I had a dream. A nightmare, really.
I was looking for a new percussion sound. I had heard that getting a cajon might be fun; after all, they are all the rage and have been for quite a few years — a wooden drum that you can sit on, play with your hands or brushes, and create snappy drum set-like grooves with just one instrument — great for un-plugged gigging or taking to an impromptu jam session. A perfect choice. Why not? I thought, “I’ll just pick one out that looks and sounds good, and doesn’t cost too much.” Suddenly (as often happens in dreams), I was looking at a veritable Mount Everest of cajon choices — drum after drum piled one on top of another, made from various woods claiming to endow me with “the sound,” instruments made from materials other than wood, many in colors and finishes and sporting features that cannot be described in mere words. In my confused, trance-like state of torpor, I began to cry out, “What’s the difference? What makes one drum stand out from the rest, and how will I ever decide which cajon to buy?” I awoke in a cold sweat, my heart pounding a swift Marinera, but with a renewed sense of clarity and purpose, and a word on my lips that was the answer to my dilemma — innovation.
Alright, the opening was a little dramatic, some might say. “He’s been listening to Iron Butterfly again” say others. But in all fairness, surely you’ve seen the product lining the drum shop walls, the posters, the YouTube videos, and page after page of advertisements for something “new” in cajons. But how does an interested shopper decide? And what exactly could be “new” about an old design that has come to our shores from Africa by way of Cuba and Peru — an elegantly simple instrument that has been around for years before its more recent spate of ubiquity in popular music? How does one company set its product apart from all of the others in the cajon marketplace? Innovation is the key, and the concept that Swan Percussion was founded on.
Swan Percussion is a Texas-based boutique instrument manufacturing company founded by drummer/percussionist Mike Meadows and musical inventor and designer Eric Holland. After unleashing cutting-edge instruments like the Black Swan Drum and the Knock Box on an unsuspecting world, Holland turned his trained eye and steady hand to designing a truly state-of-the-art cajon.
The fruit of this labor is the Swan Corsoba Cajon Deluxe.
The Corsoba has several features that make it quite distinctive. On first glance, you’ll notice the Corsoba Deluxe is larger than most of its competitors. The CD is 20" tall by 13" wide, with a depth of 13.25". With the four included rubber feet, the CD is nearly 21" tall. It also has a securely attached padded neoprene rubber seat. The larger-than-average size not only provides for deeper resonant bass tones, but also puts the bass “sweet spot” a little higher on the drum, which means that taller and/or more chronologically challenged players will not have as many backaches from bending and stretching over the drum when playing.
The Corsoba is made from Baltic birch plywood. It is has a matte wood-grain finish, which is attractive without being gaudy or ostentatious. The sound-hole is 4.5" square, which gives the CD’s non-playing backside an interesting look. The Corsoba Deluxe is a simple, elegant piece of percussive handiwork.
The Deluxe (there is also a Standard version) comes with a retractable/storable kick pedal bracket; it fits underneath the drum between the rubber feet, and can be implemented by loosening its bolts with the included Allen wrench, and retightening after setting it in position. The mount is of sturdy iron construction and should accommodate most available bass drum pedals. Using a “side foot” technique opens up a new world of tonal and rhythmic possibilities not available by playing with the hands alone.
The real innovation on the Corsoba is the fact that there are three very useable and distinct playing surfaces. The front (opposite the sound-hole) of the CD has a 10.5" x 9" recessed wooden plate secured to the drum with nine Phillips’ head screws, only two of which are at the top (keeping them mostly out of the player’s way). This wooden plate is flush with the rest of the surface, which can be called the “bongo” side of the drum, as the plate area produces sounds that are similar to many of the all-wood bongos currently on the market. But the screws can be loosened to allow for a wide variety of “wood-y” tones and several degrees of free movement within the plate’s recessed area — in other words, the plate is designed so that it can “bang around” loosely if that is the percussionist’s desired effect. A planned future accessory will be an inter-changeable piece of metal diamond plate that can be swapped for the wooden plate.
The other two playing surfaces are a traditional stringless area and a stringed/snare side that has a number of tuning and tensioning options. A large piece of black tape holds the strings close to the inside wall, but this can be removed for even more “buzz.” But rather than a simple hex key tuning system, the Corsoba actually employs a set of four guitar-tuner machine heads, creating a whole new level of fine tune-ability previously not seen on stringed cajons of this type.
The Corsoba Deluxe was put through its paces in the recording studio, because although it does sound great on the stage, in the classroom, or in the living room, microphones don’t lie. The CD sounded fine solo, sans studio enhancement in the main tracking room, both acoustically, and also with a simple stereo X-Y arrangement. The bass was full and resonant, and the slap tones were crisp and easy to achieve with a relatively light touch; it is a well-intoned instrument. But the sound of the Corsoba really came alive with a bit of small room reverb programming with a touch of pre-delay — bass, slaps, finger rolls, muted sounds, scratches, and slides all sang with a very musical and pleasant tone with plenty of definition and attack. All three playing surfaces produce very singular and musically applicable sounds.
The Corsoba Cajon Deluxe is truly a new innovation in the crowded market of “Peru-ana” drums. Swan has added another fine creation to its distinctive line-up of percussive offerings that features enough distinction to turn the head of even the most exhausted cajon seeker.
Model & List Price
Stringed Corsoba Cajon Deluxe $475
20" x 13" x 13, 25" Baltic birch
Padded seat; storable/retractable bass drum bracket for mounting a kick pedal (not included); three separate playing surfaces that can be used individually or in conjunction; “sweet spot” for bass tone is higher up the drum; fine-tuning on each of the snare strings, utilizing a unique guitar-tuner machine-head design. Planned future accessories to include inter-changeable plate sections for the “bongo” side of the cajon (metal diamond plate).
Swan Percussion LLC