The world’s first electronic layered Cajon, the EC-10 ELCajon, started development in 2014. The chief engineer overseeing development of the EC-10 is also a cajon player, having already been involved for many years in the development of Roland’s legendary V-Drums.
The inspiration to develop the EC-10 ELCajon came from a desire to create a new type of cajon-playing experience. An acoustic cajon is very easy to pick up and enjoy, even for a complete beginner – and yet adding sounds from a digital sound engine can dramatically enhance the playing experience, widening the creative options and making it more fun for players of all levels—from novices to professionals.
Before the EC-10 was developed, no acoustic cajon in the market featured digital technology. We were inspired to bring music and triggering technology into new areas, along with the desire to create a unique cajon playing experience that inspired the enjoyment of creativity, regardless of the playing ability.
The first electronic cajon prototype
Soon after deciding to develop an electronically enhanced cajon, we produced a crude prototype. We took speakers from digital pianos and a set of piezo-electric sensors and housed them in a hand-made acoustic cajon, using a V-Drums sound module to produce the triggered sound. Of course, the first prototype was really quite poor as an acoustic cajon and anyone playing it soon experienced hand pain, due to the need to ‘smash’ the playing plate with the palm of the hand. However, when we layered a tambourine on top of the acoustic cajon sound, we immediately had the feeling that it sounded good. This experience gave us confidence that we could see the concept come to life as a standalone product, once we found the best combination of sounds.
Relentless experimentation leads to continuous improvement
An electronic cajon requires the precise installation of speakers and digital components inside the body of an acoustic cajon. In the early days of development, the acoustic tone sounded very muffled, almost like a wardrobe that was full of clothes. We experimented with the size and position of the speaker and speaker hole, the type of surface paint used on the cajon and much more. Through trial and error, we gradually achieved a far better acoustic cajon sound. To detect the best trigger positions for the cajon body (lower tone) and top edge (high tone) we carried out hundreds of tests to find the best position for the sensors within the mechanical design. It was very important to develop and tune the software to prevent the speaker vibration from affecting the piezo-electric sensors and false-triggering of a sound. Through extensive testing and improvements, we were able to develop the world’s first electronic layered cajon – what is known today as the ELCajon EC-10.
Mic Processor EC-10M development
As we developed the world’s first electronic layer cajon, we were also working on the EC-10M ELCajon Mic Processor. The EC-10 ELCajon concept allows a cajon player to perform anywhere with a hybrid electronic/acoustic sound, thanks to its onboard speakers and all-in-one design. However, we wanted to bring the same benefits and experience to acoustic cajon players, so we designed the EC-10M mic processor. Of course, since the EC-10M has no built-in speaker, an external amplification source, such as a PA system, is required to hear the electronic layered sound. But we thought that acoustic cajon players who perform on stage would prefer to add the versatile electronic layered sounds onto their own favorite acoustic cajon.
A condenser mic developed by paying meticulous attention to detail
The EC-10M’s dedicated clip-on mic is mounted to the sound hole at the rear of an acoustic cajon—meaning it directly picks up the sound from the back of the resonant playing board as it is hit by the cajon player. We shaped the casing of the condenser microphone to increase the directional sensitivity and also to improve the frequency response. This was very time consuming and required a lot of effort; but as a result, this mic achieves very high-quality sound which is also usable as a mic preamp. The know-how and technology gained from developing our acclaimed V-Drums is fully utilized within the EC-10M’s sensing technology and software processing.
Designed for Cajon players
The basic concept of the ELCajon series is to add electronic layered sounds to the standard acoustic cajon sound, while respecting the pure, authentic tone of the acoustic instrument. This same principle applies to the EC-10M mic processor and the self-contained EC-10 electronic layered cajon. Cajon players may not be used to operating digital devices, so we designed the ELCajon user interface to be as simple and intuitive as possible. We simplified basic sound control features, such as being able to alter the balance level between the mic sound and electronic layered sounds, or to easily enhance the attack of the acoustic cajon sound by adding compression. We also designed the body and the control panel of the EC-10M to sympathetically match the wooden feel of a cajon, producing many samples of control panels and control knobs along the way. The EC-10M is also designed to operate using the musician’s feet, so we carefully designed the buttons to prevent dust from getting inside. To increase stability and to prevent the EC-10M body from moving while being played, we produced many samples of the rubber feet that attach to the underside of the chassis, using different shapes and grades of rubber until we found the one the gripped the best.
Heidi Joubert is a professional cajon player, based in London, UK. She began by playing cajon on the street, but is now well-known within Europe. Heidi and Roland have been working together since the launch of the EC-10 and she was involved in the development of the EC-10M, reviewing the final on-board kits and sounds. Heidi is an experienced live cajon player and often plays the acoustic cajon alongside an array of additional percussion sounds, such as splash cymbals and shakers. Heidi inspired us with an exciting combination of electronic and acoustic sounds. The final EC-10M was based on the opinions from many cajon players all over the world, including Heidi.