How To Build a Cajon - Readers Respond
"As far as the inset on the port hole I made the hole too big and did that to make it smaller and am thinking of doing the same to the other one.It worked out really well and I think it looks good the way I did it.I went by the dimensions of the Meinl except taller. 12" by 12" by 20" I used 1/8" birch for the tapa. I used woodfiller and sanded with 220 and finished with 4 coats of polyurethane and then polished with a wax that I purchased from woodcrafters. As far as the screwing pattern I was not thinking when I placed the screws on the corners but it seems to work well anyway. I've moved the snares several times and I think I've found the right way."
"I also had the same problem as you, regarding the strings: no effective snare sound coming out of them. What I did was to run three strings (times 2) from top to bottom. Actually, from bottom to top, using Guitar claviers (is that the word?) on top, to helping "tune" the strings. It works VERY nice, I got a real snare sound (oh, and I use BASS strings, something like the 4th, or the E for folk guitars, they are thicker and ressonate better). My cajon is a 18mm plywood, VERY thick for the standards and the front cover (Tapa) is 6mm, also thickier. Microphonated it has a very impressive sound, deep bass and a good snare sound."
Returning to the strings problems, the only disadvantage is that the strings keep breaking frequently, that is, after a "nervous" session of 2 to 3 hours some of them brake.Still looking for the perfect solution....
[...] it got a very nice PU varnish finish and laser engraving on the tapa.
[...] new snare system I put in. After a 3 hour session everything seems allright this time. I copied the MEINL system from a picture I found over the web!
As for the claviers I used, I came to the conclusion that there is no need for frequent tuning in the strings. Once you do the first tests and find the sound is ok, you will probably never want to play with the tuning again...at least that is my feeling. So, the simpler the system, the better...I think.
[Casey asked: Regarding the strings; do you have a good separation between the bass sound and the "snare" sound? I know that some people don't want that, but I do, and so I didn't want to run the strings from top to bottom...]
I do like the separation since I was a drummer in the past [...] and the cajon sound was the perfect bass/snare I was looking for.
My cajon has a very distinct snare sound going crisper and crisper as you go to the left/right upper tip (i guess all cajons are like that) and the bass in the middle is deep as I expected. The Bass and the snare have the strings "slap" along and I like it, just like the flamenco cajons I've been listening on the net. For the extra snare on the upper tips I heated the cover with a blower and bended just a little bit (2 to 3mm gap), so I also have the wood cover hitting the cajon and making a distinct sound."
"I made mine of solid wood [3/4" poplar], with a 1/8" plywood front. I used 1" x 12" + 1" x 6" glued/butted/clamped together [with 'biscuits'] to get enough width. I also used a side sound hole & decided to angle the front/back in a trapezoid shape, with the two sides being parallel. My thinking was that the sound on the left striking side [11" deep] would be a little higher pitched than the right [13" deep], kind of like 2 congas. I was also thinking that the natural megaphone shape would help force the air/sound towards the hole. I used a snare drum spring, duct-taped to the inside top of the front piece just before I re-assembled the front, after applying the finish [outside only] to the whole thing (no stain, just gloss Verathane). Since the sides/top/bottom were all solid wood, I didn’t need to make an inside frame to attach the drum face – I just screwed it directly to the sides."
"I wanted it to be the same height as the stool I usually sit on to play congas, to serve a dual purpose. The inside height was already 19" & the thickness of the top & bottom added 1 1/2" + I added a block of wood [3/4"] under each [3/4"] rubber bumper on the bottom – so it came out about the right total height [22"]. I also personalized it with some [water-slide-off] decals on the bottom of the front. I made the graphic designs in PhotoShop and printed them on decal paper with my computer printer."
"I've only played a couple caĵons at music stores, and then only for just a couple hits each time & to check out their construction & spring setup, mainly. So - I’m not an expert at the sounds produced, or in playing. However, I think mine sounds good; I was satisfied with the sound and with the snare effect. However, I think that the low/high and megaphone/projection effects are probably minimal; maybe not worth the trouble of the irregular angles, which probably provided the most challenges in making it. I’ll have to play it awhile, though, before I get used the all of the possible sounds it can produce."
"I've played my cajon a couple of times now, but still need to learn more about its particular areas, sounds, etc. After having played it a little, I do think that my trapezoid/angled sides have some effect on the tone and pitch. Since the inside dimensions vary from left to right, it has a lot of varied playing area & tones – from left to right, up & down, middle versus edges, etc."
"My [drum] snare has a lot of zazz to it - which I mostly like. I’ve found that I can control/lessen the amount of after-effect snare noise by playing technique; either pressing on/muting the tapa after striking it, and/or putting my (socked) heel against the face at the bottom as I play. So far, I would liken my playing style to that of a drummer on a traditional trap set – with my right hand placed lower on the tapa, playing the kick drum parts, and my left up top, doing the snare."
"My right hand is generally cupped most of the time [to produce more of a bass/kick sound] – and my left mostly does slaps. After-touch-muting with my right hand helps reduce the snare sound on the bass-sound hits. Since it's in close proximity to the tapa, I can kind of leave the right hand lightly engaged most of the time, to press on the tapa and control the snare sound. I was considering rigging up some device to engage/disengage the snare springs on & off the tapa – which has some access through the (side) sound hole. But I already have congas and bongos, so if I want to play percussion sounds without a snare, I would tend to just use those."
"So for my cajon, I think I will probably leave the snare permanently affixed. I may go in and stretch the snare just a tad and permanently attach it to the sides -- I currently just have the ends duct-taped to the face, with about as much [minimal] stretch as that process allowed. However, that method allowed for plenty of contact for all of the springs, and like I said -- it has a lot of snare effect if I just strike the tapa and let it vibrate. To access and adjust the snare I would need to take off the tapa, so I thought I would play it awhile before I did anything semi-permanent."
[update] "I finally got around to permanently affixing the (drum snare) springs to the inside of my cajon instead of the duct tape I used for awhile. ... I found a simple solution. I had some plastic furniture door magnets in my junk drawer that I adapted for use – I just popped out the magnets and used the plastic housing. I fed the plastic tapes that came with the drum snare through the slots on the ends that they usually go through, and trapped the (then doubled-up) tape under the plastic door hardware on each side of the inside/box – as you can see, a few inches down from the top of the box. The door hardware had adjustable slots, so that you could adjust/move it back and forward a little by loosening the screws (and then re-tightening) – and also adjust the tension on the springs just a little by pulling on the ends of the plastic tape. I used this method to adjust the closeness of the hardware and springs to the front edge of the box/tapa. I just experimented around, holding the tapa against the box & seeing how much spring contact there was & adjusted both sides equally to get the amount of spring contact I liked before I screwed the tapa back in place."
In my own attempts at following the Ocanartesian page's instructions I found that their snare placement wasn't the best. I went on to www.meinlpercussion.com, and to www.mountainrythym.com, and found that they all build their cajon's with the snare wires running down the inside of the striking surface. If you place the wires in such a way that they form a narrow "V" from top to bottom, then you should get a decent sound.
A few thoughts
- A- making it "aircraft hand luggage size" (max 55 x 45 x 25 cm) for portability & multiple use
- B - putting a door in (great minds think alike... and fools seldom differ...!) partly to use the interior for carrying thing (luggage idea again..) [Casey's note: I toured with my cajon,; i built a little reinforced cardboard form to protect the snares and then packed things inside the cajon. It was indeed handy. I had a homemade carrying case as well, with a shoulder strap, which was also very handy.]
- C- put the door in the base - so sitting on it helps to force/keep the door closed & rigid
- D - put the "reflex vent" in the base so that - in combination with the height of the feet - the bass is reinforced by the floor plane (and "rocking" back on the cajon varies that linkage?)
- 1. Besides the front and rear frames, you might consider adding corner blocks to further stiffen the box.
- 2. Using solid hardwood for the tapa would definitely have an effect on the tone, as different woods each have their own tonal qualities, as in guitar construction. However, I think a thin board of this size would be prone to warping from changes in humidity etc, and could also very easily split along the grain from an accidental impact or from striking too hard. Again, this is not so much of an issue with guitars as they have braces glued on the inside. Bracing the tapa would likely dampen the sound.
- 3. Perhaps steel guitar strings would work better as snares than nylon as they're more springy. There's something else which might work but I don't know whether you can find it in your town. Over here, it's sold as a cheap curtain hanger. It consists of a close-coiled steel spring covered with flexible plastic, comes in a roll and you cut it to length, screw eyelets in the ends and hang them on hooks or nails in the window frame. Anyway, you take a length of that, strip off the cover, clamp one end in a vise, grab the other with a pair of pliers and pull it as straight as you can. you end up with a kinked, springy piece of wire that's a beefier version of the ones used for drum snares. I've only just read your page, about 15 minutes ago, but I've started thinking of ways to adjust the snare tension without having to open the back. Maybe some kind of screw and lever arrangement adjusted through small holes in the top? This eliminates the need for hinges and the back can then be screwed shut for a tight seal, and adjustment can be easily done while in the playing position.
- 4. The size and possibly the location of the soundhole / bass port (back vs. side) is somewhat crucial, but the shape is not. I remember reading about this in an instruction leaflet from the JBL speaker company dealing with speaker cabinet construction.
Basically, the size (area) of the bass port is determined by the volume of the cabinet, a ratio of so many square inches per cubic foot. The port can be round, square, rectangular, any shape you want as long as the area is correct. I don't have it with me now, I'll see if I can find it or look for the info online.
Also, maybe having the port in front would give better response and simplify miking. Maybe an extra "folded horn" extension to the bottom of the box?
- 5. A lacquer or other hard finish on the inside will reflect more of the high frequencies, giving a brighter sound.
[Casey's note: i included a door to adjust snare tension, but also to remove and reinstall snare systems, adjust them in a more substantial sense, and so forth... I found it crucial to have this access, but then, i didn't know what i was doing. :-) Now that i am more confident, maybe i'd be willing to leave the door out of the design, espcially since it takes so much time to make compared to the rest of the instrument... but it was so handy, i doubt it...]