All my Bodhrans are currently € 350 or £ 300 regardless of size as, as much work and practically as much materials go into the smaller ones as into the larger ones .
In my opinion the quality of the skin is the single most important element of any Bodhran I therefore go to a lot of trouble to personally select the skins I use which at present come from two sources :
Lambeg skins ;
Hand produced in Northern Ireland for the famous Lambeg drums and first adapted for use on the Bodhran by the Legendary maker , Seamus O’Kane .
These skins produce very clear individual notes and great top-end , to put it another way they are the perfect skin choice for a player favouring a melodic style with clear top-end “pops” and “run downs ” at the same time the Lambeg skin will also deliver substantial Bass notes. Generally speaking these skins also have more potential volume , when required , than the vellum and are thus very suited to session playing .
Vellum skins ;
Hand produced by one of only two remaining vellum works in the world , Vellum is the ancient art of producing paper from skin , many ancient manuscripts including the famous ” Book of Kells” in Trinity College Dublin are drawn and written on Vellum , the people I deal with also supply Orchestras and Military bands around the world with drum skins . For Bodhran players seeking the ultimate in deep , dark Bass notes and great sustain with beautiful warm mid-range notes and a fair top-end this is the skin choice for you . Tending to be quieter and subtler than the lambeg skins this is a good choice for beginners and also for duet and trio playing .
There is a lot of argument about this subject , I’ll just tell you what I have come to believe from observation .
The greater the diameter of the drum , generally speaking , the deeper the bass notes it is possible to attain and therefore the greater the overall range of notes it is possible to achieve , conversely then on a smaller drum it is easier to find those top-end notes and ” pops” .
There are aesthetic as well as practical considerations too , a smaller drum is neater and more portable than a bigger drum .
The depth of the rim , I believe is more to do with comfort than performance , i.e. the comfort of holding it between your chest and the crook of your arm , simply put a deeper frame would suit a larger person . There are however , those who believe a deeper frame helps the drum achieve a deeper bass note and there may be some truth in it .
The use of a natural goatskin defines the Bodhran , whether it be the traditional or the modern version of the drum . Natural goatskins are very fickle and react to vagaries of climate like heat and humidity but also to it’s surroundings ,for example the combined body heat of a crowded bar or a draught by an open window , for these reasons it is essential that your Bodhran be fully tuneable , preferably by hand . You should also slacken off your Bodhran skin when not playing it to protect it from sudden changes of temperature and to prolong it’s life . The tuning system I use was developed originally by the great Bodhran makers Rob Forkner and Darius Bartlett . All my drums have eight tuners which are turned by hand to tighten a free moving tuning ring which pushes against the inside edge of the skin allowing you to tighten or loosen it according to your requirements .
I have chosen my three standard finishes of Natural Birch , Walnut and Black stained to reflect the look of the pantheon of other instruments played in Irish Traditional music , this is simply a matter of personal preference . Having said that I am totally receptive to the desires of my clientele and have often made Bodhrans of different colours and combinations of colours , and will again in the future , so please don’t be afraid to let your imaginations run wild , I will try my best to oblige .
The way I do it, is to tension the drum as low as you can and then play it a little , if it feels like you are doing all the work , i.e. the skin is not sufficiently bouncing the stick back to you after each strike , tune up all the tuners a half turn and try again, keep going until you find a happy medium between maximum bass and ease of playing , this is how I tune a drum but then I favour a style of playing with a lot of bass . If however you are ,what is referred too as, a top-end player you might tighten your drum up further to allow your stick to skip across the surface more readily when you are doing “single-end” triplets and rolls.
Once you have found the tension that suits your playing , at the end of any use of the Bodhran you should de-tension all the tuners by at least a full turn before packing it away , then when you take it out again, theoretically, all you should need do is tighten it up a full turn to return it to perfect playing condition !! Of course in real life it’s never that easy as all the permutations of humidity and temperature will have had their subtle effects !
I have found that some skins seem to need a lot of tuning initially but settle down after some time and stabilise but all skins will frustrate and delight at different times during your long relationship with them .
Remember it’s goats we’re dealing with and goats as we all know can be stubborn , wilful , rebellious and tough at times but they don’t half give us great cheese !
Good luck !
I have fitted back-bars for clients in the past but only single ones and not the old-fashioned cross-bar type .
The modern style of playing using the back hand to produce ” notes ” or in other words to change the tone of the Bodhran is impeded by the cross-bar type of back-bar , a single bar however does much the same job in terms of steadying the drum and if it is positioned correctly shouldn’t obstruct your playing .
Please feel free on ordering your new Bodhran to request a back-bar if you would prefer one.