Pan Making Videos

1 Steel Pan Tuners UK

Pan Making Videos

Pan Making Videos

1 Steel Pan Tuners UK Steelasophical steelband

SteelPan Videos

Origins of the steelpan (or steel drum)

They say necessity is the mother of invention, and for emancipated black slaves living in and around Laventille, just outside Port of Spain, rhythm was an ancestral right and necessity to all celebrations. When the colonial government banned drumming, bamboo branches were used in what came to be known as tambu bamboo bands. During World War II, the government banned both tambu bamboo and Carnival. So tucked away in the Laventille hills, more alternatives were sought out. Biscuit and paint tins tended to produce single notes when hammered, and enterprising youngsters then took to discarded oil drums to develop the sound. This is how the steelpan came to be.

Steel bands debuted in the streets of Port of Spain in 1945 after the war ended. Since then, pioneering men like Winston ‘Spree’ Simon, Ellie Mannette, Bertie Marshall, Anthony Williams, Rudolph Charles, Clive Bradley, Len ‘Boogsie’ Sharpe and many others have continued to improve upon processes of making, tuning, transporting, arranging for and playing pan.  All were affiliated with some of the top bands who have dominated the Panorama competition – Desperados, Renegades, All Stars, Phase II Pan Groove and Exodus.

A steelpan. Photo courtesy the TDC

How a steelpan is made

Pans are usually made through a time-tested and delicate process, though more mechanised versions have been emerging. Pans traditionally begin as 55-gallon oil drums, carefully selected by their crafters and tuners.  The first step is sinking the pan, or stretching the base by pounding it repeatedly; it is a noisy and laborious process which can last hours.  The pan’s skirt is then cut depending on the kind of pan it will eventually become – the longer the skirt, the lower the pan’s register. Next the pan is tempered or fired, which builds the strength and resilience of the metal, and prepares it for tuning and playing. Individual notes are then painstakingly marked out and grooved into the pan.  From beneath, the tuner then begins to pound (or “pong”) the pan, so that each note bubbles upward. The pan is then ready for tuning, as the notes are then delicately hammered so that each is precise in pitch in relation to the other. Once the pan is properly tuned, it is then either chromed to make it shine silver (after which it must again be retuned!), or dipped in paint.

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Full steel orchestras now match the range of notes that can be played in instrumental ensembles anywhere else in the world.  And the innovation continues.  In 2007, a new pan called the G-Pan (Genesis Pan) was unveiled by a team of innovators at the University of the West Indies (UWI). The G-Pan is a successor to the current Tenor Pan, or lead pan that carries the melody. Current tenors can play 29 notes over 2.5 octaves in the higher register, and the new G-Pan can now play 37 over four octaves. Two other pans to replace the current mid-range pans (seconds, double-tenor, guitar and cello), and a new incarnation of the bass pans have also emerged. The team has also been quick to apply for a patent of the new pans, as a United States company ludicrously obtained a patent for the steelpan some years ago – much to every Trinidadian’s chagrin (though it has been successfully challenged).

And there is more pan to come.

Here’s an old feature from the archives about making a steel pan (or, if you like, a steel drum!):

© MEP Publishers | The steelpan — from creation to Panorama to the world | Discover Trinidad & Tobago https://www.discovertnt.com/articles/Trinidad/The-Making-of-a-Steel-Pan/108/3/19#ixzz6BWH9GDIb
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1 Steel Pan Tuners UK Steelasophical steelbands