The steelpan family of instruments was invented in Trinidad in the 1940s. They are made from 200 litre industrial steel drums. Steelpans range from soprano to bass. A steel band can be formed using lead or tenor (soprano voice), double second (alto voice), triple guitar (tenor voice), and six-bass (bass) steelpans, although usually other voices are also included such as double guitars and double tenors. Notice that the name of the pan often has no relationship to its range. For example, a tenor pan (also called lead pan) covers the soprano range. The lower the range, the more drums are needed to make up one instrument since low frequency notes require a larger area. For example, the lead pan consists of one drum, whereas the bass consists of six. To make a lead pan, the end of the drum is hammered to a depth of 225mm and 29 notes are placed and tuned chromatically. Each note is tuned so that the fundamental, octave, and one or two other partials are tuned into each note area. Because the steelpan is still evolving, note layouts are not yet completely standardised, and even its name has several variations: steelpan, steel pan, steel drum, or pan.

In 1994 Charles Moller received an Australia Council for the Arts grant to study steelpan building and tuning with Leroy Thomas in Trinidad. In 2002 he received a Winston Churchill Fellowship and studied the process at Coyle Drums and Panyard.

Pan painted Chrome plated stands mallets
C lead 1100 1600 100 30
F# double second 1450 2500 200 30
C triple guitar/cello 1800 3500 300 40
C six-bass 2600 -- -- 40

These prices include the first maintenance tuning (assuming that the pan has not been dropped, tuned by someone else, or otherwise abused, and is completed within one year from delivery). To avoid toxic chemical contaminants, only new drums are used to build the pans. The pans are built and tuned in Moller's workshop in Sydney.

Maintenance Tuning:

Steelpans should be tuned regularly, at least once per year. Depending on the condition of the pan, retuning takes from 30 minutes (for a few notes) to 2 or more hours (for really out of tune pans). The rate is $80 per hour. Send an email when your pan(s) need tuning.

Build your own pan:

Send an email if you are interested in learning to build and tune pans. Ability to use hand tools, your own work space, and perhaps some obsessiveness are prerequisites.

Bourée (43kb pdf) :

The Bourée from lute suite #1 by JS Bach is a well known piece, often played by classical guitarists in E minor (not to mention Leo Kottke, and Jethro Tull). In this C minor arrangement for lead pan, the separation between the two voices has been reduced by one octave. Bourée is a good test piece to check whether a pan is working or not.

click an image below to enlarge

Thumbnail: top view Thumbnail: three steelpans Thumbnail: close-up Thumbnail: angled view

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