Do they pass the mambo test? That's the question that was posed to me by the folks at Musician's Friend, who sought a professional player's opinion of Latin Percussion's Aspire and Performer Series drums. Many of the world's greatest congueros play LP's high-end drums. My task was to review some of LP's mid- and lower-priced drums. The Aspire and Performer Series are aimed primarily at beginning players, students, and others who are short on cash but long on talent and energy. I thought it might be enlightening to see how these drums would stand up onstage under performance conditions. We'll take a brief look at how these drums are put to-gether, and then see how they held up in the context of a performance with an eight-piece salsa band.
Aspire to greatness
Aspire and Performer Series wood congas are both made out of Siam oak, plantation-grown in an ecologically sound manner. The oak is slowly kiln-dried. Layers of wood staves are carefully fitted, assembled, and glued by skilled craftsmen. The conga is then spun on a lathe as it’s sanded by hand. Extreme attention is paid to ensure the bearing edges are smooth and strong.
The tuning lugs are made of specially treated high carbon steel with precision-cut threads for smooth tuning, strength, and durability. The heart-shaped side plate design distributes the tension on the wide upper part of the plate. All models are equipped with EZ- Curve rims, one of LP's most important innovations. Their gently curved design provides greater playing comfort than traditional rims, allowing extended play without hurting the hands. Another characteristic feature here is the unique skin wire channel, a channel in the rim of the drum that keeps the head from pulling out. The natural rawhide tucked heads have always been an LP strong point, specially selected for optimum thickness and quality.
The mambo test
My first impression upon unpacking the Aspires was to notice that they are beautiful to look at. The glossy clear finish shows off the grain of the oak nicely, with the gleaming chrome hardware adding to the visual appeal. They're also available with black powder-coated hardware and come in red or dark wood finishes as well as natural. The congas are slightly smaller than usual, making them attractive for their intended market of students, younger players, or those who need a more compact set of drums. They come with a sturdy double stand that provides solid support.
Then came the fun part—playing the Aspire and Performer Series drums with my band. The smaller drum, the quinto, had a great high-pitched edge to the sound, perfect for solo flights of improvisation. The bass tone was acceptably fat; the open tones had a melodic, singing quality; and slaps cut through with authority. They proved to have the ingredients the developing percussionist needs—deep, clear sound; durable hardware; and suave looks.
The matching bongos are a bit deeper and more tapered than many, imparting good tone. Playing a characteristic martillo rhythm yields the range of tones that a good set of bongos needs: round, melodic open sounds with distinct, clear highs that cut through the mix. The hardware and tuning lugs are first-rate, allowing for precise tuning. Miguel gives 'em four stars.
The djembe is a drum of African origin with an hourglass shape. It's capable of an amazing range of tones—one reason it's big with the drum circle crowd. Nowhere else will you find a single drum that's got the dynamic range of the djembe. The Aspire model I tried had a red finish, decorated with an embroidered band around the waist. The traditional goatskin head gave it the cracking highs and fat, resonant lows one looks for in this type of drum, with an EZ-Curve rim for comfortable playing. A lengthy playing session proved easy on my hands. The drum tunes up with pro-style lugs rather than the rather awkward rope system employed in traditional African djembes.
Tall and fat
The unique Performer Series congas are made by Latin Percussion exclusively for Musician's Friend. These standard-sized drums stand slightly taller at 30" than the Aspires, and have a belly that's a bit wider for a sound that's warmer and a little louder. Having given them a thorough workout, my verdict: these drums knocked me out. The largest of the three, the tumba, had deep end impact you normally hear in much higher-priced drums.
The Performer Series bongos are also superb, with pro-style steel bottom rims. Bottom line: the Performers are all world-class drums at a price that won't require you take a second job.
Still the leader
There's been a profusion of budget-priced congas on the market lately—some quite good, others not so hot. LP offers a known quantity. Forty years of experience in designing and making drums for the leading percussionists in the world have paid off. LP is no longer the only game in town, but they remain at the top of their game when it comes to meeting the needs of percussionists.
Features & Specs
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