It remains one of the oldest and most respected Latin instrument makers in the world.
The legend of Gon Bops began in 1954 in California when Mexican-American Mariano Bobadilla (born in Guadalajara), who would become one of the most respected conga makers in the percussion industry, began designing and building conga and bongo drums.
Bobadilla, a band instrument repairman and professional trumpet player, launched Gon Bops in his father’s old wooden garage in a downtown Los Angeles neighborhood.
He chose the name Gon Bops because “Gon” was one of the colloquial expressions of the time, like “everything goes, man,” and “Bops” because his friends nicknamed him Bob, which sounded like “Bop” in the Latin dialect.
Although Bobadilla’s drums remained true to the classic Cuban form, he was a true innovator in the development of drum hardware. He designed the first teardrop-shaped crown with rounded rims, developed to protect the hands of the musicians, a concept that is now universally accepted.
He also gave birth to the first tunable hardware for congas and bongos in the United States. After seeing how Cuban congueros heated the drums in their kitchens before performing, Bobadilla decided there had to be a simpler and more reliable method for tuning these instruments.
Other innovations of the young company included taroles (wooden timbales), the first pre-assembled replacement heads for congas, chromatic tuned cowbells, and numerous stands, adapters and other accessories.
Gon Bops was very successful in its early days. The instruments were in great demand by the top musicians of the time – giants such as Alex Acuña, Mongo Santamaría, Francisco Aguabella, Armando Peraza, Poncho Sánchez, José Hernández and Rich Barrientos, all of whom contributed invaluable R&D input. Gon Bops quickly became the undisputed leader in Latin percussion instruments and remained so throughout the 50s, 60s and 70s.
Mariano remained deeply committed to a hands-on role in production and retained complete control of the design and manufacture of all his products. As a result, Gon Bops instruments were mainstays on the world’s biggest stages, including the massive Woodstock festival in 1969.
However, the winds of change swept through the American percussion industry. By the time the 1980s arrived, all the major U.S. percussion manufacturers had moved overseas to manufacture their instruments. Cheap Asian labor costs meant higher profits.
But as manufacturing costs declined, so did quality, and for that reason Bobadilla refused to move its production out of the United States. As a result, Gon Bops began to struggle financially. Unable to compete with its larger competitors, Bobadilla had no choice but to close the doors of his beloved company.
Fortunately, that was not to be the end of the Gon Bops brand. In 2001, Don Lombardi of U.S. drum manufacturer DW bought the company along with all its patents and trademarks.
Lombardi had met Bobadilla in 1978, when he used Gon Bops’ Timbale shells to build DW’s brass snares, and had subsequently continued to seek Bobadilla’s R&D advice. It was a great fit, and it was no coincidence that the quality of DW’s drums and hardware continued to grow after the Gon Bops acquisition.
To manage his newly acquired Gon Bops brand, Lombardi hired the best drum craftsmen in the United States. He even purchased San Francisco-based Sol Percussion to recruit its founder, drum builder Akbar Moghaddam, to the Gon Bops cause.
Moghaddam brought with him fellow drummer Octavio Ruiz, and Lombardi teamed them up with Alejandro Perez, a drum builder who had worked with Mariano Bobadilla at the original Gon Bops factory.
In 2010, cymbal manufacturer SABIAN Inc. announced that it had purchased the inventory, intellectual property, patents and manufacturing equipment of Gon Bops from DW.
The deep commitment to innovation that SABIAN applied to its own instruments had inspired founder Robert Zildjian and his son, SABIAN president Andy Zildjian, to seek out like-minded instrument companies available for acquisition. And it just so happened that Lombardi had begun looking for a buyer for Gon Bops.
“We are excited to begin this new chapter in the history of SABIAN and Gon Bops,” Andy Zildjian notes. “Gon Bops instruments are a perfect blend of vintage craftsmanship and innovative thinking. Since its founding in 1954, the company has pioneered several features and enhancements that have forever changed Latin instruments.
We are excited to not only expand distribution, but also to continue to focus on innovative designs that represent clear improvements to meet the needs of musicians.
The pursuit of the best sound is what our craftsmen work for every day. We know that the fit is perfect, above all, because sound matters.”
Today, Gon Bops remains one of the oldest and most respected Latin instrument makers in the world.