“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.

Buying a Cajon in Guayaquil, Ecuador

Which Cajon Brands are Available in Guayaquil?

Similar to Lima Peru there are many music stores in central Guayaquil clustered in a small area. But there the similarity ends. Ecuador has import taxes and the price of many imported instruments seemed to be considerably higher than what I would pay in the USA and or in Peru.

Nativo Percusion cajons in Instromentos Musicales JC.

Another big difference was the selection of cajons, there are not many locally made cajons available. Guayaquil is the home of Nativo Percusion yet I couldn’t find a single cajon made in Ecuador in the central stores. I queried Nativo on Facebook and they sent me the location of a small music store outside the central area with Nativo products. The store had 4 Nativo cajons, all the basic ‘Inicia’ model for $120 each. It is a good sounding, well made plywood cajon with adjustable guitar string snare wires. Later I found a couple other music stores outside the central area with Nativo Inicia cajons. Apparently nowhere in the heart of Nativo production area can you test play and purchase a high end Nativo cajon in a store. The high end models are listed on mercadolibre.com.ec with prices that look about the same as what you’d pay in Europe.

Inside a Tycoon Acrylic cajon at Ecko Music on Rumichaca 817.

It is an interesting selection of imported cajons in the central stores. Several brands imported from Asia, a few PR cajons from Peru and one SR Cajon from Brazil. There were 4 Tycoon acrylic cajons (made in Thailand) for sale. I played one a couple times, they are loud, with a lot of rattle from the adjustable guitar string snare system. The colored one is flashy and I can see where they would have a lot of stage presence in small venues. The import tax in Ecuador pushes them to about $550 each. The other imported brands, Stagg, Primer, Mirage and others, were priced in the $150 to $200 range. There were a few ‘made for kids’ cajons available that looked like Peruvian CPeru type cajons with equivalent prices.

One of two Percusion Real cajons available at the Gallardo Music store in central Guayaquil

After a couple visits to one store I spotted two PR cajons from Peru, one high on a storage shelf, the other behind a chain-link fence. The price on one was $180, which is about $80 more than you’d pay in Lima, the other $120. Both considerably less than what you’d pay in Europe or the USA for an equivalent cajon.

SR Cajon made in Brazil

The MAG Guayaquil Craft Market at the corner of Montalvo and Moreno has two stalls selling cajons including two ATempo cajons from Peru. One was $250 the other $200.

Guayaquil Craft Market, Stall #40 with 2 ATempo Cajons.

There is also a music store in the enormous ‘Guayaquil Bus Terminal’. La Victoria had a Mirage cajon ($150) and a LP Aspire Wire ($230) for sale.

Which is the best cajon to buy in Guayaquil, Ecuador?

At the low price end the basic Nativo Inicia is certainly a much better deal than the basic imported cajons available in many stores. The PR Percussion cajons are perhaps the best mid-range cajons available in Guayaquil stores. One was solid hardwood. But they may not be there long and who knows if the stock will be replenished. The ATempos are great cajons at the high end. With a bit of time and effort you could get a mid-range or high-end Nativo from their Facebook page or from website www.mecadolibre.com.ec or perhaps directly from the factory 17 km outside of Guayaquil.

The best cajon is one you sit on, play and like better than all the others you’ve played. Hopefully this blog will help you in your decision making. Check out this blog for more information on selecting the best cajon for you.

To visit the cluster of music stores in central Guayaquil just walk to the intersection of Rumichaca and V.M. Rendon streets about a block away from Parque Centenario. There’s over 10 stores in about a 2 block radius.

To visit the store recommended by Nativo (Instrumentos Musicales JC), Uber to Albocentro 1, Guayaquil and walk east down Jose Maria Roura Oxandaberro street about one block. It is right next to the Area 51 Barber shop and tatoo studio.

I did not visit every music store in Guayaquil so there could be some gems out there. And cajons in stock will certainly change with time. If you know of any stores in the Guayaquil area with other cajons please add them to the comments section of this blog.

All prices are 2018 in USD, the currency of Ecuador.

JC Music Store front in Guayaquil. They sell Nativo Percusion
Most music stores also sell sound systems.
PR cajon high on a shelf.
One of the better stocked music stores.