FAQ – Top Tips for Caring for Your Bodhran

The bodhrán skin is the most important part of the bodhrán. It dictates the quality of sound your drum will produce. It also happens to be the most temperamental part of this iconic frame drum. After all, it’s made from goat skin, and goats are famously stubborn.

So, the best thing you can do care for your bodhrán is to learn to care for its skin.

I often receive queries from customers asking about best practice when it comes to caring for and maintaining their new bodhráns. So I’ve put together this handy guide which will hopefully answer all your questions and help keep your instrument in top condition!

How to Break in Your Bodhran

Breaking in a new bodhrán skin is like breaking in a new pair of shoes. The more you play your bodhrán, the more you’ll break it in and the better it will sound!

A good conditioning treatment will greatly aid the breaking-in process, and we have just the thing! McNeela’s Drum Diddly Bodhrán Cream.

Drum Diddly is a specially developed bodhrán conditioning cream that’s been developed and made in Ireland especially for premium bodhrán goatskin, including Lambeg skins.

The cream contains lanolin and beeswax which will help to replenish your bodhrán skin, leaving it smooth and supple, with increased tension. Regular use can help preserve the longevity of your bodhrán skin and help reduce the occurrence of punctures and tears.

Lanolin cream or grapeseed oil are suitable alternatives which can also be used safely on bodhrán skin.

The expert guide to buying a bodhran - that will take you beyond the beginner stage!

How to Use Drum Diddly Bodhran Cream to Condition Your Bodhran Skin

All you need to do is remove a small amount of Drum Diddly Bodhrán Cream from the container and, using your fingers, massage it into the skin on the front of the bodhrán. Use large circular motions to spread the cream over the skin. Then, leave it overnight to soak in.

The following day, take a soft, lint-free cloth and, again using large circular motions, wipe the skin with the cloth. This will remove any excess product from the skin. Continue to buff until the skin is dry and no longer sticky.

You’ll notice a difference immediately in not just the feel and texture of the skin, but also the sound it produces.

I recommend only treating the outside (front or top) of the bodhrán skin, especially for non-tuneable bodhráns.

Why? Conditioning creams affect moisture absorption. In order to adjust the tone of a non-tuneable bodhrán you’ll need it to be capable of absorbing water; the easiest way to adjust the tone of a non-tuneable bodhrán is by lightly misting it with water, wetting it down with a spray bottle. 

McNeela rosewood bodhran

How Often Should You Treat Your Bodhran Skin?

If you live in a dry climate, you will need to treat your bodhrán skin more frequently. At least once a month, but more frequently depending on how dry the skin becomes. Don’t be afraid to be as kind to your bodhrán as you would be to your own skin!

If you live in a humid climate, you will need to treat your bodhrán skin less frequently. No more than once a month (unless the skin is really dry and desperately in need of moisture).

If you live in a location however that is dry in winter but experiences humidity in summer, be careful not to overtreat your bodhrán during the dry winter months. 

Why? Bodhráns react differently to changes in both humidity and temperature.

Dry weather conditions cause the skin to lose moisture, causing it to tighten which raises the tone. Damp weather conditions, or high humidity, cause the skin to absorb moisture, causing it to expand and loosen, lowering the tone.

Ideally, bodhráns require a temperate climate and moderate weather conditions. Unfortunately, this is beyond our control. We can however learn how best to care for our bodhráns and adapt to changes in the weather. So you can play in any conditions and achieve the best sound possible.

Paraic McNeela Irish bodhran - tuner and crossbar

How to Tighten Your Bodhran Skin

All McNeela bodhráns are shipped with the tension of the skin loosened to avoid any strain on the skin fibres as it travels through different climates.

Once you receive your new bodhrán, you’ll need to adjust the tension of the skin accordingly.

To tighten the skin of a tuneable bodhran, gently turn each tuner clockwise one half turn to spread the tension. Some bodhrán players recommend alternating between tuners on opposite sides of the drum to best achieve an even tension.

When using the tuning pegs be careful not to over tighten. Too much tension will stretch and damage even the best bodhrán skin.

Some skins may require a lot of tuning initially but will settle down and stabilise in time.

Tuneable bodhran bodhran tuner

How to Tune a Non-Tuneable Bodhran

If the skin of your non-tuneable bodhrán is very loose, gently rub it with a damp cloth or mist with a spray bottle of water.

Hold the bodhrán for a short time near a low source of heat such as a hairdryer or radiator. Please heat it carefully!

As the skin warms up it will first become loose and the tone will drop in pitch.

Once you remove it from the heat however, the skin will tighten as it cools and the tone will rise in pitch.

Paraic McNeela Irish bodhran - tuner and crossbar

What’s the Correct Tension for My Bodhran?

Remember, the tighter the skin, the higher the tonal pitch. The looser the skin the lower the tonal pitch. 

Keep adjusting until you strike a balance between a rich, deep bass tone and ease of playing.

Some bodhrán players favour more bass while others prefer more tension to allow for top-end playing. The choice is up to you. It may take some trial and error to find the tension that best suits your playing.

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.

McNeela bodhran gig bag

How to Store Your Bodhran

Before packing your bodhrán away you should reduce the tension by turning the tuners at least a full turn.

When it’s time to take it out to play again, all you should have to do is tighten up by one full turn. At least, in theory. Changing weather conditions means you may have to adapt a little each time.

Though, top bodhrán player Rónán Ó Snodaigh suggests not packing your bodhrán away at all. This bodhrán maestro says keeping the bodhrán within easy reach encourages more frequent playing.

If you opt to follow Rónán’s lead, make sure you choose the location carefully. I’d suggest using an instrument stand so no clumsy individual ends up putting their foot through your bodhrán. I’ve seen it happen before and still haven’t quite recovered from the shock!

The Right Environment for Storing Your Bodhran

Store your bodhrán somewhere cool, with an even temperature. Make sure to store your bodhrán in a case or gig bag. This will protect it from any unexpected knocks and bumps, and also offer some protection from temperature and humidity changes. 

All McNeela bodhráns come with a free gig bag. A high quality gig bag is a solid investment that will help preserve the life of your bodhrán.

If you live in an extremely dry climate, consider storing your bodhrán (and any other wooden musical instruments) with a humidifier. Similarly, if you live in an extremely humid climate, a dehumidifier might be a good investment. Alternatively, you could consider moving to Ireland!

If you’re traveling long distances, the same rules apply.

bodhran skin bodhrans

How to Re-Skin a Bodhran

Occasionally the skin on older bodhráns can warp and become too loose, losing its tone and definition. If this is the case, don’t despair! It’s possible to have your bodhrán re-skinned.

Here at McNeela Instruments we can provide and fit new skins for all makes and models of bodhrán. Get in touch and we’ll help breathe a new lease of life into your tired old drum with our re-skinning service.

If for any reason your beloved instrument is beyond repair (perhaps a few too many sessions and wild nights out) you can always take a look at our range of high quality affordable bodhráns in our Online Bodhrán Store. We have something to suit every level of player.

If you’re not sure which instrument is right for you, have a read of my blog: The Bodhrán Maker’s Guide to Buying a Bodhrán.

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  1. Hi there I read your care information with interest. Unfortunately I got a small tear in my bodhran some years ago from a paperclip holding my music sheets.

    I was told I maybe able to seal it by melting some resin. Is this so and can you recommend something?

    1. Hi Theresa, you could try painting some shellac (yes, the nail varnish) over the hole – Rónán Ó Snodaigh introduced me to that tip. Otherwise you might benefit from a reskin – which we can do for you.

  2. Hi .. now this is helpful and could be very useful as a leaflet supplied with a new Bodhran for complete beginners like me. I tightened all the tuners thoroughly when I got it because they seemed a bit loose. Never underestimate a beginners lack of knowledge. Next question. What are the wooden slats inside the drum for specifically. Is there a video to show how to make best use of them.

    1. Hi Máire, you’ll be glad to know we include an instructional guide with each of our instruments advising our customers on how best to take care of them. The crossbars within the bodhrán were originally used to hold the drum – as the modern style of bodhrán has moved away from that boomier sound to a more controlled tone, altered by the use of the hand against the skin, the crossbar has become somewhat obsolete in certain situations. It can still be used to help hold and position the drum, but more and more bodhrán players these days are opting to remove it, or choosing drums without them.

  3. Good morning Padraic. I have recently bought a new skin from yourselves to try and build my own Bodrhan. I followed your in structions on u tube and surprisingly turned out pretty good. But my concer.n is that the skin seems to be pretty floppy. I did tighten it up pretty good as per your instructions. How long does it take to dry out and does it tighten as it dries. Thanks keep up your super work , I enjoy watching

    1. Hi Kevin, it should tighten as it dries. Warm, damp conditions can cause the skin to become a bit loose. Back in the day at a session, I’d often be running into the toilets to put the bodhrán under the drier to get the skin to tighten. If your skin is loose, gently rub it with a damp cloth or mist with a spray bottle of water. Hold the bodhrán for a short time near a low source of heat such as a hairdryer or radiator. Please heat it carefully!

      As the skin warms up it will first become loose and the tone will drop in pitch. Once you remove it from the heat however, the skin will tighten as it cools and the tone will rise in pitch.

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