfort Curve® II Rims, ProCare Integrated Shell Protectors that shield adjacent drums from marring, and an updated shell design.
Handcrafted from environmentally friendly North American ash, they're 30" tall with big resonance, sharp attack, and an enveloping warmth that reminded me of a great old hand-carved Haitian conga I've treasured for years. The center of the head produces rich, fat bass tonalities; the outer portions put out well-defined, harmonically complex midrange tones; and the head perimeter gives you crackling highs with excellent projection.
Built with three plies, LP uses internal steel pins for reinforcement so these congas will go the distance, and the gorgeous natural color and patterning of the wood registers strongly through the deep gloss finish. These babies should look fantastic under stage lighting. Heads are made from hand-selected rawhide. LP also throws in an accessory pouch, tuning wrench, and Lug Lube.
Giovanni specified beefy hardware and LP responded with 3/8" diameter tuning lugs and reinforced Heart® Side Plates, each secured with a backing plate and three bolts.
The Requinto with its 9-3/4" head, unique shell contour, and hardware geometry offers an incredibly broad range of tones. With varying hand techniques I produced rich powerful bass, smooth open tones, and clean slaps. As Giovanni puts it, "If I could take only one drum on a gig, it would be the Requinto!"
Dig the djembe!
The Galaxy® Giovanni Djembe is made to match Gio's congas and bongos and is crafted in fine ash. Based on the African instrument, Giovanni's design goes the traditional drum one better with Comfort Curve II Rims and gold-tone hardware that lets you tune the head far more accurately than you can with the rawhide strips employed on traditional instruments. 25" tall, it has a 12-1/2" select goatskin head, a colorful fabric band at the waist, and a clear finish that lets the ash grain shine through.
More drum, less bread
LP teamed up with a pair of Santana percussionists to create the Karl Perazzo and Raul Rekow Matador Line, a family of congas, timbales, and bongos that are reasonably priced yet offer the kind of playability pros like these guys require. Their distinctive finishes replicate the look of the Karl and Raul's gear.
The Raul Rekow Congas have a 28" fiberglass body wrapped in Raul's signature green glitter and are fitted with tough steel hardware. Matador Soft Strike rims are easy on your hands and the Pro Care Shell Protectors prevent shell damage. Hand-selected rawhide heads produce a fine tonal range. Raul's bongos share the same green sparkle finish as the congas and have traditional 7-1/4" and 8-5/8" chrome rims, cast aluminum bottoms, and 5/16" tuning lugs.
The Karl Perazzo Timbales feature 14" and 15" diameter shells that are 6-1/2" deep with traditional tuning. They're painted in Karl's chosen heritage colors-red, white, and green-for a totally distinctive look on stage.
Reinventing the shaker
When studio percussionist Bashiri Johnson teamed up with LP to create the Cyclops Shaker, he drew inspiration from LP's popular Cyclops Tambourine. What evolved was a shaker that lets you shape the sound precisely to your needs. Played conventionally, you grab the sides or center grip and simply shake. The fun starts when you twist its locking screws which free the spring-loaded shaker halves giving you a whole range of new sounds to play with. The large version can be slapped against your open hand causing the two shaker halves to collide and produce an extra rhythmic pop. The Cyclops' flexibility and tonal variations invite you to experiment with body movements and hitting techniques. The small version produces a bright, fixed tone that's ideal for studio use and its more compact form makes it a natural for kids.
Shake your money shaker
The trouble with most shakers is their lack of rhythmic accuracy. They produce rebound sounds or "ghost shakes" resulting from the beads striking the multiple sounding surfaces on both forward and backward motions. Percussionist Daniel de los Reyes solved this problem by inventing One Shot Shakers with their single internal striking surface. When shaken, they only produce sound upon forward motion. This "one-shot" design with its crisp sound lets you get a whole lot more accurate. Within seconds, I was creating multiple, complex rhythms that would be impossible with a conventional shaker. They come in both large and small sizes and one quick workout with them will convince you that they belong on your rhythm table.
It was with reluctance that I packed up the samples to return to Musician's Friend. Being the percussion geek that I am, LP's new Signature Series stuff had totally won me over. It won't be too long before a set of those Giovanni Congas will be gracing the middle of my percussion setup.
Musician's Friend has the whole range of LP Artist Signature Series instruments in stock and ready for shipment to you at the best prices anyplace. Give them a click or a call to give your percussion rig a world-class shot in the arm.