A Cajon or a Cajon drum is one unique kind of drum with a wooden design. Generally cuboidal, the drummer sits on it and hits one of the more extended surfaces (known as the Tapa). Nowadays, Contemporary and modern live band performances feature the best cajons.
As a drummer, you have the options to build a Cajon up from scratch, have someone build it for you, or purchase one outright. Whichever one of the three you pick, it is essential to consider specific points. What kind of wood should the Cajon be? Should it come with snares? What should the Tapa be?
Below are pointers on the best kinds of wood for a Cajon, different scenarios, and the general importance of good wood for the drum.
Benefits of wood for Cajon
The Cajon’s history dates back to the slave era in Peru, where African slaves had to carve out wood to make a drum that looks like a stool. It was at a time when slaves didn’t have permission to play music.
All through the years, wood has remained an essential part of the instrument’s evolution. However, modern technology and materials have sought to improve the output and performance of the Cajon drums. Some of the key benefits of wood for Cajon development include:
- Sound Quality: Wood is one material that seamlessly delivers optimum sound quality from a Cajon. The benefit is also directly proportional. The better the wood, the better the sound than other materials (like fiberglass) that can be “hit or miss.” Furthermore, wood allows you to achieve a broader range of sound frequencies and create undulating tones.
- Durability: The best Cajon wood needs to hold well over a substantial amount of time, and wood materials do an excellent job at durability to an extent. When dry, pieces of wood can last without breakage or splitting. Although synthetic materials offer higher durability levels, they don’t remain as acoustically correct as wood does.
- Environmental-Friendliness: Wooden Cajon drums have a marginally less carbon footprint than the other materials, thanks to their disposability and degradability. Recycled wood/plywood offers great sounds while still impacting the environment positively.
The best wood types for Cajon
When picking out wood for a Cajon drum, you need to have a specific expectation regarding sound output. It would be different if you settled for fiberglass or plastic; either sound tremendous or neutral without much flexibility. Some of the popular wood types suitable for Cajon drums include:
- Maple: Popular for its balanced output, Maple wood is appropriate if you aim for higher tones on the drum. It generally delivers bright sound tones. The benefit of balance kicks in when you play the Cajon drum in a wide range of scenes, which it handles nicely. More technically, maple wood acts as a useful radiator of sounds, with the capability to amplify distinct tones when you need it. The effect also applies even if you use maple on the drum’s front plate. However, you have to make the rest of the body of another type of hardwood.
- Birch: If the density is a priority, birch is one of the best woods to build a Cajon. Right out the gate, it delivers a more extensive dynamic sound range, and you would occasionally get high tones with deep bass. The bass tones are one particular reason you’d find birch on some of the best Cajon drums. Perhaps that’s why birch is significantly more expensive than other wood types.
- Mahogany: Mahogany is a typical hardwood you can use to achieve heavy bass and high tones. It sits on the tone spectrum’s warmer side and fits properly as the cajon’s body.
- Oak: Probably the least frequently used on the list, oak works great for cajons as well, especially when you need volume and heft. However, oak wood demands an extra layer of care, as it is brittle. Some of the best Cajon builders would typically cut the oak in timber blocks rather than ply layers.
Individual parts of the Cajon
When building a Cajon from the start, you may want to consider the different measurements you want to go round the drum. Whether you want traditional values or commercial ones, there are specifics to the individual parts of the drum, as you’d see below:
- Front Panel (Tapa): The front panel on the Cajon is commonly thinner than the rest of the drum, for good reasons: it’s the part you’d hit, so it has to have a thin layer to resonate. Most builders would employ plywood from hardwood, a few millimeters thick (not more than 5mm).
- Back Panel: Cajons have thick back panels traditionally, or at least of the same thickness as the rest of the sides. However, modern technology has shown that a thinner back panel delivers more resonance overall. If you start a Cajon building for the first time, the uniform thickness would be adequate, but if you must make the back panel thinner, 9mm is the sweet spot.
- Sound Hole: The soundhole plays a small but significant role in the Cajon. It helps with resonance and allows the drummer to change tones and pitches quickly. Position prioritizes over the size when the builder cuts the hole. Typically, it exists on the back panel’s top or bottom.
Some of the modern Cajon do have inserts in them, such as snares and bells. Snare Cajon has the best Cajon features, with an added layer of customizability. It imitates traditional snare drums. The drummers can adjust the snares for sound.
There are other cajons with pedals and knobs around them. You can turn these knobs to adjust the bells or snares inside the drum. However, you are most likely to buy a pedal Cajon manufactured rather than built from scratch.
Cajon drums are an excellent addition to the band. It is essential to know the relationship between the materials and the quality of sound the drum would deliver. As seen on the lists above, different kinds of wood, thickness, and attachments directly affect the sound and are essential for building or buying the best Cajon drum.