LP Matador Custom Conga
The name LP is synonymous with superb hand percussion, and the company is famed for equipping legendary players with high-end products. LP's Matador Custom line slots between the beginner-targeted Aspire series and its various pro ranges.
These congas are Thai-made Siam oak drums of stave construction, strengthened with internal reinforcement pins, and are quite substantial in both weight and dimensions. The series comprises an 11" quinto, 11¾" conga, 12½" tumbadora and a set of 7¼" and 85/8" bongos.
The weight was the ﬁrst surprising thing on unwrapping the review set, followed by the striking ﬁnish. This set boasted one of the best examples of Sunburst we've ever seen, even on vintage guitars. With the exception of the tuning lugs, the hardware was ﬁnished in matte black and accentuated the gloss woodgrain ﬁnish. The congas all have comfortable steel handles, which makes carting them around much easier.
One reservation was LP's usual metal ﬁnishing of the bottom or lip of the drum - black rubber would suit it better. When you sit at these 30" high drums you'll be amazed at their solidity and how you can really dig in, safe in the knowledge that your tumbadoras aren't going to topple over and leave the stage without you. While tuning them up with a conguero friend, he remarked how quickly he got great sounds out of them.
All these drums are stand mountable and we used both set-up methods to listen to the drums. We played together (he on a ﬁbreglass set and me on the Matadors) and we found the sounds were very clear, especially with the tumba; bass notes were effortless and resonant. The natural rawhide heads were surprisingly easy to play and they projected well with minimal effort.
The conga produced a rich, warm and, dare we say, woody traditional tone, even on a carpeted ﬂoor, and had bags of volume and clarity. The quinto was equally impressive with great highs and gorgeous slaps. Together this set can produce professional sounds that run the spectrum and would be great for intermediate players or even professionals.
The one obvious difference between these and other models is the use of LP's Softstrike rims and these feel quite different to play than the 'comfort curve' style of rim. They are not at all difﬁcult to play on but sit a little higher and don't curve away from the incoming strikes as do their comfort curve cousins. We would advise trying them out ﬁrst to see if they suit you, but would be surprised if they fazed many people.
Another difference is the use of horn-shaped tension plates (in keeping with the 'bull' theme) rather than the V-shaped plates usually found on higher-end gear. These few differences will not affect the potential of these drums and will give a slightly different look and feel to a great sounding set of congas - which is no bad thing these days when individuality is so important.
This sort of spec is usually limited to high-end products so to see reasonably priced drums with some of the features and build quality of the 'bad boys' of the other lines is a very positive development - LP have set a new standard for intermediate-level congas.
LP also offer a quinto and conga set that includes a sturdydouble-braced stand giving you two options for playing them - mounted or free standing.
The initial impact of the accompanying bongo set was markedly different; their appearance - despite roughly matching the sunburst colour scheme - was just not as impressive as their bigger cousins' ﬂawless ﬁnish. Their slightly slimmer bases means that they are a lot lighter than they might have been and were much easier on the legs when played traditionally between the knees or stand-mounted via LP's double braced straptightening, tilting bongo stand.
An impressive pair
We have left the best bit to last with the bongos and that is their sound and playability.
Their slightly rougher skins felt extremely organic and they produced superb tones and cracking slaps that didn't ring unnecessarily like some models with very little tuning. This made them a little more traditional in theirfeel, and would suit a player who wasn't too concerned with volume.
The heads stand proud of the rims and make for comfortable, extended and relatively pain-free playing. We were surprised with just how sensitive these drums were, making dynamic playing very rewarding with all the tones easy to achieve as well as to reproduce time after time.
When it came to playing repetitive patterns, as many bongo patterns are, this set won us over completely. They sounded great with hands, beaters or sticks and did everything that we asked of them. All of the drums feature LP's ProCare integrated conga shell protectors and prevent unwanted knocks and scratches when positioning them close in around you. The rubber protectors are efﬁcient and really minimal in their design.
The drums also come with black basket stands, which are a lightweight and collapsible solution to playing standing up.
LP have done a fine job in producing a conga set that is so playable and that sounds so good.
Very durable, great sounding instruments, with a stunning finish.
The bongo set could have been matched to that great finish a little bit more.
This is a difficult price range and something special has to be pulled out of the hat to justfy LP's place in the constantly improving 'first set' market. They have undoubtably found that something special with the matador series. This set really does offer an awful lot of proffessional features and with a name that has been respected like no other for 40 years, LP's slogans about trusting the leader seem somewhat appropriate.