Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Guide to the Makers of Custom Made Bodhrans

My wife is learning to play bodhran and recently wanted to upgrade from her inexpensive Pakistani drum to a better, custom made one.  I helped her research bodhran builders and discovered the following craftsmen making these drums. 

Mike Quinlan
Chicago, IL
Mike Quinlan is a great choice.  Not only are his bodhrans high quality, but Mike is super nice and fantastic to work with.  Feel free to email him and pick his brain with your drum idea.  He's more than happy to answer any questions you may have. Mike has a nice range of skins.  Drums range in price from $250 for an intermediate model to $350 for a Pro model. An intermediate drum is finished in black or natural finish with a birch shell with hand tuning and medium weight goat skin. A Pro is a birch shell that is veneered with a lacquered finish, hand tuned with a treated goat skin to soften and promote play in. Both offer good attack and tones. The intermediate will have more attack and the pro will be very tonal.  You can reach him by email at mqdrums@gmail.com 
A Mike Quinlan drum
Robin Shackleton - SylvanTemple World Instruments
Vancouver Island, British Columbia
Robin's SylvanTemple drums come from the forests of Vancouver Island.  He salvages Aldar, Maple, Arbutus, Cypress, Yew, Oak and other kinds of trees from various burn and waste sites. The skins and hardware used are from sources as local and considerate as possible. Robin completes all processes of drum creation and produces about 70 drums a year.  Every drum made is distinct from another, and custom drums are no extra cost.  Bodhrans can be any specified depth, with or without crossbars, and are tunable with cams that turn on a yew tuning ring.  (6" x 15" seems to work best).  Customizations include the option of a adding a personal text, verse or mantra to the drum in runes or old languages.  In addition to bodhrans, tars and other frame drums, SylvanTemple crafts djembes, doumbeks, darabukas, cajons, ouds and more.
A couple SylvanTemple bodhrans

Brendan White Tuneable Bodhrans
The Netherlands
Brendan White's drums are a great quality for the price, with costs starting around 260 US dollars.  He makes bodhrans for traditional and top end players. Brendan started off as a player 30+ years ago and then began making his own drums. After a lot of tinkering he now has a very strong, reliable rim and internal tuning system.  He offers a selection of raw hides, parchment and vellum including goat skins from Guinea and the Ivory Coast, plus deer skin, horse skin and calf skin.  A popular option he offers is a double skin - one skin over the other with the shaved side out on both sides.  In addition to being smoother on the inside, double skins provide more volume, tone and reaction. For rims, Brendan uses Finnish birch, a fast growing, renewable wood.  If your bodhran gets damaged in transit you get a new one. He provides timely after-service for repairs and reskinning on drums he has made.  He also supplies bones and spoons.
Brendan White drums
Christian Hedwitschak Drums
Christian Hedwitschak's DRAGONSkin is a premium goatskin that goes through an additional step of skin treatment that renders the skin extra soft, smooth and supple - capable of low bass, bouncy middles, highs and all points in between.  His experience as a master carpenter allows him to create Solid Wood Frames - three layers of 3mm thick solid beech bonded together by a polyurethane adhesive paste to form the core frame. High end models are finished in a variety of gorgeous veneers, inlays and finishes while the LightLine models are left natural with a clear carnauba wax finish.  Hedwitschak recently developed the compressor tuning system.  This is a funnel shaped tuning ring which influences the overtones and the overall frequencies of the bodhrán. 
A Christian  Hedwitschak bodhran
Albert Alfonso Bodhrans
Dallas, TX
These are distinctive American made drums by an accomplished musician, known for their original-design, sound, playability, ease of tuning, musicality' and response.  All his drums now feature his A-Tune System - which uses three pressure points to tune using a simple wheel. Combined with a Pre-Timpani Calfskin Head (also designed by Alfonso) to your specifications of thickness and flexibility. Also standard: six-ply hot-resin rolled-poplar rims with a birch veneer, two rows of French patina brass tacks, and a lush trim guard.  Just tell Albert what tone or sound you are after and that's the kind of drum he'll make for you. Different skins do better in different climates so he will pick out a skin based on where you live.  
Albert Alfonso DaBlondeDrum
Metloef Irish Drums
Rob Forkner of Metloef Irish Drums is a wonderful craftsman and thoroughly professional in his dealings.  He will be happy to work with you to build you the instrument you've been after for all this time.  He specializes in custom work with both shells and skins, such as drums as deep as three feet deep or egg-shaped bodhran rims.  Metloef Irish drums feature a low bottom end and dampened overtones. Skins include kangaroo, goat, calf and Lambeg.  His website features an easy to fill out form that covers all the basics of your inquiry, including diameter, depth, cutout yes or no, crossbar yes or no, type of wood inside and out, color, tuning type, desired tone (such as bassy, deep, tonal).  This info helps Rob get very specific in making the drum of your choice. 
Metloef Drums
CJ Dixon
CJ Dixon's drums are made of solid Oak.  This is different from most bodhrans out there - not just that it is Oak but also in that almost all bodhrans have a plywood core and veneer outer walls.  The solid Oak of CJ's bodhran shells produces unique tonal qualities due to its density and unique grain structure.  In addition to its acoustics, the lovely grains adds a level of uniqueness with each drum being a one of a kind. The skins are chosen with the goal of creating a wide tonal range and lots of bass potential.  He uses finger operated head tensioning/tuning fabricated from solid brass for durability.  No tools necessary.  One custom made tipper to your preference (length, shape, wood species) is included with each drum purchase.
Bodhrans by CJ Dixon
Diarmaid O'Kane
Ilford, Essex
Diarmaid O'Kane makes nice light shell laminated maple or birch plywood bodhrans with lambeg heads and strong tacking, and adjustable birch plywood tone rings to tension the skin. His father, Seamus O'Kane, is a renowned bodhrán maker. Diarmaid assisted him in making them since he was 12 years old, and made his first complete bodhrán at age 15.  He has access to some of the best Lambeg goatskins available, in thin, medium, or thick. Bodhrans can be stained any color of your choice and finished in clear varnish.  The tone ring can also be stained the color of your choice, and varnished or sprayed black.  Cut outs are available at no extra cost, a single bar inside is also available, if desired, for free. 
Diarmaid O'Kane style D bodhran
Belgarth Bodhrans
Orkney Islands
Belgarth has been making bodhrans professionally since 1996. The wood for Belgarth Bodhrans are carefully selected for both quality and grain pattern. This wood is then cut, prepared and steam bent in their workshop. Each frame is made up of two layers of steambent ash which are glued together for strength and stability.  Frames are fitted with a tuning system.  Goatskin heads are processed on site, then cut and carefully fitted to the bodhran.  Finished frames can be decorated with designs inspired by Orkney's landscape, seascapes and ancient sites such as the Ring of Brodgar and Norse Runic inscriptions.  The grain of the wood often dictates an individual design. I had the pleasure of visiting Belgarth bodhrans while in Orkney a few years ago, and received an impromptu tour of the shop by owner Eoin Leonard.
Three Belgarth bodhrans
Ben March Bodhrans
County Clare, Ireland
Ben makes bodhrans with a 14", 15" or 16" diameter, 5" or 6" deep.  Frames are made of Natural Birch, Walnut or Black Ash.  He has two skin types: Frank Orr Lambeg skins from Northern Ireland (for top end players) and Vellum skins from the UK (for traditional players, with excellent bass tones).  He uses hand tuners developed by Rob Forkner and Darius Bartlett.  Design and hand-painted artistic services are available.  Ben makes custom bodhrans on request and is very happy to meet with you or chat on the phone to ensure that you end up with a drum that's right for you.

Ben March w/ bodhrans
Ralf Siepmann
Makes both Workman and Artist model bodhrans.  A unique feature of some of his drums is the lack of traditional tack design. Instead, skins are mounted on the inside of the main frame, leaving the outside of the drum without screws, tacks or ribbons.  Ralf also created the Lever Tuning system - a geared power transmission that needs less turning than a conventional hand tuning system.  Frames are made from maple layers that are taper-jointed, giving it the feel, acoustics and vibration of solid maple.  Goat skins come in three thicknesses. Deer skins - Lambeg-like "grey" skins and thicker "brown" skins are also available. Ralf also makes a type of tipper called a hotrod, made from bundles of beech and bamboo woods, with  a distinctive, adjustable click sound that is very popular among experienced players.
Ralf Siepmann drum

Ballycastle, County Antrim, Ireland

Paul specializes in bodhrans with various artistic designs - ink based, as well as hand painted acrylic designs.  The acrylic drums are for decoration (hanging on a wall, etc.) and not for playing.  Paul can create personalized bodhrans by request, with special designs for engagements, weddings, anniversaries, the birth of a child, family crests, logos, and so on.  Personalized ones can be ordered on his Personalised Drum page, where you pick your base bodhran and the type of design.  A large selection of sizes, skin thicknesses and rim depths are available.  If unsure feel free to contact Paul to discuss your requirements.  Each playable bodhran comes with wooden hand-turned tuners and a hardwood beater.  Contact info@irishbodhrans.com.
Mcauley Irish Bodhrans
New South Wales, Australia
John McDowall makes bodhrans, tippers, and  musical washboards!  John makes tuneable bodhrans anywhere from 13” to 20” across and 2” to 8” deep, with goat, deer or kangaroo skins (it is Australia).  Veneers, struts, cutaways and other sizes are available up on request.  His tippers are hand-turned.  Did I mention that Mcknowall (or is it McDowall?) also makes washboards?  I know this is a bodhran article, but how cool is that!?  Surely ther are bodhran whackers who also dabble in washboard rubbing?
Mcknowall - Australian bodhrans
Most of the drums by these makers cost between $300 and $500 US dollars.  Let me know what you think of this list and feel free to post any comments.  Most of all, enjoy working directly with these makers of hand made bodhrans!


Since I wrote this article in fall 2011 I’ve been asked to add a few bodhran makers that I originally left off:

These include Dragon Drums in North Wales.  They have been growing steadily for over a year now.  They make a wide range of drums - tunable and non tunable – from 12 inches all the way up to 36.  Tippers too.  Their website can be found at http://www.dragondrums.co.uk/.

Dragon Drums

I am also adding Paraic McNeela to the list.  Paraic’s been making custom made bodhráns since 1979, making him one of the original bodhrán makers.  Even after 30+ years he is still coming up with way to improve, such as experimenting more with different timber, new shapes, new tuning systems and inlaying coins that can be tipped away to make a new sound, or adding a flat-wood detachable block to the top of the rim that could be played like the wood block on a snare drum in a ceili band.  Paraic McNeela’s website is www.thebodhranmaker.com.

Paraic McNeela 16" deep rim tunable bodhran

I should also mention from Ireland Paul McAuley in County Antrim (http://www.irishbodhrans.com) and the renowned Seamus O'kane in County Derry (http://www.tradcentre.com/seamus/index.shtml).

Beagan Irish Drums - Australia

Finally, there’s Beagan Irish Drums from Australia.  In the words of a Beagan Irish Drum customer: “Great drums, compares to any above.  IMO the best around.”



  1. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  2. Hi there,

    I just read your article on different bodhrán makers, and I must say: I'm pretty impressed! Good job! Looks to me like you put a lot of effort in finding out all those interesting details.



  3. No drums made in Ireland then?

  4. Thanks for reading. There are some Irish makers including Paul McAuley in County Antrim (http://www.irishbodhrans.com) and the renowned Seamus O'kane in County Derry (http://www.tradcentre.com/seamus/index.shtml).

  5. Hi Ive been sent this link from a friend, We also make Bodhrans and are in North Wales. We trade under the name of Dragon Drums and have been growing steadily for about a year now. We make a wide range of drums, tippers, tunable and non tunable and range from 12 inches all the way up to 36 inch drums. Our website currently is being updated but a 'working' development site can be found at www.devondt.org.uk.

  6. Just purchased one of Paul McAuley's drums from Irishbodhrans.com. Beautiful drum and maybe the best buy for the money!! Christian Hedwitschak's drums look like they may be great, but cost and timing have to come into play in the decision making process. Be sure to add Paul's drums to the list. Nice work.

  7. Updated to add McAuley and Mcknowall.

  8. I just found your site and wanted to say that I have really enjoyed browsing your posts.In any case I'll be subscribing to your blog and I hope you post again soon

  9. Mícheál ó domhnaillMarch 27, 2013 at 7:28 PM

    Great post, I didn't realize how many custom Bodhran makers there are! I really do think you should add the fine Paraic McNeela to the list however, I do believe he is the original bodhrán maker and it's who I use to upgrade my bodhrán every three or four years, and he actually lets me trade it in! http://thebodhranmaker.com

  10. Beagan Irish Drums (Australia) beaganirishdrums@hotmail.com and Face Book. Great drums, compares to any above- IMO the best around.

  11. Nice read, interesting and good to know who is making drums.
    There are 2 you could add to the list . . .
    Norbert Eckermann in Austria makes very fine drums, top
    quality craftmanship and makes all sorts of traditional drums

    Also Ozzie Reilly in C.Leitrim Ireland makes fine drums