The Gon Bops legend began in 1954 California when Mexican-American Mariano Bobadilla (born in Guadalajara) – who would go on to become one of the most highly-regarded conga builders in the percussion industry – started designing and building Conga and Bongo drums. A band instrument repairman and professional trumpet player, Bobadilla 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, as in, “everything is gone, man” – and “Bops” because his friends nicknamed him Bob, which sounded like “Bop” in the Latino dialect.
While Bobadilla’s drums remained true to the classic Cuban shape, he was a genuine innovator in the development of drum hardware. He designed the first teardrop crown with rounded counter hoops, developed to protect players’ hands – a concept that is now universally accepted. He also gave birth to the first tunable hardware for congas and bongos in the United States. Having witnessed Cuban conga players heating up drums in their kitchens prior to performing, Bobadilla decided there had to be a simpler more reliable method to tension these instruments. Other innovations from the young company were Taroles (wooden timbales), the first pre-mounted replacement heads for congas, chromatic tuned cowbells and numerous stands, adapters and other hardware.
Gon Bops enjoyed great early success. The instruments were highly sought after by the top players of the era – giants like Alex Acuna, Mongo Santamaria, Francisco Aguabella, Armando Peraza, Poncho Sanchez, Jose Hernandez 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 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s. Mariano remained deeply committed to a hands-on role in production and retained complete control of the design and fabrication of all his products. As a result, Gon Bops instruments were mainstays on the biggest stages around the world, including the massive Woodstock festival in 1969.
But the winds of change were sweeping through the American percussion industry. By the time the 1980’s rolled around, all of the major US percussion manufacturers had moved offshore to manufacture their instruments. Cheap Asian labor costs meant greater profits. But as manufacturing costs decreased, so did quality, and for that reason Bobadilla refused to mover his production outside of the US. As a result, Gon Bops began to struggle financially. Unable to compete against his larger competitors, Bobadilla had no choice but to close the doors of his highly regarded company.
Thankfully, that was not to be the end of the Gon Bops brand. In 2001 Don Lombardi of US drum manufacturer DW bought the company along with all of its patents and trademarks. Lombardi had met Bobadilla in 1978 when he used Gon Bops Timbale shells to build DW brass snare drums, and subsequently had continued to seek R&D advice from Bobadilla. It was a great fit, and it was no coincidence that the quality of DW drums and hardware continued to grow after the Gon Bops acquisition.
To run his newly acquired Gon Bops brand Lombardi hired the best drum craftsmen in the US. He even bought San Francisco-based Sol Percussion in order to conscript its founder – drum builder Akbar Moghaddam – to the Gon Bops cause. Moghaddam brought along fellow drum craftsman Octavio Ruiz, and Lombardi teamed them up with Alejandro Perez, a drum builder who had worked with Mariano Bobadilla in the original Gon Bops factory.
In 2010 cymbal-maker 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 a search for like-minded instrument companies available for acquisition. And it was a happy circumstance had Lombardi had begun to seek a buyer for Gon Bops.
“We’re excited to begin this new chapter in SABIAN and Gon Bops history”, notes Andy Zildjian. “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 improvements that have forever changed Latin instruments. We are excited about not only expanding distribution, but also continuing to focus on groundbreaking designs that represent clear improvements in meeting the needs of musicians. The pursuit of the best sound is what our craftsmen work for every day. We know the fit is perfect, above all, because sound matters.”
Today, Gon Bops remains one of the oldest and most respected manufacturers of Latin instruments in the world.