There are very affordable, handmade, commercial bodhrans available; ideal for beginners, so there is no excuse for buying anything shoddy or badly made.
12" bodhrans are the smallest recommended for playing (9" packs are souvenirs and ornaments). Both 12" and 14" are suitable for travelling, learning on and playing quietly in a small area; they will naturally have a higher pitch and less surface area for playing and making sound effects. 16" make a nearer approach to the sound of the 18", being deeper and having a larger skin surface, but of course the main player's choice is the 18" bodhran.
Other than that there are tuneable bodhrans available in 15", 16" and 18" : these are highly professional, handmade bodhrans. Of course, technically speaking as a bodhran is a fixed frame tambour drum if one can tune it it is no longer a bodhran!! but most modern players possess one, as well as their professional level standard drum.
Commercial versus Professional
Every size of drum is available in a handmade commercial model (ie, well-made, affordable, and usually with a choice of plain or patterned) or Professional (usually with a heavier rim, heavier skin, more unique decoration, and generally higher finish all round). Often as in 16" or 18" there are a choice of models by different makers at both levels, and in between. So, why choose one or the other?
Well, there are two criteria that people usually take into account. If you wish to master playing the bodhran then the bigger the size, and the better the model, the more benefit you will receive in the long run. Players either start on a decent cheaper model and move on to a much better Professional range as soon as they are ready or they take the plunge and buy a very good drum from the start, one that will last a long time and take them far.
If however you would like to play a little, but perhaps also use it as a wall decoration (or you will use it in less conventional settings perhaps a discussion or healing group) then obviously (as even the cheaper bodhrans are well made) the pattern also is of importance. Celtic designs and Nature designs come in a wide range of prices and models. A lot of the more commercial makes have lovely designs, and give the best of both worlds, being perectly good drums but also highly decorative! However as some of the dearer models have very unique, once off designs that are ideal for those looking for a thing of art as well as usefulness, you may well find that the professional bodhran is also for you.
How to Care for the Bodhran
An entire mythology has grown up around the care of the Bodhran and yet if properly done, this can be one of the most low maintanance instruments in the world!
A common sight in pubs the length and breadth of Ireland is Bodhran players heating, waxing, wetting, rubbing, and on occasion watering their bodhran with Guinness!! These methods can produce short-term changes in the pitch of the Bodhran but are often the cause of longterm damage.
So, when you first purchase your bodhran, try to get one that is already at a nice low pitch, as it will be easier for first-time buyers to maintain. However remember the pitch of the drum will alter according to the temperature of the room and it's not the end of the world if it's a little high on purchase. The important thing to look for in a Bpdhran is the note: the length and resonance of the sound not the pitch which is merely whether the skin is tight or loose, ie high-pitched or low-pitched.
Once you have your drum, try to remember that prevention beats cure every time. Store your bodhran at room temperature or slightly below, erring on the side of coolness. A cold room will loosen the skin, while heat will tighten it. This is known as "temperature manipulation" and should be the backbone of your care regime. By storing the drum in a cool (not damp) place out of direct sunshine and away from hot radiators you will keep the skin supple: if it gets too slack warm it between your hands or move the drum into a warmer room.
If you know the weather is going to be hot and dry or that the central heating will be on full blast, take this simple step to protect your instrument. Place a damp sea-sponge (or purchase a violin humidifier from your local music store and follow the instructions) into the case or box where you have stored your bodhran, taking care not to leave it up against the skin if possible. As temperature soar outside the sponge will humidify the inside of the container and keep the skin supple. Check every few days to ensure the sponge is damp.
If however, despite all care (or perhaps because you forgot!) your skin has tightened and the drum is too high in pitch, simply either
A. leave bodhran somewhere very cold over night, a cellar or the boot of a car works well.
B. rub a little beeswax on the back of the skin, following the wooden rim around in a circle. this willrelease the skin at a nice even rate but will mostly not ruin the opaque look of the skin (if you rub anything into the skin it become transparent where you ahve rubbed)
C. Carefully, quickly and lightly, using a clean rag, rub a very little water on the back of the skin, all over..think "slightly damp" not "wet". It is not a good idea to do this often but it can be effective if the skin is very tight: once you have succeeded in lowering the pitch, then store in a cool place, or with a humidifier to prevent a return of the problem.
DO NOT rub lard, fat, or any animal product into the skin: try to avoid using water often, try to avoid rubbing anything into the skin, where possible opt for temperature manipulation.
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