Whether you’re a first time buyer or an accomplished bodhran player, choosing the right instrument is an important task. I want you to be 100% informed and happy with your choice of bodhran. So, I’ve put together this expert guide, that will take you far beyond the introductory beginner stage.
A bodhran player is only as good as their instrument. The right bodhran can transform any novice into an expert player. By investing in a great bodhran, you’re making a commitment to your future self. That’s why I’m going to tell you how to pick the perfect one!
This handy instrument guide will give you all the information you need to make a well informed purchase. You’ll be an expert in no time! But, most importantly, you’ll soon have a great bodhran that will take your playing to the next level in no time at all.
To give you the best insider knowledge, I’ve enlisted the help of my good friend, world class Irish bodhran player, Rónán Ó Snodaigh.
Rónán is one of the greatest bodhran players of our time. Under his guidance, you’ll enter into an exclusive circle of players who can play the bodhran the way it was intended. You’ll be able to confidently walk into any session and show off your skills and expertise.
So, what are you waiting for? Let’s discover the best bodhrans that Irish music has to offer.
Why Buying a Bodhran is a Decision You Won’t Regret
Though it’s a drum with ancient origins, the Irish bodhrán became popular in traditional Irish music in the 1960s and has continued to evolve in style and popularity since. This simple frame drum has captured the hearts of many and has itself become the heartbeat of Irish music.
Some musical instruments are more difficult for beginners to learn, such as the flute or the fiddle, for example. But, the bodhran is much easier to get going on from the very start. More importantly, you can move beyond the beginner stage quite quickly, making it the perfect starter instrument for beginners!
It’s an even better transition instrument for those slightly more experienced musicians who may be looking to delve into the world of traditional Irish music for the first time.
Whether you’re a beginner or you’ve been playing for fifty years, McNeela Instruments has a bodhran to meet your needs. Tuneable bodhrans, non tunable bodhrams, deep rim bodhrans and regular bodhrans – we offer an extensive range. But, where to start if you’re in the market to buy the best bodhran?
The Quick Answer
If you don’t have time to spare and you really want to get your hands on a brand new bodhran straight away, then keep the following in mind. Here’s a speedy FAQ.
- What kind of skin? You’ll want a bodhran with good quality goatskin head.
- What size diameter? Choose diameter depending on hand size. Bigger hands = bigger frame drum. There’s nothing wrong with playing a smaller drum if you’d prefer. If in doubt, go for standard medium size like a 15″ or a 16″ bodhrán.
- Shallow or deep rim? Deep rimmed bodhrans will give you a modern, bassy sound. Choose rim depth depending on arm length. Shorter arms might prefer a shallower frame drum for comfort.
- Taped? Yes please. It will offer superior sound quality!
- Tuneable bodhrán or non tuneable? 9 times out of 10, the answer is tuneable. Budget restrictions may affect this decision, but a tuneable bodhrán won’t set you back too much money and will really accelerate your playing.
Everything You Need To Know, From Basics to Advanced Features
The Irish bodhran (pronounced BOW as in ‘wow’, and RAWN as in ‘dawn’: BOWRAWN) is a round wooden frame drum. It has a goat skin head tacked to one side. The other side is open ended. You play it using a small stick called a tipper or beater.
A frame drum is a drum that is wider than it is deep. This ancient musical instrument is one of the oldest in the world and perhaps even the first drum to ever be invented.
Whether buying a bodhran online or in store, you will need to be familiar with the following features of the instrument:
- Tuning system
Skin: The Essence Of The Frame Drum
The bodhran skin is the most important part of the bodhran. It dictates the sound quality your frame drum will produce. Bodhran skins are traditionally made with goat skin. However, these days you can find instruments skinned with animal skin such as kangaroo, deer and various other animals.
Here at McNeela Instruments however, we are firm believers that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. Our animal skin of choice is traditional goat skin.
Our goatskin is hand cured and hand stretched, properly conditioned and treated (without the use of chemicals).
Most importantly, we source our skins sustainably from healthy animals. They are ethically sourced, carefully selected and thoroughly examined for quality.
As our goat skin is a natural product, no two pieces are alike. This means your bodhran and its goat skin head are unique!
Size: Which Bodhran is Right for You?
Our bodhrans come in a variety of shapes and sizes. There are two main factors to consider when it comes to the size of your bodhran – diameter and rim depth. Let me explain.
Diameter: Is It Important?
It’s a common misconception that physical stature should dictate the size of the musical instrument you play. That being said, those with larger hands may find it more comfortable to play an 18 inch bodhran. This larger size drum offers more space to move your hand around on the back of the frame drum. You’ll need to be able to do this comfortably to get a wide range of sounds out of your instrument.
The smaller the frame drum, the more flexible the drum head. This means the 16″ model will be more responsive to your hand pressure and as a result, will offer greater tonal variation. For this reason, if you currently have an 18″ model and are looking to upgrade, I would recommend making the change to a 16” drum. It will give you a greater variety of sounds to work with.
If you’re looking for a 16” model, I highly recommend our Classic 16” Deep Rim Performance Bodhran Set. Along with your McNeela bodhran, this set includes a selection of bodhran beaters, a free gig bag and even beginner bodhran lessons to get you started! That’s huge bang for your buck!
Our smallest bodhran, at 14 inches, is a great all-rounder size. It caters for both traveling musicians and younger bodhran players. Don’t let the size fool you. Our 14” bodhrans offer a great range of tones and sound variations. They are highly versatile drums!
Whichever size you choose, it’s important that your new frame drum feels comfortable to play.
Rim Depth: New vs Traditional
Over the years, a new style of bodhran has emerged from the traditional design. As well as being smaller in diameter, these instruments also feature a much deeper rim.
The deeper bodhran has more resonance, producing a deep, bassy sound. In other words, the deeper the rim, the bassier the sound.
Some players have issues with very deep rimmed bodhrans however. Depending on the length of the player’s arm, holding the frame drum and manoeuvring the hand inside can be awkward with a deep frame. This is why many of our bodhrans feature a cutaway in the frame. This leaves space for the player’s arm, leading to more comfortable playing.
For young or petite players, or those with shorter arms, we recommend our shallower bodhrans. They still produce a great depth of tone, but you’ll be more comfortable while you play. Comfort is key!
Crossbar: An Optional Support Feature
Traditional bodhrans featured a crossbar at the back of the frame drum. However, most players today use their hand, pressed against the goatskin head, as a way to dampen and vary the sound. A modern Irish bodhran playing technique pioneered by the great Johny Ringo McDonagh. As a result, greater mobility is required and the crossbar has become less popular.
Several of our bodhrans feature a removable T-bar. This gives the player the option of support while also facilitating freer movement. It can then be removed entirely if the player prefers.
Taped Bodhrans: Why Do We Tape Them?
Our bodhrans are taped with black electrical tape around the edge of the frame drum head. This dampens the sound. It reduces unwanted overtones and improves the harmonics. In other words, it makes your musical instrument sound better!
Some players prefer to play bodhrans that are not taped. That’s fine. It’s a personal preference. But, as an experienced bodhrán maker of over 40 years, I insist on taping all my bodhrans to produce the best bodhran tone possible. It makes a huge difference to the traditional sound quality of the drum.
Tuneable Bodhrans: Why You Really Need to Own One
Another option you are faced with when buying a bodhran is whether to buy a tuneable or non tuneable bodhran.
Being able to tune a bodhran is a basic need for any serious player. Accurate tuning of the bodhran is just as important as having proper playing technique. Have a look at my video below which offers some guidance on this question.
Why Should You Choose a Tuneable Bodhrán?
For customers who may be based abroad in less temperate climates, we always recommend buying a tuneable model. Why? Humidity.
Bodhrans are highly sensitive to the weather. Overly dry conditions will cause the skin to tighten, raising the tone. Damp weather conditions will cause the skin to soften and loosen, lowering the sound.
Ideally, bodhrans require a moderate climate. But, failing that, a tuneable bodhrán will spare you much heartache. So, you can play in any conditions and achieve the best sound possible.
Owning a tuneable bodhrán means that you’ll be able to adjust the sound of your instrument whenever you need to.
Our performance range offers an easy to use, 8 point hand-tuning system. Some of our intermediate bodhrans make use of a 6 point tuning system that requires an Allen key to turn the tuning pegs. Don’t worry! We include this with your purchase.
When using the tuning pegs, the most important thing to remember is that you want the skin to have even tension all over. In other words, make sure one side isn’t tighter or looser than the other. This handy tuning tool will really help to bring your bodhrán playing to the next level!
Don’t worry too much about mastering the tuning system or finding the perfect tone when you’re just starting out. That will come with practice and experience. As you get used to your bodhran, you’ll learn how you like it to sound.
For now, you can learn more about how to tune your bodhrán in my handy Bodhrán FAQ.
Beaters, Cipíní and Tippers (Oh My!)
You won’t get far on your new bodhran without a beater (also called a tipper or cipín) to produce the sound. Like bodhrans, beaters come in all shapes and sizes. Different beaters will produce different sounds.
From hard tippers with teardrop or elipsoid heads, to split tippers, hotrod dowel beaters, mixed beaters, weighted beaters and even brushes – the choice is huge. Click here to read my handy guide, Everything You Need to Know About Bodhran Beaters, to learn more about these different sticks and the variety of sounds they produce.
I always recommend buying a selection of bodhran beaters or tippers to try out for yourself. That way, you can decide which is best for you! After all, it’s not possible to own too many bodhran beaters.
Our popular Bodhran Beater Sets include six of our favourite sticks as well as some Drum Diddly Bodhran Conditioning Cream (to help with bodhran skin maintenance). Our standard beater set usually includes:
- Whipper Tipper
- Barley Corn Twist Tipper
- Single Knot Beater
- Hot Rod Beater
- Double Knot Beater
- Standard Bulbous Beater
Bodhran Price Range
The bodhran is one of the few musical instruments where the price difference between a beginner model and a more advanced instrument is small enough to justify investing in a more expensive bodhran when starting out.
Why not browse our full range of bodhrans and see if one catches your eye? We craft each of our instruments with care, passion and expertise.
The Best Bodhran for Irish Music
A particular favourite of mine (and our loyal customers) is the beautiful McNeela Rosewood 16” Tuneable Bodhrán which is available to buy either on its own or as part of a set. This beauty is one of my best bodhrans and is ideal for bodhran players at any stage of their journey. It won’t steer you wrong!
Rosewood is a remarkably beautiful hardwood that produces a strong earthy resonance. It’s also quite dense. The more dense the wood the better the resonance of the instrument. This model is made from Indian Rosewood, a highly sustainable and renewable form of timber.
In addition to looking good, this drum offers great tonal range. The more notes to work with the better!
The quality skin is highly responsive to both hand and beater pressure, offering amazing tonal characteristics. It produces a warm tone with a rich deep bass sound, without compromising on higher tones, which remain clear and articulate.
This is a world class instrument – the perfect choice for any serious player who wants to take their playing to the next level.
Once you have your new instrument in hand, you’ll want to learn how to care for it correctly. Check out my Top Tips for Caring for Your Bodhran which offers some expert advice on keeping your bodhran drum in pristine condition.
Free Bodhran Lessons
Once you have your new bodhran in hand, you may need a little assistance getting started. It’s always best to develop good habits right from the beginning. But where to start with learning the correct playing technique? We’re here to help!
World Class Teacher
For a limited time only, with every purchase of any McNeela tuneable bodhrén you will receive eight free lessons with Rónán Ó Snodaigh. Rónán is one of the best bodhran players in the world. But don’t just take my word for it. Have a listen to the impromptu performance Rónán treated us to when he dropped by the shop to have his own instrument reskinned:
Beginner and Beyond
These online lessons will cover everything from basics, to traditional Irish music session performance and alternative beats. Rónán will show you how to get the most out of your bodhran skin, how to tune your bodhran and everything else you need to get started on your bodhran learning journey.
These free online bodhran lessons are exclusive to McNeela Instruments and will have you accompanying your first traditional Irish music session in no time. With one of our beautiful, authentic Irish bodhráns in hand, you’ll be the belle of the ball (or session in this case!).
An Exclusive Offer to Accelerate Your Playing
I always like to reward my customers for their support. It’s because of them that I get to devote my life to a craft I am so passionate about.
That’s why, for a limited time, with every purchase of our Rosewood 16” Tuneable Bodhrán Set, you also get the complete Beginner to Master Bodhran Course by Rónán Ó Snodaigh. So, in addition to owning the best bodhran, you’ll have guidance from the master himself.
This exclusive bodhran tutorial course includes 20 brilliant lessons plus two bonus session classes.
Rónán will guide you through the basics of rhythm accompaniments, right up to advanced percussion techniques. You’ll be an expert in no time!
This course is available to purchase separately at a cost of €300/$350 for the complete set of beginner, intermediate and advanced classes, or you can simply pick it up for free with any one of my bodhran sets.
Each comprehensive bodhran set includes:
- Our prized 16″ rosewood bodhran
- A premium gig bag, to keep it safe
- A selection of beaters
- Drum Diddly conditioning cream to keep the skin in the best condition possible
- ‘Bodhran Basics’ book and CD
- Access to the full bodhran master course with Ronán Ó Snodaigh
This set is a truly worthy investment, and the perfect commitment to your future self.
If you’d like more advice in finding the best bodhran for you, or if you’d like to know more about any of our bodhrans, our team of experts is always happy to answer any questions you may have! Our musical matchmaking team is eagerly waiting to help you find your ideal musical instrument. There’s an instrument for everyone and your perfect bodhran is out there somewhere. We’ll help you find it! Contact us to find out more.