loading
Picture of Re-heading an atabaque (replacing the skin)
This is a follow up to [how to make an atabaque from a to z] and shows one way of replacing the skin (re-heading) with minimum fuss.

My atabaque was built with that neat feature from the start: a single piece of rope that can be easily undone to disconnect the tensioning ring and the ropework, allowing for easy skin replacement.

This re-heading method will work with a number of atabaques, depending on how the ropework was done.
 
Remove these adsRemove these ads by Signing Up

Step 1: Get a skin and prepare it

Picture of Get a skin and prepare it
IMGP6339.JPG
IMGP6343.JPG
IMGP6349.JPG
The skin can be calf or goat (preferably). Other types may work but usually atabaques use cow or goat.
I sourced mine from an African percussion group around where I live.

You will need to know the diameter at the top of the drum. Add minimum 20 cm (I recommend 30cm or more) to that size and you have the skin size you need to get.
It is important that you have enough extra on the sides (10 to 15 cm) so that you can properly loop the skin in the tensioning rings and still have enough slack to cover them neatly.

When selecting a skin,
- get the thickest one you can (for goat skin)
- avoid shaved skins (hair naturally wears off after you play for a while - it also gives a more authentic look)
- look for cut marks
- look for defects

You may draft a circle to decide on how the skin is going to be placed on the drum. In my case, I made sure the back line was going to be in the center, which is generally the way to do it.

Once you have sourced a skin, it must be soaked in water for a good 8 hours. This will make the skin much more flexible.

Step 2: Remove the old skin

Note: I assume the atabaque has a 'connecting' rope between the tensioning ring hoops and the rest of the ropework.
Some (probably cheaper) atabaque come with a single tensioning ring at the top, with the rope passed through holes in the skin. That kind requires a complete ropework re-work.

In my case, and I hope many others, removing the old skin is a matter of
- removing tension by undoing the pegs
- removing the connecting rope

When removing the pegs, I advise to place them around in a sequence and number them in order to place them back the same way later on.

Next, before removing the connecting rope, I recommend using a different piece of rope (or strap) to keep the original rope work into place. It will help greatly when reconnecting.

At this stage, you can fix defects (IE wood sanding and adjustments) if needed.

Now is the time to remove the connecting rope. When it's done, the top tensioning ring should be free (apart maybe from the handle) and the old skin should come off easily.

Recover the bigger ring that was wrapped in the skin and you are good to go.

Step 3: Get the new skin ready for action

Picture of Get the new skin ready for action
IMGP6471.JPG
IMGP6472.JPG
After 8 hours of soaking, get the skin out of the water and dry it/clean it a bit with a towel or equivalent.

Think about placement. The hairy side should be at the top, and the back line should come to the center of the drum.
With that in mind, place the bigger tensioning ring on the skin then wrap the edges around it.
You should now have the flesh side up.

Place this assembly on top of the drum and place the smaller tensioning ring on top, making sure that skin is wrapped all around and and all edges coming out through the smaller ring.

At that stage, it is important to make sure that the skin is placed in its final position, both on the drum and through the rings.

Step 4: Connect the tension rings with the ropework

Picture of Connect the tension rings with the ropework
IMGP6475.JPG
IMGP6476.JPG
Now that everything is ready, you can weave the connecting rope back the way it was, or adjust it if necessary.
For instance, try to keep the tensioning rings horizontal and well distributed with the ropework
(In my case, I missed that step a bit, resulting in the tensioning rings being a bit on an angle.)

When the connecting rope is back in place and secured, loosely place the pegs the way they were.
Before we can go any further, we have to do some serious pre-tensioning.

Step 5: Tensioning

Picture of Tensioning
IMGP6479.JPG
We need to do the tensioning in 2 steps:
- pre-tensioning, without relying entirely on the pegs
- final tensioning, using only the pegs

Also note that the skin is still humid at that stage, and that it will shrink a bit, creating further tension, when drying.

Now, pre-tensioning will be achieved by pushing the ring down directly.
The reason why I decided to go that way is to save the staves from being exposed to too much pressure.

Explanation: when using the pegs, friction keeps them in place between the ring and the drum body (made of staves). Hammering down the pegs forces the ring down by applying pressure to the drum body at an angle. Staves don't like that much and can split or get pushed in (and it has happened in one place for me already).
Using the normal tensioning method (hammering the pegs) is fine when there is no other way, and when you want to pull only a centimeter or 2.
In our actual case, we need to pull a good 5 centimeters or more.
That's a lot of hammering, and would put unnecessary stress on the staves.
Instead, I recommend pushing the bottom tensioning ring by hammering it down firmly using a piece of wood, then locking the progress made by gently hammering down the pegs around it (friction is enough for the pegs to stay in place, no need to apply pressure just yet)

Work your way around the drum, hammering the ring down gradually and locking the progress made by pushing the surrounding pegs down. Keep going until you've pulled enough centimetres. and make sure the rings (top and bottom) are as parallel as can be.
When you have reached the level where the skin at the top is flat and the ropework is tense enough, you can then go on to finish tensioning the usual way.

Again, keep in mind that the skin will shrink when drying up, so don't put too much tension. At this stage you are not fine-tuning the drum yet.

Finish tensioning (again, not final, and not too tense) by hammering the pegs directly this time, working around the drum.

Step 6: Finishing touches

Picture of Finishing touches
We're not over yet.

To give a good finish, I recommend pushing the skin edges around the drum so that they don't interfere with your hands when you play.
On congas, the skin at this stage is trimmed close to the tension hoop. For an atabaque with a more authentic look, I think it's better to not trim the skin and just push it flat against the sides of the drum.
I used an old bedsheet to achieve that result while the skin was still humid. It kept that shape upon drying.

Also, to further tension and get rid of the moisture in the skin, some sun exposure for a couple of hours will do the job.
Mind the sun intensity and length of exposure though.
The drum should sound better by the hour, as the skin dries and tension gets stronger.

A couple of hours later, you can unwrap the drum. The skin should be tense, flat around the drum, and sound fantastic.

Now is the time for fine tuning, if needed. Jam it away. Enjoy your new drum !
triumphman1 year ago
I just had a great day ! I went to Alto Music store near me. My daughter needed new strings on her guitar. They let me play all their drums, Congas, Bongos, and more. Wish could buy them all! Such fun. I would really fit nicely in a bands percussion section. I seem to have a natural ability for drums and such. I don't know where it comes from. I also can play Harmonicas by ear. Its uncanny, I never took any lessons. I can play most anything I hear. Its fun. Thanks again!
triumphman1 year ago
How does it sound ? I did this with a bongo set that was cracked. I used a Whitetail Deer skin that I tanned myself. Sounds nice, better than the old one!
maluco (author)  triumphman1 year ago
In all honesty, it sounds great ! So much better than the previous one indeed.
This drum with a new skin has already seen some live action and has been played by seasoned high-profile capoeiristas and percussionists. all of which have given really positive feedback.