Based in Montilla near Cordoba, Spain is a company that hand-makes some truly beautiful cajons. Founded originally by Jose Leiva, his son Pepe now offers a range of not only elegant high-end Flamenco models and highly innovative 'travel' cajons but even this impressive entry-level cajon.
The first thing that you notice is just how well-made the Zoco is, and when you pick it up you certainly appreciate its substantial build quality. The surround is formed from seven layers of recyclable phenolic plywood which, in addition to adding strength, also keeps the overall production costs down.
The surround is a chunky 12mm thick and this type of construction apparently also helps to reduce moisture absorption. The frontplate (tapa) is between 2.5mm and 4mm and also made from plywood to keep it affordable, and interestingly all the Leiva Cajons have screen-printed finishes rather than designs stuck onto the tapa. These finishes are sealed with a light varnish so that overall there is hardly anything likely to impede the natural sound of the cajon.
The patented Pepe Leiva Direct Tension System (or DTS) is a wonderful innovation and allows the player to instantly change the response of the 'snare' sound over a considerable range at the twist of its rear-mounted dial. The two small-gauge guitar strings lie vertically down the rear of the frontplate in a 'V' shape and produce awesome snare effects, from subtle all the way through to super snappy.
The Zoco is an immediately satisfying cajon to play, unlike some models that take you a while to discover their 'sweet spots'. The frontplate is really comfortable to play for extended periods and has a lovely yielding feel. Perhaps due to its substantial surround and thin, articulate frontplate you can explore a wide dynamic range with ease.
Bass tones are punchy and sonorous and blend effortlessly with the Zoco's mids and crispy finger tones and slaps. With just a hint of miking near the rear sound hole you get an enviable replication of a drumkit and on one gig recently (even un-miked) it kept up with amplified acoustic guitars and vocals.