The Drum Doctor - Hand drum repair, maintenance and restoration

Ashiko Repair

Rope-tuned, ashiko hand drum.

Ashiko History & Construction

Before diving into the repair and maintenace of ashikos, let's wet our feet with the history and construction of these widely used but little understood drums.

There is a great deal of uncertainty about the hand drum we know as the ashiko. One common misconception is that the ashiko is a lighter and less expensive Western version of the iconic African djembe. Indeed, the staved ashiko known to most Westerners probably originated in the West and truly is modeled after an African drum.

But the truth is that the ashiko originated in Nigeria amongst the Yoruba people. It is one of the oldest drums around and inspired later drums, including the djembe and the conga. It's original construction looked very much as it does now, but the shell was built from a hand-carved log. Traditionally, cow skin served as the drum head.

Today, ashikos can be hand-carved or staved, skinned with goat or cow skin, tuned mechanically or by rope and they come in many sizes. Whichever version of the ashiko you may have, we know you love your drum. That's why we're here.

Ashiko repair is what we do!

We specialize in ashiko drum head replacement, tuning and restoration. Whether you want the traditional cow skin or the now-more-common goat skin, we'll find the perfect skin for your beloved hand drum and reskin it to your specifications.

You decide if you want to re-skin your ashiko with thin, medium, thick or extra thick goatskin. We use only the finest African goatskins, so you know you'll be getting the highest quality available. You prefer the deeper tone of cowskin? Of course! Want to experiment and try buffalo or deerskin? Speak but the word!

You also have choices when it comes to the thickness and color of the rope, should it need to be replaced. We use the highest quality rope with a polyester core and nylon sheath. Choose your colors. Be creative and mix them to match your flag or favorite team. One color for the crown, another for the bottom ring and a third for the verticals. Any combination that strikes your fancy.

And of course, you always have the option of supplying all the materials for your ashiko repair project, and we'll do the preparation, assembly and tuning.

So you see, just because your ashiko needs repair, there's no need to buy a new drum. Contact The Drum Doctor Now! . . . and save your money.

We repair ashikos!

We routinely restore ashikos from top to bottom. We'll recondition the drum shell, repairing any cracks and flaws such as a chipped or uneven bearing edge, have new rings made, wrap them with cloth and rope them; and, of course, install new tuning rope and re-head the drum.

In just a few days and at a reasonable cost, you can again enjoy the emotional and creative relief that only drumming provides, not to mention the fellowship. (Look below for examples of what you can expect from our ashiko repair experts.)

We're located near Santa Cruz, CA, easiliy accesible to anyone in the San Francisco Bay Area, San Jose/Silicon Valley, the Salinas Valley and the Monterey Bay. But don't worry if you're not within driving distance, many of our clients ship their ailing ashikos to us, and we return their restored drums by whatever means they choose.

So why waste your money on a new drum? Our expert care will restore your precious ashiko to better than new! For a no obligation, free consultation call us at +1 (831) 428-6626, send us an email or fill out a contact form.

And remember, ashiko repair is not all we do. We're fully qualified to treat other hand drums and ethnic instruments such as koras and balafons--just ask!

Con mucho gusto hablamos Español!
On Duty: Dr. Tom (The Drum Doctor)

Ashiko Repair Adventure

Anthony sent this ashiko with the complain that it just couldn't be tuned. He said that it had once sounded fine, but now played different tones around the playing surface, and the overtones were just too much. He wondered if the scarring on the skin might be responsible for the dissonance. Anthony gave instructions to do whatever was necessary to restore the drum's voice.

On close examination we see that the scarring is unsightly, but should not greatly affect the sound of the drum. This is a thick cow skin, and the scarring merely scratches the surface.

Cow skin on an ashiko hand drum. Cow skin drum head of an ashiko hand drum.

What might affect the quality of the sound is the disparity in the thickness of the playing surface. Compare the two coseups here.

The bottom ring of an ashiko hand drum.

Then we discover what we think is the real cause of the problem. The bottom ring has slipped off the ledge on the shell meant to hold it in place.

This creates an imbalance in the tension applied to the skin.

The counter ring ledge on the shell of an ashiko hand drum.

Once we disassemble the drum we see that the ledge is quite narrow. Only a perfectly sized counter ring would remain in place on such a narrow ledge made of soft wood.

Damaged ledge on the shell of an ashiko. Crushed ledge on an ashiko's drum shell. Damaged ledge on an ashiko shell.

Here's a look at how the soft wood has been crushed, allowing the ring to slip off.

A knot on the shell of an ashiko hand drum. A knot on the inside of the shell of and ashiko hand drum.

During the examination, we also discover a couple of wood knots that run through the shell. These will have to be sealed.

So, we now know what ails the patient and decide on a course of treament. We will resize the counter ring, seal the knot holes and mount a fresh, thick goat skin.

Anthony was thrilled.

I got the Ashiko back. Your're right . . . It looks great and sounds great! Fabulous job! Thanks!

Anthony (Emporia, KS)

Don't you just love happy endings? I know I do, but that's not the end of the story.

An ashiko hand drum with a torn goat skin drum head.

A few days later we got the ashiko back! Take another look above at the results of our hard work and dedication. Now take a look at the drum that came back to us.

Anthony was bothered by some stray stubble on the skin and had taken a blade to it. An instant of carelessness resulted in a nick on the skin. He took the drum to his guitar technician, who took a rotary sander to the drum head so as to smooth out the nick.

It worked. The nick is completely gone.

An ashiko hand drum with a fresh goat skin drum head.

Anthony deserves a lot of credit for owning up to his blunder and simply asking for help.

We were happy to oblige. Luckily, we keep a supply of great African goat skins, so we again re-headed the ashiko. At this point we knew the drum so well, the process was smooth and flawless. Here's the result.

Oh Yeah. That Ashiko came out absolutely perfect. Looks great and sounds amazing as well. Flawless job! Thank You!

Anthony (Emporia, KS)

Finally! A happy ending.

Judis Ashiko Re-skinned

Judi has finally decided to participate in Jim Greiner's drumming classes. The problem is that her hand drum, a beautiful ashiko made by West Coast Drums, is in need of repair.

Once the drum is disassembled, we see that the rope has seen better days but decide it has one more lifetime left in it. Good rope is rather expensive so it's wise to get as much use out of it as possible. We'll recommend to Judi that the next time the drum is re-skinned she have the rope replaced as well.

The shell is in fine shape - all it needs is a good cleaning and oiling to refresh its beauty and vibrant glow. The drum is now ready to be re-headed.

The African goat skin of medium thickness we mounted suited Judi's ashiko to perfection. The drum has a great range and sings beautifully. And as you can see, it's quite a vision as well. If you compare the before and after pictures, you'll see how the beauty of the wood has revived.

There's nothing more rewarding than a heart felt Thank You from a happy client.

You're more than welcome Judi.

Cow Skin Mounted On Ashiko

Whitehawk Sessions, of New Mexico, is a musical group that loves their ashiko. The ashiko has recently developed a tear in the skin, so it must be replaced.

They wondered if cow skin could be used to mount the new drum head.

Of course it could! Cow skin happens to be the type of skin that is traditionally mounted on ashikos, though in recent years has been gradually supplanted by goat skin. You see, with goat skin an ashiko can sound much like a djembe, and djembes are extremely popular drums these days.

A cow skin ashiko is likely to sound more like a conga.

Close up of the damaged rope of an ashiko hand drum.

We found that the rope was severely damaged and needed to be replaced. This rope would likely snap if used to mount a goat skin - there was no way it would hold up against a thick cow hide.

There was also some minor damage to the shell we would repair as well while we were at it.

So the shell was repaired and the rope replaced with beautiful, strong and durable 5mm rope capable of withstanding the strain of pulling thick, strong cow hide into tune.

The cow skin we mounted, while thicker than any goat skin, was not as thick as some can get. It was thick enough to approach the sound of a conga, yet bright and lively.

Dr. Tom,

We received the ashiko today. We are playing the two drums together (We also repaired a doumbek); sounds amazing. Beautiful work, exactly what we asked for.

Whitehawk Sessions (New Mexico)

Ashiko Rehead

Phil brought this nice ashiko to me because it's special to him. It's not only a nice drum - it's a nice drum that was made by his son.

At first sight, the shell, rings and rope are all in fine shape. It's only the skin that needs to be replaced.

Phil brought this nice ashiko to me because it's special to him. It's not only a nice drum - it's a nice drum that was made by his son.

The crown of an ashiko Close up of the crown of an ashiko

But on closer inspection we see that the crown loops are not spaced evenly and some have more slack than others.

This minor point means that the verticals (the rope that runs up and down the shell connecting the crown ring to the bottome ring) will be asymmetical and point in different directions.

On top of that, we find that the rope on the bottom ring is damaged severely enough to need replacing.

The rop of an ashiko's bottom ring is damaged.
An ashiko with a fresh goat skin. Bottom ring of an ashiko.

So we replace the rope on the bottom ring and make sure its symmetry matches that of the crown, which we've corrected.

Now we're ready to mount a nice, fresh African goat skin on this lovely drum. The results are gratifying. We end up with an ashiko that sounds as good as it looks.

Another Ashiko Drum Head Repair

Before and after picutes of a rope-tuned ashiko.

Let's take a look at how we get from the 'before' picture of this beautiful ashiko to the 'after'. This drum was either left within a source of heat for too long, or it finally succumbed to the constant stress that rope-tuned drums are under. Either way, it was time to give this baby a fresh new skin.

Here's a better look at the damage. This ashiko is quite large with a 13 inch drum head and standing 24 inches tall. (Don't forget to click on the thumbnails for a better look)

A hairy goat skin cut round and ready to me mounted.

A drum this large will require a whole goat skin, so we take the goat skin, soak it until it's nice and pliable and cut it round to fit the crown ring..

An ashiko with a hairy goat skin drum head.

Here you can see the hairy goat skin mounted and pulled quite tight. The hair was cut short before mounting. We're almost done. Now we just need to shave the skin and patiently let it thoroughly dry before we give it its final tuning.

Tuned and ready to play! Looking fine as well.

Hardwood Ashiko Repaired

Edward has a beautiful ashiko that needs a new drum head.

It seems like just another typical ashiko in need of a fresh skin. The skin we'll be replacing is pretty typical for ashikos - a thin Pakistani skin. These skins are really not suitable for ashikos. They just don't seem to stand up to the wear and strain, yet these are the skins most used on ashikos. We'll replace this skin with an unprocessed African goat skin.

Two things about this drum are not typical of ashikos. First, the rings fit really well - nice and snug. Second, the shell is made of quality hardwood. We belive this results in a better sounding drum. Most ashiko shells are made of soft, light wood. We have high expectations for this hand drum.

This drum completely met our expectations. She is beautiful to the eye and ear, and that fresh, durable African goat skin should hold up to many, many hours of vigorous play.