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How Steel Pans are Made - Tuning and Blending

Most instruments require care, maintenance and regular tuning to maintain a good quality of sound. The steel pan instrument is no exception with the handful of UK based 'pan tuners' in great demand to maintain the ever increasing number of instruments as its popularity grows.

Pan making and tuning is a craft that takes tuners years to perfect. Below is a summary of the process.

Fifty-four gallon drums are used as the raw materials for all steel pan instruments.
The drum is heated to a high temperature before the surface is hammered into a bowl.

Ray Holman demonstrates and explains how steel pans are traditionally made.

Marking and Grooving
The notes are marked out using templates for the the type of pan being made. The area between the notes is hammered to cause the marked out areas to protrude. To isolate each note the area marked is grooved with a nail punch and hammer.

Cutting and Burning

The unwanted parts of the drum skirt is cut away to the correct length for the type of steel pan being made.
The drum is then heated to a high temperature and cooled quickly to temper the metal so the tuning holds for longer.

Pete Seeger meets steel pan makers and players in Trinidad 1956.

Tuning and Blending

The pan is finely tuned producing accurately pitched notes.

The pan is either chromed, powder coated or painted to give a pleasing finish to the instrument.

Steel Pan Tuning and Maintenance

 Steel pan tuner Bubbles is using a tuning fork to tune the notes.

Steel pan tuner Bubbles is using a tuning fork to tune the notes.

Pan Tuner

Gerald tuning bass

Pan tuner Gerald Forsyth is renowned for his tuning and blending skills. He is also expert at restoring instruments past their best to look and sound as good as new.

Tuning tools

Peterson electronic pan tuner

Tuners use a variety of tools to make and tune steel pans including hammers, electronic tuning machines and tuning forks.