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  • Writer's pictureNathan Coles

Tambourine Buying Guide: Which Tambourine is Right For You?

Updated: Jan 26

Black Swamp Percussion makes a lot of different models of tambourines, so we have put together a little guide to help you make the right decision!


Black Swamp Percussion tambourine buying guide

Black Swamp Percussion offers a wide variety of tambourine models to choose from, and there are several factors to consider when making a purchase. These factors include the type of shell, jingle configuration, head option, and of course, price.


Basics


Tambourine Series


Recommendations




 

Terminology and Definitions:


To fully comprehend the different models, it's crucial to have a firm grasp on the terminology associated with jingles. The terminology surrounding sustain, for instance, is particularly important to understand. There are two distinct words used to describe sustain: dry and wet. Dry sustain refers to a short, quick sound that doesn't linger for very long, while wet sustain refers to a fuller, longer sound that lasts for a more extended period.


Similarly, pitch is another critical aspect of jingle terminology. There are two words used to describe pitch: dark and bright. Dark pitch refers to a lower pitch, while bright pitch refers to a higher pitch. Understanding these four terms will provide a solid foundation for comprehending the different jingle models that exist.





We encourage you to explore our website and timbre chart to see how the Sound Art models fit together in regards to pitch and sustain. This chart shows you the relative sound-space that our tambourine selections fall within.

tambourine timbre chart displaying different models pitch and sustain on a chart


 


Tambourine Shell Types


Black Swamp Percussion takes great pride in their lineup of orchestral tambourines, which includes three types of shells: solid ash, solid cherry, and ply maple. Each shell type is carefully crafted by hand to ensure the highest quality and durability.


Solid Ash shells were the first shell material used by Black Swamp Percussion founder, Eric Sooy, back in 1994 when he began steam bending shells in his garage. Ash is a sturdy, tone wood, making it an excellent choice for tambourine shells. The solid ash shells provide a clear and well-defined tone that compliments a variety of jingles perfectly.


Solid Cherry shells are another option offered by Black Swamp. These shells are similar to ash, but they are lighter in weight, making them a great choice for musicians who prefer a lighter tambourine or for younger percussionists. The solid cherry shells produce a warm and rich tone.


Finally, Ply-Maple shells are the last option of tambourine shells used by Black Swamp. Although commonly used in the percussion world, ply-maple shells are exclusively used for the Black Swamp Overture Tambourine model. The shell is lightweight, durable, and provides a bright and articulate tone that is perfect for orchestral music.


Black Swamp Percussion's selection of tambourine shells offers musicians a variety of options to suit their needs and preferences. Each shell type is handcrafted with the utmost care and attention to detail, ensuring the best possible sound and performance.



 

Tambourine Jingles Configurations


As percussionists, it is well known that the defining characteristic of a tambourine is its jingles. However, did you know that there are a multitude of different jingle options out there, each with its own unique sonic and timbre qualities?


different tambourine jingle materials

Let's start with our Chromium 25 jingles. They offer a bright, crunchy, and articulate sound. What's more, these jingles become even more articulate over time as they are "played in". We flame them in-house for an extra special touch, giving the jingles are technicolor appearance and a slight increase in their fundamental pitch.


Next up, we have our Phosphor Bronze jingles. These jingles produce a dark, wet sound that becomes more mellow as they're played. They also create very smooth and beautiful rolls, making them a popular choice for many percussionists looking for a tambourine that can blend with any ensemble.



Moving on, we have German Silver jingles, which provide a bright and wet sound that's a traditional tambourine sound. These jingles have been used in tambourines for thousands of years, making them a tried and true option for any percussionist.


Our Beryllium Copper jingles have a complex timbre that's lush and zingy. They're pretty similar to Phosphor Bronze, but with a little brighter color and pitch.


Brass jingles, on the other hand, offer a darker timbre than Chromium and Silver, but with a similar character. Finally, our Aged Brass jingles create a very dark and warm sound with more sustain than hammered brass. They're perfect for period pieces or music that calls for a specific instrument timbre.


The type of jingles you choose for your tambourine can make a big difference in the overall sound and timbre of your instrument. Consider where you'll be playing your tambourine and for what musical context the instrument will be used for. But, there is one more factor for your consideration: the tambourine head.


 

Tambourine Head Options


When deciding between a calfskin or synthetic head for your tambourine, it's important to consider the benefits and drawbacks of each option. Black Swamp tambourines offer two head options: a traditional calf skin head and a Synthetic Remo Renaissance head.


Calfskin is the choice for percussionists looking for a traditional and authentic sound from their tambourine. The natural hide head produces a warmer and slightly drier tone than the synthetic head, and can be replaced when worn out. However, it's important to note that calfskin heads are affected by weather and humidity, which can impact the sound quality and longevity of the tambourine.



While both options have their benefits, the Remo head may be the better choice for those who plan on playing their tambourine in various environments. The Remo head is designed to withstand changes in temperature and humidity better than the calf skin head, making it less likely to be impacted by environmental factors that can affect the sound quality and longevity of the tambourine.




Ultimately, the choice is yours, but it's important to consider all of the factors before making your purchase. If you're still unsure which head option is best for you, check out the Tambourine Tuesday video for more information and to hear the differences between the two head options.


Now that each dimension of the tambourine has been addressed, it's time to take a look at the different series of tambourines that Black Swamp Percussion offers and what their features and benefits are.

 

SoundArt Series


Black Swamp Percussion created the SoundArt series as the original tambourine design back in 1994. Since then, the series has expanded to a diverse lineup of tambourines to cover the entire sound spectrum of the instrument. SoundArt tambourines have reinvented and revived the true orchestral tambourine sound by returning to the superior tone that is produced only with a steam-bent, single ply shell. Our shell is complemented by jingles made from tonally rich metal alloys and quality calfskin to create the de facto standard of tambourines throughout the world.


The core of a SoundArt tambourine is a solid, Ash shell. We use skilled hand craftsmanship and advanced machinery to showcase the shell's natural beauty. The tambourine shells are first selected for their musical quality, and then formed through a process of steam bending that follows the contours of the grain, making each shell unique. The solid ash shell has a natural resonance that gives a full, warm sound to the instrument. In addition, the shell is finished with a beautiful satin finish that highlights the natural beauty of the wood.


Parallel jingle slots are two different depths. This allows the jingle sets to contact the shell at different times, creating a fuller, more robust sound. The jingles themselves are crafted from a variety of metal alloys, such as Phosphor Bronze, German Silver, Beryllium Copper, and Chromium 25, that are hammered in such a way to produce a full sonority while balancing characteristics such as attack, tessitura, sustain, projection, and tone. This attention to detail ensures that each tambourine produces a well-balanced and distinct sound.


SoundArt tambourines are available in a range of sizes, including 10" and 12" diameters. These tambourines come in multiple jingle configurations in double and single row options that allow for a range of sound possibilities. All SoundArt double row tambourines come with either a traditional calf skin head or synthetic Remo Renaissance head. The traditional calf skin head provides a classic sound that is preferred by many orchestral musicians, while the Remo Renaissance head offers a more consistent and durable option for contemporary settings.


Overall, the SoundArt series of tambourines is a testament to Black Swamp Percussion's commitment to quality and innovation in percussion. These tambourines are crafted with meticulous attention to detail and a deep understanding of the nuances of tambourine sound. The result is a series of instruments that offer a range of tonal possibilities and unparalleled quality for musicians of all styles and genres.



 

S3 Series


If you're a percussionist in need of a tambourine that blends well and speaks delicately, the S3 Series tambourine from Black Swap Percussion is the perfect option for you. The S3 in the name stands for Sensitive, Subtle, and Sophisticated, and was designed as a complementary voice to the more dominant sounding SoundArt line.


S3 tambourines have a solid, steam bent Cherry shell, which is lighter and less dense than the Ash found on our SoundArt tambourines. This design choice results in a more subtle and nuanced sound that blends well with other instruments.


What sets the S3 tambourine apart is the parallel jingle slots, which are of two different depths. This design feature allows the jingle sets to contact the shell at different times, creating a fuller and more robust sound.


To further enhance the S3's delicate and sophisticated sound, aged brass jingles are used. These jingles have a darker, warm tone with more sustain than hammered brass, producing a sound that's perfect for those musical passages that require delicacy.


In contrast, the SoundArt tambourines are available with either translucent calf or Remo Renaissance heads. These tambourines are designed to be more dominant in sound and are ideal for situations where you need a tambourine with a brighter and more cutting edge.


The S3 Series tambourine from Black Swap Percussion is the perfect choice for percussionists who need a delicate and nuanced sound that blends well with other instruments. With its Cherry shell, parallel jingle slots, and aged brass jingles, this tambourine will elevate your performance to a whole new level of sophistication.



 

Leggiero


The Leggiero Tambourines are a testament to Black Swamp Percussion's dedication to craftsmanship and attention to detail. The tambourine's solid Cherry shell is hand-crafted with care and precision, ensuring a high level of quality and consistency across every instrument. If you're looking for a tambourine that speaks with the brightest and clearest articulation, Black Swamp Percussion's Leggiero Tambourines might be the perfect choice for you.


The use of Cherry wood for the shell provides a unique tonal quality that sets the Leggiero Tambourines apart from other models. The wood is known for its warm, balanced sound and the ability to produce clear, defined notes with a quick decay. The shorter and lighter shell size of the Leggiero tambourines further emphasizes these qualities, allowing for a bright and lively sound that is perfect for delicate and graceful passages.


The single size jingle slots are another key feature that contributes to the tambourine's unique sound. The smaller size means the jingles have less space to travel when moving within the shell, resulting in a more immediate and focused response. This design also allows for greater control over the instrument, making it easier to execute fast and intricate rhythms with precision.


The Leggiero Tambourines feature the same Chromium 25 and German Silver jingles as Black Swamp Percussion's SoundArt series, but in a smaller diameter. These jingles are known for their bright, articulate sound and are hammered to perfection to balance the tambourine's attack, sustain, and tone. The combination of these jingles with the cherry shell and single size jingle slots creates a tambourine that is unmatched in terms of clarity and response. Their bright, delicate sound and quick response make them the perfect choice for any percussionist looking to add a touch of grace and elegance to their music.


 

Overture


The Overture model by Black Swamp Percussion is an excellent choice for those seeking a high-quality tambourine that is also affordable. It features top-notch components that are not typically found in other tambourines at the same price point. The Maple ply shell has a durable high-gloss finish that gives it a professional appearance and ensures it can withstand the rigors of regular use.


The Overture tambourine has dual-sized jingle slots that allow the jingles to contact the shell at different times, resulting in a fuller and richer sound. The textured brass jingles produce a warm and full sonority that is perfect for general-purpose band and orchestra playing.


One of the unique features of the Overture tambourine is the use of a Remo Renaissance head, which provides consistent head tension and exceptional feel, tone, and response. The synthetic tambourine head is mounted on a Black Swamp Overture tambourine, ensuring maximum durability and longevity.


Additionally, the Overture tambourine features two sets of brass jingles that are hammered for added detail and character. These jingles are held in place by a pin in the shell of the tambourine, which uses captive pins to ensure the jingles will never fall out. This attention to detail and quality craftsmanship make the Overture tambourine a top choice among musicians who demand the best sound and performance from their instruments.



 

Session Plus Headless Tambourines


The Session Plus Headless Tambourines are the first headless tambourines officially offered by Black Swamp Percussion. This innovative instrument represents years of careful consideration, design exploration, and dedication to delivering a tambourine that complements the existing lineup in terms of sound, aesthetics, and performance. The Session Plus tambourines feature a unique design with no head, resulting in a clear, robust, and pure jingle sound. Four distinct jingle options – Chromium 25, German Silver, Chromium/Bronze, and Aged Brass – offer a range of sonorities to cater to various musical preferences.


The tambourine shell is crafted from solid ash, providing a solid yet lightweight feel. Available in single or double row configurations, intentional design tweaks aim to reduce weight and increase maneuverability. The reduction in shell size for both single and double row versions contributes to a more comfortable grip, essential for extended playing sessions. The double row Session Plus tambourine stands out with dual-sized jingle slots, offering a broader sound ideal for multi-percussion setups or behind the drum kit. The headless tambourine is equipped with a stick guard around the front half, providing instrument protection, minimizing harsh stick-to-shell contact sounds, and allowing for traditional finger/thumb rolls.


The Session Plus Tambourine is designed to effortlessly adapt to various musical settings, whether in an intimate acoustic session, an energetic rock concert, a pit orchestra, a worship service, or a recording studio. With precision and versatility, each Session Plus model opens up a world of sonic possibilities, enabling musicians to adapt, evolve, and express themselves in music like never before.



 

Recommendations:


Choosing the right tambourine can be a crucial decision for percussionists and music programs of all levels. With so many options available, it's important to consider various factors that can impact your decision. The sound of the instrument is one of the most critical factors, as it can greatly affect the overall performance. Another consideration is the intended use case, as different types of tambourines may be better suited for specific musical styles or settings. Finally, budget is always a factor to keep in mind, as there are tambourines available at various price points. In this guide, we have curated a selection of recommended tambourines that can help you find the perfect instrument for your needs.



Professional Level Tambourines


These Tambourines are the ultimate choice for discerning percussionists and music programs seeking superior sound quality and craftsmanship. These tambourines are the top of the line in the Black Swamp lineup, handcrafted with the finest materials and expertly designed to deliver unmatched performance. These instruments are not only top-sellers but also represent a worthwhile investment for both professional musicians and band programs looking to elevate their sound to the next level.


SoundArt TC1: Chromium/Bronze

The orchestral standard for tambourines is our TC1 Chromium and Phosphor Bronze combination tambourine. This tambourine has a crunchy, articulate, but full-bodied sound. This combination creates an extremely versatile tambourine that performs well at all dynamic levels and musical applications. If you are purchasing your first tambourine, this is a great general purpose tambourine that will be at home in just about any musical situation.




SoundArt TD1: Chromium

Next up is our TD1 Chromium tambourine. This is an extra articulate and crunchy tambourine featuring exceptional articulation during rhythmic passages. Shake rolls and thumb rolls performed on this model tambourine can be very aggressive sounding.






SoundArt TD3: German Silver

For those seeking a traditional tambourine sound, the TD3 German Silver is a shimmering combination of color and sustain that blends well in a variety of situations. This tambourine produces a timbre that differs from the TC1 and TD1 previously mentioned. The German Silver has a more sonorous and pure tone. Shake and thumb rolls performed on this instrument are less aggressive sounding than more articulate jingle materials.



 

Intermediate/Entry Level Tambourines


Black Swamp Percussion offers tambourines that are perfect for young and beginner percussionists, as well as for band programs seeking a versatile option that can be used by all members of the percussion section. These tambourines are designed to have a balanced feel and sound.


Overture TDOV: Brass with Synthetic Head

For those seeking a concert tambourine that is both affordable and high-quality, Black Swamp Percussion offers the TDOV Overture model. This tambourine features brass jingles, a maple ply shell, and a synthetic head that provides consistent tension and minimizes the impact of weather fluctuations on the instrument's performance.




SoundArt TD3S: German Silver with Synthetic Head

The TD3S is the same tambourine shell and jingle construction as the TD3 model but features a synthetic Remo Renaissance head. This is a great choice for students, band programs, and traveling percussionists due to its head resistance to temperature and humidity. Storage and care for the instrument is made simple and easy with this synthetic head and the sound quality remains at the highest level.



 

Specialized Tambourines


Black Swamp Percussion offers a wide range of tambourines that cater to the diverse needs of musicians and ensembles. Whether you are searching for a specific timbre or sound quality for a particular musical piece or require an instrument that can adapt to various styles of composition, Black Swamp has a tambourine that can meet your requirements. With a commitment to excellence in craftsmanship and sound quality, Black Swamp tambourines are designed to deliver exceptional performance in all musical genres.


SoundArt TC12-1: 12" Chromium/Bronze

The SoundArt series not only features 10" diameter models but single row 12" tambourines as well. The weight of a single row 12" tambourine offers an easier way to play and gauge your attack/jingle response.

The 12" diameter of this tambourine also offers a deeper tone and wider playing area creating a more rustic sound particularly for softer excerpts.



S3TD: Aged Brass

Crafted with the utmost care and precision, these tambourines feature aged brass jingles and a solid steam-bent cherry wood shell for a refined, sophisticated sound that adds depth and nuance to any musical performance. With its distinctive darker and subtler character, the S3 Series is an ideal choice for percussionists seeking a unique timbre to complement their existing repertoire.

Leggiero LGTC2: Chromium/Silver

The LGTC2 is the perfect choice for percussionists who desire a delicately graceful sound. Crafted with precision and care, this tambourine boasts a solid cherry wood shell that is steam-bent to perfection, ensuring a lightweight and responsive instrument. The LGTD1 features slightly smaller diameter jingles that produce a bright and clear articulation, while the same-size jingle slots help create an extremely articulate sound that's ideal for a wide range of music styles.



 

Selecting the right tambourine is essential to achieving the desired sound and enhancing the quality of your performance. Black Swamp Percussion offers a wide range of tambourines that cater to different skill levels, musical styles, and budgets. By considering factors such as shell material, jingle type, size, and price, you can find the perfect tambourine for your needs. Whether you are a student, professional percussionist, or a band program, Black Swamp Percussion has a tambourine that will suit your unique requirements. Invest in a high-quality tambourine today and experience the difference it can make in your music.




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