The closest thing to a literal translation of the Spanish word “duende” into English might be soul, or perhaps magic. It seems that instruments made by Duende Percusion have a little bit of both. Duende Percusion is a Spanish cajon manufacturer that uses traditional methods to make finely crafted instruments by hand. The attention to detail shows, and now that Duende has distribution in both the U.S. and the U.K., it’s likely you’ll be hearing a lot more about this company and its products. Duende already has recruited a rather impressive endorsement roster, including luminaries such as Efrain Toro and Mino Cinelu.
While the cajon drum is a Cuban/Peruvian instrument with roots in West Africa that has become popular throughout the world and in a number of musical genres, it has found a special place in the hearts of Flamenco performers. It was only a matter of time before Spanish instrument makers threw their hat in the ring to showcase their own high-caliber offerings to add to the already crowded playing field of pro instruments on the market today. But Duende has something quite special in its Pro cajon model; the company moniker proves to be an apt choice.
The Duende Pro model is made entirely of birch. The chassis is constructed of a top, bottom, back, and sides that are 0.75" boards – themselves made from 12—13 thin birch layers glued together. The tapa, or playing surface, is 0.125" thick and provides a beautiful tone and response. The tapa is held securely in place with 18 recessed screws, and there is no need to loosen or adjust any of them to improve the resonance or tone; the Pro sounds great out of the box. The sound-hole is an approximately 5.25" oval, which helps provide for plenty of bass tone.
Inside the Duende Pro are more percussive treats – there are two sets of internal snares in a V-shape on the back of the tapa, and there are eight tiny sleigh bells hanging from a wire loop suspended from the top of the drum, which are set into motion with a bit of vigorous playing. The bells add just a touch of seasoning to slaps, accents, and louder bass tones. The internal snares and the bell-suspension loop appear to be made from very light-gauge acoustic guitar strings; probably 8-gauge. The guitar string adds another level of detailed musicality to an already well-designed and constructed instrument. There are four small but solid rubber feet to isolate the drum from the floor and improve tone.
While there are several finishes available from Duende, the drum I received for review had a natural birch chassis, while the tapa playing surface was stained in a gorgeous striped-ebony finish, emblazoned with a white Duende logo that created a stunning visual contrast. The Pro is sized 18.25" x 12" x 12", and fits just perfectly in a standard cajon case (not included).
The drum is a joy to play. Very responsive to light touches, taps, and finger rolls, but with lots of full low end available, with nice sharp slap tones as well. The guitar-string snares and accent-activated sleigh bells really do add a unique sound to rhythms played on the Duende Pro.
While using the D.P. in a live situation on a fairly large stage with a full P.A., it only took an SM58 placed just off-center from the sound-hole to fill the stage and the hall with plenty of percussive tone. The addition of an all-purpose overhead percussion mike set about 5' high and pointed down at an angle picked-up lots of crispy slap and pop sounds; in fact, the microphone had to be scaled back a bit in order to avoid being overwhelmed by the D.P.’s plentiful projection. While waiting for a late-arriving drummer, musicians during the first set remarked that they “didn’t miss the drum set at all” with yours truly and the Duende Pro on the job. That’s probably as grand (albeit succinct) an endorsement as a non-percussion playing, contemporary Western musician can give a cajon. Job well done.
I noticed one very small problem with the model that I received for review. I doubt that it’s an issue with the line as a whole, but as a matter of full-disclosure, I should probably mention it – the top/seat area of the cajon had a bit of a “tacky”/sticky quality, probably just a very new model with a recent coat of varnish. But after using it for a few practice sessions and a gig, I did notice that what appeared to be quite a bit of pants-fiber had become stuck to the cajon (or it could have been small bits of material from the cajon case I’ve been keeping it in), and would require a bit of scrubbing to get into pristine shape.
The Duende Pro Cajon is a wonderful instrument; both beautiful to look at and full of great sounds. If you are looking for a serious cajon, either to add to an existing arsenal, or as a first professional cajon drum, the Duende Pro should definitely make your “final possibilities” cut-list.
Model & List Price
Duende Pro Cajon $290
All-birch chassis and tapas, guitar-string snare-wire with internally suspended sleigh bells, sturdy rubber feet.