I’m obsessed with castanets! Also known as palillos or castañuelas almost every pair has a unique sound, shape, and size. Some sound deep and low while others sound sharp and light. Unless you will be visiting and shopping in southern Spain soon you will probably purchase them from the internet, there is nothing wrong with that although it can be confusing. How much should I spend? Do they have to be made in Spain? Should I purchase the ones with a little painting on top? Should I spend $100 or $10? Hopefully some of the following tips will help you make your decision.
Where can I purchase a pair of castanets?
For professional castanets visit www.castanuelas.com, www.flamencoexport.com or www.flamencista.com. All carry a wide range of models at different qualities and price points and all of the products are made in Spain. You can spend anywhere from $30 USD for a no-name brand to over $200 USD for a top-of-the-line brand by Juan Vela Sevilla. The difference is in the craftsmanship of the instrument. Expensive castanets like Juan Vela (Castanuelas Del Sur) are hand made from a variety of materials such as wood, resin and cloth. These are often made for serious players and can withstand years of playing. Cheaper models will be made of heavier and harder wood or material and might have louder, less refined sound. Also, some of these models will be thicker and more difficult to get your fingers around. This is important because you might have to work harder to get a consistent, clean hit on the right hand especially if you have small hands. Keep in mind that even an expensive model might not be right for you if they are the wrong size. Size matters!
Should I buy a pair from Ebay?
Yes. If you are a student and are looking for your first pair Ebay is a fabulous place to find an inexpensive, suitable pair for class and practice. The following brands are up for bid quite often:
- Lucero Tena- The quality is okay and each pair can be very different from the next. They are usually posted as hand carved wood and vintage as many are but this doesn’t mean they are great musical instruments. However some are wonderful!
- Elton- These all have a similar sound because they are made of plastic or bakelite (an early form of plastic). They are good for people with small hands.
- Ludwig- These are basically the same as the Elton brand although they might be a bit bigger.
- No name tear drop shaped- From what I hear these are hand carved from Cuba. They are very small and as cute as they are they don’t often have a consistent sound because they don’t line up with each other. It’s often a hit or miss purchase with these but I do have one pair that have a great sound and are usable.
- Castanets with a picture- If you are using these for regular practice the picture will be scratched off. Also, these are often made for tourists as keepsakes and are not good for practice.
How can I make what I already have work?
It’s not worth keeping the vintage string on if it no longer keeps the two pieces in place. Sometimes the string is too thin or worn out to securely stay on the thumb. My suggestion is to find a rounded cotton string rather than a nylon string because they will stay in place longer without giving you a blister while you practice. Try your local cobbler for a variety of string options.
If you would like to see and hear a comparison of most of these click here.
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