Djembe Drum Head Replacement Instructions

Lighter or Matches
Rope Puller

Goat Skin

Installing a new goat skin drum head on a Djembe is not a difficult task.  If you are at all comfortable working with your hands, you should be able to install a new skin on your Djembe.

Most drums manufactured these days have straight forward, easy to understand weaving methods.  Some drums, mostly from Africa, can employ quite complicated weaving patterns.  In these cases you may be able to replace the weave with a more common and easy to manage method, as described here at

Step 1:
Purchase a suitable replacement goat skin for your Djembe drum head.  Here are some things to keep in mind.

    • Purchase from a reputable dealer with a no questions asked return policy
    • Know what weight skin you want, light, medium or heavy.  Light weight skins offer a more ringy sound.  So after you strike the head it will ring longer.  Lighter heads produce the best tone and slap sounds which are higher in pitch but lack the lower tones.  Light weight skins are great for Ashiko drums.  Medium heads produce tones and resonate with characteristics between light and heavy heads.  Most Djembes from Africa have medium weight heads while Djembes from Indonesia have heavy heads.  A heavy weight skin will produce a tone that is more muted or does not ring as long.  Heavy heads produce great low tones.
    • Purchase a skin were the spine of the goat ran through the center of the skin.  This offers the best tone and durability.
    • Skins can come in white or black, with and without fur.  This is just a personal preference.  If you like the fur around the edge of the head, you will need to purchase a skin with fur, then shave the top surface on the skin after installation.

Step 2:
Soak your drum head
in warm water to make it pliable.  This should only take about 15 minutes.  If you start now it will be ready when you finish disassembling your Djembe.

Step 3:
Inspect your drum to understand the lacing pattern.  You may want to take some pictures for future reference.  Locate all the knots and understand where they are and how they are tied.  In your mind, walk yourself through unlacing and re-lacing your Djembe.  Don't be too concerned with the top and bottom ring lacing, these rings will not be unlaced.  Focus on the verticals or lacing running from top to bottom.


Djembe Repair Step 4 Locate Handle

Step 4:
Locate the handle of the drum.
  Most drums finish the lacing pattern at the handle and so this is where you will begin.  You are disassembling the drum in reverse order from how it was assembled.  Another area you may begin is where there is excess rope coiled at the base of the drum.  The key is to disassemble the drum by only removing one knot if possible.

Djembe Repair Step 5 Locate Ending Knot

Step 5:
Locate the ending knot
which should be by the handle.

Djembe Repair Step 6 Remove Ending Knot

Step 6:
Untie/remove the ending knot.  These knots are often very tight and may need to be cut.  Caution: Do not cut the vertical rope that continues through the knot.  Make sure that when you cut the knot that you end up with what amounts to just the knot, which is about three inches of rope. 


Djembe Repair Remove Vertical Lacing

Step 7:
Remove all vertical lacing.  Some authors suggest loosening the laces just enough to get the old head out and the new one in.  We have found that if you only loosen the lacing, it is very difficult to install the new Djembe head evenly or centered on the drum.  Removing the lacing completely takes a little more time but is much less frustrating.  Continue to undo the lacing until all but a few laces exist.  You will likely not be able to completely remove the laces because most drums have two to three knots where the ropes are spliced together.  You do not want to undo these knots, if possible.


Djembe Repair Remove Old Head

Step 8:
Remove old Djembe head from the drum.

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Step 9:
Inspect the bearing edge of the Djembe for cracks, chips and dips.   One method is to turn the drum upside down on a flat surface (a counter top works well), and shine a light inside the drum.  You should not see large gaps between the counter and the drum shell where light is passing through.  A large gap for a Djembe is anything that measures more than a 1/4 inch from counter to drum.  If you find this type of a gap you will need to repair the bearing edge.  The easiest way to remove such gaps is to take your drum outside.  Find a smooth flat section of concrete.  Turn the drum over onto its bearing edge and slide the drum in a circular motion.  This will sand the drum down evenly on all sides.  Continue the sanding process until you have removed the low spot.

If you are uneasy with this step and your drum was not producing buzzing sounds with your old head, you can skip this step and simply replace the head.

Djembe Repair Step 10 remove old skin

Djembe Repair Step 10 removing old skin

Djembe Repair Step 10 removing skin

Step 10:
Remove the old Djembe skin from the retaining ring.

Djembe Repair set 11 spacer

Step 11:
Use a Tape Measure or any object as a spacer.  This object should measure about 2"X4"X4".  Place the spacer on your work surface then place the drum head on top of the spacer. 

Djembe Repair Step 12 Laying out head

Step 12:
Lay the head over the spacer with the playing surface of the head facing up. The spacer prevents you from stitching the head to the retainer ring too tightly.  You need at least two inches of slack in the Djembe head to produce a two inch apron. The apron is the area of the skin that stretches from the bearing edge of the drum to the outer ring.

Djembe Repair Step 13 stitching the head

Step 13:
Temporarily stitch Djembe head onto retaining ring using dental floss or string.  Stitch back and forth from one side to the other until you have stitches every 2 – 3 inches around the head.  This process is optional but it really helps you keep the drum head in place as you begin the reassembly process.

Djembe Repair Step 14 positioning the head

Step 14:
Place the prepared Djembe drum head and retainer ring on the drum.
  Be sure to center the head on the shell.

Djembe Repair Step 15 centering the head

Step 15:
Place the Top Ring
on the drum and re-center the head.  Use your fingers as gauges to ensure the head is centered.  Smooth out any large folds in the head between the top and retainer rings.

Djembe Repair Step 16 lacing verticals

Step 16:
Re-lace verticals using the shortest piece of available rope, which should still be attached to the lower ring. Lace the vertical loosely, being careful not to apply any tension to the head yet.  Just get the verticals in place.  Re-center the head.  When you run out of rope, use the other piece of rope and continue to lace the drum.  Re-center your head.

Djembe Repair Setp 17 taking up slack

Step 17:
Take up the slack in the verticals by starting back at the beginning of your rope and working around the drum to tighten the head.  Do not pull the head tight yet.  Here you are looking for the head to be centered and the ropes to be even.  Caution: too much tension on the verticals will pull the dental floss into the head and cut the goat skin.  Moving through the tension process in several passes helps to keep the head centered as you go.

Djembe Repair Step 18 remove temp stitching

Step 18:
Remove the temporary stitching by cutting the dental floss.  At this point you should have very little tension on the head and there is no risk of the head falling out from between the retainer and top rings.

Djembe Repair Step 19 trimming excess skin

Step 19:
Trim the excess goat skin from between the top and retaining rings.  You can use a sharp pair of scissors or a razor blade.  Try the scissors first. This will reduce the risk of cutting into the tensioned head and ruining your newly installed Djembe head.  Trim as close to the top ring as possible.  Complete this process before the head dries.  If you wait until the head dries, it will become very brittle and difficult to cut.

Dejmeb repair Step 20 tensioning verticals

Step 20:
Tension the verticals
by pulling the verticals tight.  Here is where a pair of leather garden gloves or a rope puller comes in handy.  I find using gloves to be the easiest.  This technique is a bit harder on the hand than using tools.

Begin with either starting knot and work your way around the drum pulling up on the verticals.  When you get to the end of the rope, temporarily tie it off and move to the other rope (we are assuming you have two ropes; if you have only one, start back at the beginning knot).  Continue to repeat the process of tightening until you get the drum close to the pitch you want.  When we say close, we mean you should target a tone which is a few steps lower than you want.  Temporarily tie off the final vertical and let your drum head dry overnight.

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Step 21:
Tuning the Djembe will require some muscle.  Repeat Step 20 until you get to the desired pitch.

Djembe Repair Step 22 ending knot

Step 22:
Install a handle
to make the drum easy to carry and to stow excess rope.  Using the longest length of excess rope (you should have two lengths of excess rope), begin by looping the rope through one of the bottom ring loops.

Djembe Repair Step 23 begining of handle

Step 23:
Begin your handle loops by simply making a series of loops and pulling them tight.  Continue to push new loops through the previous loops creating a chain of loops.  Or, you can create your own series of knots to form an handle and take up excess rope.


Djembe Repair Step 24 tie off handle

Step 24:
Tie off your handle
at the top of the Djembe by looping it through the retaining ring ties. Tie off the handle by lacing it back down through to loops until you have used up all the excess.