When Steel Talks

Everything Related to the Steelpan Instrument and Music



    The Steel Pan Builder completes the first stage in the construction of a percussive instrument.  The Builder processes the raw material, the steel drum, into a steel pan which fits the desired customer specifications.  The Builder converts the raw steel drum into a formed pan which becomes the input for the steel pan tuner. 

    Traditionally, the steel pan tuner would build and tune his own pan, but, with increased demand the job of building a steel pan has been divided into different activities, and with many of our tuners aging, the Steel Pan Builder is serving an important role as, without the work of the Builder, the tuner will not be able to function. 

    In fact, it is with the Pan Builder that the tuning starts as it is the foundation.  If the build is a solid one, the output is a quality pan.  If the work of the Builder is poorly executed, then the result is a product of lesser quality. 

    Previously, the aesthetic quality of the steel pan was not seen as important.  The industry has progressed to the point where, the Pan Builder understands that the pan is seen before it is heard, therefore, the look of the pan is important, thus the Builder’s work becomes even more important. 

    The Steel Pan Builder is responsible for: 

    • Selecting quality steel drums 
    • Preparing the drum for processing 
    • Processing of the drum to the desired specifications 

    The duties of the Steel Pan Builder are to: 

    • Assess drums for soundness and appropriateness 
    • Clean the drum in preparation for processing 
    • Draft lines on the drum for sinking 
    • Sink and countersink the drum using machine hammers 
    • Draft notes on the drum and groove and set the drum 
    • Cut the skirt of the drum to desired length. 

    The job of the Steel Pan Builder can be complex.  The grooving of the pan is a delicate and intricate task, it is said that not anyone can groove a pan.  It takes a steady hand.  Countersinking the pan is also complex as one needs to know where to hit the metal when the bowl is formed, to know where to raise and where to sink the material. 

    One of the major difficulties in this job is the acquisition of proper raw materials from suppliers and hammers.  Often the Builder will need to make his own hammers.  In addition, there is always something to learn, each pan is unique and each tuner has different specifications, therefore, the Builder needs to have different templates to draft the notes on the pan. 

    It is important that the duties of the Steel Pan Builder are executed according to performance standards.  If this is not the case, the steel pan will not conform to production standards and will be discarded.  This wastes material and represents a cost to the company.  It is important as well that the Pan Builder identifies inconsistencies in the product as early as possible in order to take corrective action and utilize resources efficiently. 

    These duties are performed on a daily basis or according to the work schedule to meet production quotas.  It is possible, depending on the type of steel pan, to produce in general one pan per day. 


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A lot of people in Trinidad & Tobago, who have worked with sinking & grooving pans for the tuner to tune, would be surprised to know that they are "steel pan builders"...including yours truly...! I would humbly like to ask people living in the country where pan was invented the following queston: "Do you know anyone who is a "Steel Pan Builder"?


We all have our issues with the nomenclature. If you know how much I HATE THE WORD "STEELPAN" you would be left to wonder why I still keep commenting on THE WORLD OF STEEL DRUM MUSIC!!!

I agree with Claude Gonzales. T&T has managed to fabricate steel percussion musical instruments. To refer to these beautiful instruments as steel pans is to diminish their importance and value thus betraying the creativity and talent that such products represent. We have moved away from talking about steel bands to talking about steel orchestras; so hopefully, in time we will also adopt a more acceptable sophisticated nomenclature that best captures and celebrates the world class artistry that epitomizes the genius behind the musical steel percussion industry in T&T.  It is however encouraging to recognize the ongoing efforts to develop and establish organized business models that support activities such as research and development, manufacture and distribution.  Blessings.

AS mentioned its not Steelpans and thats a fact ,Logic , the Instruments are indeed made from Steel Drums and Not Pans,,,,well no one is perfect ,,to err is human,,maybe by ah reach 65 years of age ah getting old ,,old age stepping in,,be safe my brothers ,one love 


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