The 10 Best Cajons

Updated May 28, 2018 by Brett Dvoretz

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We spent 36 hours on research, videography, and editing, to review the top choices for this wiki. These box-shaped percussion instruments originated in Peru and are played by slapping the front or rear faces with the hands, fingers, or sometimes using brushes, mallets, or sticks. Cajons are easy for beginners to play, and though originally intended for flamenco, conga, and Afro-Peruvian music, they produce a variety of rich sounds to complement a wide array of other genres. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to support our work. Skip to the best cajon on Amazon.

10. Sawtooth ST-CJ120B

The Sawtooth ST-CJ120B is meant for the traveling musician. It offers a padded seat, rubber feet, and a carrying case that slings conveniently over your back. Both the front plate and the internal snare wire system are adjustable for creating customized sounds.
  • great bargain for beginners
  • easy to transport
  • sound quality isn't great
Brand Rise by Sawtooth
Model ST-CJ120B
Weight 13.3 pounds
Rating 4.0 / 5.0

9. LP Americana Groove

The LP Americana Groove features smooth rounded corners that add to the user's comfort, and it is made to exacting standards in the United States. Its hand-selected soundboard offers a nice lasting resonance and makes it a good accompaniment to many different music genres.
  • great bass and snare separation
  • subtle discreet appearance
  • volume isn't super loud
Brand Latin Percussion
Model LP1427
Weight 13.5 pounds
Rating 3.6 / 5.0

8. Meinl Percussion Turbo

The Meinl Percussion Turbo may look unusual, but this adds to its flexibility when it comes to creating unique sounds. The slap top is meant for upright playing and it features forward facing sound ports that really project the music a far distance.
  • available in burl and walnut wood
  • responds nicely to finger rolls
  • short 4-inch snare wires
Brand Meinl Percussion
Weight 10.5 pounds
Rating 4.1 / 5.0

7. Latin Percussion LP1428NY

The Latin Percussion LP1428NY commands attention with its sleek, black matte finish. It has fixed wires to offer a reliable sound time and time again, with a good balance of bass and sharp snare sounds, allowing you to play any type of music.
  • tight and quick response
  • also available as a stringed model
  • room-filling sound
Brand Latin Percussion
Model LP1428NY
Weight 13.6 pounds
Rating 5.0 / 5.0

6. A Tempo Percussion Dos Voces

The A Tempo Percussion Dos Voces is named as such because it has two playing surfaces; one for traditional Peruvian sounds and the other with snare wires for flamenco. It sports a lovingly crafted dovetailed mohena body that looks stunning.
  • includes a gig bag
  • can create two distinct highs
  • snares are not adjustable
Brand Sol Percussion
Model CJ-DOSV-00
Weight 6.8 pounds
Rating 3.9 / 5.0

5. Meinl Percussion Makah Burl

The Meinl Percussion Makah Burl features an internal string system that delivers the crisp, sizzling sound associated with flamenco music. While a professional model, this one has the beginner in mind with its easy and versatile playability.
  • allows for fine tuning
  • rear sound port for mic placement
  • backed by a two-year warranty
Brand Meinl Percussion
Model CAJ3MB-M
Weight 12.4 pounds
Rating 4.1 / 5.0

4. Gon Bops Alex Acuna Special Edition

If you are just as concerned with how it looks as how it sounds, then you'll appreciate the Gon Bops Alex Acuna Special Edition. It has an attractive patterned exterior that is made from Peruvian hardwoods and sonic characteristics that allow for clean bass.
  • hard-wearing lacquer finish
  • strings run only in the corners
  • snare can be hard to find
Brand Gon Bops
Weight 17.4 pounds
Rating 3.8 / 5.0

3. Schlagwerk 2inOne

The Schlagwerk 2inOne is available in five finishes, including barista, dark oak, and natural, all of which have a great look to match the audiophile-quality acoustics. It contains 40 snare wires that can be removed quickly in a single movement for effortless maintenance.
  • quality german construction
  • very deep and bassy tone
  • sound improves over time
Brand Schlagwerk
Model CP409
Weight 10.7 pounds
Rating 5.0 / 5.0

2. Pyle PCJD18

The Pyle PCJD18 may be moderately priced, but it sounds similar to many more expensive models, making it a good choice for those who can appreciate the subtle differences in tones, but who can't afford to spend a lot of money.
  • includes a tuning hex key
  • rubber feet to prevent interference
  • lightweight for its size
Brand Pyle
Model PCJD18
Weight 12.7 pounds
Rating 4.7 / 5.0

1. Sol Percussion El Artesano

The Sol Percussion El Artesano is designed to bridge the differences between flamenco and traditional instruments. It produces a warm, rich sound with deep, resonating bass, and it looks just as beautiful as it sounds with the its five-wood blend construction.
  • handcrafted in peru
  • long-lasting satin finish
  • creates a wide variety of tones
Brand Sol Percussion
Weight 15.5 pounds
Rating 4.5 / 5.0

A Brief History Of Cajons

The Cajon appears to be a descendant of a variety of boxlike musical instruments that were found in West and Central regions of Africa. Historically, the cajon has been most widely used in Afro-Peruvian music, though it has made its way into a variety of modern music genres and can currently be found in musical performances throughout the Americas, Spain, and the Philippines.

The rise in popularity of the cajon most likely came about sometime in the 18th century as a result of African slavery in Peru. Two complementing theories can explain why they become such a cultural symbol at the time. The African slaves working in port cities had a large number of Spanish shipping crates at their disposal, which they could easily adapt into a box drum somewhat reminiscent of those found in their homeland. This was also a time when the Spanish colonies were placing bans on slave music. The slave masters worried that allowing slaves to listen to the songs of their homeland could fuel emotions towards a common cause or even result in open rebellion. The box-like nature of the cajon meant that it could be quickly and easily disguised as a stool when needed. The combination of Spanish suppression of slave music and African origins seem to have created the perfect atmosphere for the development of the cajon.

The cajon was also widely used in Cuba in the 1960s. Just a few years after Castro turned Cuba into a communist country in 1959, disenchanted and marginalized masses started to hold anti-communist rallies in the streets, complete with chanting, singing, and rhythmic drumming. Fearing the sound of beating drums would draw more people to the protests, and thereby more people to the cause potentially leading to open rebellion, Castro outlawed playing music in the street. To get around this, Cubans started to make drums out of fruit boxes and other crude materials that could be easily disguised as everyday items. When the police arrived to break up a rally, they would find well-behaved citizens sitting atop their boxes, looking for work or socializing.

Over time, the cajon has become a true musical instrument in its own right. In the mid to late 19th century, musicians started experimenting with different cajon designs. They bent the planks to alter the tone, added internal wires to give it a snare sound, and some have even incorporated tiny tambourine cymbals, adding new dimensions to the types of sounds cajons can produce.

How To Choose The Right Cajon

Choosing the right cajon is as personal as choosing a favorite pair of jeans; no two people will want the exact same thing. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you evaluate different cajons to see if they fit your needs. Always remember that price doesn't necessarily directly correlate with quality. This doesn't mean that you should go out and buy the cheapest model available, but realize that big name branding often adds to the price tag, without necessarily adding to the quality. Take a look at the materials used to construct the cajon. Models made from high density hardwoods will offer a better frequency range, being able to produce high-cracking notes, deep resonating bass, and punchier bass tones, as well.

Consider the type of music you plan on playing the most. Each type of cajon is best suited to certain tones, hence certain genres of music. If you play rock music the majority of the time, a cajon that features a snare system is a good choice. A snare system helps a cajon produce more rattle and buzz in the high notes. The downside to this is that it makes them sound a little less articulate when played fast. Flamenco and Latin cajons often have a guitar strings or wires running along the backside of the tapa. This helps them produce tighter and crisper sounds that are perfect for higher bongo- or conga-like tones. If you really want the traditional Afro-Peruvian sound, choose a model without wires, strings, or a snare system. These will be better at creating rich, resonating bass tones.

You should also look at the design of a cajon. The port placement will affect the volume and tone. Cajons with a port in the center will have the most volume, but the least tones. As the port moves closer to the bottom, the volume decreases but the tones increase. Size is another factor that affects tone and volume. The bigger the cajon, the deeper the bass it can produce and the louder it can get. Small cajons are less expensive, but are quieter and can't reach very deep bass notes.

Cajon Playing Tips For Beginners

Posture is extremely important when playing a cajon. Because of the way cajons are designed to be played while sitting on top of them, many people naturally want to hunch over them. Playing this way can quickly lead to back pain after practice sessions, resulting in a person deciding that a cajon is not the instrument for them. In actuality though, a cajon should be played with your back mostly straight, in a relaxed, but not hunched position. All of a cajon's tones can be achieved in the top eight inches of the tapa and sides, so there really is no reason to bend over far and try and hit lower areas. Not only will using the correct posture reduce the possibility of soreness or back pain, it will also improve your technique, agility, and speed.

Your first few practice sessions should be spent finding all of the tones of your cajon. Experiment by hitting the instrument in different spots and paying attention to the tone each area creates. You may be surprised to learn that a cajon is capable of considerably more tones than most people expect. Having knowledge of all the different tones that your instrument can produce gives you the ability to create a more varied sound to your music, thereby adding more complexity to your rhythms.

Using a metronome can greatly help to improve you timing, speed, and beat-keeping accuracy. It may seem mind-numbing at first, but having good timing and beat-keeping accuracy is vital to becoming a high-level percussionist.

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Last updated on May 28, 2018 by Brett Dvoretz

A wandering writer who spends as much time on the road as behind the computer screen, Brett can either be found hacking furiously away at the keyboard or perhaps enjoying a whiskey and coke on some exotic beach, sometimes both simultaneously, usually with a four-legged companion by his side. He hopes to one day become a modern day renaissance man.

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