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Everything Related to the Steelpan Instrument and Music

I would like to voice my observations about a subject I never see much comments on, and that is “The selection of the drums when making pans.”

It is my observation that most modern tuners regardless of where they are from will use almost any available pan to make any instrument, meaning if they had ten identical drums, they would use one to make a tenor, two to make a pair of second pans six to make a bass and so on. I SAY, THIS SHOULD NOT BE.

My observations have been accumulated from 1959, the first year I played pan on the streets of Trinidad and Tobago, to now 2016, for I still play pan to this day. Secondly, In all those years I have had close personal dedicated relationships with only three tuners, Allan Gervais from 1967 to 1972 on tour with Tripoli, Lincoln from 1986 to 1992 my years with Exodus, and Austin Wallace as my Dad and personal tuner from 1992 to this day. These tuners mentioned above would never take any drum to make any pan.

The selection of the drums, Some drums have so much lead in it they CANNOT be used for pans PERIOD. To the other extreme some drums are so flimsy you cannot sink them, they will always burst. If you do not know this or agree with this PLEASE do not read any further, you will only upset yourself.

In between these two extremes all I can tell you is these drums because of the composition of the metals used to make them they vary in weight vastly, by observation and personal experiences I KNOW the heaviest drums make the better bass pans and the lighter drums make the better tenor pans, the variations in between would be used to make the other instruments as needed. In times past the composition of these drums would be stamped somewhere on the drum, so much steel, so much lead and so forth, this is the information the tuner would use to select the drums to make a specific pan or set of pans. I do not know if that is still so today.

Here is one reason why this is EXTREAMLY IMPORTANT, If you have ever played bass pan, some of them will have a heavy round full sound when you play the note and on another bass the same note will sound twangy and light, the twangy sound will be the light weight pans and the boom sound will be from the heavier pans, for this reason it is said that the G-pans do not make good tenors or front line pans they are mostly used for bass.

If you ask every member in an orchestra to play middle C, C4, on their instrument, even though the tone will be the same you will know when the violin is playing middle C, the trumpet the sax the piano and so forth, if they were to play a sustained C4 in unison, you would be enveloped in the many different timbres produced by each individual instrument. This is sadly lacking in ALL modern large steel bands, using that example in years gone by if you heard someone practicing on a pan, without seeing you could tell if they were practicing on a tenor, double tenor, double second and so on, now a days except for the range of the pan you have to see to know which pan is being played, and if you ask a large band to role on C4, the unique timbres, inflections, tonalities would be sadly lacking

In closing, I would like to return to the days when, if you went to a tuner to make a pan, from the moment you request a specific pan he would immediately know which drum he would use to make that pan, or in these modern times, what composition of sheet materials he would use to cut the lower notes, the middle notes and the higher notes from, to place on/in the pan.

To those of you who reached this far TANK YOU for your time.

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You have just made the case for research into the metallurgy of the PAN family of instruments.
We cannot continue recycling waste and depending on native instinct.
And I will add that that research should be given high priority at UWI.

Let's hope that Dr. Copeland could use his new authority and influence as Principal to champion this cause

Great Post, Mr. Durant!!!

Casper Durant, makes no difference at Trinidad and Tobago steel-band  panorama competitions at this time. The majority of young arrangers ( I can't call a good one) arrange tunes at top speed, players also bang heavily on the instruments non stop for 10 plus minutes (they look good though). Melody zero. I see your point but trying to explain this to the youth will make them throw up.

Q&A: Dave Longfellow, Champion of Pan

13. Where do you see the current state of pan in the U.S.? How can it improve? 
I feel that pan in the U.S. is in a very entrepreneurial state right now. When I was growing up, Panyard, Inc., had the U.S. market cornered on mallets, music, newsletters, recordings, etc. and I thought it would be like that for the foreseeable future. But that’s not the case anymore and there’s plenty of room for specialists in all areas of pan. This goes beyond the retail side of things as well. The Festival of Steel and the Virginia International PANFest exist because there’s an obvious need for festivals like these. I know some people are currently trying to get a new U.S. Pan Association together again and that’s a great thing. Heck, kudos to you for putting together the first legit newsletter I’ve seen in almost two decades! So, it seems like the field is wide open right now and people should get out there and take chances—whether it’s starting a new pan program, or starting a pan recording company, pan publishing company, a festival, etc. 

HOWEVER, my biggest concern with the pan community in the U.S. is an abysmal lack of builders and tuners. As much as I encourage the pan community to be creative, we need to find ways to convince young people in the community to take a serious interest in building and tuning.
Pan building and tuning is one of the most artisanal crafts I’ve ever witnessed and it needs to be embraced as such. It’s not a hobby—it can’t be—it has to be a career choice. Unfortunately, what I’ve seen recently is a race to get tuning skills and then be a freelance pan tuner. I wish it worked like that, but it does not. And, I feel bad for anyone who was convinced that it would be easy, or too naïve to the reality of the commitment. 
Personally, I wouldn’t let anyone without, at least, 10 years of experience tune any of my pans and I don’t think many steelband directors would either. In my experience growing up around Ellie and his apprentices, I’ve learned that the building and tuning craft demands serious commitment. Most pan-men and pan-women get into the art via playing and pick up building/tuning on the side, but all the serious builders have had to make a commitment to the craft in order to do it any justice. There just isn’t enough time to be a professional player AND a professional builder, yet most young builder/tuners can’t make that distinction yet. I don’t know what the answer is, but I don’t think the people realize how dire the situation is becoming—not because we are losing builder/tuners, but because the number of programs is increasing so rapidly that we could drop 10 highly skilled tuners (JUST tuners) into the market right now, and we still wouldn’t have enough to tune all the bands in the country on a regular basis. And, we’re still 10 years away from those 10 tuners being ready, even if they all picked up hammers today...


Mr. Durant, your information is great. In the old days the 55-gallon drum came with a plug on the side and on the top to empty the drum. Now you can get drums without any plugs so you can make more pans from a drum. And usually the top is thinner than the bottom. Tuning is a great art but unfortunately not many pan people are into it. As a pan player, I sink pan in the past for Ellie and Birdie Mannette, and Cobo Jack in NYC. They buy the best drums they can get,  it's their say. Check the banners on panorama night- the same tuners for 90% of the bands. And as for modern-day tuners, I am sure tuning is an advanced art since they have access to better drums and have better instruments to create their pan. Pan in the millennium sounds way better than in the 60's and 70's.

Pan Factory Pan Trinbago

They need a press for the tops, so they can manufacture a drum that is pre-sunk.

Instead of whole drums why not have pans made to the actual size, all that's needed is both ends, the middle becomes waste.

Looks like this PAN FACTORY is bringing in MORE MONEY than OIL!!!

A very important issue and its brave of you to raise it. Now there is the inventor still alive and living and still teaching at WEST VIRGINIA UNIVERSITY who has done mountains of research  in metalurgy for PAN. Its available for ALL.  He is the premier builder tuner for nearly 8 decades since his INVENTION  at 147 Tragarete Rd Woodbrook.  HIS KNOWLEDGE AND RESEARCH INFO IS WHAT YOU NEED.  Dr ELLIE  MANNETTE.  AMEN.paddy corea musician

T&T could lead the world in supplying ready made pans to builders, they buy the raw material and make the pans to size and ship them out, they will have to double up on their production which could mean additional machinery. No one in the world is doing this to my knowledge so this is a golden opportunity.


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