Pearl has long been a driving force in the world of drum sets, hardware, and drum-set accessories. But over the course of the last several years the company has been steadily branching out, expanding its percussion catalog with products that seamlessly meld hard-won traditional wisdom and forward-thinking design innovations. Enter the Pearl Jingle Cajon. Designed alongside Los Angeles percussionist Pete Korpela, the Jingle Cajon takes what is fast becoming the percussion-instrument innovator’s preferred palette to a whole new level.
When I asked Pete what inspired him to come up with the idea for the Jingle Cajon, he explained that after playing countless gigs that required a cajon, a nagging problem had left him wanting more out of his instrument. Many of the frequencies produced by the acoustic guitars in the ensembles in which he was playing were evenly matched with those of the cajon, thus masking the cajon’s sound. Pete wanted to develop a means by which the cajon would not lose its inherent sound and at the same time have something unique that would help it stand out in an ensemble during a live performance. So with that in mind, and after many trial configurations, Pete and Pearl finally agreed on the setup that became the Jingle Cajon, which offers not one, not two, but four different sound configurations. Nice.
When I first sat down on the Jingle Cajon, I was immediately impressed with how noticeably solid it felt. The plastic feet provide great support for a balanced and comfortable playing position. And the fundamental tone was wonderful. The combination of a fiberglass shell with a wood playing surface creates a beautiful overall timbre, with the strong projection and resonance of the fiberglass shell blending nicely with the inherent warmth of the wood.
But despite the integration of high- and low-tech materials, what really makes this cajon stand out from its peers is its sheer simplicity. Pearl has fastened the jingles and their controls on the outside of the playing face. That means no awkward reaching in through the sound hole, no strings, no screws, no nonsense. With the use of a common wing nut, the jingles are either loose or tight, on or off. There are also two sets of jingles attached just below the sweet spot for those fat bass tones, out of the way of your hands. If there is any sound compromise from the attachments, I didn’t notice any worth mentioning.
Sound good? Wait, there’s more. The cajon utilizes two different types of jingles. On one side are Brazilian pandeiro-style Platinella jingles for a dry and crisp sound. And on the other side are stainless-steel tambourine jingles for that bright, jiggly, classic tambourine-style sound.
So what about those four different configurations I mentioned earlier? That’s where the permanently positioned set of internal snares that fan out against the back of the playing surface come into play. That gives us: 1) snares with no jingles; 2) snares plus Platinella jingles only; 3) snares plus tambourine jingles only; and finally, 4) snares plus both sets of jingles.
Whew. Oh yeah, and all this can be rearranged on the fly, in real time. The one bummer is that the snares cannot be turned off. That simple alteration would open up the Jingle Cajon to an unprecedented five different configurations.
I took the Jingle Cajon out for a gig with an eclectic quartet, and it performed beautifully, providing a whole host of unexpected timbres and dynamics. With one microphone positioned in front of the cajon to capture the jingles, there was no way its voice was getting lost in the shuffle. Thinking about what Pete Korpela had said about the sound being canceled by other acoustic frequencies, I really felt the jingles were the deciding factor that gave the cajon its distinct personality and authoritative voice.
This ensemble had no drummer, so it was my job to lay down the groove. With warm, deep bass tones and cutting higher pitched slaps, the Jingle Cajon made it easy to be both melodic and driving. The snares alone, with no jingles, sounded rich and really filled out the sound of the rhythm section. For an up-tempo tune with a Middle-Eastern flavor, having both sets of jingles loose was just what the music ordered. The added jingle sound cut through the ensemble while adding just the right tone of traditional authenticity. I also found that striking the sides of the cajon provided yet another sonic option – a slightly higher pitch with no activation of the snares or jingles. Guess that fifth sound is possible with the Jingle Cajon after all. Hey, the more sounds the better.
Configuration Internal snares (non-adjustable), exterior-mounted jingles and jingle adjustment.
Hells Fiberglass body with a wood playing surface
Finish Carubinga exotic wood lacquer Features Brazilian (pandeiro) Platinella-style jingles, stainless-steel tambourine jingles, super responsive internal snare system.
Extras cajon bag ($75)
List Price $199
All in all, the Pearl Jingle Cajon is a worthy piece of percussion. Combining synthetic and natural materials into the construction allows for an economically priced instrument without real sonic compromise. The ability to change the jingle setup on the fly is a great feature. The drum has a beautiful tone and, with four (or five) configurations possible, virtually any style of music can be tackled with ease. The cajon has good presence and a strong voice thanks to the jingles. And while it would be a nice to have fully adjustable snares, playing the sides of the cajon at least gives you the option of getting a tone without activating the snares and jingles. Finally, the $199 price tag is a great deal next to the many other cajon models out there costing upwards of $300-plus.