Do Bodhráns Die? And What Can Be Done About It?

Paraic McNeela specialises in expertly treated goatskin for bodhráns

It has been mentioned to me, and also I have noticed it on a few online discussion boards, people claiming that some bodhráns don't last too long, or "die" to use a more dramatic term. 

I have had a number of bodhráns in for re-skinning because the player claims that the skin has gone too soft, I must say that I did not make these drums but usually this just happens when the bodhrán is played excessively for years and years. However, it must be a worry to have paid good money for a drum and then after a year or so have the skin lose its sustain and go flat

I cure my goatskins in a traditional way i.e. soaking the skin in a solution of garden lime and water. They are then pickled for a day in brine, a solution of salt and water. I believe in this process because it works every time. After I stretch the skin I can rub special moisturisers into the skin to moisten the skin. If the wrong moisturiser or oil is rubbed into the skin it can cause a reaction to the skin which starts to break down over a period with playing.

Playing the skin or beating the skin slightly stretches the skin but the elasticity of the skin brings it back to its original shape. I believe the problem is with the oil used to moisturise the skin either during the curing process or by the owner. Oil is also used to soften the skin and it may be that it is overdoing its job. It is important to know that our bodhrán skin is very similar to our own skin and if we wouldn't put it on our own skin well we shouldn't put it on our bodhráns skin.

If it does go loose, however, there are a number of very simple solutions for this problem.  The first being to change the bodhrán skin by an experienced bodhrán maker. There are enough of us around. I successfully do this all the time. I not only provide this service but take great pleasure in prolonging the life of a bodhrán.

If you drop it in or post it, it takes me about two to three days to re-skin a bodhrán, and it only costs around €35.

Sometimes you can even just use the same skin, which is actually the second option. I just take off the skin, soak it in water for a few hours, and wring it out before re-stretching the skin back onto the frame. After it drys you may be happy with the result and usually it will last another few years, but if you are not satisfied with the sound then we can simply put a new skin on it. 

Popping a new skin on a bodhrán is much less traumatic than you think, so don't be worried about what bodhrán will live or die, because they don't die, maybe you could say they get sick, and just need a simple skin transplant. 

What Oils Should I Use On My Bodhrán?