November 2001

Remo Doumbek

The doumbek, the most popular of the pan-Islamic drums, is most often constructed of pottery or metal, with heads made either of natural skins or synthetic materials. The instrument is usually played across the lap or upright for more power.

Remo offers both pretuned and tunable versions of its doumbek, in a wide variety of finishes. The tunable version reviewed here was fitted with Remo’s Renaissance RA plastic drum head, and displayed cave-paintinglike figures against a deep blue background with splashes of white.

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Remo Doumbek

My preference leans toward tunable doumbeks that offer highly contrasting timbres and frequency ranges—from a rich, resonant low end when played in the middle of the drum to a snappy, high-pitched pop when played with fingertips on the outer edges. At only 10 inches in diameter and 18 inches in height, I was pleasantly surprised to find this doumbek delivered those exact qualities—something I would have expected from a drum with a larger diameter. Plus, this doumbek was very responsive to the touch and fun to play.

For those who play laying the instrument across their lap—the traditional method—using their fingertips and extending their hand into the cavity to effect pitch changes, the drum impresses. In fact, the cavity is tapered to allow the drummer to nearly seal off the inside for maximum pitch variation.

Tunability is a must for drummers who play in a wide variety of keys, or in combination with other tunable drums. Therein lies a shortcoming of this instrument. Upon arrival, the doumbek was in the key of G and offered delightful sonic contrasts as noted above. When I attempted to tune higher, the drum barely went above the G, and quickly lost most of its low end and contrast. When tuning lower, the high end all but disappeared below F sharp, which means that you have only a half-step available if you want to enjoy all the sonic contrasts of the drum. But at its optimal tuning, when paired with the Remo Mondo 16-inch x 16-inch floor tom, the range from the lows in the middle of the floor tom to the highs out on the edges of the doumbek was tremendous.

Despite the limited tuning range, I applaud Remo for its ingenuity in developing a player-friendly, versatile and lightweight drum with such a big sound.

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