Locally Designed Bangbox Cajóns Are Big Hit

Mar 13, 2019
Photo by: Ryan Morrill

Joe Iacovelli combines his love of music and his passion for woodworking in a way that benefits musicians and causes that are meaningful to him. His Bangbox cajón drums (pronounced ka-HONE) are played on stages, at music festivals, in bars, schools and garages all over the country.

One, bearing a crisp white Old Causeway logo, will be given away as a promotional prize on Monday, April 1, during the weekly hometown party with Ted Hammock and The Pickles. As a longtime Manahawkin resident, Iacovelli is as deeply ingrained in the local music scene as he is in the national festival and touring circuit.

Iacovelli has been doing work on Long Beach Island for 38 years – his main gig is building and installing stairs, trim and other home interior woodwork. He started making the cajóns about five years ago and became successful with them right away. He estimates he has built 400 or more.

“What you’re doing is trying to get a whole drum kit out of one box,” he explained, as he sat down on the box and demonstrated the myriad sounds he could produce, from bass to snare, just by hitting the face of the box in different places. Some musicians say it’s even better than the real thing, he said.

Even more impressive, his drums are in the hands of music stars Ed Sheeran, G. Love and Billy Joel’s drummer Chuck Burgi; and with reggae/ ska/ punk bands Slightly Stoopid, Stick Figure, Dirty Heads, the Bumpin’ Uglies, the Expendables, Iration and many more. He has sat in on sets with many of the musicians he admires. A framed photo of him playing his Bangbox onstage at the Stone Pony with Roots of Creation hangs among the drums on display at his Forked River showroom and wood shop, Iacovelli Stairs, located on Challenger Way in Lacey Industrial Park.

Seeing his drums on stage played by masterful percussionists is “a really cool feeling,” he said. But nothing compares to being the one on the stage, playing to a live crowd. “They’re there to listen to you,” he marveled.

Often he will make a drum for a specific band as a sponsorship; or put it out to the band’s fans as an opportunity for them to show their support by chipping in to have their names on the back of the piece. Some have custom artwork on them, or he’ll take the band’s logo or album art and paint it on, or affix vinyl cut decals.

Social media has been a vehicle for Bangbox’s success. A strong following on Instagram and Facebook has led to collaborations.

A school in California contacted him and shared its story of financial struggles: The kids were playing “drums” made of cups with balloons stretched over the top and using broken pencils as drumsticks, he said. So he shipped out 10 of his Bangboxes for them. He also sent some to a music school in Baltimore. Another one of his drums went for $4,000 at a live auction at a G. Love show in Mexico to help with community improvements such as clean drinking water.

He sells them at music festivals, but he does just as well, if not better, at non-musical community events. At last year’s Fall Harvest Festival in Stafford, he sold over a dozen.

Sometimes his daughter, who uses his leftover wood to make cutting boards as Hairy Cow Crafts (check out her Etsy shop), will accompany him to craft fairs. Word spreads fast, far and wide.

“Traveling,” he said. “Friends everywhere.”

Later this month, he’ll be in Florida for the Reggae Rise Up Festival, where he plans to present a special drum on which he has hand painted the festival poster. He counted off the bands in the lineup that are proud owners of Bangbox drums: 15 out of 31.

The cajón drum is not a new invention. Believed to have originated in Peru hundreds of years ago, the simple wooden box stands about 20 inches tall and a foot wide. It has a sound hole in the back, a thinner striking surface, and a wire mechanism inside to make the snare sound.

But to the more sensitive ear, many factors can affect the sound: from the thickness and type of wood, to moisture content and glues used.

Iacovelli said he experiments and tweaks his process, but he feels his handcrafted drums fairly quickly surpassed the quality of commercially made cajóns, which tend to be too heavy and dense, deadening the beat.

“It’s pretty special to have a manufacturer, small business making these,” he said.

He also makes a junior model, small enough for younger drummers. And he has a few special series names, such as “Midnight” and “Cubano.” The latter is made of Cuban mahogany with knots filled with epoxy colored with mica powder to enhance the beauty of the natural “defect.” He has plans for a “Barefoot” line, made entirely of sustainable materials – for example, certified recycled lumber from a church or barn, and little cork feet – to align with the organic vibe and lifestyle embraced by many in the roots music genres.

Stay up to date with Iacovelli’s adventures on Instagram at @bangboxpercussion and on his Facebook page, Bangbox Percussion.

— Victoria Ford


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