Useful tips and information
Surdo - shopping guide
Short or high body?
40cm, 50 cm or 60 cm high?
Short surdos are also called Surdo Axé or Surdo Bahia. The name already tells us that those drums come from Brazil´s Northeastern Samba Reggae. Nowadays, more and more of the shorter, about 50 cm high surdos are also being played in Rio´s Samba schools. Your choice should depend on the sound of the instrument, the weight and the wearing comfort.
The height of the body has an effect on the fading sound of the instrument: the higher the body the longer the fade-out. If you want an extra long sustain, a high surdo is the right choice, but even a lower surdo has enough sustain. So if you wish to have full resonance, pick a high shell. If you prefer taping your surdo head, you don´t need to worry about sustain anyways.
The height of the shell has of course an immense influence on the total weight of the drum. The difference is approx. 1 kg depending on diameter and manufacturer.
If you are using a shoulder strap with one hook, a surdo with a high shell will have a comfortable position in front of your body. The low balance point contributes to the surdo´s stable position without it being too tilted. Short shells are comfy to wear in front of you with a hip strap and easy to play with 2 beaters without the surdo banging against your legs.
Surdos are available in the sizes 14” to 29”. In general one can say that small diameters are suitable for high tuning whereas large diameters are better for deeper bass tones. The most common sizes are 18”, 20” and 22”. Smaller drums (14” and 16”) are suitable for children and youngsters or or Mangueira´s speciality - the Surdo Mor (16''). A 24” surdo sounds fantastic in the deep tones, so if you are able to handle the weight, this surdo would be an excellent option. 26''or 29'' surdos sound great but are only for 'big boys and girls' since they seem to weigh tons, especially when you have to carry them!
Wood or Aluminium?
Wooden shells create warm and full tones whereas aluminium shells sound sharper and have much more overtones. The choice of the head has more influence on the drum´s sound than the material of the shell. Surdos made of aluminium are more rustical and ideal for playing in a samba band.Wooden surdos are great for Pagode, rhythmical therapy or studio work. In Brazilian blocos and Samba schools you will almost exclusively find
The choice of the right head is essential for the sound of your surdo:
Goat skin heads provide a full and warm sound with a long sustain. They are used as batter- and resonance heads in the Samba schools. For natural surdo heads, exclusively goat skin is used.
Nylon/synthetic heads sound sharp and singing and are rather rich in overtones. Their sound is occasionally regarded as too thin, but within the context of a samba band this tone is needed especially for the high surdo voices.
Korino / napa heads are double layered heads with a white nylon bottom and (mostly black) synthetic leather top. They create a typical deep and full sound with hardly any overtones and very short sustain. This head is not really suitable for the high surdo voices and should not be played on too many surdos in a band either as the sound pattern tends to get too muffled.
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