Gon BopsPosted on March 16, 2011
Gon Bops is the sound of the most legendary and authentic percussion in the world
The Gon Bops story begins in early 1950’s California. According to legend, it was here that Mariano Bobadilla and Tom Flores began working together building the finest drums available at the time. The two went on to become the most highly regarded conga builders in the percussion industry. Tom founded Valje® Drums and crafted the most sought after Afro-Cuban instruments made in the US, while Mariano founded Gon Bops™, one of the oldest and most respected manufacturers of Latin instruments in the world.
While Flores’ drums concentrated on small, handcrafted wooden stave selection, he moved his design away from the original Cuban shape of the instrument. His innovation lay in the air drying of the staves and scoring the interior to prevent cracking and allow flexibility. He was at the forefront of the industry and his drums were quickly in demand by the best players in the world.
Mariano’s designs remained true to the classic Cuban shape, and his innovation lay in the development of the drum hardware. He also designed the first teardrop crown with rounded counter hoop to protect the player’s hands. Other innovations included Taroles or wooden timbales, the first pre-mounted replacement heads for congas, chromatic tuned cowbells and numerous stands, adapters and other hardware innovations. Mariano was an inventor who listened to artists and drew much of his inspiration from the instruments themselves.
In the early 1980’s Flores sold the Valje name and shop to Haight Ashbury Music of San Francisco, a large retailer of his drums. Akbar Moghaddam, a drum repairman at Haight Ashbury Music, moved to LA to learn how to make the drums directly from Tom. Within a year the entire operation was moved to San Francisco, where the second generation of Valje drums went into production. The drums were still built from Red Oak, the scoring of the staves continued, and the hardware remained the same.
Unfortunately, 2 years later a nearby fireworks company exploded, and the massive fire destroyed the Valje shop and its entire inventory of drums. Consequently, Akbar moved on to launch his own Sol Percussion line and continued building his fantastic drums in San Francisco. The Valje name was purchased by a competitor, and production was moved to Thailand.
Without a doubt, Gon Bops was and had been the undisputed leader in Latin instruments from the 1950’s into the early 80’s. Even in later years when competitors began making instruments overseas because of cheap labor rates, Mariano insisted on making everything in California. Unfortunately, like many other great American companies, Gon Bops struggled to remain competitive and was finally forced to close its doors.
In 2001 Don Lombardi of DW Drums bought the Gon Bops name. Don had met Mariano in 1978, and often went to the Gon Bops founder for advice when creating his DW brass snare drums. As a tribute to Mariano, DW made it their mission to build the best instruments for percussionists worldwide.
Akbar, now a respected and highly regarded master drum builder with a passion for building instruments, had loomed large on Lombardi’s radar for some time. So it was only fitting that Don brought Akbar from Sol Percussion to start building Gon Bops drums, and thus, the Gon Bops legend and tradition were reborn.
And this is where our story comes full circle. Having worked together in the early 1950’s, Tom Flores and Mariano Bobadilla became the two most storied builders of drums in the US. Akbar Moghaddam, who learned the craft of building drums from Flores and went on to build the second generation of Valje Drums – Flores’ revered company – is now the master drum builder at Gon Bops, Mariano’s legendary percussion company.
Like the master builders before him, Akbar’s overriding passion is the quality of the sound, and it is the sound of his drums that continues Mariano’s excellent reputation. It is a sound steeped in tradition, the result of all-wood construction of his congas and bongos and a no-compromise approach to raw materials and craftsmanship.
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