Cuban cajones - Construction Issues

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Postby Thomas Altmann » Sat Jul 29, 2006 11:19 pm

Hi everybody,

I am constructing my own set of cajones. I am in doubt about the head thickness. I feel that most propagators of the "thin head" and "loose screws" advice seem to look more for the drum set sound (bass-snare) of one cajón playing individually. I am striving for the ensemble sound of traditional Cuban Yambú. I also dispense with the conical design, because the original crates that they had used must have been straight rectangular, too.

Does anybody have experience in what thickness is chosen in (today's) Cuban Rumba groups? My quinto has a 25x25 cm playing surface with a body length of 32 cm. My tumbador is 47x60 cm front surface, depth 30 cm. I chose these measurements by personal estimation and taste. I want the quinto with quinto qualities and the tumbador with tumbao qualities.

Also, I don't hear that crack of loose heads on the Cuban recordings that I have. What is your experience? Isn't that pure Peruvian (and Flamenco) style?

I have already searched the forum history for matching threads, but couldn't find a satisfying answer to my questions.

Greetings,

Thomas
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Postby SkinDeep » Sun Jul 30, 2006 6:49 am

WHAT'S THE BEST WOOD TO USE FOR CAJONES? THKS
MOFORIBALE AL TAMBO!!!
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Postby ricky linn » Sun Jul 30, 2006 9:31 am

Hi

I had some lessons with Amado from Clave Y Guaguanco in Habana last year and after studying Yambu we measured C y G's cajons so we could make some.

9" deep 24"long and 18" high. 1/2 inch plywood 6 ply - 2 or 3 ply for front "head" with a 6" diameter circle in the back. Hope this helps.

Ricky
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Postby guarachon63 » Sun Jul 30, 2006 12:11 pm

Hi Thomas, I found this discussion "How to build a cajon drum" at rec.music.makers.percussion.hand-drum to have a lot of good info.

As for the shape, the quinto design you mention is just slightly larger than the quinto I measured from Yoruba Andabo (9" inch square top and 12" body length.

Like some of the people in the discussion above, I found 1/8 luan "door skin" to be great for the tops of both the quinto and the tumbadora size cajon.

I also found that a few coats of shellack inside and out helped to improve the sound.

I was never able to make a truly satisfactory bass cajon. Really though, it's best to just experiment. And you are also right, best to make them the shape and dimensiones that are most comfortable for you. After all, at heart they are "just boxes".

I like that you are going for a traditional sound, I feel like the trend among commercial manufacturers nowadays is to make them sound too "drum-like."

As for the "crack," snare-like sound, in rumba I hear that in recordings sometimes on the quinto (see for example the song "Tasajero" by Afrocuba de Matanzas on the "Real Rumba" CD), but never on the other sizes.

I like that cracky sound and so I left my quinto kind of loose but every one kept telling me to glue it shut so I did, just got sick of hearing it.

Around here though there is also a trend inthe quinto cajon to slice about a saw-blade's width out of the base on which the cajon top will rest (looking down from the top, a bit less than a quarter-way of the length and width on the corners facing the player). This makes about a 3mm space between the top and the body, a nice sound option. You can make a regular slap kind of in the middle, and play the corners with your fingertips and make a nice little "snap" sound.

Good luck and let us know how they turn out!

Saludos
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Postby Thomas Altmann » Sun Jul 30, 2006 3:19 pm

Thank you Ricky and Guarachon!

It's really amazing how my measurements correspond to those of others, like the Clave y Guaguancó, or the FatCongas-models. The occasional differences do not exceed 2 inches.

1/2 inch for the walls of the caja, sounds like heavy schlepping. In fact I am contemplating whether to use thick panels like these, or rather take the 1/4 inch panels that I had bought already and work with reinforcement staves underneath. Thin wood clearly vibrates more. On the other hand, these staves inhibit bass resonance; that's at least the concept they use on the ceilings of recording studios.

Also I thought about using 1/4 inch plywood for the batter head of the caja tumbadora and putting a thin 1/8 three-ply resonance head on the back, with a sound hole. I'm afraid that a thin batter with a surface as big as 60 cm (ca 24") x 47 cm (ca 19") will produce a slap attack when struck.

I still have to contemplate on all this. Just trying would mean a lot of wood, because I am using a glue that is guaranteed more durable than the wood itself; so, once glued in place, it's impossible to separate the pieces again. I have to decide before what to do, using my intuition.

I made the quinto cajon. I think it sounds great. I used 5-ply birch 1/4" for the walls and 3-ply birch 1/8" for the batter surface. I used triangular-profile reinforcement staves in all four corners (not under the head). I used only glue, no nails, no screws. I still have to rounden the edges and to laquer it. I need to find something natural for the laquer, because I don't want to know I'm constantly rubbing off poisonous stuff with every stroke. When it's finished, I'll give you photos.

Looking at the drawing in Fernando Ortiz's book, the player strikes the wall, too. I did that, and there I have a sharp slap sound. It's almost like with a bata, a relatively clear separation of the hands for getting distinct sounds.

It is somehow dizzying me how a surrogate instrument that the poor people used to pick up, because they could not afford real drums, should cost 400 bucks. The material I bought for two of these was never more than 40!

For the same reason I'm not going for tropical hardwood and the like. The model for these cajones were fish and cigar crates, originally. In Cuba today they are using plywood, cheap. I don't think they sound as resonant as the boxes that I am building, without Bubinga and Jacaranda, but they sure sound funky. (Otherwise you take conga drums.)

Greetings,

Thomas




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Postby ricky linn » Sun Jul 30, 2006 4:33 pm

Hi Thomas

The range of sounds that Amado Dedue (Clave Y Guaguanco) gets from a basic Cajon is astounding. I have a recording of a long improvisation he did for me in his home which is unbelievable!!! You are right about the ingenuity of players who have to use simple resources. Me and my friends left Amados' home after taking the recording and sat in a cafe on the Malecon and added up how much our combined gear was worth then sat in despair that a guy on a box had just wiped the floor with us, Genius!!!! Can't wait for their new C.D. (seems to be a delay with Amazon)



Ricky




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Postby Thomas » Sun Jul 30, 2006 4:48 pm

Hi Thomas!
Could you send a detailed plan of your cajon?
If you are making another one, would be nice if you could make a photo documention for not so experienced cajon-manufacturers like me. :)
Thanks for your efforts in spreading your knowledge.
Tom
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Postby ATALAKIMBAMBA » Sun Jul 30, 2006 5:46 pm

Yeah, I agree with Thomas...A lot of us could use your info n research, just makin´easier to experiment with cajon building...If anyone is interested I could share some basic Peruvian cajon-making instructions...Im very interested in those fat cubans Thomas...will be waiting...
...el maja...
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Postby Thomas Altmann » Sun Jul 30, 2006 8:01 pm

Ricky: YES I am interested. I send you a private message with my address. Maybe we find something that I have and you need.

Thomas: I will post a photo of the ready instrument. You will be able to see how I did it. It is very unspectacular, though.

Apropos "unexperienced": This was the first time I had built a cajon! I did not know it would become that good. Nor could I know my work would be exemplary for others in any way. I really had to direct my concentration towards the construction process and couldn't think of making photos on the side. And I'm afraid it wouldn't be much different with the next one, because it will be totally different from the quinto.

I had the wood cut ready in a big building supply store: two panels of 25 cm x 32 cm, and two panels of 23,7 cm x 32 cm, all of them in 6,5 mm thickness, plus one panel of 25 cm x 25 cm and 4 mm thickness. It was birch plywood. I also bought 4 pinewood strips with a triangular profile (one 90° angle): 1,7 cm x 1,7 cm x 2,5 cm, length 32 cm (perhaps less than 32 cm would be better).

The first step was to glue the pinewood strips to the 23,7 x 32 cm panels, of course on the 32 cm sides, and in a way that the 90° edge of the strip was absolutely in one line with the border of the panel, because it will later reinforce the corner joints of the walls of the cajon.

The glue I used is known in Germany as "Ponal", made by the Henkel company in Düsseldorf. I'm sure there's something comparable in each country. You have to press the pieces together for about 15-20 minutes.

The next step is to glue the larger wall pieces to the prepared smaller ones to form four walls of a box, as simple as that. You obtain a square opening on each end, diminished by the reinforcement staffs in the four corners. Then you glue the 25 x 25 head on to the top, and ready is the cajon ...

It is important to take care of absolutely precise measuring and fitting and clean work. The contact surfaces of the single parts must be even. This is crucial. If not, you have to tear the pieces apart in time or - if possible - apply your file to the uneven spots.

Let it dry sufficiently before you start "repicando".

The finish (which I still have to do) will be to sandpaper it, to rounden the edges with a file, and to laquer it.

I hope that helps.

Thomas Altmann

P.S.: Ricky, I just tried to send you the PM. I'm not sure whether I succeeded. Can you confirm that you received it (or not)? Thanks, TA




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Postby SkinDeep » Sun Jul 30, 2006 10:28 pm

THKS FOR THE DETAILED INFO. I'LL BE MAKING ONE SOON.
MOFORIBALE AL TAMBO!!!
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Postby OLSONGO » Sun Jul 30, 2006 11:15 pm

This is my first cajon, finished it about a week ago; built with found materials in one day.
Been the first cajon and needing it fast for a gig. I used my skil saw, gorilla glue, screws. and covered all of the imperfections with what looks like a mango wood venner a gift from a cabinet shop. After sanding with 200+ applied a couple of thin polyu. coats , and four rubber caps at the bottom. The front is screwed and loose on top and the back is glued door membrane ( mahagony ) with a painted black design to make it interesting , also the 2 guitar strings inside the front. I have plans for a couple more with different ideas in mind and taking my time. take a look a the pics., not bad for a full days worth. And it sounds kick ass
Amor, paz y rumba
OLSONGO




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Attachment: http://mycongaplace.com/forum/eng/uploa ... scajon.jpg
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Postby Thomas Altmann » Sun Aug 20, 2006 10:09 pm

Hi,

as promised, I am offering final information plus photos of my ready constructed cajones.

Look at http://www.ochemusic.de/artcajon.htm .

I wrote it quickly, so I hope I didn't make too many mistakes.

Greetings,

TA
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Postby guarachon63 » Mon Aug 21, 2006 8:41 pm

Very nice Thomas!

I admire your desire to adhere to tradition and to not get too carried away with the quality, using Jacaranda and such. I think there is too much "gear inflation" in music in general. I think some of the more expensive ones even get "too good," sound like drums and lose their identity as cajones.

That said, I think the "conical" development is an adaptation for the players comfort and I doubt the shape has much detrimental acoustic effect. ( For example, when listening to Youruba Andabo live I never found myself saying "Man, this would sound great if only he was using a rectangular cajon!") ;)

On the other hand, like you say, the rectangles are easier to make.

I didn't notice too many errors in your article, I was curious about one thing you wrote:

"They used a big caja (crate) for the tumbao ("howdown", beat), "

What exactly do you mean by that word "howdown"?

Saludos
Guarachon
PS for a nice parody (I think!) of "gear inflation," see:

Rad Monkey Cowbells
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Postby Thomas Altmann » Mon Aug 21, 2006 10:02 pm

Guarachon:

"Howdown" is an orthographic mistake, which I will correct immediately. I meant "Hoedown", which is - I think (?) - either an old English dance or a party; but "tumbar" means "to hoe down", like in "tumbar caña", so a tumbao (tumbado) could be loosely translated as stroke or beat. Consequently, a tumbador or tumbadora is someone or something that produces the beat.

Perhaps the English word "hoedown" has a similar origin and implies maybe a reference to work songs or work rhythms. Certainly it does have a very similar meaning as "tumbao".

This does not apply to the tumbas of the Tumba Francesa, where the word "tumba" seems to be an African (perhaps Congo) expression for a drum. I don't think it has anything to do with the Spanish word for tomb.

What do the Spanish speakers say about my interpretation?

Thomas
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Postby Berimbau » Mon Aug 21, 2006 11:07 pm

"ho down" is a 911 call in my Memphis 'hood!


hehe,



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.
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