JC Percussion – Cajons Made in Bogota Colombia

I was privileged to visit the cajon workshop of JC Percussion in Bogota Colombia. After months of traveling it was a delight to smell proper sawdust and be around all the familiar tools of a well equipped workshop. Javier had three recently made cajons for me to look at and play. They were all beautifully made with great sound. I recorded one with my standard Zoom H4N on the tapa and my traveling bass mic, a Nady DM-80.

These are precisely made cajons with awesome sound. Javier is an engineer by trade and his cajons reflect it. Joints are tight and edges are perfect. The tapas are plywood covered with real veneer wood, each one is unique. This got me thinking about most commercially made factory cajons, mega factory tapa’s that look like wood are often printed, not real veneer at all. Javier’s are real wood.

Smal pieces of veneer left over from making cajon tapas.
Extra pieces of veneer left over after making the tapa playing surface of cajons. JC Percussion workshop in Bogota Colombia.

There was a CNC machine off to the side and I asked about it, “You got the plans on the internet?” “No, I designed it myself.” Wow! He uses it to cut the sound holes and some of the snare mechanism pieces.  A thoughtful touch is that the veneer on the knob of each cajon matches the tapa.

Cajon front matches the snare on-off knob.
The tapa veneer matches the snare on-off knob.

The snare mechanism is very effective. When it is off there is no sound from the snares on the recordings. But when it is on  there’s plenty of snare.

Inside a cajon showing the snare wires and on-off mechanism.
Snare mechanism showing damper where the snare wires sit when the snare is off.
Internal snare mechanism of a cajon.
The snare mechanism in JC Percussion cajons.

These professional quality cajons are a fraction of the cost of imported name-brand cajons available in the big music shops in Bogota. They are a real deal. If you are a Colombian musician JC Percussion cajons are a completely profession cajon option that are built in Colombia. If you are headed back home after traveling in Colombia, these cajons are great instruments worth bring back as a memory of your travels.

Javier has several models as well as shakers and bongo cajons.  He can be reached at https://www.facebook.com/jcpercussion or at http://www.jcpercussion.com

Back of a cajon with sound hole.
Back of a JC Percussion cajon showing the uniquely shaped sound hole.

Cajonearte Cajon Made in Peru

Cajonearte cajons come with, or without, personalized artwork. As you can see from Cajoneartes Instagram page, each decorated cajon is uniquely hand painted.

Screen capture from Cajoneartes Instagram page.

The video below demo’s the sound. It was recorded with a Zoom H4N stereo mic’s on the upper tapa and a Nady DM80 microphone on the sound hole. A little mid-side mastering compression was added in post processing.  The Nady has a very flat response and the bass is not as strong as it would be with other bass mics.

The cajon box is made from 12 mm, 5 ply, plywood purchased in Peru.  Its dimensions are about 30 x 27 x 48 cm.   Box joints are used on the side to top and side to bottom joints. Finish nails are used to secure the sides, top and back.

Box Joint on Cajonearte cajon

There is no snare system. There are no braces or other reinforcement on the inside. The back is glued on. The tapa is attached with screws.

Inside a Cajonearte cajon. This is the tapa-side-top corner.

These are great sounding, beautiful, unique cajons. All hand made. I played this one at the 2018 Gran Cajoneada in Lima and while there were hundreds of very, very nice cajons there, this was by far the most striking. Contact Luis at Cajoneartes Facebook page to check on availability or to order custom artwork.

Buying the Best Cajon as a Gift

Planning on buying a cajon for someone, your child or a friend? What’s the best cajon to give as a birthday present or for Christmas? Regardless of the occasion, here’s my advice: don’t just buy a cajon, buy a locally made cajon AND a metronome. Here’s why:

Most cajons that show up in Internet searches and reviews are imported, made in factories far away and shipped around the planet in big container vessels. Instead of sending a plywood box full of air halfway around the globe, buy a locally made cajon, this reduces the carbon footprint of your gift and contributes to your local economy. It’s eco-friendly and a locally made cajon is a connection to the local music community. These become discussion points as the cajon is unwrapped and used. As a present a locally made cajon is more than a gift, it is a thoughtful gift.

A locally made cajon makes a thoughtful birthday present.

If possible, pair your cajon gift with a simple metronome. Most musicians will tell you, “It’s the ear, not the gear.” Perfect timing takes time and practice to develop and a metronome is critical for percussionists. If you’ve got $200 for a cajon gift, buy a $170 cajon and a $30 metronome. While it is tempting to say “Oh, she has a phone, she’ll just use a metronome app,” it won’t be as effective. A physical metronome sitting there, staring back at you, calmly says… “Here I am… 1, 2, 3, 4…. just give me a push…” A multi-function phone used as a metronome becomes more of a distraction and can easily be forgotten or overlooked.

There are hundreds of cajon models, all sound a little different. Some cajons are works of art, others are basic. A cajon player with perfect timing will make both sound good, even great. On the other hand, as Rockbox Cajon says, “A good musician can make any instrument sound good, but a good instrument can make a novice sound good or at least sound a lot better than on a poor quality instrument.” A good locally made cajon + metronome combo is the perfect cajon gift, it sets the stage right from day one.

Here’s a list of cajon makers. Find one near you, give them a call and tell them the size of your friend and your budget. They will have good, practical advice about the best cajon for your gift.

Custom cajon made from Sitka Spruce.

A Note on ‘The Best Cajon’ Reviews

Unfortunately many, perhaps most, ‘best cajon’ reviews on the Internet are probably paid promotions sponsored by global corporate cajon manufacturer(s). Some global manufacturers market their cajons under different names and reviews that appear to address many brands may in fact be touting a single manufacturer. Advice from web forums and video comment areas have related problems: fake answers and questions, grandstanding and astroturfing, these all happen even in the world of cajons. The best advice you can get about the best cajon for you will come from one-to-one conversations with real musicians and cajon builders.

I like to give cajons as wedding presents, a bit unorthodox but it will last a lifetime and when the kids arrive the couple will appreciate the long range vision.

“The Best Cajon” in the Time of the Illusion of Choice

The top of a cajon tapa.
The tapa top of a precisely made cajon.

It think the French girl I chatted with in the hostel kitchen this evening thinks I’m a bit daft… I went on for a bit about how “cajons are like toothpaste”. She may have misinterpreted my meaning. I tried my best to really emphasize the C in ‘cajon’.  I tried, I really did. In Spanish class today my professor tactfully pointed out the significant differences between the hard C and the soft c when pronouncing ‘cajon’. I never knew.

My thesis revolved around the concept sometimes called the ‘Illusion of Choice’ – the marketing technique whereas a company produces many, more or less identical products, with completely different names and packaging. Thus giving the consumer the appearance choice. Yet all come from the same company, similar factories, with perhaps slightly different amounts of… sugar, or something.

Cajon guitar snare wire adjustment wrench
Many cajons come with wrenches stored inside to adjust the snare wires. The Velcro holds the snare wire against the back of the tapa.

I went to 9 music stores here in Quito, Ecuador today… looking at and playing cajons.  I sat on and tried out 6 different ‘brands’. Turns out most were made in Thailand. It got me thinking about one of the webs ‘best cajons reviews’ I recently suffered through. They looked at 10 cajons, but as I counted up there were 2 models from the global manufacturer I call ‘Big Cajon’ and 4, maybe even 6, from ‘brands’ who I suspect are either completely owned by or partnered with Big Cajon.  The 2 brands I think are fully independent were given good but not outstanding reviews.

I tried to explain to the French girl how 3 or 4 companies make most of the toothpaste in the world but if you look at the shelves in many stores you seem to have an amazing number of choices. Choices that are an illusion. My passionate comparison of toothpaste to cajons was perhaps not well thought out. But as a millennial with good teeth and not much interest in percussion, she shrugged it off and the conversation moved on.

Tomorrow night I will attempt to clarify: as with toothpaste, when searching for a quality cajon, there may be many ‘brands’ in reviews and stores that could actually be from the same company, similar factories, with perhaps slightly different amounts of… sugar, or something.

Inside a cajon box. showing snare wires.
Attachment of snare wires in a cajon.

Unlike health care products, the labeling and reporting origins of factory made cajons may sometimes be incomplete. This website, Cajons of the World, is devoted to promoting the work of local cajon manufacturers.  I try to ensure the lists are accurate.  I look at and evaluate each builders website and videos. I chat with builders I am uncertain of to verify their location. Occasionally I may ask for additional photos of the manufacturing process or to tour the workshop. I consider the output from one factory, no matter what the tapa graphic or labeling may tout, to be from a single manufacturer.

For more-or-less unbiased help navigating the drum box illusion of choice check out: The Best Cajon from this site.  For more information on why cajon brands are added or removed from this site please see “About CajonsMadeIn.com“, “Tapa Graphics” and “Made-in vs. Assembled-in

Moral of the story: Consumer, beware the illusion of choice in the time of “the best cajon”.

Inside a cajon showing the attachment of snare wires at the bottom of the tapa.
Attachment of adjustable snare wire inside the cajon at the base of the tapa.

Cajons “Made in” vs “Assembled in”

Is it really “Made in”?

I am beginning to wonder about a few manufacturers,  a very few, who advertise their cajons as ‘Made in’.  There are three or four makers in the developing world with very precise cajons, with many models and many complex, high quality tapa graphics options – a collection of qualities that seems improbable for a local cajon maker who has been in business for 4 or 5 years.

When I first started building the Cajons of the World website I chatted with one producer who admitted that he was partnered with a very large cajon manufacturer in Asia. I am currently in South America and recently found that multiple queries to visit a local cajon factory were ignored, no response at all.

I had a similar ‘no response’ to questions posed to one ‘manufacturer’ in the USA. Some of their adverts list their cajons as ‘Made in the USA’ some list them as ‘Assembled in the USA’. Their model has a stunning similarity to a model of cajon made in Thailand.

It’s impossible to actually know what is going on with possible ‘Made in’ scammers. They may simply use imported templates, jigs and methods with local wood and build cajons using local labor.  And that’s OK. Or they may import pre-cut plywood pieces, pre-made tapas and assemble the cajons with local labor. It’s also possible the completed cajon box is shipped in, the pre-build tapa is shipped in and the only part of ‘Made in ‘ that takes place is the tapa is screwed on.  It’s also possible the entire cajon is made and shipped from another country and the ‘Made in’ label is a complete fabrication.

Most of the small cajon makers I chat with are thrilled to discuss their cajons and workshops. Many small manufacturers have webpages with multiple photos showing local workers building cajons. Some have videos showing cajons being built.  My simple reaction to manufacturers that act secretive is that they have secrets.  I am not going to become an investigative reporter and try to seek out the truth. This site was made to promote local cajon makers, if I can’t easily verify that cajons are build locally using a significant amount of local raw material, I won’t list them.

The big cajon companies are big business, their only interest is to make more money by selling more cajons at greater profit margins. Expanding their business by manufacturing locally is a legitimate business practice. But there is a difference between “Made in” and “Assembled in” and as consumers we should keep this in mind,  discuss it and consider it when recommending manufacturers.

I hope that everyone reading this will support my request to all cajon manufacturers for transparency. If a manufacturer is going to tout their cajons as “Made in” or “Hecho en” or “Criado em” a particular country they should be open and honest to folks asking about the raw materials used, where fabrication of various components occurs,  which components are made from imported materials and they should support visitation of production facilities.

What can you do about questionable ‘Made in’ claims?

If you suspect a company of fraudulently using the ‘Made in’ label, here are some suggestions you might pursue. In the USA the Federal Trade Commission will investigates clams of ‘Made in the USA’ fraud, just fill out their form. Another option is to query the local Better Business Bureau and ask them to verify the business. And another option is to check with other cajon makers who live near the manufacturer in question, they may have more information or they may wish to ask questions themselves.

In other countries I’d suggest searching for the Ministry of Industries or Ministry of Trade and asking them to investigate. With skeptical officials it might be worth discussing that fraudulent ‘Made in’ labeling could be associated with import tax issues or foreign business permit issues. Cajon forums on the internet are also places to get more information and spread the word about questionable manufacturers.

Almost every country in the world is interested in touting and expanding their industries.  In many countries, foreign investors are required to partner with locals. The results can vary from active, integrated partnership to token appearances by local partners on webpages and at events. It is difficult to know the extent to which a manufactured cajon is ‘Made in’ vs ‘Assembled in’. Hopefully this blog will raise awareness that ‘Made in’ is not an absolute: prospective buyers interested in locally made cajons should ask questions about the origins of materials, location of component fabrication and the extent of foreign ownership and investment.

“Made in” vs “Assembled in” Criteria

In my mind a “Made in” cajon starts from either raw lumber or full-size sheets of plywood. While locally produced plywood would be ideal, imported plywood is OK so long as it is not pre-shaped. Ideally the wood used to brace the cajon and construct the snare system comes from the country of manufacture or a nearby country. The tapa is cut to shape and the tapa graphic are applied in the country of manufacture. The finish is applied in the country of manufacturer. All the labor involved in these steps are local residents.  To me a cajon is not made in the country if the sides, top, bottom and tapa are cut to size in another country. At that point I’d call it “Assembled in”.

Please add you opinions and thoughts in the Comments area. Happy drumming!