Traditional Japanese taiko drums, in addition to being amazing instruments, are also works of art. This combination of beautiful sound, exquisite appearance and centuries of handcrafted tradition has the unfortunate result of making genuine taiko more expensive than the typical mass produced instrument. This page will explain a bit about how taiko are made, and will give you a head start on understanding the some of the special qualities of these wonderful instruments. For the adventurous, instructions are also provided on making homemade taiko.
Taiko making supplies
Helpful tips are also provided for people who are interested in buying your own taiko.
Making Your Own Taiko
Making your own taiko is very time consuming and requires a lot of hard work, but can be enjoyable and rewarding at the same time. Most homemade taiko use white oak wine barrels for bodies. Wine barrels have roughly the same proportions as a nagado-daiko, they are relatively inexpensive, and are fairly easy to turn into a drum, even for beginning woodworkers. The wine barrel taiko has allowed taiko groups outside of Japan to form with a minimum of expense, and has encouraged the tremendous growth of taiko in North America and elsewhere. Properly constructed, building a wine barrel taiko is a great way to start a taiko group, or to give yourself a practice drum.
However, while the wine barrel taiko is a great instrument, is it only an approximation of an actual Japanese taiko. Most taiko groups in North America still make their own drums out of wine barrels, following the general principles given below. But as more and more groups are turning professional or semi-pro, the demand for quality Japanese drums is also increasing.
Many ingenious techniques have been developed to increase the quality of wine barrel taiko, but they still do not have the depth of sound, reverberation, presence or durability of Japanese taiko. This is due to the nature of wine barrels: barrels have around twenty-two staves that must be glued together, and these glue joints dampen the body resonance, whereas a Japanese taiko is carved from a single piece of wood and can resonate freely. These glue joints between the staves can also crack open, which deadens the drum. In addition, the staves of a barrel are the same thickness their whole length, where a Japanese taiko has fairly complicated differences in thickness throughout the body of the drum. This difference in the shape of the interior body cavity has a tremendous impact on the sound.
Having said that, Rolling Thunder encourages everyone who is interested to consider building their own taiko. You will end up with a great drum that you will be proud of, and the very process of building your own drum will deepen the respect and appreciation you have for the instrument. Just be prepared for other taiko players to start asking you to build one for them!
In general taiko making can be broken into two steps: preparation of the body, and the stretching of the heads.
Hira-daikoHira daiko are wider than they are deep. Ranging in size from twelve inches in diameter and four inches deep, to a monster I saw that was around five feet in diameter and two and a half feet deep. The heads are nailed, similar to the nagado-daiko.
While traditionally carved from a single piece of log, it is possible to make stave construction hira-daiko relatively inexpensively and easily, if you have the proper tools. A how-to is currently being prepared. In the meantime, here is an image of of a hira-daiko body under construction. Size is about two feet in diameter, and eleven inches tall.
Okedo are technically just a large version of shime-daiko with a stave constructin body instead of a on piece shell, but there are an amazing range of okedo from tiny ones slung over the should to some ten feet in diameter.
Brian Pound has a page with instructions on how to make a okedo.
Shime-daiko are a important intrument in Taiko: keeping time, playing fills, and soloing are all easily handled by this drum. Shime daiko are harder to make than the other drums in this section due to the involved nature of stitching the heads onto the rings. While there is no getting around the labourious stitching, there are some inexpensive alternatives for the body with the do-it-yourself shime-daiko.
Arn Shimizu of Sonoma County Taiko has written about his experiences making shime-daiko for his group. Once you read the description and instructions, take a look at the diagram he provided to help clarify the instruction. Arn has also provided a lacing diagram for the rope used to tension the shime. Any comments in brackets [like this] are the editorial opinion of The Rolling Thunder Taiko Resource.
Most North American Taiko groups make their own taiko out of wine barrels. The barrels are about the right size, roughly mirror the proportions of a nagado-daiko, and are relatively inexpensive (around $150 for a 55 gallon size, used barrels are considerably cheaper). While they will never match a traditionally crafted Japanese taiko, they can be pretty good when the constructed properly.
Phil of Tatsumaki Taiko has was made several taiko out of wine barrels, and was kind enough to write up a how to. The first segment concerns itself with preparing the body. The second segment deals with stretching the heads. Any comments in brackets [like this] are the editorial opinion of The Rolling Thunder Taiko Resource.
Taiko Making Supplies
The following is a list of suppliers for making your own taiko from a wine barrel. Rolling Thunder has made recommendations of several suppliers based on personal experience.The Barrel Shop
The Barrel Shop sells used wine barrels, and caters to taiko groups. The Barrel Shop will cut the barrels to taiko proportions and remove or replace the stave that has the bung hole in it. A good source of bodies for wine barrel taiko at a resonable price. The San Francisco Taiko Dojo is one of many groups that gets Taiko bodies made from wine barrels here. They will ship worldwide. Recommended.
Barrels Unlimited, Inc.
3255 S. Fowler
Fresno, CA. 93725
Tel: (209) 264-1558
Fax: (209) 264-7064
Source for 30 gallon barrels.
Contact: Bill Confer
Hereford Bi-products in Texas seems to be able to supply full hides instead of just sides.
Herman Oak Leather
PO Box 500087
St. Louis, MO 63150-0087
Tel: (314) 421-1173
Tel: (800) 325-7950
Fax: (314) 421-6152
Herman Oak Leather supplies rawhead for taiko heads. They are used to dealing with Taiko groups, and have a drum grade rawhide for sale. Recommended, but not as strongly as United Rawhide.
Hide and Leather House
The Hide and Leather House carries a wide variety of animal skin , and they are available in finished leathers or as raw-hide.
PO Box 942
San Leandro, CA 94577
Rolling Thunder is able to supply tacks, kan (handles), rope, replacement shime parts and other hard to find items, including advice. Rolling Thunder also has partnered with Stern Tanning to offer taiko grade rawhide.
Stern Tanning Co., Inc.
PO Box 55
Sheboygan Falls, WI 53085
Stern Tanning has taken over the equiptment and processes of United Rawhide, Rolling Thunder's previous recommended rawhide vendor. The Stern/United rawhide process has been making rawhide drum grade heads for decades. They have several grades of excellent taiko rawhide, available in cut circles or sides, and are also able to produce full hides for Odaiko heads. Good quality control. Recommended.
World Cooperage Company, Inc.
PO Box 1659
1078 South Jefferson
Lebanon, Mo 65536
Tel: (417) 588-4151
Fax: (417) 588-3344
American Canyon, CA 94589
Tel: (707) 644-2530
Fax: (707) 644-8218
World Cooperage Company, Inc. is a major cooperage in Missouri that sells new barrels. It is sometimes possible to have barrels made without the bung hole from this company. They have an storefront Napa, California that you can pick barrels up from. They also will ship worldwide.