How to mic a cajon

Quick tips on getting a good and adjustable sound

Setting up for a cajon can seem daunting but you’ll quickly get the hang of it.

Quick setup
  1. Put a kick drum mic at the rear. Position it level with the hole, and a few inches back from it. If you’re at Didsbury, just take the kick drum mic and keep it plugged into the same channel.
  2. Put a snare drum mic at the front. If you’re at Didsbury, just take the kick drum mic and keep it plugged into the same channel. Position it so it’s pointing at the player’s “slap point”, about 2-6 inches away, and not in the way of the player’s hands.
  3. Let the player play for a bit, and shuffle the front mic so it’s close enough but not in their way.
  4. On the desk, start with the usual settings on the channels for kick and snare bottom. You’ll usually need to turn up the gain on both channels (the cajon is way quieter than normal drums). You might want to play with EQ, compression and reverb, but it’ll usually sound OK from the start.
  5. Tell the band that the cajon is on button 1 (“KSH”) on their ME-1 monitor mixers (it’s amazing how quickly problems arise when they can’t all hear the cajon).
  6. Keep an eye on the player, to see how much they rock the cajon while playing (like rocking back on a chair). If they do this a lot, you may need to adjust the position of the front and/or rear mic.
Kick drum at the rear – move it out if you want less ‘boom’
Front mic – point at the ‘slap point’ but keep it out of the player’s way
Background info

So why do it this way? As with all of this stuff, there are lots of options, and everyone has different preferences, but here are important considerations if you want to play around:

  • The cajon makes a lot of fairly different sounds. In a live stage setup, it’s hard to capture these ‘cleanly’, so we usually go with 2 mics to grab the 2 main types of sound (the boom and the tap).
  • Most of the playing we get in church is essentially replicating the contribution of a rock drummer – ie kick, snare and hi-hats. So it’s OK for us to end up with a sound that emphasises the boom more than is strictly ‘realistic’. Feel free to play with mic placement and EQ/compression on the desk if you want to achieve a more realistic sound.
  • Because we have two mics pointing at the same sound source, but at 180 degrees to each other, there’s a risk that low frequencies will be cancelled out. Sound is hitting each mic at the same time, but out-of-phase. It’s almost always best therefore to invert the phase on one of the mics. Using the tips above helps because the snare bottom mic is set like this by default.
  • If you’re recording a cajon and the rest of the stage will be fairly quiet, all bets are off, and you’ll probably want to use condenser mics from quite a bit further away from the cajon. Have fun!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *