Pearl Elite Series Mahogany Congas and Bongos

Finally, a decent alternative to oak percussion

Pearl Percussion's popular Elite series hand-percussion instruments are usually offered with 100 percent aged oak shells, but this brand new series features an outer layer of mahogany fused with an inner layer of para wood – more commonly known as rubber wood.

Para wood is used extensively in furniture manufacturing in Thailand, which just happens to be where Pearl's Elite series is made. This adds a classy grain pattern to the insides of the shells and significantly increases volume and overall projection.

"The blend of woods seems to naturally EQ the instruments so that they strike a great balance in all ends of the sound spectrum"

Spline-joint stave technology might sound a little daunting, but it simply means that Pearl further enhances the traditional stave construction method by utilising metal splines. This solidly secures the staves both horizontally and vertically while increasing the surface area of the joints for added shell strength.

The result is a reassuringly rock-solid shell construction that ranks it as one of the heaviest sets we've come across. Carting the drums around will take a little more brawn and if you do plan on checking them in regularly with airlines, prepare yourself for some seriously scary excess baggage charges!

Pearl elite bongos

Another new feature is Pearl's Self-Aligning Washer System, which isolates the tension hooks from the inner walls of the lugs for greater tuning ease. This worked well without any hindrance.

You can choose from finishes such as natural mahogany or, in this case, Pearl's Cosmic Sparkle high-gloss finish, which adds a hugely classy look and is basically a black sparkle with a gazillion tiny flecks of blues, reds, greens, golds and more; when caught under stage lights it looks truly fabulous. This finish does come at a little extra cost, but is well worth the outlay.

Hands on

The blend of woods seems to naturally EQ the instruments so that they strike a great balance in all ends of the sound spectrum. Pearl says that mid and low frequencies are increased and we would have to agree with them, while adding that we found the high-end tones were boosted significantly too.

All standing proud at 30" tall, the 11" quinto, 11 3/4" conga and 12 1/2" tumba were beautifully sympathetic and fun to play, while affording powerfully authentic tones and bags of volume when needed. The matching bongo set has a 7" diameter macho and 9" hembra, features the same polished steel hardware(top and bottom) and as a result is pretty hefty too.

The tumbadoras' responsive buffalo-skin heads sit high up and well clear of Pearl's new styled Contour Crown hoops and this means that there's no likelihood of you cracking parts of your hands on the hardware. These new polished steel hoops are quite substantial but don't overpower the drums, while their pewter-esque finish adds a touch of elegance when you compare them with the ubiquitous standard chrome versions.

We found the set plenty loud enough when played seated, but if you want to stand while using some of Pearl's easily adjustable, collapsible PC2000 conga stands you'll be knocked out by how much more they project.

For professional-quality instruments that pack the features in and sound this good, Pearl's Elite Mahogany series is both reasonably affordable and highly durable.

"For professional-quality instruments that pack the features in and sound this good, Pearl's Elite Mahogany series is both reasonably affordable and highly durable"

The accompanying bongo set was a complete joy to play and –although quite weighty to play traditionally between your knees – you could do a lot worse than invest in one of Pearl's super seated bongo stands.

The review bongos, though, came with one of Pearl's PB900W All-fit tilting bongo stands, which proved effortless to set-up, easy to adjust and impressively sturdy at even the highest settings. When you consider just how heavy these bongos are then this is reassuring to say the least. The stand was rock solid when positioning the bongos over a set of congas and if you incorporate a set within your drum kit then it would also be a great choice.

Made in exactly the same way as the congas, these professional sized bongos sound wonderful, are substantial in their construction, feature the same type of hybrid shell and with oversized hoops and hooks give you a reassuringly professional look.

MusicRadar Rating

4 / 5 stars

Something different to the usual oak models. They won't break the bank and they'll get you noticed.


The bongos are weighty - you'll probably need to invest in a decent stand.


Pearl has positively ticked every single box in the design and production of this impressive series. They sound marvellous, have no weaklings in the pack and provide an authentic, powerful and, above all, highly musical sound that would comfortably fit in most stylistic settings.

Drum Shell Material

Mahogany/rubber wood hybrid

Review Policy
All MusicRadar's reviews are by independent product specialists, who are not aligned to any gear manufacturer or retailer. Our experts also write for renowned magazines such as Guitarist, Total Guitar, Computer Music, Future Music and Rhythm. All are part of Future PLC, the biggest publisher of music making magazines in the world.

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