I have wanted a cajon for some time but I have always been wary of actually owning one. There seems to be a stigma surrounding the instrument. I think some people see the cajon and immediately think that the person playing it picked the instrument because they're not good enough to play anything else. You and I know that's not true, but I believe that prejudice still exists. Anyway, I finally talked myself into buying one for an upcoming gig. I found selecting the right one was more difficult than I imagined. I am lucky to know people who own different makes and models so I have tried several different types of cajons in person. This allowed me a better educated guess about which cajon to buy than most people get. I spent several hours last week trying to find the perfect cajon and here are a couple of truths I discovered:
1. The cajon is a box of wood. For the most part, all of them sound basically the same. Some have more snare buzz and others have more bass, but basically, they all sound like a buzzy box of wood.
2. It doesn't matter how many videos you watch, the cajon you pick will not sound like the video.
3. Just like with cars, a pretty girl sitting on top of a cajon, sells products. Listen with your ears, not your eyes.
4. Try as many instruments as you can in person.
5. Did I mention that these things are basically a wooden box with cut up snares in them? Seriously, this shouldn't be in the same difficultly level as selecting a ride cymbal.
6. Apparently, only Germans know how to construct the Peruvian cajon because 9 out of 10 cajons seem to be built in Germany.
7. You buy an oboe, you get a case. You buy a cajon, it's an extra $75 for a case.
I finally decided after much deliberation that the Schlagwerk 2 in One Large Snare Cajon was the best choice for me. Let me first say that out of the box, the instrument was choice. The industrial look of the playing surface is very cool and the unfinished look of the entire box adds to the overall aesthetic of the cajon. Of course, looks are not important. The sound of this cajon is so much more than I could have ever asked. The bass sound is huge and has very little snare rattle. The snares seem to have the perfect mix of snap and buzz. The slap sound you can get near the top of the cajon has a bright woody quality that is really different from the rest of the instrument. Thus far, I have discovered 3 distinct snare sounds, 2 bass sounds and several slap sounds. This instrument is simply the best cajon I have played.
One big plus with this cajon is that you can turn off the snares if you want. I would like to have a cajon where this adjustment is quick turn of a knob. However, all of the cajons I looked at that had a quick snare disengagement also seemed to have a mechanical flaw that was directly related to the snare adjustment. The snare on this model has to be adjusted by hand through the hole in the back of the cajon. It is a very practical, sturdy design (Germans) but not necessarily a quick one. I like the addition of two small sleigh bells. I have no idea what they add as you cannot really hear them, but I feel like they have a purpose I haven't discovered yet.
I couldn't be happier with this cajon. I know many of you are searching for the perfect instrument. I don't have a lot of good advice aside for trying a lot of boxes and picking the one that is right for you. During your search, make sure you check out the Schlagwerk cajons. Good luck.