Thursday, May 14, 2020

Boom boom pafffff

Something totally off topic today, OK, it's audio, no electronics involved however.

IKEA is known for some interesting projects here and there, beyond the famous bookshelf. Lately, they introduced a product range which appears to be a collection of random stuff, the collection being "FREKVENS". There are even products that could be interesting for a blog concerned with electronics. No worries, I wont be writing about a silver rain coat or a silver cushion cover either.
Let's have a closer look at the only real IKEA flat pack product in the collections, the FREKVENS Cajón (drum).
No, this is not a drum, this is a cajón, and instrument well known in Spanish and Afro-Cuban music. A cajón can create sounds similar to various parts of a drum kit, which is a matter of great skill, which I don't have.
There are a few more things wrong in the product listing, at least what the images are concerned. The side with the big whole is the back-side (or reverse, depending on your style of English). Hence, the guy in the photo sits on it the wrong way. Also, he appears to be slapping the sides of the instrument, which are made of much thicker material and not supposed to be the main playing surface.

Anyways, I bought one of those flat-pack instrument kits and build it according to the provided instructions. BIG mistake! The more I learn about the instrument, the more obvious this should have been.
The assembly instructions take a similar order to something like a nightstand. Which, seen from IKEA's perspective, does make sense. However, when following the leaflet, it is almost inevitable to create a misaligned box  that does not sound right.

Step 1
The instructions start with mounting the snares to the (front of the) bottom-plate, so far so good.

Step 2
The side-walls are screwed to the bottom-plate. This is the first instance where things can go wrong. The alignment of the outer edges of bottom-plate and side-walls needs to be precise. This might not be that important on the bottom-plate, desirable however.

Steps 3 and 4
According to the instructions, the top-plate is now mounted to the side walls, very similar to bookshelves, nightstands,  etc. I cannot emphasize enough, don't do this yet. I did it and I ended up with a slightly misaligned top-plate. This misalignment kills the instrument!

Step 5
In this step, the playing surface, i.e. the front, is mounted. Remember, the front is where the snares are. This is very important for the functioning of the instrument and not clear from the instructions.
This step should be done after step 2, if not before...
If you followed up to now, you will understand that it is important to not tie down any of those screws yet.

Step 6
Here, the back-plate of the cajón is screwed to what we assembled so far. Please note, we skipped steps 3 and 4, so there wont be any (I should have written about that in step 5, sorry!).

Final assembly according to me
If you followed my advice, you skipped steps 3 and 4. What you should have by now should be a square wobbly bucket with no lid.
At this stage, carefully work the top-plate into its position. This might be a bit tricky, therefore, we did not tighten those screws. Once the top-plate is in place, we want to first tighten the screws of the front-plate including the ones we skipped. This will auto-align the top-plate to the side-walls. This alignment is most important to the good functioning of the instrument.
Once this alignment is established, screw down and tighten the 2 front screws on the top and the side-walls.
Now apply all the remaining screws. And tighten all screws on the back and the lower half of the screws on the front.

Tune up
In case of all screws being tight, you will have to hit the cajón very hard to get the snare effect. This will result in an imbalance between the snare and the bass drum sounds.
Therefore, what you are looking for is a small gap between the top-plate and the front-plate. To realize a somewhat even gap to your liking, you have 5 screws in the top half of the front-plate to play with, i.e. loosen and tighten. Every little bit of tension here and there will change the tone and snare sound created by the cajón. It took me a while to balance the right and left corners of the upper playing surface.

IKEA is good in creating wooden flap-pack products. The FREKVENS Cajón is no exception, when built and aligned correctly.
There are competing products available from musical instruments suppliers, here is an example. This example supposedly requires additional materials for assembly, although at a lower price.
What I am concerned, after having aligned my cajón, I am pretty happy with the sounds it can create and look forward to learning this instrument.