The Drum Doctor - Hand drum repair, maintenance and restoration

Doumbek (Darbuka) Repair


Ceramic doumbek with a fresh goat skin drum head.

Doumbeks, also known as darbukas, come in a variety of styles - pretuned, tunable, mechanically tuned, rope tuned, skinned with goatskin, fishskin or synthetic materials - to name just a few. Whichever type of doumbek you may have, our doumbek repair specialists will restore your Middle Eastern hand drum back to radiant health.

When a doumbek head splits, it seems like the end of the world, and you may be tempted to rush out and buy a new drum.


Do not throw your money away!

Repair your doumbek!

We specialize in doumbek drum head replacement, tuning and restoration. We can pretune and attach the drum head with glue using a press or a rope system. We can even make your darbuka a tunable drum by using a ring system (djembek) or other methods.

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

Maybe you're a master percussionist and want only the best materials for your hand drum.

No problem! Tell us your needs, and we'll satisfy them.

We recommend fish skin because it's strong and durable and for the clear, crisp, warm sound it produces.

We routinely rebuild doumbeks from scratch. We'll recondition the drum shell, repairing any cracks and flaws and replace any materials with only the highest quality available.


Doumbek repair is what we do!


In a matter of days and at minimal cost, you can again enjoy the emotional and creative self-expression that only doumbek drumming provides, not to mention the fellowship. (Look below for examples of what you can expect from our doumbek repair experts.)

So why buy a new darbuka, when our loving care will make your beloved old friend better than new? For a no obligation, free consultation call us at (831) 428-6626, send us an email or fill out a contact form.

We're located in Santa Cruz, CA, easiliy accesible to anyone in the San Francisco Bay Area, San Jose/Silicon Valley and Monterey Bay, but don't worry if you're not in our neck of the woods; we have years of shipping experience. Many of our clients ship their ailing Middle Eastern drums to us, and we return their restored doumbeks by whatever means they choose.

And remember, doumbek 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)


Ceramic Doumbek Is Repaired & Made Tunable


Sheila's Full Circle ceramic drum needs to have the skin replaced.


Ripped doumbek drum head. A ceramic doumbek that needs reheading. A ceramic doumbek that needs a head replacement. A ceramic doumbek with a torn drum head.








The goat skin on this doumbek is glued in place. The rope you see is used to stretch the skin into place and hold it taut as the glue dries. We are going to take a different approach to mounting the fresh goat skin drum head. We are going to do something very special.

We started with a thick goat skin - considerably thicker than the original skin. The added thickness translates to greater strength.

While we use a rope system to mount the skin as in the original version, our rope system is different and allows the stress on the skin to be more evenly distributed over a greater area of the skin. This, along with the stronger skin, means we can omit the the glue and allow the skin to float freely on the bearing edge, as on djembes and other tunable drums.


Ceramic doumbek with a fresh drum head. A ceramic doumbek that's be reheaded. A tunable ceramic doumbek. A ceramic doumbek with a fresh goat skin drum head.








We have not only repaired Sheila's doumbek - we have greatly improved it. Sheila now has a tunable doumbek!



Fish Skin Mounted On Egyptian Tabla


In Egypt and the Middle East in general, the doumbek is called a tabla. Josh bought this beautiful clay tabla with a goat skin drum head and a beautiful inlay finish.


An egyptian tabla with flabby drum head. A clay doumbek with a goat skin drum head that's too loose.

At first sight, the drum seems fine, but as soon as a note is played it becomes obvious that the skin is flabby and unplayable.

Since this is a pre-tuned drum, the only hope of getting the skin tight enough to play is to apply some heat so as to dissipate whatever moisture is in the skin. But the skin is loose even on hot, arid days.

The only fix is to replace the skin.



Since we're going through the trouble and expense of replacing the skin, why not replace it with the best skin possible? From our experience, the finest skin to use on doumbeks is Nile River sturgeon.

This type of fish skin is not particularly thick yet is very strong. It has a lot of stretch and has the quality of wanting to pull back with great force to its original state. The result is an extremely lively and robust drum head.

Because the skin is not particularly thick, we use rope to pull the skin into place where it is glued. This is not a tunable drum.


An Egyptian tabla that's had its head replaced with fish skin. A clay doumbek that's been repaired with fish skin. An Egyptian tabla with a fish skin drum head. A clay tabla that's had a fish skin mounted. An Egyptian doumbek that's had it's drum head replaced with fish skin.








The good news is that because we can mount the skin with so much tension, the drum is likely to stay in tune even under less than ideal conditions



Clay Doumbek Head Replacement


This beautiful and unusual doumbek needs a new drum head.


Torn doumbek drum head. A clay doumbek that needs reheading. A clay doumbek that needs a head replacement. A clay doumbek with a torn drum head.








The repair is really pretty straight forward. The important thing is to find the right skin and then mount it with enough tension.


Fresh doumbek drum head. A clay doumbek that's been reheaded. A clay doumbek that's just had a head replacement. A clay doumbek with a new drum head.








The doumbek is happy, the client is happy, the Drum Doctor is happy.



Ceramic Doumbek Repair


This lovely drum needs a little help.


An Egyptian tabla needing a new drum head. A clay doumbek that needs reheading. An Egyptian tabla with a torn drum head. An Egyptian tabla with a torn drum head.








We thought the color and pattern of the shell were somehow reminiscent of the rumor that tribes of nomadic Celts introduced the doumbek to the Middle East.


An Egyptian tabla needing a new drum head. A clay doumbek that needs reheading. An Egyptian tabla with a torn drum head. An Egyptian tabla with a torn drum head.








This lovely drum only knows it wants to play a jig.


Torn Synthetic Doumbek Head Replaced With Goat Skin


Synthetic drum heads tend to be quite resilient, but they can tear just as well as natural skin.


A ceramic doumbek with a torn synthetic drum head. A ceramic doumbek with a ripped synthetic drums head. A ceramic doumbek that needs reheading. A synthetic doumbek head is badly torn. A ripped synthetic drum head on a ceramic doumbek.








This is a fine drum, but it's not meant to be repaired when the drum head is damaged. The manufacturer does not offer replacement drum heads. We are going to repair this doumbek anyway with a natural skin.

The skin on most of the ceramic doumbeks we repair is mounted with a rope system used to pull the skin tightly onto the shell, where it is glued. Once the skin is mounted, the rope stays behind. This rope can be quite decorative, but it serves no purpose once the skin has dried and bonded onto the shell - except perhaps as a handle.


A blue goat skin mounted on a ceramic doumbek. A ceramic doumbek sporting a fresh goat skin that's dyed blue. A ceramic doumbek with a fresh goatskin drum head that's been dyed blue. A ceramic doumbek with a fresh goat skin drumhead that's dyed blue. A ceramic doumbek that's been repaired with goat skin that's been dyed blue.








For this doumbek, we've used a system that allows us to pull the goat skin really tight and leave nothing but the glued skin behind. We thought blue with a black trim coordinated nicely with the brown shell. The skin is a bit thicker than normally used on doumbeks, but because we were able to pull it so tight, the teks are sharp and clear and the doums are deep and resonant. Great results!


Egyptian Tabla Head Replacement

"Tabla" is an Arabic word meaning drum that is often used to name the goblet shaped drum we've been calling doumbek, or darbuka. Below is an egyptian tabla made of clay with inlaid mother of pearl and a fishskin drum head. As you can see, it's time to replace the drum head.


A blown out fishskin tabla drum head. An Egyptian tabla needing a new drum head. A clay doumbek that needs reheading. An Egyptian tabla with a torn drum head.

This is not a restoration project. We are not going to replace the drumhead with a skirted fishskin.



We're going to use a rope system to glue a nice goat skin on this drum. And we think the elegant black and white pattern on the shell calls for black rope to go with the whitish goatskin we have in mind.


A fresh goat skin on an Egyptian tabla. An Egyptian tabla with a new drum head. A clay doumbek with a fresh goat skin drum head. An Egyptian doumbek sporting fresh drum head.


We think it worked out just fine.





What do you think?


Mini Darbuka Drum Head Replacement

Here's a mini darbuka that originally sported a mylar drum head. Mini because it's got a 6" drum head.


The bearing edge of an aluminum darbuka. A mini darbuka with no drum head. An aluminum darbuka needing a drum head. An aluminum darbuka without a drum head.

We're going to replace the missing mylar drum head with goat skin. In order to do so, we have a flesh ring made.




Goat skin drum head on the darbuka. A mini darbuka with new goat skin drum head. An aluminum darbuka with a fresh goat skin drum head. An aluminum darbuka sporting fresh drum head.

Now THAT'S looking a lot better.





And it sounds WAY better. This little guy may look like a toy, but it's percussive and responsive. Not a toy at all - this is a drum.


Syrian Doumbek Rehead

Syrian doumbeks are more commonly called darbukas at The Drum Doctor, because we think of darbukas as Turkish-style doumbeks. That is to say, doumbeks with the hard edge as opposed to the rounded edge more common to the Egyptian-style doumbeks.

A Syrian doumbek with a split head. A Syrian doumbek with a torn drum head. A Syrian doumbke with a damaged drum head.

These drums tend to use natural skin heads - usually goat skin. Once the darbuka head splits, there's nothing to do but replace it.

Sorry folks, tape isn't going to make everything all better. No, not even duct tape. You're going to need a fresh skin.

The good news is that replacing the skin is a fairly quick and straight-forward process. It just takes a little know how. The main thing to keep in mind is that you need enough skin that the head doesn't tighten before the hardware is below the playing surface, yet not so much skin that the hardware bottoms out before the drum head is in tune.

A Syrian doumbek with a new drum head. A Syrian doumbek with a fresh skin. A Syrian doumbek with fresh drum head.


Something like this.






Ceramic Doumbek Restoration

A ceramic doumbek with a split head. A ceramic doumbek with a torn drum head. A ceramic doumbke with a damaged drum head.

This lovely ceramic doumbek obviously needed a head replacement.

These hand drums can have really great voices. All they need is a good skin pulled just so.




A ceramic doumbek with a new drum head. A ceramic doumbek with a fresh skin. A ceramic doumbek with fresh drum head.

The previous skin had been tuned by pulling with rope directly on the skin. We attach a rope to the drumhead and then pull on that rope to tighten the skin. This way the pressure is distributed rather than focused on certain stress points. The result is that the skin can be pulled much tighter, giving the doumbek a much finer voice.


A ceramic doumbek with fresh drum head.



When done correctly, the result is a truly beautiful drum, in every sense of the word.





Another Ceramic Doumbek Head Replacement


Ceramic doumbek drum with a torn head.

Our patient is a beautiful ceramic drum that is one of kind.

Click on the thumbnail and you'll see the head has been punctured on the playing surface and has a tear along the bearing edge. There's nothing to do but replace the skin.

The drum has been assembled with leather straps that really suit the style and color of this doumbek, so we're going try and reuse as much of this strap as much as possible - not only because it looks great, but because we'd like to retain the character of this drum as much as possible and not be wasteful as well. Why discard perfectly usable skin?

Closeup of a hairline crack on a ceramic doumbek. Closeup of a hairline crack on a ceramic doumbek. Closeup of a hairline crack on a ceramic doumbek.

After stripping off the old skin, all remaining glue residue must also be removed. In the process, we noticed three hairline cracks running down the bowl from the bearing edge. One of these cracks (the middle one) was severe enough that the sides could be heard grinding if pressure was applied to either side of it.

OH OH! These cracks are a serious threat to the structural integrity of the shell as well as to the integrity of the drum's voice and must be addressed.

The trick is to use a glue with a high enough viscosity that will allow it to seep into such fine cracks. Most glues are so thick they'd just bead up on the surface and be of little use.

After getting the cracks sealed and stabilized, We were able to mount a nice thick skin on this baby and pull it REALLY tight. Normally, doumbeks take fairly thin skins because of the relatively small size of their playing surfaces and because the playing techniques require them to be extremely responsive.

Ceramic doumbek with a fresh skin. Ceramic doumbek with a fresh skin. Ceramic doumbek with a fresh skin.

But The there was something about this skin and this drum. They belonged together.

We were not able to reuse all of the leather strap, but we did have some nice, thick rope that matched the drum quite well and enabled us to work quickly and pull the skin tighter than usual.

This doumbek has the clearest, sharpest teks and the most profound doumbs we've ever heard from a ceramic drum. Our client was pleased.


Ceramic Semi-Doumbek Repair

Here's an interesting project for a couple of reasons. The most obvious being the proportions of the drum shell. This drum is obviously modeled after the doumbek, but a close inspection reveals that both the bowl and trumpet of the shell are under-developed.

Ceramic doumbek with a torn head. Ceramic doumbek with a ripped skin. Ceramic doumbek with damaged drum head.

The result of this unusual construction is what might best be described as a semi-doumbek.

Regardless of what we call this drum, it needs to be reheaded.


Most ceramic doumbeks are pretuned with a skin that's glued onto the shell, which brings up the other reason this is an interesting project - we intend to make this a tunable drum.

Often, pretuned ceramic doumbeks have their skin stretched into place with some sort of rope system, which is then glued onto the shell. In this case we're going to alter the original rope system slightly and use no glue.

Ceramic doumbek with a fresh skin. Ceramic doumbek with a new drum head. Ceramic doumbek with a fresh drum head.

The result is a beautiful semi-doumbek that can be tuned in a manner similar to djembe!





Doumbek Restoration


Doumbek drum with a torn head.

Our patient is a Toca doumbek with a synthetic head that I would venture is made of mylar. As you can see, the drum head has seen better days.

It seems that Toca would like their customers to buy a new doumbek every time the head on one of these drums is damaged; because the way these drums are constructed, the head cannot be replaced.

Obviously, Toca had not counted on The Drum Doctor. We think that at their going price (well over $200) these drums should last a life-time.


Closeup of a doumbek with a wet skin stretched across the head. Doumbek drum with a wet goat skin stretched across the head.

We take a nice goat skin and stretch it onto the doumbek shell with a system of strong, durable, no-stretch rope and glue it onto the drum.

If you look closely, you'll see that the rope that stretches the skin does not attach directly onto the skin. Instead, it attaches onto a loop of rope folded under the perimeter of the skin. When we pull on the verticals attached to the loop, the pressure on the skin is distributed, allowing us to pull the drum head quite tight without damaging it.

Now all we have to do is cut off the excess rope and give the skin time to dry before we can return it to it's anxious owner. Yes, we do wait for the skin to thoroughly dry before we consider the job complete. There's always the possibility that the skin will split as it stretches tight during the drying process, either because we misjudged the amount of tension to apply or the skin had some flaw we failed to discern.

In this case, the skin dried as well as we could have hoped. The doumbek produced sharp, clear "teks" and deep, powerful "doums." Our client was more than pleased, commenting that the drum sounded better than ever!


Doumbek Re-head


We have another doumbek with a head that needs to be replaced. Unlike the previous doumbek, this drum is more traditional. The body is made of wooden staves, covered with an intricate pattern of decorative mother of pearl. The head is goatskin.

Doumbek drum with a torn head. Doumbek drum with a torn head.

As you can see, the nice lady that belongs to this beautiful antique tried to patch it up with tape. Can't blame her for trying; but, once the skin is gone, the only thing to do is mount a fresh skin - otherwise you'll get better sound playing your belly.

Take a close look at this drum by clicking on the thumbnails. Notice how the bowl flares outward from the playing surface then suddenly inward. This sudden decrease in diameter means the skin has to be cut exactly the right size. We want to stretch the skin to just below the widest part of the drum.

If we mount too large of a skin, the outer diameter of the skin may not shrink enough to hug the drum tightly when it dries. Too small, and it won't reach below the widest point of the drum. Just right and the skin will hug the drum snuggly when it dries and shrinks.

The holes through which the tuning rope will run must also me placed at precisely the right spot. It's also critical that the loop of cord that goes under the skin and that the tuning rope will attach to be exactly the right diameter.

All this may not be rocket science Folks, but it ain't trivial either. One mistake and we're back to square one.

Closeup of a doumbek with fresh goat skin head. Doumbek drum with a fresh goat skin stretched across the head.

We take a nice goat skin and cut it to just the right size, punch the holes and mount it onto the shell with a rope system and glue - just as we did with the previous doumbek.

As you can see, the skin fits on this drum like a glove; and, thanks to the fact that we've sealed all the splits the shell had , this drums sounds as good as it looks!



Ceramic Doumbek Crack Repair


Doumbek with hairline cracks on its ceramic shell. Close up of hairline cracks on ceramic shell.

Troy brought this beautiful Remo doumbek to The Drum Doctor with some hairline cracks on its ceramic shell. He was afraid to handle it, let alone play it lest it come apart.





Close up of cracks on ceramic doumbek as seen from inside the shell. Cracks on ceramic doumbek as seen from inside the shell.

Indeed, Troy was right to worry. These cracks, while very thin, run through the shell and greatly weaken the integrity of the shell.




We used two types of glue to seal and fortify the compromised shell. Both of them strong, durable and with a short curing time. One of them with a low viscosity and the other with a high viscosity.


Close up of sealed cracks on ceramic doumbek as seen from inside the shell. Sealed cracks on ceramic doumbek shell.

The cracks are barely visible, and the shell is as strong and probably stronger than ever.