The best Bodhrán Drums to buy?
What makes a real bodhrán? It is a great question, in fact it is the most important question every bodhrán player, new or seasoned, asks themselves when choosing to purchase one.
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For me, for 34 years I have researched, tinkered and hammered away trying to figure what exactly makes a great bodhrán beat. You could say I made it my mission. This is what I have found:
Obviously, you've guessed it, the skin is the most important part. I notice the different tones no problem of course, but we've done blind tests here, and the results are staggering. Even non-bodhran players can tell the difference a mile away. It's that obvious. There is a huge difference in sound between a properly made bodhran and poorly made bodhrán, so take your time choosing where you buy yours. Hand-cured and hand stretched, properly conditioned and treated (without the use of chemicals) goatskin wins every single time. So it is no wonder goat skin compared to synthetic drum heads, lemo, kangaroo, grayhound and deer skin has stood the test of time and continues to be the skin of choice for real bodhrán makers the world over. Other things such as painted skins didn't make much of a difference, however most of the bodhráns that you can buy that come ready-painted are made in china or the middle-east very cheaply and of poor quality, or by a machine, which is even worse. So avoid it at all cost. Also stickers on bodhráns, such a Guinness logo, is a big no no, mainly because you look like a tourist.
A heavy skin tends to become more rigid than a thin skin and you may feel you are playing a board. A fine skin say about 3/4 to 1 mm thick has a resonance in it that a thick skin say 2mm does not have. So that the fine skin does not have that thinney sound from it. I use black electrical tape round the outside of the skin on the bodhran to dampen the tone. The bodhran is a bass drum, meaning first and foremost, it must produce a quality deep mellow tone. This is the secret of a good skin.
Lets move on.
Ok so we've figured out it is mainly all about the skin but what about the rim. Before I talk about tunable bodhráns, what difference does a good frame make to a bodhrán? The frame has to be professionally constructed to bear the pressure of the skin. It will need a single bar or a T-bar inside the frame so you can comfortably get your hand in behind the skin. You may sometimes rest the back of your hand against the inside bar to put pressure on the skin. The rim would need to be at least 4" deep and sometimes up to 6.5"deep. I recommend a deeper rim, but this is fashion and has very little bearing on the sound. Remember the tone is all in the skin the way it is treated and the way it is finished. The rim would have to be conical in shape to affect the sound. I have tried every size rim from 2" to 14" deep and found that the ideal thickness is from 4" to 6". Deep enough to control and shallow enough to spread around the room.
If you are only learning or thinking of learning I always recommend a non-tunable bodhrán, because if you decide bodhrán playing is not for you, at least it won't break the bank. If you are serious about playing longterm, however, I strongly recommend a tuneable bodhran. You can achieve so much more with being able to play high bass to give you higher volume and low bass to play quietly depending on the tune.
Being able to tune a bodhrán is a basic need for any serious player. The weather and humidity on this planet we live in is unpredictable and the natural skin reacts to humidity. Owning a tuneable or adjustable bodhran allows you to have control over the tension of the skin on your bodhran. This will mean your bodhran is not too high pitched or too soft when you go to play in a session.
How I tape a bodhrán: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tt9TiA2XCDc
Every bodhrán I make is made with patience, passion and precision, so when it's played, you hear that deep bass, mellow, resonating tone, only achieved from a high quality crafted drum.