Buying a Cajon Drum
When shopping for a cajon, you’ll find that there are hundreds of options from dozens of manufacturers. To make things even more confusing, some manufactures have their own terminology that can be hard to decipher. Prices can range from $100 for an entry level model from a big name manufacturer to more than $500 for a handcrafted masterpiece. Since there are so many options, it’s important to consider your playing environment and musical style when choosing a drum.
What sound do you want?
This sound is most similar to an actual drumset and is ideal when playing an acoustic set onstage. My Live! Series Cajons are designed for this type of playing and have a nice bass tone. Other options include the LP Americana Series and the Schlagwerk Agile Series. These cajons have lower resonating frequencies than most, to match the sound off a bass drum, although they aren’t bass cajons. The ideal bass frequency for these drums is between 80 and 100 Hz.
Tight and Controlled
Most cajons fall under this category. They sound very good with latin music and are easy to mic. The tighter bass tone allows for more precise playing. Typically the snares are crisper on these cajons as well. Check out Sela’s offerings for a great example of this sound.
Traditionally, a flamenco cajon will have strings instead of snares on the inside. The strings give the cajon a much more precise sound. De Gregorio makes a great flamenco cajon, straight from Spain.
Not many people use the cajon for it’s bongo-like sounds, but they can sound wonderful! Some cajons, like the BoxKit cajons are built to produce many more sounds than a traditional cajon. These cajons produce several pitches with the addition of internal sound chambers but lack a snare.
How much snare do you want?
Lots of Sizzle
For maximum sizzle, you will want a snare-style cajon. These cajons use snares from a standard snare drum to produce the buzz. Generally, these drums have a snare sound that sounds more like a snare drum, but have a “looser” sound than a string-style cajon. These cajons are great for emulating drumsets! The Live! Series Cajon by Quain Percussion is snare style and has a great buzz. Schlagwerk is known for it’s great sounding snare cajons and LP offers many models with a great sizzle.
Tight and Precise
For technical playing, string style cajons are the best. Otherwise known as flamenco cajons, they use guitar strings stretched across the front face of the drum to produce a sizzle. The result is a very tight, controlled snare sound that allows very fast playing and lots of definition in the sound. Gon-Bops makes some great string style cajons.
None At All
A cajon without snares is sometimes referred to as a Peruvian Cajon. Without snares, you can hear the many beautiful sounds a wooden box can make. Tone quality and pitch is much more important in these cajons because it is more easily heard.
For the best of both worlds, look for a drum with adjustable snares. The snare can be as tight or loose as you want it! The same rules still apply though: Snare cajons will have more sizzle and string cajons will be more precise.
Where will you be playing?
In a recording studio, tone will be most important. Consider your role in the recording. If you’re the only percussionist, you may want to choose a cajon with a nice, fat bass tone. If you’re playing along with a drumset, having a big bass note might muddy up the recording. In that case, you will want something with a distinct sound in a higher range.
If you’ll primarily be playing outdoors with other acoustic instruments, volume will be important. Snare style cajons are a little louder than string style drums.
If you will be using microphones to amplify your cajon, you will risk feedback from the chamber. Cajons sound different when mic’d. I recommend a cajon with minimal resonance in this case. Too much resonance sounds bad in the mix.
What is your price range?
Just having fun
You’ll want an entry level cajon to learn on. These will range from $90 – $150 and typically be made from plywood with fixed snares. These are great for learning on, but you will want to upgrade if you begin playing regularly. I recommend my own Live! Series Cajon with Adjustable Snares or an entry level drum from a smaller company. Many of the big name manufacturers have bad reputations when it comes to quality and sound in their entry level cajons. Notable offenders include the Meinl Headliner series and the LP Accent Series.
Performing with friends
For performances, sound quality becomes very important. Midrange cajons run from $200 – $300 and occupy the majority of the market. I recommend the LP Americana Series or Schlagwerk cajons in this price range. You most definitely get what you paid for and will have a better sound and higher quality sound than the entry level models.
If you can spare the expense, you will find many great products at the high end of the market. Prodromo Cajon Instruments are great examples of high quality construction and great design. On Etsy, there are a variety of cajon drums for sale, handcrafted by master drum makers. These instruments are some of the few that use actual tonewoods in their construction and you will really be able to hear the difference.
By asking yourself these questions and reading the guide, you will be able to narrow down your choices and find the perfect drum! If you have any questions, give me a call or email me! I would love to help you find the best drum for your needs!