Sunday, 2 June 2013

Making a Cajón

When I asked my best mate what he wanted for his birthday this year he came back with something rather unexpected, he said "I'd really like a Cajón!".  Having never heard of one before he continued to explain what it was and I looked it up a bit later too.  It turned out that for the sort of thing he wanted, something with an electrical pick-up (to make it semi-acoustic) with an adjustable snare too, it was a bit out of budget.  After a bit of research around various different makes and models I wondered how hard it could really be (it's just a wooden box after all) and offered to make one.  Matt quickly warmed to the idea and so with his knowledge of what he wanted in the way of design and my woodworking experience we set about a joint project that we've just finished this weekend.

To save the long blog post about exactly what we did, I'll simply refer you to a video (below).  This is more or less exactly what we made, following Steve Ramsey's design almost to the letter.  There were a few things we had to make up that the video didn't explain very well and a couple of design adjustments (where we found the video to be incorrect - we weren't the only one's to notice the problem).

The main departure from Steve's design in the video was the inclusion of an electric pick-up.  However, we didn't depart from Steve's advice and just followed his design for an electric pick-up using a piezo transducer and a 6mm jack socket soldered together as can be seen from about 4:30 in the video for his stomp box.

We took pictures all the way through which can be seen in chronological order in my Flickr set or via the slideshow at the bottom of this post.  We started off with a bunch of different stuff we needed to work up.  Here's Matt with the cheesy-grinned first picture before we got started, posing with the various bits and pieces:

More or less everything we used is there in the picture above:

  • 4' x 2' x ¾" birch faced ply sheet  (for the top, bottom and sides)
  • 3mm ply (for the front piece, called the tapa)
  • 25mm dowel rod
  • piezo transducer and 6mm jack socket
  • 4 speaker feet
  • Snare wire
  • 2 knobs, m6 40mm long thread
  • Clear wax
  • Glue

On the first afternoon's work, the birch ply was cut to size and rebated to form a box shape, albeit not yet glued together:

This was actually the main part of the work we had to do.  The next time we got together we modified the back panel so it had a large hole in it (to let the sound out) and a fitting for the jack socket to be screwed through.  After that came the tricky business of fitting the adjustable snare dowel rod mechanism to the sides which can best be seen in a couple of different pictures.  Once all that was done we were able to glue it all together and left it clamped up for a couple of days to dry, the result was a completed box:

Finally, we cut the front to size and fitted that, waxed the whole thing then fitted the feet and jack socket.  We gave it a few different tests.  First was to sit on it (since that's how they're played) and it survived that, then Matt had his first play on it in my garage followed by heading in doors to hook it up to the stereo in order to test the semi-accoustic-ness off it.  Everything worked well.

We're both really pleased with it.  It's really solidly constructed and feels like it should last a good many years use.  All the tweaks to a basic Cajón design work really well including the adjustable snare and the electric pick-up.  It looks really good too, we were really lucky to source such a nice looking piece of ply (thanks to my cousin's at Ascot Timer Buildings), finished it off with nicely rounded corners and a good quality clear wax.  Of course, the really important bit is the sound and fortunately it performs on that front too (better than I'd expected).  The base notes from the middle sound really deep and can be quite loud if you're really going for it and they graduate to a nice high pitch as you move towards playing at the sides.  When turned on, the snare adds an extra dimension when hitting near the top too.

So, it's happy birthday to Matt (a wee bit late since we started making it just after his birthday).  There have been loads of people interested in the project as we've bee going through so I'm sure he's going to be a busy boy showing it off all over the place now.

I'll close out with the slideshow and another mention of thanks to Steve Ramsey for his excellent video tutorial.

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