The cajon is a really great instrument for drummers of all types. Whether you're an experienced drummer or just starting out, you'll find the cajon to be more fun than a barrel of monkees. It's a very forgiving instrument and you don't have to be a Buddy Rich to sound like you know what you're doing!
I built the cajon pictured here using 1/4" plywood for the body and birch paneling for the sound board. It's a pretty neat looking product but I'm still experimenting to get the best sound possible.
I'm thinking of using spruce for
the sound board which I think
will produce a more musical
The picture to the right is of the
backside of the cajon.
I'm using guitar strings inside to
get the snare sound .
The cajon has become quite a popular instrument for the past few years. I don't know much about its history except for what I've been told. I was told that, after the conquest of the New World, Indian and African slaves took to beating on Portugese wine crates since they were not allowed to use their native instruments. The idea caught on with pratictioners of flamenco.
I saw my first cajon around '97 or '98 while watching Otmar Liebert on TV. The drummer was doing some really cool stuff but I couldn't see him. Then I noticed this guy on stage sitting on a box. Holy crap! It was the coolest thing I ever saw. I told myself I had to find one. About a year later, I bought a custom made cajon by Manuel Navarro. You can check out some neat stuff at www.rumillajta.com/cajon.html and order the cajon or his other Peruvian instruments.
I also use an LP cajon as well as the one I made. I checked out a Meinl cajon and I want one. It sounded great.
I used the LP cajon on the recordings you heard on my homepage. The first time I recorded with the cajon was on a song called Dangerous Crossing on the True Stories' cd "Estilo San Antonio" which was released in 2005. It's available at http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/truestories. In 2008, I recorded with The Lesti Huff Band on "Where Was The Love" in which I used the cajon on Neon Lights, Daddy's Song, Sweet Solitude, and Drift On By. I'm working on a new project which will include an improved version of Walking On Stilts.
How to mic the cajon
There are all sorts of ways to mic a cajon. The way you mic it should depend on the situation and time available for setup as well as your own comfort. When I first got my cajon, no one seemed to know how to mic it (a lot of times, that's still the case). Some people placed a mic in front it caused problems with my hand position and it required that I not move around (which is hard for me to do). Others placed the mic behind me with the mic pointed to the sound hole but this also caused problems with freedom of movement. Another issue with this method is ambient sounds from the stage bleeding into your mix.
To solve the problem, I placed an SM58 directly inside the cajon on top of a rag. It seemed to work okay, but there were issues with the mic moving when I moved as well as trying to get the right mix. I then found a mic mount that is used on podiums. I screwed it on by the sound hole, screwed on a mic clip, slipped in the 58, and presto! The only problem was I had to screw into the wood of the cajon. I needed something better and I found it.
Rooting around in the drum section (naturally) of Alamo Music, I came up a mic clip mount that attaches to the hoop of a bass drum. I forget the brand but it's pictured below. The mount did not come with a clip. I then bought a Samson drum mic, attached it to the mount, added duct tape so it wouldn't move around and attached it to the sound hole. This works great for any acoustic show because you can walk on in, sit the cajon down and say, "Plug me in, Baby!"
These are images of the mount with Samson mic attached and mounted on the cajon.
Getting the right sound for your cajon
Like any instrument that is mic'd, the cajon has it's own unique set of problems. How you make your cajon sound good on stage is all up to you. It's important to make sure your cajon sound good in your garage. I recommend the garage because you'll have a concrete floor which really accentuates any flaws since the cajon is very resonant.
Just play around on it and get a feel for the various tones. You may notice some unmusical rattling which can mean the soundboard is screwed on too loosely or the strings (or snares) are not tight or laying flat on the inside of the cajon. Feel around the cajon and if the board feels loose, you may want to tighten it a bit. Don't screw it down too tightly because you do want a little bit of rattle especially if your cajon doesn't have snares.
Next, with one hand inside the cajon, begin tapping the soundboard with your other hand. Place one or two fingers in different spots inside the box while tapping until you notice the sound improve. Then get a small piece of duct tape and place it on the spot. See if the sound improves. You may or may not need to place the tape in more than one spot. Once you get the right sound, mount your mic and head out the show.
When you get there, check the floor. If it's carpeted it'll tend to slightly deaden the sound so you may need to add a bit of reverb to the mix. If it's concrete or wood, the cajon will resonate more and you won't need a lot of effects. Set your highs, lows, and mids in the middle. The reason for this is the cajon generates a wide range of tones and you don't want one to overpower another. Too many people like to EQ the cajon like a bass drum which tends to make the highs & mids disappear and leaving you without the full range of sound. Just tweak the highs & lows a bit and you should be fine.
Make sure to get a good sound check with the entire band. I say this because the cajon will sound loud when you're alone on stage and your bandmates may turn you down. Don't let them do that becaue once the full band is on stage, you'll notice you can't hear the cajon and you'll have to play harder for the band to hear you and if the rhythm guitarist can't hear you, he'll keep speeding up. Unlike a drumset which everyone can hear, the cajon needs to have a hot mix in the monitors. Your bandmates may question you on this but stick to your guns and the band will sound much better in the end.