Slap-Happy Lap Companion
When I took the assignment to review the SlapDrum SlapBoxx, I really had no idea what to expect, except for the obvious mental images that sprung from the name. What was the nature of this box I was supposed to slap around for the edification of DRUM! readers? Was it like a shoebox? A glove box? A litter box? As it turns out, the SlapBoxx is a hybrid-type cajon you lay horizontally across your lap, as opposed to one you sit atop to play, as with a traditional-style cajon. The model I received is the snared SlapBoxx, which is outfitted with a very hip internal snare mechanism. I love playing on handmade instruments, and could barely contain my excitement as I tore into the SlapBoxx’s box to behold the unique instrument within.
OUT OF THE BOXX
Aesthetically, the SlapBoxx is a beaut, and it’s obvious the craftsmanship is top-notch. Constructed with a 19" x 12" solid acoustic birch playable top surface, there’s lots of room for slapping all over. An attractively dark hardwood trim accentuates the light wood of the drum’s body. This natural-wood appearance is very organic and clean. A nice-sized sound hole faces outward, allowing for good projection. Two rounded cutout sections in the front of the box let you lay it across your lap. There’s even an extended and tuned sound port on the bottom surface as well.
It didn’t take long to discover that the SlapBoxx is not configured for anyone with short legs. As I laid the box across my lap, the cutout sections were a good 3" or 4" past my knees. It was a big drag to constantly have to pull the box back up onto my lap every few beats. Perhaps the addition of rings or grommets on the sides to hold a strap might make the box more accessible to players of all sizes.
While there seemed to be a fair amount of tones waiting to be coaxed out of the drum, the sweet spot I kept returning to was just inside the edges. Open tones were on the warm side and slaps really popped when played along the edges. The corners of the playing surface also allowed for some very cool slap pops. The distinctive higher pitch in that area offers a nice dynamic contrast. I have to say, though, I found the overall sound quality to be a little on the thin side. Because of its lack of depth, deep bass tones were not very resonant. The folks at SlapDrum boast of the SlapBoxx’s ability to produce a lot of volume, and for the most part they’re right. You can definitely crank out some good volume, but the harder you play the more awkward it is to keep the box steady on your lap.
SNARING THE BOX
The snare attachment has the unique distinction of being removable and placed into three different locations on the inside of the box. It can be positioned in the middle and on either side of the front inside face. I’ve never seen anything like this before. A definite A+ for originality. The snare mechanism itself can be easily adjusted via a simple turn of a knob to provide more or less contact tension against the inside of the playing surface. The sensitivity of the snares was fair and provided an adequate enhancement to the timbre of the box. It was, however, difficult to fully disable the snares. I think most players would want that option.
AT THE GIG
Playing the snared SlapBoxx in an ensemble brought plenty of curious glances and a few questions. After all, how often do you see someone slapping away at wooden box resting on his lap? Before the gig started, I seriously wondered how I was going to keep the box steady. But where there’s a will there’s a way. Fortuitously, I found a lonely saxophone strap lying on the venue’s floor. I attached the hook to the front sound hole while I sat on the chord. Worked just fine. With a close-positioned mik and some tasteful reverb, the SlapBoxx sounded sweet during an open solo for a 6/8 groove. Once the band entered, I felt like I couldn’t keep up the volume without really overplaying, which was as brutal on my legs as it was on my hands. When I threw some dynamics in on subsequent rhythm section interludes, the combination of drums and box was really musical.
One thing that also quickly becomes apparent is that having the box on your lap does restrict your ability to multitask with any other instruments. In general, I found it hard to feel comfortable while playing the box on my lap. You can, if you choose, turn the box on its side and play in a more traditional fashion. But surface sounds are limited to the top playing area, unlike a traditional cajon, which lets you bang on any face and get a nice tone. The sides of the SlapBoxx are solid hardwood, which produce no real sustainable sounds.
Using the snared SlapBoxx in the studio is a whole different story. Subtleties were much more audible, and with some audio tweaking, the bass tones had a much larger presence. The engineer had a field day working with the box. I found it much more enjoyable as well, given that I didn’t have to work so hard to get the sound out.
I was left with mixed feelings on the snared SlapBoxx. On the one hand, I really enjoyed the concept of a multiple-placement snare mechanism and the novelty of playing a wooden box on my lap. And the sounds the SlapBoxx produced were pretty darn cool overall. But I felt the difficulties in trying to maneuver and control the box on my lap overshadowed my concentration on playing. At $229, there really shouldn’t be any ergonomic issues in the playability of the instrument. Perhaps some sort of stand assembly or strap could ensure the SlapBoxx accommodates players of all sizes.
MODEL Snared SlapBoxx
PRICE Snared SlapBoxx: $229; SlapBoxx GigBag: $89.
FEATURES Fully adjustable and movable internal snare; dark hardwood trim; 19" x 12" playable Baltic birch head; tuned extended port; solid acoustic birch construction.
1003 Banner Ridge Rd.
Diamond Bar, CA 91765