Transferred from an older blog: Original post date by Alpha (Administrator) on 09/21/11
This article assumes that you intend to purchase an authentic Doundoun set, the kind played by professional drummers in countries like Guinea and Mali.
A Doundoun set is composed of three double sided base drums.
The Doundoumba (the largest one) with its very deep pitch.
The Sangban (the medium one) with its medium pitch.
The Kenkeni (the smallest one) with its higher pitch.
All three drums are usually played with a bell attached on it (each bell is in tune to match the drum to which it is attached).
The best Doundoun set in the world most definitely come from Guinea and Mali, the two countries at the heart of the mandingue ancestral music tradition. Each of the three drums is always built out of a single piece of wood, usually Melina wood, but other West African woods used for Djembes are also used to built the Doundoun set.
There are two different types of professional authentic Doundoun sets: The traditional one, which does not have any iron rings / hoops, nor any non stretching ropes. The more modern one, assembled with iron hoops and non-stretching ropes (The Doundouns we present on our web site). This second type is the most common in the main cities, but the traditional one is mostly used in remote areas in Guinea and Mali. Both type of Doundoun will provide great professional sound, as long as they are built and mounted by professional craftsmen from West Africa.
The original Doundoun set is mounted without vertical ropes, or iron hoops (This is what we call the traditional set). Instead, the head is kept in place using a leather rope. Similar to the Djembe, iron hoops are a recent enhancement from the Guinean "ballet" professionals touring the world. In Guinea, Doundoun fine-tuning used to always require the skin to be heated by a fire. The iron hoops and non-stretching rope were introduced to allow a permanent tension, so that the instrument would always be ready to play in any environment, indoor or outdoor performances.
The Doundoun heads are made of Calf / Cow skins, and the choice of the skin thickness together with the type of wood and assembling techniques are key to having a professional sounding instrument. This is one good reason why you should make sure you always buy a set that was assembled in West Africa by professional craftsmen. Plastic or synthetic head will never sound as rich and be as loud as an authentic instrument, not to mention that these heads will never last as long as the originals do!
Fine tuning of a rope professional Doundoun set is performed just like an authentic rope mounted Djembe (read the "Djembe tunning and care" blog article for further details). Each drum has its pre-defined required pitch in order to play with other instruments in the orchestra, just like any other musical instrument. In practice, both side of each of the double-sided drums won't have the exact same pre-defined pitch after being tuned, which is exactly what you want when playing professionally. You will then be able to use one or the other side to match the tuning of the other instruments, or specific piece of music in the orchestra without effort.
Similar to the Djembe drum, there are no specific precise size that makes it a professional instrument, but rather a close range of sizes for each of the drums that will allow proper required sound / pitch to be produced. Read the "Doundoun set" page of our web site to learn more about the size of a professional set.