Making such a small instrument requires a love of art, dedication and a lot of experience. Starting in the 20th century, the Spanish craftsman Manuel Vela had all these qualities and created hundreds of wooden castanets. In addition, this man discovered that fiber could be another efficient material for the manufacture of castanets.
The castanets come in pairs and each one is made up of two pieces of wood, which inside have a glass shape, creating the resonance box. It is thanks to this that the volume of castanets is greater and this idea comes from Manuel Vela, who perfected the elaboration of castanets in Spain.
Likewise, it can be said that castanets have a shape similar to the clam, which is a marine mollusk with two shells. However, the cord is added to this design, as it is the accessory by which users hold the instrument with their thumbs.
In addition to this, the castanets have a size that makes them comfortable to use in the palm of the hand, so they do not take up much space when moving or storing. In this way they are a fairly versatile minor percussion instrument.
Spain and the making of castanets
Being this country the one that has most valued and developed this instrument, it is worth knowing its manufacturing style. For this, we can mention the company Castañuelas del Sur, which since the 80s has made this type of instrument for Spain and other countries.
This company offers castanets with novel features. For example, double boxes, which have a wider space inside, so that the sound is better adapted to playing flamenco.
Likewise, the company has castanets without a spout, that is, they are completely smooth on the outside. This does not affect the sound at all, but it gives them a different touch in terms of aesthetics.
Also, it should be noted that Castañuelas del Sur sells all models with cover included. In this way, you will not have to purchase this accessory separately and you can store the instrument once you have used it, protecting it from dust and possible scratches. Therefore, if you are comparing castanets , perhaps this company has the model you need.
The castanets can be made of different materials, but one of the most used is wood. For example, boxwood, which is a wood capable of withstanding humidity, in addition, it is possible to carve it by hand or shape it using lathes and other machines specialized in this type of material.
Likewise, exotic woods such as walnut are also used. This material is elegant and robust, it even offers a medium protection against fungi and moths. Also, walnut wood has very beautiful grain, so it may not need to be stained.
In addition to this, we mention the palo santo. This wood is robust and withstands the attack of fungi and insects. It has a reddish brown color with dark streaks, although sometimes its hue is black or olive green.
On the other hand, some manufacturers use ebony to make castanets, since, although it is an extremely robust wood, it can be carved and shaped with a lathe. Also, it is a dark material, almost completely black by nature, so it attracts attention to the naked eye and when polishing it looks much better. In addition to this, we mention that ebony is used not only in the manufacture of musical instruments, but also to build decorative furniture.
Another material used is granadillo, a wood imported from South America and Africa. The Castañuelas del Sur brand, for example, in its catalog offers instruments made with this wood.
However, wood is not the only material used to make high quality castanets. Perhaps professional and concert instruments are made of fiberglass or press cloth, as these materials offer optimal sound and ease of carving, polishing, or dyeing in any color. For example, there are black castanets with red veins, white with black veins, green, blue, brown, etc. This is something that can be achieved more easily using this type of material.
How castanets are made
Making this instrument requires a lot of dedication and effort. First, the size and material to be used is chosen. This is because each castanet has its size, which is measured by numbers, for example, 4 or 6. In addition, they are made with a mold, through which the luthier will make the shape of the castanets.
Subsequently, the manufacturer must cut the material and drill the two holes for the ears. In them you will later place the cords, through which the two pieces of wood are joined. Likewise, it should be noted that the laces will allow the castanets to be opened and closed, so that the interpreter can play them.
Then you have to make the soundboards. This step is accomplished with a lathe, so the process is accurate and doesn’t take too long. Also, it is possible to do all the elaboration by hand, but in this way the manufacturer would have to invest much more time.
Next, using sandpaper of different thickness, the luthier provides the final tuning and shape to the castanet shells. Finally, the laces are cleaned, polished and placed. The latter should be made of resistant materials, but soft to the touch, such as polyester or cotton.
Castanets come in a variety of designs and each is used in a different way. For example, to play jack you must hold the laces with your middle finger. On the other hand, if you are going to use castanets for Spanish or flamenco dance, hold them with your thumb.
In addition to this, the size of the castanets varies according to the type of use you will give it. In this way, those of Spanish dance are larger than those used in jota. Take these aspects into account if you are looking for a certain model of castanets.