Seeking bodhran advice from experienced players

Seeking bodhran advice from experienced players

Hi, I’m Kenneth. New member and first post, so "hi" again.

I recently took up the bodhran. My playing is coming along well, I think. That said, I have a number of questions about "the care and keeping" of the instrument, as I cannot keep it tune. I’m hoping that there are experienced players here who can guide me through this part of learning the instrument.

I have a tuneable instrument. I suspect it is not of particularly good quality as I bought it on-line and it appears to have been made in Pakistan (no offence to that fine country). I have done a lot of research on-line and have learned to use water and mink oil to keep it lubricated.

That said, the instrument changes pitch significantly during the time I play for even an hour. Even when I "tune" it all the way down to even removing the tuning screws, it always starts cold on an A higher than the traditional sound. With water I can drop it down to a D, which sounds about where it should be for this style of music. But as I said, it inevitably starts to rise in pitch again.

So, if anyone has some advice (or wants to scold me for what I’m doing wrong), I would sincerely appreciate it. Thanks in advance for taking up your time reading this post.

Kenneth Greene

Re: Seeking bodhran advice from experienced players

My instinctive reaction would be not to worry too much - as long as the tension is such that you’re getting a reasonable tone - no pinging, no thudding - then you can concentrate on playing, which is the main thing, and in a few months when the skin has settled it may be more stable….

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Re: Seeking bodhran advice from experienced players

Hi Kenneth - welcome to session.org !

I’ve never heard of mink oil being used for that purpose. All the bodhran players that I know use neatsfoot oil to keep the skin in good playing condition - so maybe try that.

The note "D" is a good one to tune to as it sits well with the common major session keys: G major, A major and D major.

Regarding your tuning issue, I would suggest that you’ve probably answered your own question!

" I suspect it is not of particularly good quality "

The problem that you are experiencing is far more likely to occur with a cheap intrument than with one of good build quality. That applies to other instruments as well - not just to bodhrans.

How much did you pay for it?

Re: Seeking bodhran advice from experienced players

I would suspect that the water is just evaporating causing the tone to change.
Neatsfoot oil or something similar would probably make it more stable.

Re: Seeking bodhran advice from experienced players

Buy one in your local music store a good solid 1 bye an Irish maker and get a case for it. I bought mine I’n Savin’s music store 20+ years ago still in great condition

Re: Seeking bodhran advice from experienced players

My other half has a £40 bodhran that is fine. It’s tunable but I’ve never known anyone tune to a particular note or anyone complain when that wasn’t the case.

Re: Seeking bodhran advice from experienced players

A huge amount of sense in that link that AB has just posted. Even the best bodhrans are not as "tunable" as, say, timpani. They are "tensionable" and you might, with a bit of luck, get something approximating to, e.g. a pure D or whatever, but not necessarily spot-on. As AB’s link says, aim for a sound between being too high pingy or low boomy, but of course, you can play a whole recognisable tune on a bodhran if you know how to use your left hand (assuming right-handedness!) And never just hold it by any cross-struts!
And just like many other instruments, especially fiddles, and whistles, the bodhran is very sensitive to atmospherics, so do take time between tunes to adjust your skin tension as it will inevitably change throughout a session. Don’t expect it to stay the same all night. And more for the non-tensionable drum, quick fix for the too-tight sound is a damp J-cloth in a plastic bag, or if the skin is going all flabby on a humid
night, run it under the hand-drier in the loo!

Re: Seeking bodhran advice from experienced players

P.s. One of my bodhrans took a very long time to "play in": always sounded too tight even with screws fully slackened off: just kept on beating it and now it has a much better dynamic range, but we’re talking years rather than months!

Re: Seeking bodhran advice from experienced players

I have only one drum that I put anything on (the cheapest hand cream I can find) and that is because it has a partially cured goatskin.

The maker of the first custom drum I got (Dave Gormley) said don’t put anything on the skin, and with the the exception of the partially cured skin, none of my other drums have had anything done to them.

A possible thing to do, other than play it a lot, is to tension it up after playing and leave it that way, loosen it off to play it and see if the bass response improves. Trish is right, a skin takes a long time to play in.

Re: Seeking bodhran advice from experienced players

Wow, you people are amazing! I was hoping I might get a response or two, but this just floored me. Thank you all!

To answer a few questions: I bought this bodhran on-line a few years ago because my wife had a passing interest in playing it, which I of course encouraged. But "passing" turned out to be the operative word. It became a decoration, hanging on a door for a few years. Which means that it sat there, sad and alone, until I took a personal interest in it a few months ago. To answer Mix O’Lydian, I suspect I paid $300-400 US, so you are right about me answering my own question.

I got the idea of mink oil from some page I found (which made sense at the time, as mink oil has a lot of good uses on other wooden instruments). Now that both Mix O’Lydian and CleverName have mentioned Neatsfoot oil, I will check that out, thanks. And everyone who has mentioned that water is just a short-term tone change has been proven right as far as I am concerned.

And AB, thanks for the link. I actually found it on my own, but that does not at all diminish my appreciation for you sharing it with me.

So, since I’m not in a place to do as Banjo Ireland suggests (buy a new one), I think I will try a combination of advice from trish santer and BigDavy: (1) play the heck out of it until the skin learns to behave; and (2) tension it up when I am not playing it to see if that helps with (1). Oh, and Neatsfoot oil (need to look that up now).

Thanks again. Sorry to repeat myself, but you are all amazing. Any other comments or suggestions are heartily welcomed.

(p.s. — please see my profile. If there is anything in my areas of interest that might assist any of you I would be more than happy to help!)

Kenneth

Re: Seeking bodhran advice from experienced players

I used to have a Mance Grady-Ace Bodhran. He told me to always keep tension on the head when not playing, then back off the tension for playing. I remember having to adjust the tension two or three times during a session. That is just the nature of goatskin. There is an oil treatment for the head, I don’t remember what kind it is but if you go to Ace Bodhran.com I am sure you can find out the proper way to treat the head. Good luck.

Re: Seeking bodhran advice from experienced players

You got a river near you? Frisbee that thing into it. For another hundred bucks you could have got one of these or something similar: http://www.metloef.com/website_eng/index_eng.html
These drums play ’ straight out of the box’ and you don’t need to play them in although they will improve with use and time. The quality of the skins will make life so much easier and you really won’t need to use mink oils or other lubes.

Re: Seeking bodhran advice from experienced players

I used to put Lexol on my drums (recommended by Alfonso). I haven’t put anything on them in a long time and they’ve been good.

If you totally back off the tension and it’s still tight, it’s drying out too much. You might have success playing it in over time, but I am a little skeptical. You can use a small spray bottle of water to loosen the skin while playing.

And I’d just reiterate what trish said. You can sort of tune to a note, but a lot of that is hyperbole. The skin will constantly change tension as you play, and so the tones you can get out of it will do the same. If you’re only learning, just focus on getting the beat down, learning to play quietly, listening carefully to the music, and keep the tonal stuff to a minimum. Get you right hand playing the music well. Then you can worry about jazzing it up with your left hand and tones. All the other musicians will love you for it.

Re: Seeking bodhran advice from experienced players

Lexol is what I use but not everybody agrees with that. It probably would lower the tone some. Some years back lanolin was suggested and I was able to get some from a pharmacist, but the stuff was sticky as hell and I’m not sure it did much. Anyway ideally you shouldn’t have to wet a tunable drum, that sort of defeats the whole point of having a tunable. If you can get it to produce a nice tone I wouldn’t worry too much about not being able to get it to a D.

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Re: Seeking bodhran advice from experienced players

"To answer Mix O’Lydian, I suspect I paid $300-400 US, so you are right about me answering my own question."

Likely above the typical cost of budget bodhrans from ‘Pakistan’?

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Re: Seeking bodhran advice from experienced players

To be honest, I’ve never actually used neetsfoot oil, I’ve just heard that it’s good. 🙂
I don’t remember exactly what I used on my Pakistani made drum, but it was either Bag Balm or some kind of Burt’s Bee’s hand lotion. As I recall it took a couple of days for the head to settle down.
That was several years ago and I haven’t had to do anything to it since.
It will change tone a bit with the ambient humidity, but generally stays in tune.

Re: Seeking bodhran advice from experienced players

BTW, that Metloef link that Gran Cassa posted has pretty old information. Rob is still making those drums, but he’s not in the Netherlands anymore, he is in your neck of the woods (Austin), and he’s teaching bodhran at the O’Flaherty retreat this October in Midlothian. And Albert Alfonso is in Dallas as well. You might be well served to have either one of them look at the drum and give you suggestions (which probably will mostly entail "buy a new drum", but they might have some sound advice for you…)

Re: Seeking bodhran advice from experienced players

Yeah, I’m getting close to chucking this drum in the river, as suggested above (lol).

That said, I’ve been online looking at options. So far the most interesting I’ve seen are bodhrans from Paraic McNeela and the Coreline line from Rebellion Drums. Does anyone have any yeas or nays about them? Or other suggestions?

(Reverend, I will check out Rob and Albert as soon as I finish here, thanks).

Last thing — everyone online seems to be electric taping their bodhrans (possibly started by said Paraic?). Has anyone seen that as a good or bad thing?

Thx again.

Kenneth

Re: Seeking bodhran advice from experienced players

Kenneth, don’t toss it quite yet.

I’ve had good luck with a water/glycerine mix (about 50/50) You can buy pure glycerine at most drug stores. DO NOT use it full strength. It’ll even burn your skin (somewhat like frostbite). It traps moisture, and used pure it’ll dry your skin out terribly. But… mixed with water, it also traps moisture. You use it to wet your drum head and the glycerine "traps" the water in the skin. Give it a good soak. The skin will get quite floppy, but don’t worry. When it dries it’ll come back up to pitch, and after a couple of soaking sessions, that pitch will be permanently lower. Well, almost permanent. You can restore it by washing down the skin with plain water to rinse out the glycerine and you’ll have your old sound back once it dries.

I’ve saved two Pakistani drums, and one "wall hanger" with this method.

Re: Seeking bodhran advice from experienced players

Thanks, David. Just ordered some, and I’ll give it a try.

That said, I’m still interested if anyone has an opinion about me spending some money on another drum …

Kenneth

Re: Seeking bodhran advice from experienced players

@Kenneth - Belgarth Bodhrans (based in the Orkney Islands, off the cost of Scotland) make quality instruments.

https://www.belgarth.com/

Plenty of other good makers as well, of course.

Re: Seeking bodhran advice from experienced players

@Kenneth: Amendment to my last post - I’ve just looked at Belgarth’s website and it appears that they aren’t making bodhrans at the present time. As I said though, there are other good makers.

Re: Seeking bodhran advice from experienced players

Re: taping drums - my feeling is if you have a good drum there is no need to tape it. On the other hand if it helps the sound of your drum then it is fine, not a thing wrong with it.

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