I am a music educator by training, and one important lesson that I received in the area of instrumental music education was the importance of a quality instrument. At the beginning of each new school year, parents would purchase or inquire about band instruments from well-known discount to “big box" stores. These instruments would look nice, were easy to obtain, and had a price that was very appealing to the wallet, especially when considering the cost of obtaining an instrument from the local music store. But despite the characteristics that made these items initially appealing, their true value was revealed after the initial purchase.
These instruments were often made from inferior materials, and parts such as keys, rings, and spit valves often broke after little use. Parents would then take these low-quality instruments to the local music store for repair, only to discover that parts were not available. In addition, instrument repair technicians considered the effort more trouble than worth due to the high failure rate and likelihood of recurrence. But the construction was not the only issue- they just sounded bad. It was difficult for beginners to produce a good tone, and it was almost impossible to keep them in tune. Inevitably, one of two things would happen- parents would then purchase instruments from the music store, or students would quit because the inferior instrument that they possessed would not make a tone that was pleasing to their ear.
These same considerations apply to the bodhrán as well. When a student asks for recommendations for purchasing a drum, I will often refer them to this list. I understand the the first instrument falls into the category that I described above, but sometimes people just need a drum. But if you can get your hands on a better instrument, it is well worth the effort and expense. It will be well-made, be easier to tune, and it will simply sound better. (And if it sounds better, you will want to play it more!)
As of now, I do not officially endorse any maker. So the best thing that I can do is tell you what makers have produced great-sounding drums for me, listed alphabetically:
Rob Forkner- www.metloef.com/website_eng/index_eng.html
Rob has made me some great sound drums out of goat and kangaroo. His construction
is solid, the tuning system is great, and he has some great looking finishes.
Christian Hedwitschak- www.bodhranmaker.eu/en/
Christian also makes some great sounding drums with excellent tuning systems and
finishes. Christian also offers CoreLine drums- a solid instrument for a first-time purchase.
Ben March- www.benmarchbodhrans.ie/
I have owned one of Ben’s drums with a Lambeg skin, and it looked, sounded, and functioned quite well.
Seamus O’Kane- www.tradcentre.com/seamus/
A revered figure in drum making, Seamus makes an excellent Lambeg drum.
As for tippers, that’ll be a topic for a future blog post…