Percussionist Marlon Brando Patented His Invention for Tuning Conga Drums

Maybe you knew about Mar­cel Ducham­p’s pas­sion for chess. But did you know about Mar­lon Bran­do’s pas­sion for con­ga drums? Long­time fans may have first picked up on it in 1955, when the actor gave a microwave-link tele­vi­sion tour of his Hol­ly­wood Hills home to Edward R. Mur­row on Per­son to Per­son. Halfway through the seg­ment (above), Bran­do gets into his his­to­ry with the instru­ment, and even offers to “run down­stairs and give you a lick or two” — and the always high­ly-pre­pared pro­gram had cam­eras in the con­ga room ready to cap­ture this “impromp­tu” per­for­mance. While the inter­ests actors keep on the side may tend to wane, Bran­do’s seems to have waxed, and lat­er in life he even, writes Movieline’s Jen Yam­a­to, “enlist­ed the help of Latin jazz per­cus­sion­ist Pon­cho Sanchez while devel­op­ing a new tun­ing sys­tem for con­ga drums.” We can behold the extent and seri­ous­ness of Bran­do’s pur­suit of con­ga per­fec­tion with a look at one of those patents, filed in 2002, for an auto­mat­ic “drum­head ten­sion­ing device and method.


As The Atlantic’s Rebec­ca Green­field explains in a post on “Patents of the Rich and Famous,” “tight­en­ing a drum takes a lot of effort. Once the drum head los­es its ten­sion, there are typ­i­cal­ly six sep­a­rate rods that need tight­en­ing. Far too many rods for Mar­lon. Bran­do explains that oth­ers have tried to devel­op mech­a­nisms that would improve the drum tight­en­ing expe­ri­ence but none of them pro­vid­ed a sim­ple or afford­able solu­tion.” Hence his motor­ized “sim­ple and inex­pen­sive drum tun­ing device that is also accu­rate and reli­able and not sub­ject to inad­ver­tent adjust­ments.” And if you have no need for an auto­mat­ic con­ga drum tuner, per­haps we can inter­est you in anoth­er of Bran­do’s achieve­ments? “He had these shoes that you can wear in the pool, that would increase fric­tion as you walk on the bot­tom of the pool to give you a bet­ter work­out,” says patent attor­ney Kevin Costan­za in an NPR sto­ry on Bran­do’s inven­tions. Or maybe you’d pre­fer to sim­ply watch The God­fa­ther again.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Mar­lon Bran­do Screen Tests for Rebel With­out A Cause (1947)

The God­fa­ther With­out Bran­do?: It Almost Hap­pened

Col­in Mar­shall hosts and pro­duces Note­book on Cities and Cul­ture and writes essays on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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