Originating as a slave instrument from the 18th century, the cajon has quickly become a fixture in both jazz fusion genres and flamenco. It’s popularity has also started to bleed over into other genres to the point where it’s not unheard of as an accompaniment for blues, pop, rock, or even funk.
While the cajon is undoubtedly pretty popular, just like any other instrument it can be pretty overwhelming for the uninitiated to try and find a model that well work for their needs without stretching their budget. If you’ve ever had a hard time figuring how to choose the best cajon for your needs, you’ve come to the right place. This article will give you all the information that you need to make an informed purchase as well as give you five great recommendations.
- The Basics: Cajon 101
- What Should I Look For In A Cajon
- The Top 5 Cajons
The Basics: Cajon 101
While there are a variety of theories as to the origin of the cajon, it’s most likely origin is that it was an attempt to subvert the Spanish colonial bans on African music. Slave owners in pretty much every corner of the globe attempted to ban slaves from playing their native music to distance them from the culture. The French, British, Spanish, and American slave owners all tried this at one point or another.
And when you think about it, the cajon was a pretty clever solution to this problem. Considering that it’s essentially just a wooden box the cajon could be stored in plain sight without arousing suspicion. And as the recent widespread adoption of the cajon has shown, the instrument really does have the potential to provide just as good of a rhythmic base as any traditional drum.
While the cajon has been played Peruvian music since its inception, it recent fame can be attributed to the Spanish flamenco player Paco de Lucia. Paco de Lucia used the cajon as a way to provide a more reliable rhythm section to flamenco music, and he chose the cajon because it features a timbre more similar to the more common percussive guitar slaps found in the genre.
Unfortunately, sometimes the cajon gets a bit of a bad rap from people unfamiliar with the instrument because it’s seen as a novelty item. However, the beauty of the cajon is that it’s not a drum set. There are a ton of genres that benefit from having a good percussion section but can’t utilize a full drum kit. That’s why recently the cajon has become so popular in intimate acoustic settings. A skilled cajon player can pull a pretty wide variety of sounds out of their instrument, none of which have the sustain or power to distract from more minimalist pieces of music. When used tastefully, a cajon really is a great fit in a wide variety of genres.
What Should I Look For In A Cajon?
Cajons are generally built to emphasize a woody bass tone or a woody snare like tone. It really depends on the original intent of the manufacturer. With the exception of traditional Peruvian cajons, most recently made instruments come with some sort of mechanism to approximate a snare-type sound. This is generally done with either wire or guitar strings that are ran on the front side of the box. Recently, J Leiva have been manufacturing a cajon with an easy to use snare adjustment mechanism on the back side of the instrument. This is a great option if you’re a dedicated cajon player because it allows you to dial in a wide variety of tones with a minimal amount of effort. Through use of technique, you can somewhat compensate for the different properties of a particular cajon.
The Top 5 Cajons
As always, our recommendations are meant to appeal to as wide a variety of our readers as possible. While we recognize the fact that many more expensive instruments are superior to their budget minded counterparts, we also know that it doesn’t matter how good an instrument is if you just can’t justify the expense. So keep in mind that the best option for you may not be the best option for your neighbor, and vice versa.
Meinl Percussion Headliner Series HCAJ1NT Cajon
Schlagwerk CP 408 Dark Oak Cajon
Pearl PBC507JC Primero Jingle Box Cajon
LP Americana Groove Wire Cajon
Meinl Percussion JC50LBNT Cajon