How to change a bongo or conga head
I changed my first conga head in 1975, under the watchful eye of
That first mounting of that thick cowskin was like wrestling a dozen alligators. Nowadays it's only like wrestling one or two alligators. If you take care of your drums, you won't have to do it often. Bongo heads are easier to position, but the heads are damaged more easily too, during the trimming process. This method works for bongos and conga drums (tumbadoras).
Take your time. Remember, Don't throw away the old head; instead, soak it in lukewarm water until you can remove the skin wire (a ring or hoop). You will need this. You will also need a pair of needle nosed pliers, and a very sharp single edged razor blade or X-acto knife. Ready? Here we go...
1. Soak the skin in lukewarm water, until pliable, but not long enough to let it get thick and flabby. (Around 2 hours for a bongo skin and up to 8 hours for a thick conga skin)
2. Lay the skin on a flat surface, and place the center wire atop the skin.
3. Gather the skin around the skin wire, and place the counterhoop (the rim) atop, as in the second image..fix the head so as to come up inside the counterhoop.
4. Once the skin is tucked in all the way around, place the assembly of skin, skin wire, and counterhoop over the drum. Attach the lugs. Check for evenness.
5. Using the pliers, pull the extra skin nice & tight, removing wrinkles and folds.
6. Tighten the lugs down evenly until the counterhoop is slightly above where it will be when the drum is tuned up for playing. Get the counterhoop far enough down that your hands won't be hitting it while playing.
7. This is a CRUCIAL stage. Using the counterhoop as a guide, cut off the extra skin . with the razor blade or X-acto knife. Be very careful. If you even lightly nick the head in the wrong place at this point, it's a goner. Easy does it.
Now just let it dry; probably overnight will do, but check to make sure. The next day, or when your drum head feels dry to the touch, tune it up the rest of the way, and go for it. you've just changed your first conga (bongo) head.
If you take good care of your drums, you won't have to change the heads very often, with the possible exception of the macho head on your bongos. (I have long since gone to mylar for the macho bongo head, and it is said that use of X-ray film is ubiquitous for it in Cuba.)
the images are scanned from an old LP flyer from the 80's, but the method is exactly the same as what A.D. taught me. Next time we do a head around here, we'll take some fresher pics, and make it easier to see.