How to Pick a Good Tambourine (Style, Size, Price)


There are many types of tambourine to choose from, and on occasion they can look quite different, not to mention the price range. In this guide, I will take a look at the different styles to suit the music, Sizes, Price ranges and Manufacturers of the best tambourines for you.

How to choose a tambourine? – There are a number of considerations when picking a good tambourine. Choosing the right tambourine will depend on the music you want to play. Deciding on what type of skin or if you are going headless. And then there are manufacturer and price considerations too.

This guide will take you through the various considerations when looking to buy a good tambourine to suit you. Scroll down to check out the different types, understand what types of music styles they suit, sizes prices and where you will buy it from.

How to Pick a Good Tambourine – In-Depth, 4 Step Picking Process in Details

I was like you. I wanted a tambourine but didn’t have a clue where to start. Only when I started searching did I consciously notice that there were different sizes, shapes, and number of jingles (Zills) on each. Sure when I think back I had noticed this before but hadn’t taken any interest until I wanted one. Then I was confused. So let’s take a look at the following areas.

Tambourine Styles

There are many styles of tambourine to choose from, with and without heads, different shapes, and even ones that will fit on your feet, ideal for busking and one-man bands laying drums or guitars too.

In America, the tambourine is synonymous with Gospel music for which the instrument goes (excuse the pun) hand-in-hand. You may be looking for the next Tambourine to take with you next time you go, or perhaps you’ve started a rock band and want to play a part in the music too, or are not sure what to do with your spare hand on stage.

You may also be a percussion student in the orchestra instructed to buy one to help with your studies and grab a place in the percussion family

Tambourines with a Skin (Head)

Tambourines can have a drum head, a natural or synthetic skin that plays a far greater part than just filing the hole in the rim. It forms the drum part of the instrument and can be used as such, played with fingers, the heel or palm of your hand, but NEVER the knuckles, no matter how tempting that might be.

Quick Tip: Playing the Tambourine Head with the Knuckels Should be avoided to prevent damaging the skin of your tambourine. Whilst finger tips are small surface areas like the knuckles, the latter are hard and can over time affect the performance of the head.

Skins can be made of natural materials, or synthetic. Natural is, of course, an excellent choice and can provide a superior sound, but don’t let that put you off, a synthetic head as they are constructed very well and they perform admirably in many cases.

Don’t go Super Cheap!

If you go to the budget end of the price range on Synthetic skins however, you are not going to get an instrument conducive to a great performance. As with most things in life, you do get what you pay for, and cutting corners in quality will cut lumps from your performance.

Natural Skin

A natural skin will be constructed of Calfskin, Sheep or Pig and sometimes Goat skin too.

A natural skin head on a tambourine will produce a warmer, deeper timbre. The sound will richer and provide real space in the sound. Also, finger work including rolls is performed with ease.

Natural heads to require more care however and will change slightly if affected by humidity. Something that can be avoided with Synthetic heads

Synthetic Skin

As mentioned Synthetic heads on a tambourine will not be affected by humidity as much as natural skin. In terms of sound there is more of a ‘pop’.

That is not to say they are a great deal worse and in some cases, depending on the sound you are looking to achieve can be preferable.

Also, do not be fooled into thinking a synthetic head will be cheaper. In some cases, they are more expensive thanks to the great strides in synthetic head development and performance.

Headless Tambourines

A headless tambourine is headless because it has no drum head skin. Often referred to as the ‘Rock Tambourine’ as it is most often seen in the hands of a rock n roll band’s lead singer.

I’ll cover sizes in that section below, but usually, a rock tambourine will be between 6-12 inches. As you can imagine the biggest stars always like to hold a bigger instrument!

In addition to the traditional circular shape, the rock tambourine is available in a host of other shapes, including semi-circles, squares, triangles, and aptly star shapes too. That’s before we begin to consider the range of colors.

The tambourine is rather more important than they look in the hands of Roger Daltrey, Liam Gallagher, and others. The tambourine reproduces and enhances the 8 or 16 note patters the drummer is playing, adds depth to the snare and helps keep time too

Is the Tambourine Rim Important?

The Rim or the Shell is an integral part of the tambourine of course as everything else is attached to it, including the jingles which are placed in slots. Usually made of wood, synthetic, Formica and other materials are becoming more and more common.

The rim is of course, also where you will hold your tambourine, where the gap between the jingles are. This is where you will also find a small hole, in a tambourine with ahead. But don’t go popping a finger or your thumb through there. it’s not for that.

What is the hole in a tambourine rim for? – The hole in the rim of a tambourine is to facilitate mounting of the instrument in a stand for an alternative position from which to play. It is not for thumbs or fingers to poke through, as you will discover when you get one stuck.

How Many Jingles is Best on the Tambourine?

The number of jingles will depend usually on the size of the tambourine, but they will always be set in pairs. So for an 8″ tambourine, you may have 6 sets of jingles in two rows, whereas a 10″ may have 8 pairs of jingles x 2 rows.

Normally set in two rows, the pairs of jingles are slightly different sizes too. The number will depend upon the manufacturer, but be sure, the more jingle the more volume!

The jingles are the most important part of the tambourine. They provide the sound that is so distinctive, but they come in many different sizes, numbers, and are made from different materials, treated in a different way providing different sounds – So where to start?

Thankfully you do not have to choose your jingles to go with your tambourine unless you are making a bespoke order. The jingles will already be set and all you have to do is choose the sound you want or like.

Silver, copper, bronze and brass are all used for jingles. With copper nd silver you will also find them sometimes heat-treated for a different sound.

Best Tambourine for Church?

At a good price, the Remo Fiberskyn Quadra is perfect. A sturdy but lightweight instrument offers 3 sizes with differing numbers of jingles up to a single or double row of 8 sets of jingles. The drum head is constructed of Fiberskyn which is becoming the preferred synthetic skin choice.

Check the current price at Amazon if you are looking for a tambourine for church with a classic warm sound

Best Tambourine for Church - REMO
Best Tambourine for Church

Best Tambourine for Rock?

Two choices here depending on where the tambourine is going to be used. One may sit mounted in the drum set, the other in the hand of another member, probably the lead singer

Best Tambourine for the Drummer

Hat Trcik drum set tambourine
This Double Row hattrick looks amazing!

There are several ways a tambourine can be used within a drum set and rather than go through them all, I have simply consulted a drummer friend who has provided a preference for The Hat Trick as pictures above available from Amazon – Mounted on the hi-hat pedal a dark rich sound is achieved with the double row of brass jingles.

Best Tambourine for the Lead Singer

The classic elliptical shape sits well in any lead singer’s hand and the moment you hold onto this, everyone knows you are a rock god!!

Tambourine for lead singer in a band
A tambourine for an absolute Rock God!

Available on Amazon where you check the current price, they also come in a range of colors to suit your style

Best Tambourine for Concert?

There is a single place to head for the best concert tambourine, that being the Grover Pro Projection plus which you can find readily available on Amazon.

Double rows of German silver jingles, in a beautiful wooden shell, and a head providing dry, crisp and bright sound.

Grover pro concert tambourine
Grover-Pro Projection Plus Tambourine is about the best you can get for concert playing.

Size of Tambourine

A 10″ tambourine is probably the most popular size, given is weight/size ratio, comfort in the hand and slightly easier gong on the wrist than a larger 12″ version.

But tambourines will also come in a range of smaller sizes too, with 8 and 6-inch versions available. As the size of your tambourine changes upward or downward in diameter, then plainly the number of jingles will change and thus the sound.

Size does make a difference to the sound and as a general rule of thumb, it can be taken that in most cases bigger equals louder thanks to the additional jingles.

Price – What Should I Pay for a Tambourine?

So we are coming to the tricky part. How much should I pay for a Tambourine? – The answer is as much as you can afford, have saved, or are willing to part with, and what you are going to be doing with your tambourine. – Is it for recording, Is it for the church, stage performance, or your part on the orchestra? All things considered, and for whatever use, you can find good tambourines from all price ranges, but here is a guide anyway.

Budget

A reasonable budget tambourine will be costing between $20-$50. Beware that at the bottom end of this price scale you may still be in the ‘kids-section’, but there are perfectly acceptable tambourines in this price range.

Price isn’t everything – i have a friend who still uses a junior tambourine for recording he recieved for Chrstmas when he was 9 years old. He uses a different on on stage, but that old tambourine for him, “sounds like a tambourine should sound”, and he will record with noting else.

Mid-Range

A mid-range Tambourine now will be upward of $50 through to $200. This is becoming serious money for your instrument, as there are very good options toward the bottom end of the range, which are as good as some instruments toward the top.

I am always wary of mid-range priced products and make my selections very carefully. I feel I am either getting great value at the bottom and incredible value at the top.

Professional

Think nothing of paying around $400-$500 for the best concert tambourine you can get your hands on and even up toward $1,000 for a Ron Vaughn. It may seem a world away from the budget end, but imagine, you’ll be in possession of an incredible instrument.

Alternatively, for just two hundred bucks, a fraction of the cost of a guitar, violin, or piano, you will still have a very good tambourine that is going to last for years.

Tambourine Makers

So we come down to the manufacturers of tambourines. Now I am not going to recommend the best, as right now, I’ve not tried tambourines from every maker in the world, so If I claim one to be best I will have to add the caveat that I haven’t tried a whole list of others. With that in mind, let’s take a look a small list, that you can check out at your convenience.

List of Tambourine Makers

in no particular order

  • REMO
  • BLACKSWAMP
  • YMC
  • RON VAUGHN
  • LATIN PERCUSSION
  • GROVER-PRO
  • TOCA
  • RHYTHMTECH

This is of course not a comprehensive list, but look out for my article reviewing each of the manufacturers above and more

Choosing a Tambourine for Percussion Students

You’ve been instructed to go buy a tambourine to facilitate your studies, but were not given any advice on which one to choose right? It’s a very common theme, so don’t worry. Hopefully, you have read the article above going through the various, types, shapes, sizes, styles and price ranges, before getting to who makes tambourines.

If not, and you are pushed for time with studies, then take a look at our Recommended Gear page for tambourines where there is a small selection of Tambourines to suit budgets for student up to professional percussionists, or simply go for the best selling recommendation of the Projection-Plus Double Row Tambourine on Amazon, suitable for any Concert Scenario

You will be getting a professional quality tambourine with German Silver Alloy zills, that will assist you greatly with any exaggerated articulation passages. In addition, it’s the very best quality and will last you for years beyond your studies.

SteveM

I enjoyed the unpitched appeal of percussion prior to discovering handpans in a 'moment' I was experiencing. I've been writing ever since.

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