Best Cajons

Updated April 2019
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
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How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

23 Models Considered
7 Hours Researched
1 Experts Interviewed
153 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Why trust BestReviews?
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.
We may earn a commission if you purchase a product through our links.

Shopping guide for best cajons

Last Updated April 2019

A cajon is a versatile percussive instrument you can use to play numerous musical styles. The word “cajón” means “box” or “crate” in Spanish, and rightly so: this is an instrument you sit on that looks like a wooden box. Cultivated centuries ago by Peruvian slaves in West Africa, the cajons of today can be used anywhere a drum is needed.

The timbre of a cajon varies depending on how you play it, but its primary sounds mimic those of a snare drum or kick (a bass drum with pedal). Some people use brushes or mallets to play the cajon, but it’s also fun to simply slap it with your hands. Its sound is often heard in world music, including Irish folk and flamenco styles.

If you’re looking to buy a cajon, we applaud your decision. You can use this instrument in lots of musical scenarios: jamming, performing, teaching. A cajon is portable and easy to store, and regardless of your budget, you should be able to find one that will satisfy you. Read our thorough guide to learn more about the instrument and which ones are the best buys right now.

The first cajons were created by Peruvian slaves out of crates and other boxes. The slaves weren’t permitted to play musical instruments, but the box-like appearance of the cajon was so unobtrusive that the slaves were able to “fly under the radar” and enjoy making music without their masters finding out.

The anatomy of a cajon

Before you buy a cajon and sit down to play, it helps to know what you’ll be getting and how you can use the instrument to achieve the best sound.

Body and head

The body of a cajon is usually made of wood: birch, maple, ash, and mahogany are all possible materials. The sides, back, and top seat may be thick and sturdy, but the front is made of a thinner wood. This thin side is known as the “head,” “soundboard,” or “tapa,” and it’s where the player makes the majority of their music. To get a higher snare sound, the player strikes the uppermost part of the head. To achieve a bass sound, the player strikes the head on its center. Some cajons come with an angled head for a deeper bass sound.

Notably, some cajons are made of fiberglass. Any hand drum made of fiberglass is going to have a slightly different sound – it will be louder and perhaps less “warm” than a traditional wood instrument.

Sound hole

On the front or back of a cajon is its sound hole, also known as the sound port. The resonance that builds up inside the box as you play escapes through this hole in much the same way that sound escapes an acoustic guitar as it is played. If amplification is a concern, you may wish to consider a cajon with a front-facing sound hole. With this placement, the sound waves from the instrument will travel a more direct path to listeners’ ears.

Feet

Most cajons sold today rest on four small rubber feet. The feet help with stability, which is especially important since the player also uses the cajon as a seat. They also help control and contain the vibrations of the cajon. However, there are some cajons without feet that simply sit on the floor as boxes, and there are a few that rest on a short platform that is slightly less wide than the box itself.

Guitar strings vs. snare wires

In spite of the simplistic outward appearance, most cajons are more than just a box. Inside, you will see guitar strings or snare wires on the back of the head that vibrate as the cajon is percussed. Some players insist that there is no difference in sound between a cajon with guitar strings and a cajon with snare wires. Others insist the opposite. Regardless of what’s on the inside, you can adjust the snare sound of your cajon in several ways. If it has guitar strings, you can loosen or tighten them with a hex key at the bottom of the box. You can also change the sound of the snare by loosening or tightening the head using a Phillips head screwdriver.

Cajon size

Cajons come in different sizes, and price often corresponds with size. A smaller cajon that would still be considered “full size” may measure 10 inches wide, 15 inches tall, and 10 inches deep. A jumbo option would be something in the vicinity of 14 inches wide, 19 inches tall, and 14 inches deep. The “traditional” size sits in between these two extremes, at approximately 12 inches wide, 18 inches tall, and 12 inches deep.

There are also mini cajons that aren’t large enough to sit on; instead, you place these items between your knees to play. About the size of a toaster, a mini cajon is a highly portable option. The sound won’t be as powerful as that of a full-size instrument, but for an intimate setting or a fun musical session with a child, it could be all you need.

Uses for the cajon

You may use a cajon as a supplemental drum in your ensemble, or you may use it as a solo instrument. Some people use a cajon because a full drum kit just isn’t practical for their situation. A trained drummer can elicit many of the same sounds from a cajon that are possible with a full drum set.

As mentioned, you are not limited to the use of your hands when you play the cajon. You can also use brushes, mallets, and drumsticks. You are also not limited to striking the head; any part of the cajon is fair game when it comes to making music. For many musicians, the informality of the cajon and the open-ended creativity it provides are two of its most endearing traits.

EXPERT TIP

Playing the cajon is a physical activity. To limber up your arm, leg, and back muscles and avoid muscle strain, stretch your body before you start playing. If you’re participating in a long session, be sure to take intermittent stretch breaks, too.


Staff  | BestReviews
EXPERT TIP

Are you buying a cajon for a child? Consider a mini cajon. These products cost less, so your financial risk is a bit smaller, and you can get a good idea how committed the child will be to the instrument without making a big investment.


Staff  | BestReviews

Cajon features

Shape

Although most cajons are rectangular boxes, you may encounter a few variations in shape as you shop. For example, a “whiskey barrel” cajon looks just as it sounds: like a whiskey barrel drum. Some people are drawn to this unique look, and many swear by the additional resonance created by the rounded sides.

A cajon with a “slap top” surface looks a lot like the letter “T.” The bench on which the player sits is wider than the body of the cajon, creating an easy-access top that can be slapped without the player having to reach down.

Rounded corners

The original cajons played by slaves likely didn’t have rounded corners, but most cajons have this safety feature today. In fact, the entirety of the wood on any cajon should be free of sharp edges that could potentially cause slivers or injury. The best cajons have a smooth finish that allows the beauty of the wood grain to shine through without posing any sort of danger.

Padded seat cushion

Some cajons come with a padded seat cushion that is cut to the dimensions of the top of box. Players who don’t relish the idea of sitting on hardwood for a long musical session may appreciate this feature. If your chosen cajon doesn’t come with its own cushion, it may be possible to buy one separately or create your own. Keep in mind, however, that a pillow or folded blanket placed on top of a cajon could slip off, and if it doesn’t fit the dimensions of the drum precisely, it could mute or otherwise affect your sound.

Carrying case

Cajons are fairly easy to transport compared to the other equipment an active amateur or professional musician might have to deal with: keyboards, guitars, amplifiers, and so on. For this reason, not all cajons come with a carrying case. But many do, and if you want to protect the wood from nicks, scratches, and accidental drops, consider purchasing a cajon that comes with a fitted carrying case, also known as a gig bag. A shoulder strap makes transport all the simpler.

Built-in speakers

You may be interested in owning an electric cajon. Pricier cajons may have built-in speakers to help with amplification. The good news for purists is, most of these instruments work interchangeably as both acoustic and electric instruments.

DID YOU KNOW?

A few cajons on today’s market have a backrest. If you’re concerned about back strain, consider an instrument like this. Remember, however, that you’ll still have to lean away from the backrest to create certain tones.

Cajon prices

Inexpensive: If you want a full-size cajon, expect to pay a minimum of $50. For around this price, you can get a decent cajon that may be made of a lower-cost wood like birch. The sound might be good, but durability could be an issue. It’s less likely that helpful extras like a seat cushion or gig bag would come with an entry-level cajon in this price range.

Mid-range: Between $50 and $200, you’ll find lots of great acoustic cajons made of quality wood. Many in this price range will come with a padded seat and gig bag, too.

Expensive: Upwards of $200, you will find cajons from some of the bigger names in the musical instrument industry. Some of these will have built-in speakers. You don’t necessarily have to spend this much to get a good cajon with fantastic sound, but your odds of finding a keeper rise as your budget does.

Tips

  • Experiment with playing your cajon in different locations. The surrounding acoustics can affect its sound dramatically, and since it’s portable, you’re free to try lots of different environments. For example, it’ll sound far different in an open field or park than it will at a subway station.

  • Put on a pair of headphones and jam to some recordings from your personal music collection. One of the best ways to learn to play is by studying the works of others, and what better way to do it than by jamming along with your favorites?

  • Protect your hands. As a percussion player, it’s imperative that you protect the health of your hands. Professionals will sometimes tape their hands or wear gloves. If you’re feeling pain after a session with your cajon, consider taking a few lessons to get tips from a pro. It also helps to make sure your hands are warm and limber before you start playing.

Other products we considered

Are you looking for a cajon for a kid? The Stagg Kids’ Cajon with EasyGo Backrest is an affordable option with a convenient backrest, and you can choose from purple, green, blue, red, or a neutral wood tone. The dimensions are smaller to meet the requirements of a child, but this is by no means a mini cajon. Schlagwerk’s Tiger Box Kids’ Cajon is another fun cajon for children with dimensions only slightly smaller than a traditional cajon. It’s a handmade birch musical instrument with a colorful tropical print on its face that’s sure to light a fire in young, enthusiastic musicians.

Some cajons have fun prints or patterns etched onto the wood. Aesthetics are important to your enjoyment of the instrument, but they aren’t anywhere near as important as sound. Pay the most attention to how your potential buy sounds, and make the instrument’s appearance your last consideration.

FAQ

Q. Will my cajon come with a pedal?
A.
Most cajons do not come with a pedal. However, you can buy one separately if you choose. If you’re used to playing a full drum kit and want to simulate that effect with your cajon, it’s a purchase worth strong consideration.

Q. What’s the best posture for playing my cajon? I’m worried my back will get tired.
A.
You are right to be concerned about posture, as an incorrect body stance while playing the cajon could cause soreness or fatigue, and you definitely don’t want a repetitive strain injury. Rest your feet flat on the floor, and keep your back straight as you play. (Slouching is not healthy for you, and it won’t help your sound, either.) Spread your knees so you can easily access the head, keeping your buttocks centered on the seat. You might need to lean slightly at times, but the majority of your playing time should not be spent leaning.

Playing the cajon should not be painful. If you develop soreness or other problems, have a friend watch you while you play and offer suggestions, or sit in front of a full-length mirror to evaluate your posture and make corrections.

The team that worked on this review
  • Bronwyn
    Bronwyn
    Editor
  • Devangana
    Devangana
    Web Producer
  • Eliza
    Eliza
    Production Manager
  • Melinda
    Melinda
    Web Producer
  • Melissa
    Melissa
    Senior Editor
  • Rich
    Rich
    Writer

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