How Steelpans Steeldrums Instruments are made

How Steelpans Steeldrums Instruments are made

How Steelpans Steeldrums Instruments are made

How Steelpans Steeldrums Instruments are made. Making a SteelPan is an art! It is time consuming and requires patience, skill and practice. The working methods can be different and if you need more details, we recommend you to read the following book: ‘Steel Pan Tuning: A Handbook for Steel Pan Making and Tuning’ by Ulf Kronmon.

Choosing the drum We are using new, specially manufactured, drums to avoid fumes from oils or chemicals what could be stored in used barrels. The standard size 23” SteelPan is made from 55gallon drum and 18-gauge steel.

How Steelpans Steeldrums Instruments are made

Sinking For sinking is used a special hammer with shortened handle or the air hammer could be used for faster results. In the process drum is stretched to create enough space for the notes. The depth to which the drum is sunk depends on the type of steel pan being made.

Marking notes The templates cut in the shape of the notes are placed on the stretched surface of the drum and outlined to make sure that the placement of the notes on the pan is correct and consistent. Counter sinking or Backing The area in between the note outlines is flattened using special tuning hammers. This forces the notes to protrude slightly and take on a convex shape.

How Steel pans Steel drums Instruments are made

Grooving The grooves around notes are made to separate them from rest of the pan. Grooves are created using a nail punch struck by a hammer or scraper could be used to outline the notes. The purpose is the same, but some people prefer scraped notes for visual purposes.

Cutting and Burning At this point the instrument skirt is cut to required length and holes for hangers are drilled. The length of skirt depends on the type of steel pan being made. Longer skirt produces more depth sound. Then the metal is tempered by rapidly heating and cooling the drum. Tempering the drums make steel pans hold their tuning for longer periods. You can use traditional methods like in picture or a gas torch.

Steelpans Steeldrums Instruments

Pre-Tuning After the drum is cleaned and cooled, the tuning process begins. Small tuning hammers are used to tap both the underside and the tops of notes until the correct pitch is achieved. This is a complex art! Pan tuners have to place the correct combination of overtones and fundamentals around each note. Strobe tuners are used to ensure the integrity of this process. Protective Coat After tuning the instruments are prepared for final coating. Most popular type of coating is chrome; other options are powder coat or paint. Final Tuning At this stage instrument is polished, inspected and tuned again. Assembling Stage where we add hangers, stands or legs, cases, lids or covers for protection when instruments are stored or transported and finally mallets.

Maintenance To make sure that your instrument is happy – service it at least once a year. Keep it dry; avoid harsh temperature changes and damages like dropping, excessive banging or applying pressure on playing surface.

How Steelpans are made

Many people do not realize this, but the steel pan is actually a whole orchestra of various instruments. There are basically 5 kinds of steel drums, these are ranked from highest to lowest sounding:

  • Tenor
  • Double Tenor
  • Double Second
  • Guitar or Cello
  • Bass Tenor

The tenor is the mot common steel pan. In fact, the whole next chapter is devoted to it! The tenor pan is one single drum, which makes it easy to transport. Also, you’ll only need to purchase one stand and one case so it’s a little more affordable to get started. Another reason many people gravitate to the tenor is because it plays the melody line in a steel band. Other instruments do a lot of strumming (one rhythm over and over again).

How Steelpans Steeldrums Instruments are made

There are 2 main kinds of tenor pans: low tenor and high tenor. The low tenor has a C as its lowest note. The high tenor has a D as its lowest note. Both of these follow the “4ths and 5ths” note arrangement. (I know this might be info overload, or just confusing. Don’t worry though, it will start making more sense!) There is also a pattern called “invader” style.

How Steelpans Steeldrums Instruments are made

You can recognize this when you see it because there is one great big note (F#), right in the middle of the pan. Those pans are rare, but just wanted you to know about them! PLAYSTEELDRUMS.COM 4 Double Tenor – This instrument has two drums. It’s also relatively rare here in the US so you’re not likely to find many of these. The double tenor has a layout that makes melody line fairly easy to play.

Double Second – The double second is my main instrument. It also consists of two drums. It’s generally regarded as the most versatile instrument in the steel drum family. If you are playing with other musicians you have most of the note’s you’d need to play melody lines and the lower notes work well for accompanying other musicians. How Steelpans Steeldrums Instruments are made

Guitar/Cello – OK, this is where it really gets confusing! Guitar or cello steel pans usually consist of 3 drums. Oddly enough, they usually have the same note layout. The difference here is that guitars usually hang on stands and cellos will have legs instead of stands. Also, there are other things like a “double guitar” or a “4-cello” that you may see.

In smaller steel bands they will play the same part. In larger ensembles, like the ones in Trinidad, the cello and guitar often play different parts. Bass – Bass steel pans consist of 6, full sized drums! So, now you’ll need that cargo van.

These are very bulky and many professional steel drum bands will opt for an electric bass instead. The notes are so large on basses that only 3 fit on each drum!

Also, since these sit on the ground or on individual legs, they can be arranged in many different ways!

Gary Trotman


07540 307890