Whenever somebody wants to achieve an Afro-Cuban sound, they must have a conga set. As the cornerstone of Latin percussion, conga drum sets are essential for any musician who wants to capture that sound.
They’re also fun to play and can be used by beginner and experienced percussionists without having to worry about the complexity of a Western drum kit.
Today we’re looking at eight of the best conga sets you can order online right now. Be aware that congas aren’t a budget-friendly instrument, especially if you want models that lack sound quality and structural integrity, which is important when you’re banging on a drum.
Fortunately, our selection comes from multiple price points, so you should find a product you can afford.
The Basics of Congas
Congas find their origins in Cuban jazz in the 1930s and 40s, but they’ve found common use in modern musical genres.
Before we get into the product lineup, we should understand how congas work before you try buying one.
Here we have a short buyers’ guide where we’ve detailed each part of the conga drum, which you should pay attention to when choosing the product for you.
Congas are an example of a staved construction, which is where narrow and thin pieces of wood are assembled to build objects. This results in rounded wood, like what you see with the main body of a conga.
A common example of a staved object is a barrel. Thinking of congas as smaller barrels, they’ve had a drumhead stretched across the tops and a screw tension system that allows for tuning to hit specific notes. That’s a conga. Tuning isn’t necessary but adjustments are often made to hit two notes that are a perfect fourth apart.
Since a lot of stress is placed on the wood, high-quality materials are required to make a conga. It’s deceptively simple to look at and requires an experienced professional to build one that doesn’t just work but sounds good while working. The size of the conga corresponds to the lowest and highest notes they’re capable of.
With the conga, there are five ways to strike the instrument to produce different noises at different tones and pitches. They are as follows:
When played, a combination of these strikes will create a conga pattern. There are four main patterns that you’ll want to know when you’re picking up the conga.
There’s the tumbao, songo, and bolero and then, if you have three congas, you can also perform the guaguancó. Online resources can also show you players performing in different styles, like salsa, rumba, and merengue.
Practicing the primary rhythms of the conga is important. After a certain amount of time practicing, you should have no issue getting a feel for the conga technique.
A common problem with musicians used to a 4/4 time signature is the transition to a 6/8 movement that the conga requires for many styles.
The Difference Between Congas & Bongos
To look at, many people mistake the conga for the bongo. They’re both Afro-Cuban drums that are often owned in pairs, though the congas are far larger than the bongos. This size difference isn’t just obvious to the eye, it also results in a higher-pitched sound that has a lower volume.
Congas also use the palms of the hands much more while bongos are played with finger movements more. Bongos are often used as improvisational instruments that steal the show, too, while congas are used as an essential rhythmic instrument when played with others.
The Best Congas
Whether you’re a beginner looking for cheap training congas or a pro looking for a more expensive instrument, our selection of eight congas below should have what you need.
As of 2021, here are some of the best conga sets we have found online.
OUR TOP PICK
Let’s start with the Cosmic Percussion Conga Set, our best option for those of you who are on a budget. This set doesn’t just have a set of congas, it also comes with a set of bongos too. They don’t drive the price point up in any considerable way, making this set the most value for your money.
As for the congas, they’re twenty-six inches tall and made from durable but musical Siam oak. They sit upon an adjustable conga stand that allows musicians of different heights to play on them with no issue whatsoever, whether that’s standing or sitting. They also look great with the cherry burst coloring they have.
- Made from high-quality Siam oak.
- Has an adjustable conga stand that allows for different heights.
- It has a low price for a conga set.
- Comes with a set of bongos too!
- As a cheaper model, it may be prone to flaws over expensive ones.
Latin Percussion is a big name in the drum market because they consistently offer drums that are great for learning and not too harsh on your wallet.
It’s made with Siam oak again, which has been kiln-dried so that this rubbery wood can act flexy and acoustic while still being durable. The rawhide drum heads here are larger too, at ten and eleven inches.
It also comes with a stand for free and a tuning wrench, which you can use to change the type of sound that these congas produce. As far as congas go, these are also affordably priced.
- A great student conga set made from kiln-dried Siam oak.
- Larger 10” and 11” rawhide drum heads.
- Comes with a tuning wrench and a free stand.
- Affordable pricing.
- As a cheaper model, the volume isn’t as loud as more expensive congas.
The Synergy conga set from Toca Percussion is another product that’s worth your consideration. Like Latin Percussion, Toca Percussion is also a leading manufacturer of drums and similar instruments.
These conga drums are made with maple shells, one of the more versatile hardwoods that are ideal for percussion.
This model is twenty-eight inches long with one ten-inch drum and another eleven-inch drum, both made with natural rawhide. It's finished with black powder for a sleek, theme-neutral look that’s greater for those who may want a more subtle look. This set also includes bongos.
- Made from hardwood maple shells that produce sound but remain durable.
- Its drum heads are made with natural rawhide.
- Muted look with a choice of different colors.
- Comes with free bongos.
- Maple isn’t as sound as oak and has a weaker sound projection.
Another conga set from Latin Percussion, this twenty-eight-inch long set will set you back a little more than our previous suggestion. It uses the same-sized rawhide drum heads too, at ten and eleven inches.
What’s different about this conga set is its stand, durability, and color scheme. The stand is adjustable, as you may expect, but it’s also covered in chrome to make it more presentable.
Similarly, the drums themselves have a wood finish. The durability of this conga set is improved by its EZ Curve Rim and bigger side plates that distribute weight pressure more effectively.
- Another LP conga drum set made using sturdy Siam oak.
- Has a flashy chrome-plated stand that’s also adjustable.
- Enlarged side plate and EZ Curve Rim make it more durable.
- Wood-finished for a calming, natural look.
- It can look plain for its price point.
Coming from another big percussion manufacturer, this Percussion Headliner Series conga set from Meinl is an example of their student-friendly product catalog.
This product has the standard measurements you’ll see on conga sets, those being twenty-eight inches tall with one drum being ten inches and the other being eleven inches. The difference here is that these drum heads are made from durable buffalo skin.
Those drums sit on a sturdy double-braced stand and come with tuning keys to change the sound it makes. The set is made from rubberwood that has been responsibly sourced, so there are no issues regarding the environment.
- Durable drum heads made from buffalo skin.
- Sits on a secure double-braced stand.
- Comes with a tuning key to change its sound.
- The rubberwood used is environmentally friendly.
- Rubberwood has a distinct tone that may not be for everybody.
Here’s yet another Latin Percussion product, their Matador conga set. Like some of the other sets above, it comes with bongos but we’re more interested in the conga drums right now. This set is thicker than a lot of the above models. That’s because the Siam oak used is three-ply, adding extra layers of wooden protection.
Both of the rawhide drums are eleven inches, though one is slightly larger at 11.75 inches. Along the edges of those drum heads, Latin Percussion has used patented Soft Strike technology to strengthen their rims. This limits deterioration, so you can play them for longer and get your money’s worth.
- Reinforced three-ply Siam oak shells increase their durability.
- Uses a patented Soft Strike rim that preserves the drum heads.
- Has a sleek matte black color design.
- Comes with a small bongo set too.
- A professional conga set that may be too expensive for a learner.
Next, we have something different with the Gon Bops Mariano Series. Be aware that when you buy, you’d be getting just one conga drum.
This isn’t a set that comes with two or three drums. They’re made from a humbler supplier that has been active since the 1950s, during which they’ve honed their craft over the years.
This series of conga drums have 11.75-inch heads that are made with thick but musical calfskin. The metal used to brace and bind the drums is chrome while the wooden constructs themselves use durian wood.
- The drums are made with durian wood, a light hardwood known for its natural durability.
- Each drum is framed and stood up with chrome braces.
- Come in a variety of sizes that you can choose from.
- These are expensive, especially since you only get one for each purchase.
To finish, here’s the single most expensive listing we’d recommend. It’s from Latin Percussion, a brand we’re familiar with by now, and they’re signed by Karl Perazzo, a pro drummer who has played Latin music in the past. The bundle has a very striking aesthetic thanks to its Day of the Dead decorations with Calavera and floral decals.
Unlike any of the previous congas, these professional instruments are made with fiberglass that has been reinforced with Kevlar. The drum heads are rawhide and have been hand-picked for suitability and the best sound. It also has an upgraded version of the Curve Rim design we’ve seen before, ensuring the drum heads don’t deteriorate through use.
- The strongest drums yet, made from Kevlar-reinforced fiberglass shells.
- The drum heads have Latin Percussion’s Curve Rim II tech.
- Comes with rubber-footed stands that hold everything in place.
- Comes with a free set of bongos and a stool.
- The most expensive and should be insured once the warranty expires.
The best congas for you will differ depending on your preferences and how much cash you can spend. Our list generally increases in price, so the lower options are the more expensive and professional conga variants over the higher recommendations.
Between these is the Latin Percussion Aspire set, which is a great jumping-in point where you can get a conga set for a reasonable price with less of the issues that cheaper congas have. Latin Percussion is also a large supplier of conga sets, so they’re a company you can trust.
Buying instruments online can be tricky, so make sure that the products you buy have a warranty and inspect the congas as soon as you get them. If you’re a beginner, it may be worth having somebody more experienced checking them for you. Once you’re sure you have a quality set, you can start learning!