To Thread - Forum Home

The Mudcat Café TM
32 messages

Bodhran Questions

19 Aug 04 - 03:08 PM (#1251110)
Subject: Bodhran Questions
From: Irish sergeant

I just bought a bodhran (huzzah for me) and had a couple of questions. There are two sticks included one that is turned like a stairwell newell post with ball like ends an done that looks like a doweell rod. I assume the former is tha traditional stick what is the latter for? How often do you oil the head? Also, I have seen pictures of bodhran with painted heads. Does this affect the sound and what paint would you use if you were going to paint the head? I hate to sound stupid but I'm new to the bodhran. Thanks in advance, Neil (your friendly neighborhood Irish sergeant and neophyte bodhran player.)

19 Aug 04 - 03:18 PM (#1251128)
Subject: RE: Bodhran Questions
From: GUEST,Claire

yep the first beater is traditional, the second one is quite fashionable nowadays for extra fast playing cos its so light - you tend to use just one end of it. you only need to oil the head occassionally. don't know about the effect of any paint on the head though.

You might be interested in my dad's website - he's a bodhran maker called Kevin O'Connell and there's some interesting stuff on there including sound samples of different styles of playing.

19 Aug 04 - 03:24 PM (#1251142)
Subject: RE: Bodhran Questions
From: Irish sergeant

Thanks Claire. I think this is the quickest a question has been answered for me on mudcat. The best keeps getting better. Neil

19 Aug 04 - 03:30 PM (#1251157)
Subject: RE: Bodhran Questions
From: Sabine


I can also recommend a good website on the bodhrán. A lot of contents have been translated into English.

Bodhran Online

All the best


19 Aug 04 - 03:37 PM (#1251172)
Subject: RE: Bodhran Questions

I personally woouldnt oil the skin at all..its its a trad skin (goat or close proximal anilmal hide) I would simply wet it when its tight and dry ( I like to sprinkly water from my fingers and rub it into hte skin from the back side of the drum), and if its too wet and loose simply warm it unti lthe desired pitch. I've never oiled my drums (I am the owner of many bodhrans..some trad some tuneable. Not knocking those who do, by any means, just saying that its not always needed. I find the oiled skins my slicker, and (for me at least) dont offer the ideal deep and mystic pitch that a great bodhran can make)....Slàinte!

19 Aug 04 - 03:46 PM (#1251181)
Subject: RE: Bodhran Questions
From: clansfolk

When I "painted" my lads Bodhran I first printed the design on paper, placed it inside and against the skin, then by holding it over a light the design could be seen through the skin.

I used Leather dye pens (like a felt tip pen but filled with leather dye and come in most colours) and just traced and filled the design in.

For the more artistic miss out stage (2) :-)


as a matter of interest the design is still there over nine years latter after LOTs of beatings although like my hair is wearing thin in the middle!


19 Aug 04 - 03:49 PM (#1251187)
Subject: RE: Bodhran Questions
From: Cluin

Does it have a tuneable head (some sort of adjusting screws inside, outside or inside the frame)? Do you know who the maker is? Is the drumhead have a piece of skin, a piece of tanned leather, or synthetic?

A few details on the bodhran particulars will help get you more personalized advice. ;)

For instance, I have a bodhran made by Fred Halpin from Gloucester, Ontario. The head is actually a fairly thick piece of tanned leather and there is a patented system for tuning it made up of several set-screws adjusted with an Allen wrench connected to threaded shafts inside the frame itself. This bodhran produces a very deep boomy sound but is limited in the sorts of voices I can get out of it. But it suits my purposes for the use I put it too. I also have a synthetic skin one which is fairly rugged, cheap, and loud; it too is limited in it's voicing, but I can play the damn thing in a rainstorm and it won't change pitch. I also have a regular goatskin bodhran, but it's always been picky to deal with, since I often lay it aside for several songs then pick it up later; besides, the damn thing ripped at the frame. I have to replace the skin someday.

A design painted or drawn on the skin with a marker won't change the sound typically, but is likely to wear off with use.

19 Aug 04 - 03:53 PM (#1251196)
Subject: RE: Bodhran Questions
From: GUEST,Jack Hickman


Re your question about painting the head of a bodhran, I would suggest that if you're serious about playing, forget about the decoration. If you're only interested in hanging the drum on the wall for decoration, then by all means plaster it with whatever designs suit your fancy.

There's currently a well-known bodhran maker in Ireland, whose name shall go unmentioned, who has made a fortune selling second rate bodhrans to 3rd generation Irish American visitors to Ireland who want to bring home something "authentically" Irish, and they usually are adorned with someone's version of a family crest or other design.
The only appropriate place for these is on the living room wall.

The "sticks" to which you refer are properly referred to as tippers, or in Irish, cipin (with a fada over the second "i". As you become more accomplished, you will gravitate to your own personal preference as to length, weight, etc. of the tipper. In recent years, many different designs have come into use. One of the more popular is made from a quantity of wooden barbecue skewers of the proper length, bound together. It makes an interesting sound, and can add an interesting touch to some types of tunes.

By the way, as well as the "fada" on the second "i" of cipin, the "a" in bodhran should also contain a fada, but the text function of this site has its limitations. Your handle "Irish Sergeant" would suggest you know what a fada is.

Check out the following, one of many pertinent sites:

Lots of luck with your drumming.

Jack Hickman

19 Aug 04 - 04:23 PM (#1251244)
Subject: RE: Bodhran Questions
From: Clinton Hammond

Neatsfoot oil...

The best bodhran oil I've found...

For goat-skin heads that is...

Ask your local Tack&Harness store

19 Aug 04 - 04:24 PM (#1251247)
Subject: RE: Bodhran Questions
From: PoppaGator

Jack, I wish you'd reveal the name of that famous maker of second-rate bohdrans. The information would be welcomed by anyone wishing to avoid being "taken" by him.

Might it be Malachy Kearns of Roundstone, Connemara, found at He's certainly well-publicized, he does promote sales of handpainted drumheads, and I would imagine that any Irish-American tourist making the trip all the way out to his location could easily be persuaded that their pilgrimage had resulted in finding the "real thing."

My brother, a longtime professional drummer but a neophyte when it comes to traditional music, is considering making a mail-order/internet purchase from Roundstone Musical Instruments. He's too good a musician to spend serious money on a mediocre instrument. I'd like to let him know who NOT to patronize.

19 Aug 04 - 04:38 PM (#1251263)
Subject: RE: Bodhran Questions
From: Jack Hickman


That information is my personal opinion, based on personal experience, but I hesitate to broadcast the maker's name all over the internet, hence the circumspection. If you give me your e-mail address I will amplify on a personal basis.

I have just registered as a member of Mudcat, and provided my e-mail in my profile, so if you would prefer you can e-mail me.

Jack Hickman

19 Aug 04 - 05:55 PM (#1251356)
Subject: RE: Bodhran Questions
From: Mr Red

Well now - there are a lot of people who will tell you how to play but if you ain't comfortable it will be a huge learning curve. Find your own methodology.

Holding the beater is a prime example. I hold it between the index and next finger and rely on a feature mid-stick (I have 'e made speacialy) which precludes triples by and large. But I have a tutor book (never read it after I had a drum) which shows a person holding it with the ball-end in the palm and the stick coming out between the middle two fingers (between the top two knuckles). Er... I could go on but there are as many ways to hold the things as there are drummers.

If I was in advice mode I would say first and formost - watch the volume - no matter how enthusiastic you get - you can't judge your own intrusiveness. We all go through that phase - watch for the signs from others!

Oh and the beats you miss are as important as the ones you hit - it makes it more interesting.

19 Aug 04 - 08:04 PM (#1251465)
Subject: RE: Bodhran Questions
From: Shanghaiceltic

Personally I would never oil the skin as it has a permanent affect. Once in the skin the oil stays there. Better to use a little water. I bought one of those little spray bottles, as it produces a fine mist and this has worked well for me on my non tunable bodhran.

If the humidity has got too high and the skin is too slack I have used my wife's little ahir dryer to re-tension the skin. But if the humidity is high the skin will re-absorb water quite quickly as skins are porous. You then have to use quite a bit of hand tension when playing.

My other three bodhrans are all tunable, the reason behind that is that here in Shanghai the humidity varies between 35%Rh and as much as 95% Rh, a huge variation.

I have a number of cipin, from a very light one for single ended playing to a double ended for double playing. Over the years I have experimented with different lengths for the double ended playing until I found one that suited me.

When I started I did have a book but soon gave up on it and watched other peoples techniques and then practiced using taped music to try and establish the rythms I was hearing. Scared the hell out of the cats but it worked for me. Lots of good music around to listen to.

My preference for bodhrans as the ones made by Belgarth in the Orkney's. The skins are superb, fairly soft so you do not get a harsh dry scratching sound. I have two of theirs. A 22" non tunable and an 18 " tunable. I also have one made by Paddy Bergin in Wellington NZ, a 14" tunable which is lovely and another 18" tunable made by Davy Stewart in Christchurch NZ.

Belgarth can be found at


Eoin and Jane Leonard who run Belgarth have given me superb service over the years and also custom made cipin for me from drawings.

I agree with the remarks on a certain maker in West Ireland. The skins are thin and scratchy and I prefer no decoration.

I have seen and heard Kevin O'Connell's instruments and they sound and look good.

Good luck.

20 Aug 04 - 04:12 AM (#1251704)
Subject: RE: Bodhran Questions
From: GUEST,Boab

Hi, Irish Sergeant---welcome to the bodhran bunch!You have been the recipient of much good advice above, and I can't add much to it. Bundled meat skewers were mentioned as being useful for certain applications. I find specific use for them in bluegrass tunes, and also an effective rhythm accompaniment for some three-four waltz melodies. The two cipins you describe are similar to a couple in my 'collection'. I find the "knob-end" one very suitable for straight playing--jigs, reels, polkas, etc---and the parallel "dowel" type conveniently designed for some adventurous rim-shots.Don't try any rim stuff during "jams" till you are WELL practised, though! Enjoy your drum---and remember one thing above all else, whether or not you are in time a real hotshot----know when NOT to play!

20 Aug 04 - 04:36 AM (#1251723)
Subject: RE: Birdbrain Questions
From: The Fooles Troupe

My research has shown that there are as many 'styles' of playing as you could ever want. Another tipper I have heard of is a short one on a length of leather thong. The instrument can also be played without any stick, purely by the hands/elbow/forearm/whatever other body parts you want to make the sound you want.

It can also be played in many 'non-trad-irish' styles like any other frame drum.


20 Aug 04 - 05:00 AM (#1251734)
Subject: RE: Bodhran Questions

their is still time to get your money back, tell them it was a bad dream

20 Aug 04 - 05:18 AM (#1251744)
Subject: RE: Bodhran Questions
From: Shanghaiceltic

One other thing, you do not always have to use a cipin, you can get some nice soft sounds by using the knuckle finger, either middle or index is what I use. You can also use this as a method of getting a rythm without having to use cipin if you are not sure. Once you have the basic hand movement the use of the cipin can follow.

Ignore the jibes, we bodhran players have to be more thick skinned than our instruments on many occasions. But it is good advice to know when not to play.

20 Aug 04 - 05:28 AM (#1251750)
Subject: RE: Bodhran Questions
From: GUEST,Wombat

Reference the well known bodhran maker in Ireland. If it is the person who someone else named, can I tell you that although he does sell "things for hanging on the wall", if you are a "player", as my son proved himself to be when we visited, he will go find his rather better versions!

20 Aug 04 - 06:00 AM (#1251764)
Subject: RE: Bodhran Questions
From: s&r

It seems unfair that Malachy Kearns has been mentioned in this thread - looking at his price list the range goes from 69 euros to 259 euros for full size bodhrans. It seems obvious to me that the cheaper ones would not meet the needs of a serious player, being perhaps intended as a souvenir. The more expensive ones are certainly fine instruments.


20 Aug 04 - 06:02 AM (#1251767)
Subject: RE: Bodhran Questions
From: Ella who is Sooze

Well, It'd be worth talking to Kevin O'Connell.

i've got one of his drums and fervently recommend him to all the people I teach the bodhran too. It's an excellent drum, and very well made solid instrument.

So I'm with Claire on that one. I drove from South Wales (Kevin will know who I really am) and selected my drum from a fine array of other drums he had there. Excellent quality!

As for oiling it, don't bother! There's enough natural oils in your hands you will naturally pass on to it as you play. With the bodhran the more you play it the better the skin gets and eventually they develep into great tonal instrument.s I've had Kevins drum for over 5 years now, and it's gorg still!

Just keep it away from extreme heat and damp, and don't leave it in the sun in the back of cars and you should be grand.

Don't bother painting it unless you're going to stick it on a wall and never paint it, it comes off anyway. Like most instruments you gets what you pays for is all I'm going to say.

I started off on a Malachy drum and for a starter drum it was excellent, but I soon needed a different sort. There's all sorts of different makers and some I'd really recommend. If you want to know em send a pm.

One of my students is off to compete in the All Ireland Fleadh next week and I'm really excited for him. I've competed in it too, but he's much more relaxed about it than I ever was. I recommend my students to start off on a cheaper drum, and then when they feel they really like the instrument to invest in something a bit better quality.

Happy beatings!


20 Aug 04 - 06:06 AM (#1251769)
Subject: RE: Bodhran Questions
From: erinmaidin

I use lanolin once or twice a year on my bodhran skin. It's the natural substance that is found on beasts anyway and does keep the skin supple. Dead leather does have a tendency to dry out. However, I will stress moderation in the use of lanolin. The tiniest bit of it will spread amazingly with the warmth of one's hand and the patience of massaging it into the skin. Usually takes at least an hour to do the drum to my liking.

20 Aug 04 - 07:03 AM (#1251808)
Subject: RE: Bodhran Questions
From: Dave Hanson

I used a stanley knife, sounds better now.

20 Aug 04 - 07:46 AM (#1251839)
Subject: RE: Bodhran Questions
From: mooman

Although it is definitely not my main instrument, I've been playing bodhran for about 25 years. I was in Connemara a couple of years ago and visited MK's workshop in Roundstone. Sifting through a pile of seconds there I found an excellent bodhran for €19. The wood trim was a little warped so I removed it and replaced it with a strip of leather. It is now an excellent drum. Some of MK's cheaper bodhran's are definitely beginner level instruments and some of the painted ones are clearly more for souvenirs but his more expensive bodhrans are serious instruments.

As for oil, I'd go with Ella's recommendations. I've heard neatsfoot is good but haven't tried it myself.

The style of tipper is a matter of personal taste. I tend to use a straight, lightish one cut down from a regular rock maple drumstick. The "bundle of twigs" style tipper also gives a pleasing sound.



20 Aug 04 - 08:00 AM (#1251848)
Subject: RE: Bodhran Questions
From: fiddler

Try Gurtmint Gerhard makes Bodhrans for some of the best - check him out there is a wealth of backgound info on Bodhrans and other Drums that he makes. all Damm good.

20 Aug 04 - 09:35 AM (#1251922)
Subject: RE: Bodhran Questions
From: Cluin

If you can get ahold of (or make) another slightly shorter tipper, bore a deep hole in each end and glue a thicket of stiff bristles (cut from a push broom is good) in each end to get a softer "brush" sound for some variety on quieter tunes. I saw one of these tippers once at a festival and liked the sound from it.

20 Aug 04 - 11:11 AM (#1252081)
Subject: RE: Bodhran Questions
From: GUEST,Davy

I use neatsfoot after cleaning with saddle soap. Used to damp it off with beer until people started to say water was better.Oiling does alter the sound...for the better in my opinion.

20 Aug 04 - 12:40 PM (#1252183)
Subject: RE: Bodhran Questions
From: GUEST,ReelBrew

I use one of Fred Halpin's drums as mentioned by Cluin...absolutely an amazing sound from it!!..such a nice thick skin..amazing sound!...I have a total of 5 drums that get used regularly ..but Halpin's is the top one!......Slainte!

20 Aug 04 - 01:01 PM (#1252208)
Subject: RE: Bodhran Questions
From: Tig

On the subject of tippers I find one that is about the length of my span the best length to use. Others prefer them slightly longer or shorter.

Don't be afraid to try different ones, or even have a whole range! I've got favourites which even include one with plastic broom bristles at the end. Give a lovely swishy sound for jazz or quiet numbers.

20 Aug 04 - 01:07 PM (#1252218)
Subject: RE: Bodhran Questions
From: PoppaGator

Glad to see some *positive* recommendations of various makers. I certainly understood Jack's reluctance to "name names" when discussing second-rate instruments, but there is certainly no reason to hold back mention of where to get good instruments.

I am reassured about the very prominent Mr. Kearns. It seems entirely plausible that his cheaper models are more for looks than for serious playing, while his expensive items are the basis for a well-earned good reputation.

I am emailing my brother a link to this thread. (He's an American living in England and, as mentioned above, a veteran professional soul/r&b drummer interested in taking up the bodhran.) I don't know whether he's made a purchase yet -- I hope not, because the information contained here would certainly help him.

20 Aug 04 - 01:20 PM (#1252227)
Subject: RE: Bodhran Questions
From: Cluin

Dubbin was recommended to me for working into the skin (not the leather one, that one I leave alone). I did use it once on my goatskin one (which I think was one of Mr. Kearns' cheaper models (I ordered it from a shop in England almost 20 years ago) but it left the skin fairly greasy and I later wished I hadn't applied anything. I always used a wet cloth to dampen the skin and lower its pitch, but I got tired of fussing with the thing every time I went to use it. Being on stage, under lights, was a particular headache; the pitch would go up and up in the middle of one medley.

20 Aug 04 - 04:21 PM (#1252414)
Subject: RE: Bodhran Questions
From: Irish sergeant

Thanks everyone!
   The Bodhran I just bought is a tunable version and I believe it is a goat skin head. I couldn't tell you who made it. I bought it at a Celtic festival here in Syracuse NY last weekend and paid $47.00 for it. I bought a bottle of oil for it but haven't used it. Since I do plan on playing it the skin will stay pristine (Unpainted)
   Jack, I do know what a fada is and my computer is equiped to do them but not on line. Nice to know I can use my hand as well as the cipin, This could be very interesting. Again thanks everyone and have a splendid weekend! Kindest regards, Neil

20 Aug 04 - 04:48 PM (#1252429)
Subject: RE: Bodhran Questions
From: clansfolk


A name I would also put forward is Frank Lewis who makes excellent tuneable Bodhrans.

Not sure where your brother is in the UK but Frank will be at The Fylde Folk Festival (Fleetwood Lancashire) and often does the Bodhran teaching classes both at Fylde and with Folkus. which your brother may find interesting.

Frank also runs a folk club:

Kings Arms, Hale, Milnthorpe, Cumbria LA7 7BH: Hale & Hearty Folk Club 8.30pm. Frank Lewis 01524 734440