CAJON PEDAL REVIEW
The past few years have seen countless new gadgets, attachments and modifications appear on the market to compliment the sudden explosion in popularity and mass production of the cajon. The concept of the cajon pedal is effectively to turn the instrument into a bass drum, enabling the percussionist to free up their hands in order to play a wider range of instruments as a kit. Growing numbers of drummers and percussionists are exploring and experimenting with the possibilities of such a setup and creating all kinds of composite fusion kits with the cajon at their centre.
The pedal we have here is a Gibraltar GCDCP. This, like all cajon pedals, is essentially a remote bass drum pedal with a larger beater and a mounting bracket which enables the beater section to clamp on to the cajon. Like everything else that Gibraltar make, the GCDCP is a heavy-duty, solid piece of equipment which is well built and very sturdy. The double chain drive, solid base plate and cable connection ensure the durability and strength of the pedal easily match that of Gibraltar's other drum kit and percussion hardware.
The action of the pedal can be adjusted in the same way as any normal bass drum pedal – the springs can be tightened or loosened to vary the resistance of the pedal and therefore can be set as fast or heavy as you like. The large, flat surface area of the beater ensures a softer impact on the front of the cajon and sounds more like a hand than a normal bass drum beater. Although the angle and height of this beater is adjustable, the range of positions is still limited and as a result, a bit awkward. Place the beater too low and the bottom end of the beater pole pokes out too far and you risk it hitting the front of the cajon. Too high and it will get in the way of your hands and become an obstacle to playing. Unfortunately there is not much space between these two problematic positions, rendering the cajon largely unplayable in any conventional sense. Also the mounting clamp sticks out of the back of the cajon which prevents the player from being able to tilt backwards.
For someone playing another instrument - a guitarist for instance – the pedal allows the musician to use the cajon as a better sounding substitute for a stomp box (and a seat!) in a sort of 'one-man-band' context. For a percussionist combining a variety of instruments in a kit, using only the pedal for bass tones and requiring only limited use of the corners, the pedal works very well. The problem I have with the use of the pedal in this application is that many of the cajon's sounds and qualities are overlooked and left behind, a bit like a machine that hammers out one chord over and over again on a piano, regardless of the existence of all the other keys. For me, what makes the cajon such a wonderfully versatile and effective instrument is the dynamic range, the gradual progression and nuances between the snare and bass tones and, as a result, how expressive and articulate a percussionist can be with a relatively basic instrument. With pedal attached, these qualities are lost and for my part at least, where a little 16” bass drum could probably do the same job better, it's a waste of a cajon. Having said that, many kits built around the cajon do sound great and have been used to great effect in all kinds of music. To this end, the pedal serves to further demonstrate the adaptability and versatility of the cajon.