Construction of a Steel Pan

The Steel Pan is a percussion instrument with definite pitches. Our steel pans begin with new, special order, 55-gallon steel barrels with clear tops and bottoms. Each barrel is 22½” in diameter and 32” long.

The barrel is first sunk concavely like a wok or bowl. The depth of the sink depends on the type of pan being produced. The Bass Pan only requires a sink to the depth of 3½” to 4”. The deepest sink is the Tenor Pan in the 8” range. Care is taken in the sinking of the pan to insure that it is consistent throughout.

 Raw Barrels
Beginning of sink
Sinking with air hammer

Once the pan is sunk to the desired depth, notes are laid out on the surface and shaped. Larger areas equal lower notes. Thus, smaller areas equal higher notes. Because steel pan instruments are made from standard size barrels, more barrels are required for an instrument of a lower range because more space is required to place the necessarily lower (larger) note. While a Tenor Pan has only one barrel with 29 notes, a Bass Pan will have six barrels with three notes each for a total of 18 notes.

 Layout complete
Sinking: Shaping with the air (pneumatic) hammer
Checking for uniform sink

Next, the pan is burned to temper the metal. The notes are scribed and grooved. This is a method of separating and isolating the notes from each other. Then the skirt is cut to length. Pans with higher notes have shorter skirts. Thus, a Tenor Pan has only a 6” skirt while a bass pan has the full 32” barrel for a skirt.

 Burning top of pan
Scribing notes
Grooving the notes

Finally, the pan is tuned. We use a well tempered tuning to A440. After tuning, the pan is sent to chrome or painted. If the pan is chromed, it must be tuned again as the chroming process raises the pitch about one half step.

 Initial tuning before chroming
Back from chrome
Final tuning with strobe
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