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|When my former percussionist brought a cajon to rehearsal I was intrigued but put-off because of the way I thought it had to be
played, bending way over to reach the striking surface, or Tapa. But, after I heard the playback I was hooked. It sounded so cool
and folksy, but kind of like a drum kit, with snare and kick. Does it sound Country-ish or Latin-ish? I think that depends on the
music that it is played with. I think it could even be used in a heavy metal band if miked properly and played by the right person.
How about a cajon version of Black Sabbath's Paranoid?
I thought, if you had a crash you indeed would have an acoustic percussive instrument that could imitate a drum kit. But, it would
be hard to hit a crash cymbal bending over like that. Then I saw many different configurations of the cajon, in many different
sizes and shapes. And many you don't have to play bending over. I have this problem with my back and so does my percussionist,
so it was nice to see that you can definitely play it standing or sitting up. And, as it turns out, do it in an interesting way that
records easily and well. The ones on youtube that were miked in the hole sounded great. You could really get a loud, thumping
beat. Pumping it through a big PA, you could rival the volume of a drum kit.
When I looked online at how a cajon is made, I was amazed at the wealth of information out there. Many different plans, videos
and diagrams on how they are made, what they sound like and how the cajon originated is available online. Just Google 'how to
make a cajon'.
I printed out several plans from the net. It seemed like each plan left out some key details and so, puttting them all together
gave me a more complete vision of how to make it. I have to be able to visualize the finished product and most of it's detail in
my mind before I can feel confident enough to make it.
|I already had some painted, half-inch plywood
and so I used that for the three sides and top
and bottom. As it turned out my wood was a
little warped and I couldn't see where the
blade was cutting with precision so I got some
pretty crooked lines that made for a box that
was not square. I now wish I would have
started with a new piece of birch plywood.
The whole thing would have been more
square. And therefore would have been easier
to glue and would have looked a lot better. If I
build another cajon, I'll use a new piece of
plywood and not paint it, just stain/seal it
with Minwax Wood Finish.
|I first drilled a small hole with the
drill, big enough to get the Jigsaw
blade in it and then cut the 4-inch
Here are the three 1/2" sides, the
back, left and right. I made a big
mistake by painting them again with a
gloss Rustoleum, which is very
slippery and made it even more
difficult to clamp and hold steady.
Sides: 21 7/8" x 9"
Back w/soundhole: 22" x 13"
|Bar clamps holding the sides glued
with wood glue. I let them dry
overnight, but found out just an
hour or two in fall weather would
have been enough time.
|Clamped bottom glue
drying. The top looked just
Top and bottom: 12 5/8"
x 9 3/8"
|I neglected to photograph the cutting,
glueing and clamping of the hardwood
frame, which was made of 3/4"
square dowels from Orchard Supply
hardware. But, once that was
accomplished it was just a matter of
glueing and clamping the frame to the
sides of the body. There again the
crooked lines in the sawing of the
three sides made for problems at this
juncture. But, with enough clamping it
was forced into contact, no matter
how not square it was.
|I found some tuning keys from a couple
of old electric guitars I had laying
around and attached them to a 6-inch
piece of furring strip. Found out later, as
I installed the bass guitar strings that
the fatter bass strings would not fit in
the holes on the guitar tuners, but the
thinner, (.050 - .058 gauge) bass strings
With bass tuners you could use a fatter
string and maybe get a fatter,
lower-pitched sound on the Tapa.
I also tried regular guitar strings and
they were not functional at all. Because
they are so much smaller they tend to
rattle and ring too much, making a
musical note and would vibrate and
linger too long, getting in the way of the
percussive, rhythmic attack.
|The strings must slap against
the Tapa to make the
slapping sound, so they have
to be touching or lying
against the Tapa. Here I
drilled holes for the strings
and cut some grooves with a
metal file to further seat the
strings right against the Tapa.
It was a trial and error
process to find the best
position for the strings. The
hardwood frame was so much
more stable than the soft
|The finished product with all it's
crooked corners and warped
surfaces. It took some tweaking of
the tuners and strings to get it to
sound good. A slappy, snarey sound
on the upper-left corner with a
thumping bass tone on the right. And
hopefully with not too much overring
from the snares.
The strings shouldn't be too tight,
which is easy to do with the tuners.
Maybe just some sort of screw would
make for enough precision tension to
create the slapping sound.I also
added a small piece of masking tape
to hold the strings against the Tapa
to cut down on the over-ring.
There again, the snare drum snare
would probably work better. But,
since I am a guitarist the whole idea
of using bass guitar strings was
Dale Stewart 15DEC09
|I do think a snare drum
snare would work
perhaps better. Which
is what most of the
use. But, I was
attempting to make
this with as much
materials as I had on