The bodhran is one of the best instruments for a beginner to get started in Irish music. Their thumping rhythm provides a great accompaniment to jigs and reels, and they’re welcome at sessions around the world. While you can certainly spend a lot of money on a nice bodhran, you don’t need to! In fact, there are some fantastic beginner bodhrans out there that will give you a lot of drum for not a lot of dough.
Read on for our guide to choosing and buying the best beginner bodhran for you! You can also check out our guide to finding new and used bodhrans for sale online.
There are two basic design styles used in bodhrans today. One is based off of traditional bodhrans, with a shallower shell, crossbars, and a larger diamater. Another, more modern style has been developed over the last few decades. It features a deeper shell, smaller diameter head, and no crossbars.
While the more modern style has been gaining popularity, there are still plenty of players who use traditional-style bodhrans. Which one you decide to get will depend on your playing style and sound preferences. Take a look at the players you like to listen to, and note which type of bodhran they prefer.
Traditional Style Bodhran
The oldest forms of the bodhran were generally large, shallow frame drums with an X-shaped crossbar in the back. This style is very similar to ancient drums found all over the world, and may be one of the oldest musical instrument designs in history. In Ireland, they were often fashioned by hand out of whatever was available, including old farming implements and animal skins.
Many bodhrans today still follow this ancient style. Usually, they have a diameter anywhere from 16-20 inches, with a real animal (generally goat) skin fastened to the shell with tacks. While traditionally bodhrans were non-tunable, more recently tunable traditional bodhrans have been made.
Whether or not a crossbar appeals to you will probably depend on your style of playing. Some players brace their non-tipper hand against the crossbar as they move that hand around the skin. Some actually grip the bodhran by the crossbars, not muting the skin at all. Others find crossbars to be a nuisance that can restrict their hand’s movement.
The larger size of traditional-style bodhrans offers a lot more room for the tipper. Bodhran players who use both ends of the tippers often prefer that room over the smaller modern-style bodhrans. Having extra space is especially important for beginners, since their tipper control isn’t as precise as advanced bodhran players. As they progress, some beginners end up getting a smaller bodhran, while others stay with the larger size.
Modern Style Bodhran
Over the years, a newer style of bodhran has emerged from the traditional design. These bodhrans have a smaller diameter head, usually 12-16 inches. They also feature a much deeper shell, which gives them a more bass-y resonance. The vast majority of these modern-style bodhrans are tunable.
Some people have issues with very deep shelled-bodhrans. Depending on the length of the player’s arm, holding the bodhran and having room to maneuver inside can be awkward with a deep shell. Thus, many modern bodhrans have cutaways at a point in the shell where the player can insert their arm for more comfortable playing.
The smaller size of modern bodhrans is very well suited to single-end playing styles. In fact, they have developed very closely with the so-called “top-end” style of bodhran playing. A beginner’s less precise control over their tipper may mean that a modern bodhran won’t be spacious enough for double-ended styles.
Why You Should Choose a Tunable Bodhran
While there are many non-tunable bodhrans available, many of them aimed at beginners, all of the instruments featured here are tunable. At first, it may seem like a tuning system for a drum is needless. After all, you’re not playing notes, right? But there’s a reason that tuning systems were invented. Ultimately, they offer the best experience for beginner and expert bodhran players alike.
The skin of any drum is highly susceptible to heat and moisture. If it cools down or dries out, the skin will loosen, making it sound lower. Heat and moisture will have the opposite effect. With a non-tunable bodhran, you’re at the mercy of the climate whenever you pick your drum up. Too cold or dry and it’ll sound tinny. Too hot or moist and it will turn flabby.
A tunable bodhran means that you’ll be able to adjust whenever you need to. Don’t worry about mastering the tuning system or dialing in the perfect tone when you’re just starting. As you get used to your bodhran, you’ll learn how you like it to feel and sound.
Meinl FD14IBO 14 inch Tunable Bodhran
Summary: A great modern-style bodhran on a budget
Meinl is well-known as a great company among percussion players. They make a variety of high quality drums and world percussion instruments, and their bodhrans are excellent for beginners. Their two models of bodhran each have their strengths, and you can’t go wrong with either one!
The Meinl 14 inch bodhran is based off the modern bodhran stye, with a deeper shell and smaller diameter head. It provides a nice boomy, bassy sound when hit, and the skin is nice and supple for easy manipulation. There’s also a handy velcro strip attached to the side to attach the tuning key. This may seem like a small thing, but after spending a lot of time digging around a bodhran case looking for a lost tuning key, I can tell you it’s not!
Roosebeck 16 inch Tunable Bodhran
Summary: A traditional bodhran at a terrific price
Roosebeck is one of the most popular companies out there for beginner bodhrans. They make very affordable instruments that still sound and play quite nicely. Like the other bodhrans on this list, this Roosebeck bodhran is tunable, but Roosebeck does make a variety of non-tunable bodhrans as well.
The Roosebeck 16 inch bodhran has an older, more traditional bodhran design. It has a shallower shell than most modern bodhrans, and features a T-shaped crossbar in the back. The skin is a little thicker than most of the others on this list, and will be a little harder to manipulate. However, a bit of sanding can fix this easily.
Waltons 18 inch Tunable Bodhran
Summary: A big boomy behemoth great for traditional and modern players alike
Waltons is one of the most trusted names in Irish music, and their flagship store in Dublin is a must-go for any Irish music lover. They have a remarkable variety of bodhrans, both tunable and not, for sale. While they do have cheaper options than this one, most of their lower-end models are made with tourists in mind. Stay away from anything with patterns painted on the skin. If it looks like it could be hung on a wall, it’s probably best left up there.
Their 18 inch model is a great player with a hybrid style. It’s built much like a traditional bodhran, but doesn’t feature any crossbars. The not-too-deep shell and big diameter make this a very beginner-friendly drum. There’s also a nice cutaway that makes it even more ergonomical.
Remo ET4514-81 14 inch Tunable Bodhran
Summary: An innovative head and lightweight frame sets Remo’s bodhran apart
Like Meinl, Remo is a popular brand for just about any kind of drum. Take a look at any drum set and chances are good that they’re sporting Remo heads. So it’s no surprise that Remo has developed a remarkable synthetic head for its bodhrans. Their black “Bahia Bass” head certainly makes a visual statement, but it’s the sound that counts. There’s a deep bassy thump to every strike, and the head is quite easy to manipulate for pitch bending.
The Remo 14 inch bodhran is a deeper-shelled modern bodhran, and makes the most of its wonderful head. It’s also fairly lightweight, which is great for carrying around to sessions. While it doesn’t have the most traditional look to it, it certainly has a very traditional sound. Sometimes, different isn’t a bad thing at all!
Meinl FD18BO 18 inch Tunable Bodhran
Summary: A more traditional look and feel, but still great Meinl quality
This is the more traditional cousin of the 14 inch Meinl bodhran from above. It’s wider but shallower, and features a T-shaped crossbar. The 18 inch goatskin head gives a beginner player plenty of room to thump away, and the shallower shell feels very comfortable to hold. Like the Roosebeck bodhran, the head feels a little thick, and is a little harder to manipulate and bend. However, a bit of sanding is all it takes to make it really sing. The crossbar also makes bracing your hand for pitch bending very easy.