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Rogholt Bangs His Own Drum; He Makes and Sells Them Too

Published: April 15, 2010

Darren Rogholt loves his drums. He plays drums, he makes drums and he sells drums.

“I just love the drums,” said Rogholt, who has been a performing arts technician since 2000 in CSULB’s Theatre Arts Department “I love everything about them. And, it makes me happy.”

He doesn’t make and play just any drum, but rather those that are used mainly in Latin/Cuban salsa music. Normally the drum heads are made from leather or cowhide, but heads on a cajón are made from wood, more specifically a thin piece of birch, usually about 1/8 inch in thickness.

“I use really good quality wood and that’s why I get a really good tone out of my drums,” he said. “I’ve never had any break because it’s all hand percussion. You don’t use sticks with these drums.”

Rogholt says that anything made with a wooden top is commonly referred to as a cajón.

“Bongos have a 7-8.5 inch head on them and about six inches in height,” he said. “Then there’s tapered ones kind of like a conga and they’re two feet tall, with up to 13-inch heads on them. Then there are the bass boxes, the ones you sit on. Those are the most popular cajón people play. It’s about 12 inches wide, 12 inches deep and about 19 inches tall. It’s like a box with a head on the front and little guitar strings in there that gives like a snare sounds when you hit the head.”

Rogholt began playing the drums at the age of 3 and professionally by 13. At Mayfair High School in Lakewood he opted to not play in the band simply because it was a little too structured for him.

“I played rock and jazz and blues, rock-a-billy, everything pretty much,” he said. “I just couldn’t see myself doing the marching band thing.”

Then, sometime in the 1990s, he began veering away from rock, focusing more on jazz, then eventually Latin jazz.

“I used to listen to the jazz stations and they were always throwing Latin jazz in there and over the years I realized I really liked that sound, the conga, the bells, the bongos,” he said. “So Latin jazz got me deeper into things like the Cuban salsa. It’s all kind of related.

“That was kind of my path,” he continued. “I started studying the Cuban percussion – the congas, bongos, timbales – all the Latin/Cuban stuff. Then I started making drums in 1997. It all came together at the same time. I had seen them around and I said ‘I can make that.’ Cajóns are more for a folkloric-Cuban setting – just drums, dancers and singers. I love that kind of music. That’s all I do now is Cuban music. That’s all I’ve been doing since 1997.”

By 2000 he had finished going to school at Los Angeles Community College in the Theater Department, going through a full-time, two-year certification program to become a technician and carpenter. Besides helping him land a job, the classes helped him to be able to design, draft, draw and build his drums even better.

bowling for books
Photo by David J. Nelson
Darren Rogholt, aka Mr. Cajón.

“I’ve always liked wood and I’ve always liked building things so it seemed like a perfect fit for me. I make more cajóns than anybody,” said Rogholt, who also does restoration and repair of congas and bongos, as well as old vintage drum sets and the old marching snares. “I make almost 30-40 instruments that I have any kind of variation on.”

It can take him a minimum of a couple of hours to build a drum, which involves cutting the wood, building it, sanding it and lacquering it. Some he keeps in his music room at home, which currently holds five sets of congas, seven sets of timbales, three sets of bongos, and three drum sets. Cajóns that he sells range from $40 up to $500.

“This is really kind of a specialty item so a lot of people don’t even know what they are,” said Rogholt, “but people that are in into salsa and Cuban music know what they are. Right now I have about six or seven stores that carry my drums, wherever I can get them in and I just recently gave a guy a bunch of stuff to take out to Santa Barbara so things are picking up.”

Of course, Rogholt gets an added pleasure out of seeing and hearing his instruments being played by some of the top Latin musicians in the area, some of whom he even gets to play with from time to time.

“I really love doing it and when people buy them and then I see some good guys out there playing my stuff it’s kind of cool,” he said. “I kind of know all the Latin heavyweights in Los Angeles. One of my friends Sal Vasquez played for Pancho Sanchez for three years, one of my teachers Robertitto Melendez plays for Bobby Matos in a jazz ensemble and they’re pretty well known. It’s kind of a small group of people and I got to know them well through my teacher. And I play in different bands. Sometimes I sub for my teacher and I do a regular thing every Friday and Saturday in Rosemead at the Mayumba Cuban restaurant, so that’s really fun.”