Best Way To Mic A Cajon On Stage and In The Studio

If your a musician and have been out at the Open Mic Nights that took the world by storm over the last 10 years then you have probably seen a percussion instrument that is played behind Singer-songwriters called a Cajon, an acoustic hand drum that looks like a wooden box. Playing Live and in the Studio, they can be quite versatile especially if they are miked properly. But whats the Best Way to Mic a Cajon on Stage and in the Studio?

Use Dynamic Mics (Live or in the Studio) that accentuate highs, mids & lows blending them together using either
1 Mic Technique-1-6 inches on the top of the soundhole & about 1″ out from the box or a
2 Mic Technique-Using a Bass (Kick) Drum or Boundary Mic placed inside or 1 to 8″ from the Soundhole.

A microphone can accentuate the wide variety of sounds that a Cajon is capable of creating. These Microphone techniques and placements are essential to creating a blend in this environment.

Microphone Techniques for a Cajon

Being a drummer for many years, although skeptical at first, I could appreciate that the Cajon, if miked correctly can accentuate highs and lows that ordinary drums from a kit can. There is the sweet spot sounds that the player can find along with the instrument just as there is on the drumhead of a Tom or Snare. Each Cajon may be slightly different from each other. So the player needs to locate those positions on each one.

Because Cajons are wooden instruments they have the capacity to change as they get older and stand out sonically like acoustic guitars and wooden drums do. The first time I tried a Cajon I listened for sounds that corresponded with sounds of a drum kit. What’s so cool about the Cajon Hand Drum is that those mids, highs, and lows are there and can be miked to strongly distinguish them and make them sound even better. There are some techniques and placements for microphones that are as individual and unique as the musicians that play them with a few standards that are similar to miking percussion instruments.

As with a lot of drum sessions, experimentation is key. There is no, generally speaking, one right or wrong way to record the Cajon but there are a few techniques and microphones that have been tried and tested. The thing with the Cajon is that even though it may sound good to the ear, it is sometimes hard to get it to sound the way you want either in a studio or live setting. So patience and experimentation is the key. If you are considering a single dynamic microphone for your Cajon, then the ubiquitous Shure SM57 is a great choice with its reliable history of professional use, sturdiness, compact size & great sound. It is relatively cheap to buy.

If you are considering a dynamic microphone for the bass tones of your Cajon, then the AKG D110 bass (kick) drum mic is a good choice. It produces a very controlled bass note & can be used in close proximity to the Cajon for better isolation. Again a very reliable microphone with professional pedigree, sturdy build, compact size & great sound. Dynamic microphones are available to suit just about every musical instrument & budget, including the Cajon Hand Drum.

They are also relatively cheap. However, don’t cut corners when it comes to buying a microphone for your Cajon. Stick with a reliable manufacturer that has a history & a pedigree amongst professionals. They are not always a lot more expensive, but they are usually much more reliable & perform better on the road. Youll’ see that it will not cost you an arm and a leg to mic your Cajon just a little bit more to record.

Your Cajon is a box with a front, back, two sides, top & bottom. When you hit any of the faces you will produce a sound that travels outwards in all directions. Therefore, anything in the way or near to you which either reflects or absorbs that sound will make a difference. When your Cajon is amplified exactly the same considerations & principles apply as did for acoustic playing. However, there are extras. Microphones will pick up any sound entering their capsule at the correct angle & make it louder; they will not only amplify your Cajon but every other sound from other instruments, room, stage, walls. That’s why Dynamic mics are a better choice for miking a Cajon as they can be placed closer and are better controlled in close proximity.

1 Mic Technique for a Cajon

Some players use a microphone from the back of the Cajon just off the soundhole of the instrument. This is how a drummer would mic his Kickdrum. The problem with this technique is that the mic can get in the way of playing on stage if the musician moves the Cajon around or leans back on it as some people do when they play. To prevent this you can mic the Cajon inside the soundhole where you won’t use a microphone stand. Cut out a piece of foam packing material or rubber and lay the mic on top of it inside the box and let the mic cable hang out. Audix D6 Dynamic Cardioid Kick Drum Microphone is drum microphones that are good for this purpose. Still, even with great placement, you’re going to sound boomy. The EQ will definitely need to be adjusted on the mic inside the box. To prevent the muddy sound that the mic will produce from inside set the EQ at:

  • High EQ -Boost the gain at approximately 8-10 kHz
  • Mid EQ -lower Gain at  approximately  350 Hz
  • Low EQ – Boost Gain at  approximately 100 Hz
  • Always experiment with the mic position because nothing is etched in gold

With another 1 Microphone Technique, you can mic the soundhole about 1 t0 6 inches on the top of the soundhole and about 1 inch out from the box. Use a dynamic microphone like the popular Shure SM57  situated about an inch above the top of the soundhole & about an inch away from the rear surface of the Cajon. This technique evens out the Bass tones and mid to higher frequencies of the instrument. The Snare sound is located towards the top of the box so you can find and lows by tilting the tip of the capsule.

You can also try 1 to 2 ” down and 8-10 inches out for another microphone place technique.  The exact position is a bit of trial-&-error; it will depend on your particular Cajon & also on the influence of stage & room as we discussed above. Every tiny movement of the capsule can pick up or lose frequencies that can make the sound empty and thin or evenly blended. Then once you have a starting point to work from just like a Drum kit (except it will be a lot easier using 1 or 2 mics) you can make a few simple adjustments and get rockin.

2 Mic Technique for a Cajon

Most players agree on this the proper way mic the Cajon and I have to agree as most of the wide frequencies of this instrument are found on the outside. Using the soundhole and the front of Cajon takes all the frequencies in a blended rich and natural way without the need to EQ them looking in the electronic mix. Just like drums, the position is critical and the question of the soundhole microphone placement technique is common with both instruments. Do you mic inside, outside, off-axis, and how far? Here is the start:

  • Use a Dynamic Shure Sm57, Audix D6 Dynamic mic  or an AKG 112 Bass Drum Microphone up to about 8 inches from the soundhole for picking up Bass and Depth
  • Adjust the capsule for the best sound from 8 inches outside the box moving closer towards the soundhole until the capsule is halfway in the box 
  • Pulling the Mic out further will pick up room and air space.
  • Or use a Boundary type Microphone which is placed totally inside the Soundhole 
  • On the Front-Use a Dynamic Mic about 8-10 inches from the front of the Cajon to pick up high-frequency snare sounds but far enough away that you don’t strike the microphone capsule when jamming out.
  • Experiment on these positions
  • Remember that the Snare high sounds are located higher at the top in the Box. 

Best mic for Cajon

Audix Dynamic Microphone, 8x6x4 inches (ADX60)is a Boundary boundary microphone, a professional pre-polarized condenser microphone designed for stage, studio, and broadcast applications. The mic is known for its high sensitivity and ability to handle distance and area making for a wide variety of applications including conferencing, plays, theater, and acoustic instruments. The Audix ADX60 mic is designed to capture a specifically designated area, hence the name “boundary microphone.” with a wide frequency range of 50Hz-18kHz, the Audix ADX60 requires 9-52 Volts Phantom power for operation and is equipped with a 25′ Microphone cable and Phantom power adapter and easy to use.

Another is Sennheiser e901 Boundary Layer Condenser Mic for Kick Drum

Sennheiser e901 Boundary Layer Condenser Mic for Kick Drum

If you use the Boundary Drum microphones make sure that the hole in your Cajon is big enough to accept the microphone. The wide dynamic response of these microphones along with the almost total isolation for external sounds means a good sound combined with very low feedback potential. It just makes everything a lot easier for everyone concerned. 

A really good Instructional article I wrote for is called What Is a Boundary Microphone which explains the many applications to use this odd-looking microphone. Check it will be a well-used mic in your bag of tools. Guaranteed!

Audix has been developing Boundary Microphones along with other specialty Mics that are used for Drums and are transferrable to Cajon instruments. Some manufacturers have developed microphones that clip onto the edge of the soundhole & project into the Cajon which gives additional separation from external sounds & speakers, so produces a cleaner sound less prone to feedback.

A contact strip microphone similar to those used on guitars, applied to the outside or the inside, are convenient & don’t require microphone stands.  They stay in place once you have found the best position & feedback less readily. Cajon Drums come in different designs with more than one soundhole or types of wood sizes and shapes. You don’t have to break the bank to buy a decent quality microphone system. Stick with reliable manufacturers makes include Shure, AKG, Sennheiser, Beyer, Audio-Technica manufacturers that deal with Drums and Percussion instruments.


Microphones typically used On Cajon Hand Drums

Audix D4 Dynamic Microphone, Hyper-Cardioid

Shure SM57-LC Cardioid Dynamic Microphone

Shure BETA 52A Supercardioi

d Dynamic Kick Drum Microphone with High Output Neodymium Element

Recording a Cajon

In a Recording session, the best technique to use is the 2 Mic Technique along with added overheads for capturing room and space which adds so much more to the ambiance and luster of the overall sound.  This is under controlled conditions where Sound Engineers dissect space and the studio room for the best overall sound and frequencies. The soundhole mic can be positioned a little closer to the soundhole as the studio rooms overheads will capture the space you are recording in.

  • Use the 2 Mic Technique
  • Bring Soundhole mic in closer- pointing down for more low end and higher for more high end
  • Overhead Room Mikes are basically set-up like miking a drum kit overhead.
  • Use equal distance from the player on both sides of the player 5-6 feet out front
  • 5-6 feet high shaped like a triangle.
  • Panned hard left and hard right

The most important function when recording a Cajon is to capture:

  • The tone of Cajon- boosting or enhancing certain frequencies to make it stand out more; you can cut (remove) certain frequencies which may be interfering with other instruments or causing things to vibrate within the room (resonant frequencies) or which simply make your Cajon sound nasty through that particular PA system in the room.
  • The punch of Cajon: Sometimes the Cajon will sound great but a bit of punch, thump, or impact is missing. Compression could be added if this loss in the recording process.
  • Overall Sound & Space of Cajon: For some moody songs they may add space to your sound using reverb or delay (echo); for more intimate songs they may eliminate all space & make the sound very dry.
  • The mix of Cajon: By adjusting all of these different factors, plus the volume of your Cajon,  blend your instrument into the overall sound of the band. If You Can!

Final Thoughts about The Cajon

The Cajon is a cool instrument and able to generate low-frequency sonic content like a kick drum mostly from the back, where it has a sound hole and mid-to-high frequencies coming from the front, where the player uses his hands or brushes to cover all your “snare and hi-hat” parts.

As a Drummer for more than I can care to say every time, I played the instrument many times practicing new material in some practice spaces with my buds in an acoustic setting. I’m always looking to compare it to my Lugs or my Slings. I have been on stage with it and in a Recording Studio and found that when it is really miked well, you can get some amazing sounds and wide spectrums that aren’t overwhelmed by other instruments. Most of the time it just hurts my hand after awhile. I’m just saying.

A lot of these frequencies aren’t present when you are playing with keyboards and some electric bass and guitar. I think miking it, is it’s only recourse especially playing on stage Live. Maybe I’m just a spoiled Drummer but the highs and lows along with the missing mids just seem to get lost in the sauce. The slaps and the thumps lose their lack of luster even playing for a short while. I’m just saying. Maybe it’ me or maybe I need some skin in the game or just some Mylar.


JimGalloway Author/Editor

If your a musician and have been out at the Open Mic Nights that took the world by storm over the last 10 years then you have probably seen a percussion instrument that is played behind Singer-songwriters called a Cajon, an acoustic hand drum that looks like a wooden box. Playing Live and in the Studio, they can be quite versatile  especially if they are miked properly. But whats the Best Way to Mic a Cajon on Stage and in the Studio?


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