If you’ve read any of my product reviews for DRUM! in the last few years, or if you’ve been paying any attention to the burgeoning percussion scene at all, you know that nearly every major percussion instrument manufacturing company has a cajon, or line of cajons, on the market. And, if you’ve been following along, you’re probably aware that a storied, well-revered, and historic company called Gon Bops has been resurrected by the folks at Sabian to rave reviews. Having choices in the “marketplace of percussion” is a good thing, and having Gon Bops products available again is a great thing. But that is not real news, it’s just common knowledge to the well-informed hand drummer.
You may also be aware of Efrain Toro from his participation in the West Coast studio scene over the past several decades, or from his work as an educator, author, and music theorist. He has been involved in many musical projects with his friend and mentor Alex Acuña, and has made a mark on the industrial side as well, as a percussion product specialist for some major music manufacturers. Another great thing, but not really news.
Ah, but putting Efrain Toro and Gon Bops together? That, my friends, is news of the highest order. Because the outcome of the meeting of these great musical minds has produced the next best thing since Reese’s atom-smashed peanut butter into chocolate. Actually, this is better. Gon Bops has created a truly great cajon with its new “El Toro” model, and with the glut of wooden beat boxes on the market, that’s saying something.
The El Toro is one fine drum. More on that later. But we should start with the vital stats, to wit:
The ET comes with a form-fitted, black cushioned case. How often does that happen? In my experience, never, as most manufacturers tend to sell cases or bags as accessory items, or rely on after-market third-party vendors. It was a treat to open the cardboard mailer and find the drum in a case! Once the precious beat box was extracted from its resting place, it was a joy to behold. The El Toro that Gon Bops sent me is jet-black. It appears from the catalogue photos that there may be some color variation, but the black is striking in its subdued mix that puts its finish somewhere between matte and glossy (“glatte?” “mossy?”). Not only does the finish look great on this cajon, it also provides a smooth and inviting playing surface.
The El Toro cajon has a total of 30 screws, but the playing surface is not stiff or choked-sounding in any way. By loosening screws (no jokes, please) it can be adjusted to provide some variety in sound and feel. The ET is 13" x 18.5" x 13.5", and has plenty of useable front-panel space for tonal variation. It has internal guitar-string snare wires, for a more modern “flamenco” sound. The Toro has four large rubber feet, ensuring that the cajon will remain solidly on the floor, whether you sit forward, or lean back a little on two of the feet while you play to reduce back stress (like I do). Gon Bops also promises that the feet will help to prevent transfer and loss of bass tones into the floor.
One of the most interesting aspects of the El Toro’s design is its shape — It has a slanted front end, or as Gon Bops describes in its literature, an “angled front contour.” I’m not sure what one calls a three-dimensional trapezoid shape (it’s been quite awhile since 10th-grade geometry class), but the front contour resembles such (hence the form-fitted case; it really only goes in one way correctly). While this angular front contour adds to the stately, unique look of this drum, Gon Bops claims it endows some special sonic characteristics to this model, and frankly, I find it hard to argue.
While Cubans and Peruvians may argue about who invented the cajon (and surely they are both indebted to the African gome drum), most companies are making their drums in Europe or Asia these days. Not so, the El Toro, which is made in Peru by Peruvian craftsman, using an indigenous wood that is finding its way into several Gon Bops cajon models — mohena hardwood. The combination of the wood used, the shape, and the traditional approach to construction truly make for a fine-sounding, and looking, instrument.
While using the El Toro in the home, at school, in live situations, and in the studio, the sonic characteristics remained the same from venue to venue — awesome. The El Toro really does have great bass, excellent snap, crackle, and pop, and is easy to sound good on. Slap tones are crisp and comfortable to produce, and do not require a lot of extra work to extract from the drum, which saves on the hands — meaning you can play longer.
This particular drum arrived in time for me to use with students for about a month, and they were always entranced by the look and sound of this unique cajon (and they have seen cajons before, as I’ve made sure of it!). The El Toro is an attractive, beautiful-sounding, well-built instrument.
Model & List Price
El Toro (Efrain Toro Signature Model) $475 ($200 street price)
13" x 18.5" x 13.5" Peruvian mohena wood.
Internal snare wires; included carrying case; large black rubber feet.
Gon Bops Inc.
While I have played a lot of cajons over the past several years, each offering some very special qualities to the discerning percussionist, I must be honest and say that the El Toro is one of the finest cajons (perhaps the finest) that I have ever played. In the words of Ras Al Ghul — “Im-Press-ive.” I will not relish sending the ET back when this review is finished. Hey guys, can I get another 1,000 words please? Guys?