The best Cajóns of 2019 – A quick glance
I’ve been touring for almost six years, playing various club gigs, festivals, radio shows, and interviews.
A small percentage of these shows require me, as a drummer, to play an instrument that is a little unorthodox when compared to a traditional drum set: the box drum (otherwise known as the Cajón).
I’ve settled on this instrument (rather than using something like a shaker) because it makes a lot of noise, is portable, and is very fun to play in an acoustic situation. I can pretty much nail all the rhythmic grooves of a song with this simple instrument. So what exactly is it?
When we say box drum, we aren’t talking about drumming on cardboard. These are known as called Cajóns. The cajón drum is a percussion instrument that originates from Peru.
Flamenco, jazz, and Afro-Peruvian music are some of the more commonly used musical applications of Cajóns, but they are widely used today for bands and artists playing acoustic sets.
How is a Cajón played and made?
Players use their hands to slap the front or rear faces to create a boomy bass drum effect or a snappy snare sound. In addition to hands, players of Cajóns can also use brushes, mallets, or even sticks.
Cajóns are generally made from sheets of thick wood and ply wall on the interior. The striking surface on the front of the Cajon is referred to as the “tapa.” On the back of the instrument, there is a sound hole cut out to allow its bass frequencies to resonate when hit in the center.
Statistically, if you’re reading this, you’re looking for a Cajón to either play at home or use for a quieter gig with your band.
There are a ton of options to choose from when it comes to buying one and it may be a bit confusing. To address that issue, we will be detailing each one below.
The first Cajón on our list is the Meinl Percussion JC50LBNT, and for those who don’t know, Meinl cymbals
I see more drummers using cymbals and gear from Meinl than I do from most of the big dog brands.
Before we begin looking at how well the Meinl Cajón holds up in our review, there are some obvious things you should know about it; it’s cheaper than most and will not have all the fancy features a more expensive Cajón might have.
That being said, let’s see some of the positives with Meinl’s best-selling Cajón.
This Cajón has no bells and whistles; it’s pretty much standard. But don’t let that scare you away from it. It’s perfect for jam sessions and acoustic shows.
It’s very lightweight coming in at 5 pounds and measures 10.2 x 10.2 x 15 inches. I’ve used this exact Cajon at multiple gigs and songwriting sessions. I wish I had purchased a case for it; it’s a little beat up now.
The Cajón is constructed of all birch and includes internal snare wires. It has a very snappy and punchy sound, depending on where you strike it.
If you hit directly in the center with your palm, you’ll get a nice and deep bass tone.
When I have used this drum box on a gig, I actually like to have two microphones on it: a Shure Beta 52 near the sound hole in the back and a Shure SM57 near the front to capture the snappy snare sounds.
This, of course, is optional, but if you find yourself at a gig with a PA, it’s worth trying out.
The top front plate corners of the playing surface are adjustable with a screwdriver. You can physically move the front layer, where your hand strikes, away from the resonating body.
Depending on your taste, you can vary the amount of slap sound on your drum box. Here’s a video of the Cajon in action.
Latin Percussion is the standard when it comes to auxiliary and world percussion.
They bridge the gap between real authentic world instruments and consumer-level products. They make everything from cowbells to timbales.
LP was formed in 1964 by Martin Cohen and soon after was already making bongos, cowbells, and many other instruments to musicians.
He utilized NYC’s Latin nightclubs as research and development labs, seeing if musicians liked the instruments he was creating.
The LP Black Box Cajon is also another best-seller in terms of competitors. As far as features and specs go, this one is very similar to the Meinl Cajon.
Weighing in a solid 12 pounds, the LP Black Box is a little heavier than its competitor. It’s a more-solid drum box. The box measures 21 x 13 x 12 inches, which makes for a bit bigger of a Cajón.
This instrument is also the winner of DRUM! Magazine’s Drummies! award for Best Cajón. This is one of the only drums I have seen that claims to be environmentally responsible for utilizing an eco-board and leaving a small footprint.
I personally love the look of this Cajón. One setback, when compared to the Meinl, is that there is no adjustable front plate. The sound from it is punchy, warm, and very musical.
On the negative side, the materials, despite being eco-friendly, are of a poor design. I can’t speak to this as I am short, but some have stated that if you’re taller, you’ll have a more difficult time playing this box drum, due to how you must sit on it.
Others have also noted difficulty with assembly and having to physically hammer the pieces together and weaken the particle board. I had no such experience with this Cajón.
Back again with Meinl Percussion! This is our Editor’s Choice pick for this review. Yes, this Cajón is the most expensive on the list, but hey, they say you get what you pay for, right?
This is Meinl’s biggest and baddest Cajón, offering a low-end punch that everyone dreams of. The first time I sat down at this Cajón, I could really feel it.
The size of the sound is so massive. According to Meinl, the extra deep body allows for excellent low note development.
Side note: When we think of sub, we’re talking values between 40Hz and 75Hz, on average. These frequencies are so massive in size, that they take between 20 – 30 feet to fully develop in a room. Keep that in mind when you are playing to position yourself in a way to achieve the most resonant bass frequencies.
The jumbo bass Cajón measures 13.5 x 19.75 x 13.75 inches; this drum box is shorter than the LP Black Box! One interesting thing to note about it is that it features forward-facing sound ports.
If you are sitting on top, these ports really allow you to feel the drum and the bass. Again, like the other Cajón from Meinl, it features an adjustable front plate.
I personally love it, but there’s always going to be someone who has a bad experience.
One player who used Meinl’s pedal attachment has had issues with the fiberboard being damaged and has had to repair it multiple times. You never know, though. This could have been a result of overplaying.
LP’s Aspire cajón features a beautiful natural wood finish. It happens to be the first cajóns I ever got. I needed one on the road on one of my first tours.
It’s been through hell, to say the least. I still bring this one with me on tours; I’d rather not bring a nicer one with me.
I keep that mindset with all my gear, really. My kit I bring on tours isn’t fancy. It’s just too easy to have your gear ruined during changeovers by someone who doesn’t care about your personal gear.
That being said, it’s still not an entry-level option. I do love the sound of it and it provides a great general cajón sound.
The top of the cajón is very tactile, featuring almost a sandpaper-like finish. When sitting down on it, the finish reduces slipping while playing.
The wires are fixed, so you can’t make any adjustments to the tone; this is a bit of a drawback.
The best electronic Cajón
Roland’s electronic Cajón is a hybrid. While it does operate as a standard box drum, it is also packed with built-in electronic sounds.
You can now blend traditional tones with acoustic drums, tambourines, shakers, electronic drums, and more.
The EC-10 is completely self-contained, as it comes with battery power and an onboard speaker. You also do have the option to plug the electronic Cajón into a PA system via the line out on the back of the box.
Not all Cajóns are created equal. Some are designed to sound much bigger and fuller than others. Very few have an electronic jack for amplification, so miking it up might be necessary at certain gigs.
What kind of musicians play Cajóns?
In my experience, I’ve seen everyone from professional drummers to young kids playing Cajóns. In addition, they’re great for writing sessions and for hanging out with your friends around a campfire.
It’s a very easy instrument to pick up and start playing. Cajóns have gained a lot of popularity as of late due to their portability and great sound output.
Can you add a Cajón to a traditional drum set?
You can. By using a special kick drum pedal, you can set up your Cajón next to your hi-hat (for example) and play your Cajón with your left foot on the kick pedal.
This setup isn’t the most user-friendly and you probably won’t get the best tone from your box drum in this situation.
Are Cajóns loud enough to upset the neighbors?
If you live in an apartment or condominium complex, a box drum will be loud enough to upset your neighbor