The Gon Bops company was founded by Mariano Bobadilla in 1954, and the Bobadilla family made high-quality drums in their Los Angeles factory until the early 1990s. The brand then went dormant for a while. Now revived by Drum Workshop and overseen by Akbar Moghaddam (formerly of the legendary Valje Company and his own Sol Percussion), Gon Bops is once again offering top-quality Latin percussion instruments.
Gon Bops California Series congas are hand-made from quarter-sawn North American oak. The shells are 30" high, and they feature gently contoured bodies in the Cuban style. The hoops and lugs are well crafted and solid. The drums all have custom-sized grade-A cowskin heads. These are held in place by hybrid hoops that combine the playability elements of the "comfort curve" style and the more traditional look of the flat Cuban style. This makes the drums extremely comfortable to play.
Gon Bops offers two finish options. Lacquer Custom drums are available in six hand-painted lacquer finishes, including Aztec Gold, Candy Apple Red, Natural, Regal Blue, Solid Black, and Solid White. Lacquer Specialty finishes include virtually any color, along with multiple-step processes including stains, transparents, bursts, fades, sparkles, metallics, mirras, and graphics. Check out the Gon Bops Web site for all the details on that. The models we reviewed featured an Ebony Stain Lacquer Specialty finish, and they looked great.
I get a chance to swat a lot of hand drums, and I can honestly say that in terms of pure conga tone and playability, Gon Bops are the top of the line. The drums embody that warm and inviting skin-on-skin sound that brings people into the world of percussion and keeps them there.
The quinto and conga were a great matched pair that sounded very tight and well balanced together. The tumba was a really nice addition to that pair, with a very warm yet crisp sound that made it inspiring to play. Gon Bops also offers a super tumba that we did not get to review, but that I would guess would round out a great set of four drums.
I take all the drums that I review into my studio to record them. For the purpose of recording, Gon Bops drums are exceptional. The shells produce a very woody tonality, and that skin-on-skin effect creates an almost cracking sound. It's warm and...well...percussive at the same time. These are also the easiest drums on which to get a warm and perfect popping slap that I've ever encountered. Put a mic' in front of them and you'll sound like a star.
The California Series bongos are made with the same quality as are the congas, and they sound as good. The North American Red Oak used for the shells, as well as the hoop style and design, match that of the congas. However, the drums differ in the selection of heads. The 7" macho has a horsehide head; the 81/2" hembra has a cowhide head. This head selection, along with what Gon Bops describes as "a special beveled bearing edge," makes both of the drums piercing and crisp, with an underlying rich woodiness.
The sound and looks of these drums are the result of excellent craftsmanship and attention to detail. Claw hooks are widely spaced on either side to make the drums more comfortable to play in a seated position. Optional BPAD1 Bongo Pads are available to make things even easier.
The bottom line is that the only issue with these drums is the bottom line. They are exceptional drums, and they carry an exceptionally high price. I wish there were some magic way to make these drums accessible to beginners, because they are so easy to play, and the joy created by their sound is immediate.
Gon Bops' tag line is: "What percussion should be." I completely agree. Entry-level drums usually sound like entry-level drums. If you're a beginner shopping for drums, at least go and play a set of these drums so that you'll know what you're aspiring to sound like.
If you want a fine wine, you have to pay fine-wine prices. Gon Bops drums follow that same principle. But to that I say: Don't throw your money away on junk. Save twice as long and purchase only once. It'll be worth the wait.
(805) 485-6999, www.gonbops.com