Like with any other instrument, the sound and playability of a bodhrán is very personal. There are several factors to take into consideration when buying a bodhrán.
For playability and comfort you should consider: Size (height and depth) and optional support bars (T, cross, single).
Things that influence the sound produced are: Tunability, skin type/quality and height and depth.
The size of the bodhrán is important for both playability and the sound it produces. The player should be able to comfortably hold the instrument, and be able to reach the inside of the skin with the tone-hand. Recommended sizes (height x depth)
There are all kinds of variations in sizes, but the above is a good guideline. Bear in mind that you should buy an instrument with a size that is right for you right now, and not in 2 from now. After all, it should be comfortable to play.
Another reason why height and depth are important, is the influence on the sound produced. As a guideline, a deeper bodhrán can generally produce more bass, and a wider range of tones. The quality and type of skin comes into play here as well.
A bodhrán can have optional bars at the back of the instrument. This can either be a single bar, a T-bar or a cross bar. Having no bar gives the player complete freedom to move their tone-hand, whereas a crossbar is the most restrictive. Beginners sometimes find a single or T-bar more comfortable to play, as it gives some grip.
When you buy a bodhrán with one type of bar or another, make sure it is not too close to the skin, as this will restrict hand movement. Neither should it be too far away from the skin, because that won’t give you the support it’s supposed to provide.
If possible, get your hand measured with a maker, to determine the ideal skin to bar distance.
The tension of the skin is important as it determines what sound will be produced. Most quality bodhráns are produced using animal skin, and then tension on such skins varies with temperature. As you play, the skins temperature will go up, resulting in more tension, and thus a higher pitch. When cold, the skin goes flappy, and becomes unplayable. This is a serious issue with non-tuneable bodhráns.
A tuning system overcomes the aforementioned problems, and it is recommended to make sure your new instrument is tuneable.
Interesting fact: Séamus O’Kane was the first to add a tuning system to the inside of a bodhrán.
A quality bodhrán will use quality animal skin. Originally a goat-skin was used, but nowadays you will also see different animal skins, like deer-skin.
Synthetic skin can also be found, but it will not produce the same kind of sound. An advantage of synthetic skin, is that it doesn’t change tension under the influence of temperature. This means a tuning system is no longer a requirement. Synthetic skinned bodhrán without a tuning system are usually cheaper, and can be a good instrument to start with. However, make sure it feels comfortable when playing, and still produces a good sound.
So far price has not been mentioned, and that’s because it is more important that you play the right. You can either try to fit your needs to your budget, or your budget to your needs. This is a personal decision, and once you have found the right instrument you’ll know if it is worth the money.
Prices for bodhráns range from £60 - £500.
If you’re serious about playing the bodhrán, and you don’t want to annoy everybody around you, make sure you avoid low quality instruments. Examples of this are the ornamental bodhráns with Celtic designs or Guinness logos on them. These belong on the wall or on the football field, but not in a music environment.
Good bodhrán makes can be found all over the world. Below is a list of makers, grouped per country. If your name is missing, don't hesitate to contact us, and tell us your contact details.
The list below was compiled based on a list found at http://bodhranexpert.com/bodhran-makers/. (last accessed on October 19th, 2016)
Another good resource with pictures and prices is http://goatbeaters.freeforums.org/bodhran-makers-t109.html (last accessed on October 19th, 2016)