LP has been at the forefront of hand percussion since introducing its first wood conga, the Classic Model, in 1972. Now an industry standard, the Classic series is available in various natural and painted finishes, and the company recently expanded the line to include a unique Sculpted Ash veneer in a dark ebony stain. This new subseries, dubbed the Uptown, includes a trio of congas (11″ quinto, 11.75″ conga, and 12.5″ tumba) and matching bongos. We were sent the congas to review, along with two pairs of vintage-inspired Valje bongos.
Valje is the name of a company founded by California-based percussion builder Tom Flores in the 1950s and later taken on by his protégé, Akbar Moghaddam. Valje handcrafted drums achieved legendary status after being used by Santana and other Latin-rock bands in the 1970s. LP’s modern version of the Valje bongos, which are made in the U.S. under the direction of Moghaddam, are designed to reflect the craftsmanship and heritage of the originals, including the quarter-sawn shells, precision bearing edges, half-round hoops, compact hardware, and center joining blocks.
Valje bongos are offered in two shell types: red oak and mahogany. Both versions include a 7″ macho drum and an 8.5″ hembra drum. They stand 6″ tall and include synthetic Remo Tucked Fiberskyn heads. These heads retain the warm sound and natural feel of rawhide while increasing the overtones and tuning capability for a brighter, livelier tone with added projection.
The Valje bongos tuned up easily, and the smaller macho drum had a crisp snap while the larger hembra had a more guttural voice. I couldn’t detect any major sonic differences between the mahogany and oak versions, so the decision to go with one over the other would be largely cosmetic. Both sets of Valje bongos sounded great, providing classic, rich tones with a touch of modern clarity, and they looked as classy as they sound. Each set is signed and dated by Akbar, and the list price is $423.99.
The Uptown congas are designed to provide professional-grade sound and features at moderate prices. The 12.5″ tumba lists for $434.99, the 11.75″ conga is $414.99, and the 11″ quinto is $399.99. The shells are made from glued staves of Siam oak and have an outer ply of black-stained ash that’s been treated to retain its rough, natural texture. The congas come with handpicked rawhide heads, Comfort Curve II rims, and sturdy steel tension rods and reinforced LP Heart side plates. There’s also a carrying handle and stand mount attached to each shell. The tension rods include rubber bumpers above the nut to prevent the hardware from damaging adjacent drums, and a thin metal ring protects the bottom opening of the shell.
Aside from the new Sculpted Ash finish, which looks amazing, the Uptown congas are classic, traditional drums designed to provide rich and earthy open tones, clean and crisp slaps, and deep bass. They can be cranked up for ultimate cutting power and shorter sustain, or you can tune them lower for more subtle applications. The Comfort Curve II rims are rounded to minimize impact on the hands, and they held tension very well. Tuning the drums, with the included rubber-handled wrench, was smooth and easy. There are reasons why LP Classic congas remain so popular: they’re versatile, they’re durable, and they’re comfortable to play. The cool visual vibe of the textured veneer finish used on the Uptown Sculpted Ash series is the cherry on top.