I guy came up to me on the street the other day and tried to buy my cajon. A few days earlier another fellow told me it was the best cajon he’d ever heard. Last night a traveling street musician wanted a YouTube link he could send to his cajon builder friends in Argentina. Most folks on the planet don’t have much experience with cajons, but I was busking in Montañita Ecuador, a haven for world travelers looking for a little quality beach time. So there’s perhaps a higher percentage of folks passing through that actually know what a cajon is.
All total I’ve played about 36 brands of cajon, which is not very many when you consider there are over 350 cajon makers on the planet, 50 in the USA alone. Any website that claims to have objectively sampled them all is probably BS’ing you. I’ve played all the common ‘Made in Thailand/China’ cajon brands sold in most music stores. I own a wonderful cajon made in Germany. I’ve got a start on a collection of South American cajon models. And I’ve played every locally made brand I could find in Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Argentina, Chile and the Philippines.
But this is a drop in the bucket, there are so many great cajons made in Japan, Australia, Poland, Russia, Spain, and many other countries. We recently had a discussion in the “Play Cajon” forum about the best sounding cajon in the world. Perhaps we should have re-titled it “the best sounding cajon sold in music stores” because while there were a few regional brands mentioned, over and over the recommendations were factory made cajons from a few global manufacturers.
Of the cajons I have played, I can’t really say which brand is ‘best’. Most cajon makers have several models. The high end models are usually very, very good. But many of the low end models are simple and basic. It’s understandable. Basic models costing as little as $30 are affordable to almost anyone. Sometimes I’ve been able to play and record the high end models, sometimes not.
Another thing, cajons are different, no two alike. For many people the sound is almost personal and specific. It’s like asking which guitar is best, a Les Paul or a Gretsch? I may love the tone of one and you might prefer the one next to it. We are both right. Some people like a lot of snare, some people want none. Some cajons have a ‘dead’ space at the seat that makes ghost notes easier, some do not. Some people prefer the flat, clean boom produced by a thick back, some want the resonance of a thin back. And some cajons sound better when accompanying music of a certain key or style, which should be a blog unto it’s own.
Mostly I play my current build, number 43, completed at the end of the Alaskan summer of 2019 in the shed outside my house. It’s got the sound hole on the bottom, the sides are Sitka spruce, western red cedar and yellow cedar. The top is yellow cedar. It is perfect for busking, the sound hole on the bottom directs the sound forward. The back is polycarbonate and it has my new angled, flexible snare system which is great for flamenco or rock. It’s the cajon I’m hauling around Ecuador and it gets a lot of attention.
I have played cajons with cleaner bass, and some with lower bass. And many high end cajons look nicer. #43 is a very good cajon, certainly not the best in the world, but good enough to impress and keep me happy. While it is flattering that many world travelers in Montañita really like this cajon, their opinions are subject to the same limited experience that we all have: they’ve only heard a very small percentage of all cajon brands.
I’m no wood whisperer, yet I was able to make a great sounding cajon. Building a good cajon is a doable project for most wood workers who have a basic wood shop, patience and a penchant for detail. Local cajon makers who have built hundreds of cajons are often making great sounding, quality instruments at reasonable prices.
If you’d like a cajon similar to #43 please contact a local cajon maker and give them the links in the paragraph up above. The construction information is all there. And I’d be happy to answer questions. But before you have them duplicate these plans, please try one of their cajons, chances are you’ll find a winner.
Well that’s it, in your search for the best cajon in your world, please start with a local cajon maker. “Try before you buy” is nice but if you must, throw caution to the wind and just get one.
In the next few weeks I’m going to start a page on the Cajons of the World site devoted cajon construction. Stay tuned. If you would rather just buy a great locally made cajon right now here are links to your local cajon makers: