The ‘Branding’ Reality of Buying a Djembe Today

Growing up in the seventies, there were not a lot of choices if you wanted to buy a quality brand. There was Zildjian Cymbals, LP and Gon Bops congas, and half a dozen drum set companies. I remember calling my drum teacher in Winnipeg because there was a set of Gon Bops and a set of LP congas on sale at half price at a local store, only $600.00 (regular price $1200.00) for each set. He said they are both good and to ask the store to hold the set I didn’t choose for him. He would be at the store in a couple of hours. He was worried someone else would buy them in the next few hours as they were such a great deal. I was making $3.00 an hour at my job at the time, minimum wage was $2.20.

Fast forward to today and the same quality set of congas, same brand, made in the same Thailand factory (although Gon Bops has changed suppliers in recent years) can be bought for around $450.00 and they take months to sell. What happened? One major change was the internet – finding the best price was easier. Another change was import laws, and of course, the emergence of China. Small start up wholesale businesses started buying the same or equal quality instruments, often from the same factory as the major brands. Real competition emerged in the musical instrument market. Over time the best manufacturers survived and dominated. For example, today the Toca PVC plastic synergy djembes, Meinl fiberglass and Groove Masters Percussion fiberglass djembes plus a number of other brands are all made in the same factory in Indonesia. The ten largest selling conga and small percussion brands are made by the same family in Thailand (although in a few different factories). And almost all of the drum sets that retail below $1500.00 are made in a few factories in China or Taiwan.

 What makes acoustic percussion different than electric drums, keyboards, etc. is that a consumer can easily identify the quality of an instrument by testing sound, hardware, head quality and so on. Very little is hidden in percussion, so a famous brand does not necessarily mean a better instrument. In many cases new brands are trying to prove themselves to consumers with vast improvements on the instruments. Paying the “brand surcharge” has become less attractive to consumers with so many options.

The huge selection of quality “house” brands in addition to well known brands have forced prices lower, giving consumers unprecedented value for their investment. Consumers are a lot less blinded by brand name and are thoroughly researching quality and pricing. Consumers can now enjoy the lowest prices (when indexed to income) with some of the best quality in history.