4 Unique Drum Makers You Should Know & Why

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I’ve always been intrigued by drums….more than intrigued actually. It’s as if their sound regardless of what tone it is, calls me in like a sheep herder does their flock. It’s more than just hypnotic for me — it’s as if the sound of drums are baked in my DNA somehow….an inherent knowing of sorts that I had played them many times before in past lives as a Shaman, a teacher, a healer and musician. I’ve always had a handful of them around the house, picked up from my travels to Guatemala, Southern Africa, Eastern Africa and the South Pacific.

A more recent understanding of just how deeply healing sound can be (we use various forms of sound in our healing circles), led me to reach out to a handful of drum makers to test their creations out and to learn more about how and why their passion for drums led to their life’s work. Let’s take a look at a few drums which were sent to us to review — what’s cool about this list is that the places where drum makers ‘create’ are global. It seems as if there isn’t a place in the world today where drums have not made an impact in some way shape or form.

Shaman Drums from Finland

Based out of Varkaus, Finland, Kati and Teemu Paananen make handmade Shaman drums from scratch. Everything is personalized to YOU and your interests & needs, which could have a spiritual connection….or not.  They have a fabulous Etsy store with a number of options to choose from — by this, I mean that they offer unique styles as a starting point, but each one is uniquely made based on what you tell them.

In my case, they asked questions about what I was passionate about and drawn to, i.e., images, symbols, colors, animals, etc. They’ll whip up a draft ‘image’ after talking to you and send you the design to approve or modify before they transfer it over to the drum. Pretty amazing right? Here are a few of their fabulous designs they’ve done for others, so you can get an idea of what’s possible.

Each drum comes with a beater but not just any beater. Their beaters are made from a branch of protected sempiternal bear´s pine-of-village Häkkilä — tradition has it that it is not permitted to cut a branch from it but you can collect fallen ones and these are the ones which are used for the beaters. The tradition comes from a deeply rooted culture. In Finnish folklore, the bear was highly respected and even worshipped by many.

Villages would take the meat, fur and the other parts from a bear, all of which were used for very long time. In those days however, there were parts of a bear which were not used, such as the bones and skull, because they had to be returned to the spirit of the bear or with ceremonial offerings. Various spells were casted and poems were shared about the process and the journey — it was a ritual of sorts.  The skull had to be lifted to the high branch of a holy pine and the bones were laid at its foot.

Pines location is at central Finland Saarijärvi municipality and the village Häkkilä is located between the lands of two houses or farms called Savela and Kauppila. It turns out that Savela is actually drum maker Teemu’s mothers maiden-name and the Savela house was once their family ranch though it is deserted now. It is such a fascinating myth behind the bear and is worth reading. Their work is truly unique and one-of-a-kind — so so beautiful!


Above and below, two different styles of Shaman drums


They offer different sizes as well, from 20-25 cm, medium sized drums at around 30-50 cm and really large ones at 60-90 cm.  They also have unique ceremonial drums, which are great for drum circles. These traditional, hand crafted drums have a natural reindeer leather drum head.

Our Personalized Experience

During our chat back and forth, which we did through the Etsy messaging system and on email, I conveyed that I wanted something that represented nature, Gaia being rooted into the Earth, and in natural earth tones only. In other words, I didn’t want any reds, oranges or bright colors. I also told them that I most connect to horses and foxes. They came back with the preliminary sketch, shown below.

The truth is that I loved their direction so much that I told them to move forward with the sketch and bring it over to the drum. I didn’t want a ton of color but did want the image or symbol of Gaia to reign in a larger than life “Goddess” way and so she does! On the outskirts, they added other symbols of nature and indigenous energy, including symbols, the sun, the moon, the branches, and of course animals, including a horse. Below is the finished product — incredible right? Not only is it impressive to look at and takes people by surprise every time they see it in our meditation room, but the tone of the drum is deep and reckoning — I have used it during drumming circles a few times now since it came in.

With our drum came instructions for how to do a drum awakening ceremony – how cool is that? They note at the end of this beautiful ceremonial instruction sheet: “If you remember to respect your drum, it will be your helper in life.” A bit like a horse, I think.  That’s how the drum already feels for me.

“If you remember to respect your drum, it will be your helper in life.”

They always make sketches to be seen and edited before painting the drum. Every drum is unique, made with love and it´s future owner in our mind. In fact, when we were chatting, they humorously said there are times when they feel as if spirit guides are watching over them as they create the drum — I wouldn’t be surprised at all if this was the case given our own channeling experiences when in creation mode. Their traditional, hand crafted drums have a natural reindeer leather drum head.

Here’s their Etsy store where you can learn more about them, their products, the process and of course how to order a customized drum for yourself.

Gaia’s Workshop Drums from Oregon

We are huge believers in the power of Shamanic drumming, crystal & singing bowls and other forms of sound as a medium for healing. We came across Gaia’s Workshop Drums, which is run by partners Michelle Meister and Luke Martinez out of the Portland/Salem Oregon area. Their drums are sacred tools for healing and integral to their work and their offerings is part of “Honoring the Mother & All the Ancestors.” 

Here are a few examples of the types of drums they have created. The one with red drawing on it below is a Siberian/North European style painted drum on Rawhide and it is available in 12, 15, 18 or 20 inch with a soft beater. Other materials used are cedar, wood, red ochre, deer, horse, reindeer and antler — you can decide btw so be sure to stipulate your preference when you connect with Michelle in advance.

Odin Raven European Style Pegged Reindeer Rawhide Shamanic Drum

Siberian Style Painted N. European Style Pegged Rawhide Shamanic Drum

For example, the above Siberian drum is a custom made and painted drum, available in your choice of reindeer, red stag deer or horse rawhide, with a wooden or antler handle. The artwork is painted in red ochre, and will be sized appropriately to your drum depending on what size you choose.  This image comes from a shaman’s drum in Siberia. The main figure divides the three worlds of the shaman, and the details are designed to connect the shaman and their drum. In the middle world, the figures represent the shaman themselves and are different for each shaman. The drum shown has the shaman in nature, gathering knowledge through reading with her crow spirit helpers above her. She plays her drum for her horse spirit helper, then does energy healing with the assistance if her hawk spirit helper. Finally, she meditates in a wild place to connect with the spirits of the land. And so, your drum will reflect you and your interests, helpers and paths.

Says Michelle, “our Northern European line of drums for those who really care about the sound and feel of their sacred instrument. These drums have had been “smoked and stroked” through special techniques of construction, setting the head, and drying, developed by a master drum maker and an experienced jazz/rock percussionist. Together, we make instruments that have balance, harmonics and tone, that are more comfortable to hold and to play, and that are in integrity with the animals and plants who have given their lives so that these drums may live.” 

Their Drum Making Process

Michelle and Luke use full rawhides in their drum making process — rawhide is just the skin of the animal, dehaired, without any chemicals added (as they do in tanning leather), so it is hard.  The hide has to soak in water to be softened for drum making, then after the drum is made, it dries and tightens.  There’s a great page on their website which explains the drum making process

They start with sanding each hoop to silky smoothness, so that the head will slide easily and not bind on the hoop. Their 12 and 18 inch hoops are handmade by Michelle and Luke of Cedar at this time, while the 20 inch drums are made on Deodar Cedar, a tree whose name means “God’s Tree” and whose wood is considered sacred. Cedar is a cleansing wood, and can be used to create sacred space. We personally love it and use cedar essential oil all the time.

These drums are constructed with wooden pegs. The handle is a suspended piece of wood or antler, smooth to the touch and tied into the hoop with reindeer rawhide. Because the handle is not directly attached to the head of the drum, these drums are highly resonant.

While the drums are drying, they smudge them frequently with sage, sweet grass, amber and other sacred herbs. This not only keeps the energy pure and beautiful, but it also lays down a layer of smoke that helps the drums be more resilient to weather and temperature changes. I loved learning that they also talk to the drums and smooth the sides as they dry. You see, I talk to my drums too — there’s something ancient and knowing about them.

They currently offer their European Style drums in Red Stag Deer, Horse or Reindeer in 12, 15, 18 and 20 inch sizes. The reindeer comes from Finland, and has been both the sustenance and the life blood of many Northern Europeans, as well as being instrumental in certain Shamanic rituals.

“These drums impress even me, the maker. Their sound is primal. It feels like the sound our ancestors heard on those fire-lit nights centuries ago as they processed into the stone circle.” — Michelle Meister

Below is the drum I was keen on reviewing which is made from Horse Rawhide and is considered a spirit drum. You can get it on Maple or Cedar Hoop with a suede wrap.  

Their Harmonic Shamanic Line of Drums is made for those who really care about the sound & the energy of their drum. They refer to those drums as “Harmonic Shamanic” drums because of the great resonance and multiple voices they create. These drums have had a special treatment of “honing & toning” developed by a Master Drummaker and an experienced Jazz/Rock percussionist, which brings into balance the animal spirit, the tree spirit, the masculine and the feminine.

Their drums are made with a five sided handle, for balance with the four elements with the central point of spirit. Anyone who has ever held a circle knows about the four elements and how powerful they can be. I was most interested in the Elk and Horse drums, which apparently have excellent harmonics, with a mid to low tone depending on size and thickness. The horse is the traditional journey animal and corresponds to the third eye chakra — no surprise that I am so drawn to the horse as a spirit animal. The craftsmanship and attention to detail is incredible.

They also offer a variety of custom and pre-made drum beaters in your choice of hardness, color and style.  A variety of custom and pre-made drum beaters in your choice of hardness, color and style are available to choose from as well.  

They’ve been making drums for around 25 years ago and Michelle always had a special fascination with vibration and how each thing, whether matter or energy, interacts with its own vibration and the vibrations around it. She began learning how indigenous and traditional cultures worldwide have used the drum for tens of thousands of years (that we know of) to create vibrations designed to affect themselves, those around them, the physical world and the deities, spirits and ancestors. Her life partner Luke is a percussionist and electronic musician who has dedicated his life to intensely creating and understanding the science of sound. Their connection leads to an innovative and un-imagined blend of right and left brained design in their drums.  

The vibrations that their drums create are intentional and directed. Vibrations can do everything from calming the soul to collapsing a mountain; it is just a matter of degree.

Some quantum theory states that everything is made of vibrating energy, and that it is only frequency that differentiates matter from energy. Says Michelle, “looking at the science of music, we see that every note is a vibration that is changed and affected by everything around it, including sound waves, of course, but also the environment in which the sound is created. Different materials, weather, moisture and even the mood of the musician can totally change the vibrations created from any instrument from moment-to-moment.”

These vibrations can affect your inner being, modulating your personal energy to reduce stress, create focus, change brain waves (from alert to trance, for example) or increase strength of will. These vibrations also affect the world around you, whether you play quietly in your apartment or exuberantly in public, as sound waves are much bigger than we can perceive with our limited senses. The vibrations you create modulate the vibrations that are being created around you, whether those of your neighbors fighting, cars passing, the couple downstairs making love… The vibration of your drum, made and played with love and in a sacred way, will magnify those vibrations that are similar and will reduce the vibrations that are different.

Michelle asserts that this is why every group of people on the planet have their own version of the mother drum. Those who are spiritually inclined, the medicine people, the priestesses, the shamans, the healers, those who work for the betterment of the tribe; these people understand how the vibrations of the the drum create pathways for change. And this is likely why I’ve always been so strongly drawn to drums from an early age myself.

Gaia’s Workshop goal is to create drums that use the magic of both this land and the land of our ancestors, focused on the energies, elements & numbers used by practitioners of Paganism, Wicca, Celtic & Norse Shamanism, Faery & many other ways.  They also offer drum and rattle making workshops for individuals and groups in the larger Portland/Salem area.

UPDATE: as of January 2020, part of the drum broke. We have never had to update a product review in this way since running this site, but unfortunately I must be truthful about the experience and the drum quality. While I realize that its raw hide (and was later informed that horse hide is very thin), a drum should last longer than a few months. I reached out to to the vendor to see if it could be repaired but it was quite expensive to do so and was told it must have been our neglect. After re-reading the care instructions again, we did not do anything listed on the “do not” list whatsoever and the drum was never under any extreme heat, cold or dampness. In other words, the drum was not neglected. While we love their work, their mission and even the style of the drum, we regretfully can’t recommend the vendor after what happened to ours.

SoundNest Drums from Lithuania

We discovered a beautiful collection of handmade drums out of Lithuania — they have an Etsy store so you can easily order them online. They make them in 22 cm and 30 cm sizes and regardless of what size you go with, these handpan drums have such beautiful sound. We feel honored to have had the opportunity to review one of their 30 cm drums — Owner Mikalojus Smulskis was easy to work with, is passionate about drum making and takes great pride in the work that they do.

Stunning, right? They’re handmade to order and made from Carbon Steel, Wool, Wood, Stell and a Propane Tank. The Propane tank threw me for a loop — fascinating right?  The one we were sent to review was around 12 inches and although they included a couple of mallets to play it, like the hang, you can also play it with your hands which we did during a drumming circle on more than one occasion. The sound is hypnotic and mesmerizing — I always feel so relaxed when I play it and listen to it.

“I make my instruments with a lot of love & every instrument is different and unique.” Mikalojus Smulskis

Their name is unique and has a story. SoundNest is a space which encompasses variety of experimental handmade sound instruments, covering both – acoustic and analog – sounds. Steel tongue drums are one type of instruments that they make, which are built in the far away forests of Lithuania. Each one is tuned in a perfect harmony and this harmony has a purpose: to heal and spread serenity to those who don’t have it in their lives. There are a variety of colors and blends to choose from as well as sound tones, so you can request color and tone when you place you order.

When we got the 12 inch Steel Tongue Tank Drum in, I began to play with it immediately — I didn’t wait for an opportunity to use it. And, it’s so beautiful to look at as well. The drum  weighs around 8.3 pounds and the coloring varies depending on the item as each one is uniquely made so will vary a little. Each drum is made to order and custom order processing could take one to two weeks. 

We absolutely love the sound of this pan drum — it’s very tranquil and shuts down the brain making it easier to meditate and connect and for that reason, we often use it before we start to meditate or simply relax.  Below is 12 inch tank drum we reviewed up close, so you can get an idea of its coloring compared to some of the drums on the website.

Be sure to check out their Etsy store to view more of their drums and how to order. Hopefully you will fall in love with yours as much as we did ours.

Ocean Drums from Utah

From Wild West Mustang Ranch in Utah, they offer a number of unique drums, of which ocean drums are a choice. Some of their drum offerings are hand tied out of different natural skins to use a drum stick with however we’ve been curious about ocean drums for awhile since one of the sound healers we work with, uses them for healing sessions. Ocean drums have two sides and are filled with crystals, or seaglass or bb’s to roll and make the sounds of the waves.  And so, we decided to review one of the ocean drums from Wild West Mustang Ranch, who also has a fun Etsy store

Above, the ocean drum we reviewed — it is so hypnotic and relaxing that we love using it when we are in our meditation room simply hanging out, although we have used it in drumming circles as well.

The guys who are behind this amazing shop live on a seven acre Wild Horse Ranch in rural southeastern Utah. As a Wild Mustang trainer, he says with a sense of humor, “working indoors is a must for the temperatures drop to below 22 on some nights here in The Fishlake National Forest. “ His wife is an artist who paints and makes beautiful Native hand drums and rattles among many other essential oil products and remedies for health and wellness.  He teams up with his wood and furniture maker neighbor (Anderson Cabinets & Furniture) and another who runs a shop called Mytogue Mountain Crafters and they focus on frames, wooden boxes and all sorts of things from reclaimed Barn Wood. In other words, its a family, friends and neighbors collaboration of sorts. 

We love their story.

Part of the collaborative team who creates these beautiful drums is Kami Taylor also known as White Feather. She tells her story of an unhappy marriage with three children, which started her life.  Says Kami, “A once small snowball called my life was now a giant avalanche storming out of control down the mountain. My husband was a full time functioning alcoholic, me… “the enabler” would purchase “alcohol” so he would be “happy” yet…. we were both more unhappy than ever.”

Then her husband went on an Alaskan Hunting trip which transformed his life. Apparently her husband West was dropped off in the middle of nowhere with a blow up raft and a 90 pound pack. The sober reality of that experience forever changed her husband West and acted as a kinda rehab intervention.  With a marriage renewed, their business grew in status and they began to live the “good life” with a growing family and expensive cars until their business crashed in 2009. They lost everything except for each other, which was when they moved into a family farm house in rural southeastern Utah with a borrowed truck and a small horse trailer.

With their “material lives” gone, they began to search within, from doing empowerment seminars and retreats to reading spiritual books. They even broke boards and walked on fire.  This led to adopting two American wild mustangs and West learned how to train horses.  This was puzzling for Kami at first but then they both had a beautiful meditation experience which guided West to follow the mustangs because they would take you where you need to go and to the people who will assist you on your journey.

“I also had a vision or a dream of a beautiful buckskin mustang that came to me and I heard ‘follow me and you’ll find happiness”.  — Kami Taylor

Kami wasn’t really a horse girl and only saw herself as an artist and a mom, but she realized that she could PAINT horses. Talk about having trust and faith in a process. Incredible right?

They began to grow their own food around the time they were introduced to drumming at a drum circle. She fell in love with the song of the drum and so did West, so they spent their last several hundred dollars on two beautiful Elk Native American hoop style Hand drums, which she painted. The rest is history. She knows that she gets support today from her fifth great grandfather who was a Cherokee Chief and her great grandmother who was a Lakota Sioux Woman.

After a horse accident and West nearly dying, they had to dive deep within themselves again. Talk about resilience. They began to learn that Life is truly happening for them and not to them!!!  Drumming became one of their paths to healing in addition to essential oils and holistic methods.

“Drumming is a path to healing that guides us into experiencing the flow of our mind and emotion so we may grow to experience more about our soul. The Native Americans believe the drum has a spirit and the animal lives on in the drum.” — Kami & West Taylor

They both see drums and rattles as sound healing tools and that drums act as waves affecting the cells. In other words, sound is frequency! Scientific evidence of drumming is out there and includes tension and stress reduction, chronic pain reduction and is also known to boost the immune system, release negative feelings, blockages and emotional trauma. She says that they’ve both seen many people cry during drumming sessions because it opens the space to release and let go.

They are both living their dream 32 years later and they are now not only making drums but holding healing retreats at their Ranch in southeastern Utah with drums, rattles and wild mustangs. They have combined their passion and purpose to create the space for others to come and find ways to heal their own heart through sound healing and Mustang meditation.  Wow — what a story, right? Be sure to check out their amazing Etsy store to purchase some of their drums and to learn more about their world.

Caring For Your Drums

Frankly, I didn’t know there was a special way or place to keep your drum. I assumed you’d keep it away from the harsh elements outside, but didn’t realize that it should be kept in a blanket for example. The folks from Finland provided useful ‘caring for your drum’ instructions which we found very helpful.

Because so many consider a personalized drum as part of the family, it is often kept out in the open. If you do leave it in open, they have some suggestions to ensuring your drum is taken care of, such as how to hang it on the wall should you decide to do that. They don’t recommend hanging it by the cross-laces on the bottom nor the lacing along the sides. It’s better to hang it from the frame itself on a padded and upward facing nail or hook. And, don’t hang it near a heat or air conditioning vent as either can make it too taut and potentially damage it.

It is not advised to clean the drum head unless it’s an emergency. Over time, the drum will apparently take on a wonderful patina if allowed to simply mature naturally. If you do spill something on it, they suggest just daub it out with a slightly damp rag, but not to rub it or you could make the stain larger. They also don’t suggest using saddle soap or anything with oil on it (this part surprised me), as it may permanently soften the rawhide and the drum will not be usable until you replace the top – yikes! Beeswax apparently is okay however, but only a little amount.

We haven’t hung ours anywhere and it moves around quite a bit. We use it in ceremonies and sometimes I keep it in the closet or sometimes it just hangs out openly in the Blue Soul meditation room but not up against the window or door. We treat it with love and respect as it is an integral part of not just ceremonial practice for us, but our lives and who we represent lifetime after lifetime.


Note: We were sent drums to review but all opinions expressed are entirely our own.

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