How Do I Choose A New Bodhran?

Easy guidelines to keep in mind when looking for a new bodhran

If you’re thinking of taking up the bodhran, the first thing you’ll be wondering about is which bodhran to buy and how you can choose a good drum when there are so many brilliant bodhran makers out there. This isn’t going to be a post that will tell you exactly which drum I think you should buy, but instead we’ll go over a few pointers you should keep in mind while you’re researching different bodhrans that you may want to buy.

1.What level of playing are you at?

This is going to indicate whether you should aim to get a cheaper entry-level bodhran or maybe something a bit more expensive. If you’ve never played before and are just starting out, you’ll be able to get a cheap factory made bodhran from most music shops or online. This will most likely be a thin, non-tunable bodhran. If you’ve been playing for a while and feel you’re ready to upgrade, probably a new drum will improve the quality of your playing, how good your tones sound, and improve how comfortable you feel while playing.

2.How much do you want to spend?

Your budget is another good indicator of what sort of bodhran you’ll be able to get. If you want to spend less than £100, you’ll be able to get an entry-level bodhran; if you’re able to spend around £200, you’ll be able to get a really nice bodhran from a professional maker. Compared to most other instruments, you can buy a really lovely bodhran for not much more of an investment than a starter instrument. For example, if you played guitar, you could be spending thousands of pounds for a bespoke instrument. By comparison, the professional level bodhran that I’ve been playing for over 5 years now was around £450. In the first instance, it’s great to go with an entry level instrument, but be mindful of some of the qualities that can greatly improve your playing and experience with the bodhran for not very much more money. A slightly more expensive instrument will have a nicer skin, which will make a big difference to learning and playing tones as well as not sounding as sratchy and thin. It will also probably have a wider rim, which can be much more comfortable when you play. I highly recommend Christian Hedwitschak’s CoreLine bodhrans as a great starting point; these bodhrans are really high quality and sounds brilliant.

3.What will you use it for?

Do you want to play at home on your own? Do you want to take lessons and play in session at the pub? Do you need a bodhran you can gig with every weekend that sounds great under a mic and in the studio when you’re recording? You need to take into consideration all of these aspects when you’re thinking of getting a new bodhran.

4.How does it feel?

Bodhrans come in a range of diameters, most commonly from 13” to 18”. People find different sizes more comfortable, depending on personal preference as well as their body size. I feel comfortable playing on a smaller drum (13”) these days and don’t feel it makes me hunch over the drum, but I’ve played larger drums in the past and been comfortable on those too. Someone who’s a bit taller may feel a bodhran that’s smaller in diameter makes them hunch down while they’re playing too much. There will also be other factors for the drum that can give vastly different experiences for player with things such as crossbars, thin or wide rims, cutaways in the rim, concave rims, etc.

5.Is it tunable?

This isn’t an absolute deal breaker, but I would always recommend buying a drum with a tuning system. You can still manipulate the skin on a non-tunable bodhran, but you aren’t going to have the same flexibility and responsiveness from it. Especially with the way that I like to teach tones on the bodhran, a tunable skin is a huge bonus. If your bodhran isn’t tunable, you’ll probably find it has a tendency to go one way or the other (always high or always low), and more often than not it will probably be too high, which means the skin will be very tight and therefore difficult to apply pressure to. This often leads students to believe that they aren’t applying their tone techniques correctly to their playing, when actually it’s simply down to the quality of the skin on the drum they’re playing.

Down to personal preference

This isn’t an exhaustive list of all of the things you absolutely must keep in mind when buying your new bodhran, but rather some easy guidelines to keep in mind and get you started in your research to finding the perfect drum for you. Ultimately, I believe choosing an instrument is something that is deeply personal and many aspects of this will be completely down to personal preference. I think one thing to keep in mind is not to see a bodhran player you really admire playing a drum and automatically go out and buy that bodhran just because that’s what they play! Awesome bodhran players will be able to make almost any drum sound really nice, so use that as inspiration and a starting point for researching some different bodhran makers and decide for yourself what you need from your bodhran. Good luck in your search!

Here are the bodhran makers who have made bodhrans that I currently play or have owned to date:

These are just a few to check out as you get started, but there are many great makers who make wonderful instruments and they all have their own unique style of making bodhrans.

Let me know if these guidelines were useful, and if you have any questions please leave me a comment and I’ll get back to you!

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