The Care of a Steel Pan Instrument

Keep your steel pan dry. You should be diligent about preventing rust formation which can ruin your steel drum instrument. Many musicians wipe the instrument dry with a soft cloth following every practice or performance, removing moisture from rain, condensation, perspiration,etc..

A steel pan with a chrome finish should be cleaned once or twice yearly with chrome polish. The application should be a thin layer of polish on the notes and skirt. Lightly buff after a few minutes (after haze forms). Take care as rubbing very hard can detune a note on your steel drum or even remove some of the chrome finish.

Tune your steel pan annually by a professional tuner. It can be tuned more often depending on how much it is played and your personal sound requirements, but too much tuning will decrease the life expectancy of your steel pan. For this reason, many people wait for one year, as a rule of thumb, to tune their steel drum. Unless you are a tuner, you cannot tune your own steel pan as you do not have the expertise or the unique hearing ability that must be developed to perform this delicate, precise procedure. Attempting to tune a steel pan without the proper training will often greatly harm the instrument. A steel pan tuner is tuning the fundamental pitch (the basic note) plus harmonic overtones or partials on each and every note. Unlike other musical instruments, these harmonic overtones do not occur naturally on a steel drum. Bertie Marshall of Trinidad first pioneered this approach, which is unique in music and brought us the modern steel pan sound we now enjoy. This requires a very specialized hearing ability and is essential to achieving the modern steel pan sound Successive tunings improve the overall sound of the steel drum instrument. If your pan is new, you are in the “pounding in” phase, during which your playing of the steel pan compresses the metal in a way that is not achieved during the making of the instrument. “Pounding in” improves the tone and takes maybe 3 or 4 months if the steel drum is played every day. After the first two tunings in particular, you often will notice a distinctly better tone. If there are pitch or tonal inconsistencies that you would like a steel pan tuner to address, it is better if you can wait until the “pounding in” period is over, since you will benefit from the better sound that the tuner can achieve after the “pounding in” of your steel drum.

Do Not Drop! This detunes the steel pan and can distort its shape. When hanging your steel drum, get a firm grip on the rim and position the hanging loop onto the stand with your thumb.

Keep mallets away from non-players and out of view or away from your steel pan instrument.

You may want to use a steel pan cover for your unattended instrument, which will discourage unwanted “playing” of your pan and prevent potential damage.

Labeling Your Steel Pan

Many people write the letter names of each note on the steel pan when beginning to learn the instrument. You may choose not to label the notes, as you will be forced to remember the note names more quickly if they are not placed on the notes. However, you may use a Sharpie marker to label a chrome steel drum. The markings can be removed with chrome polish later If you wish to label the notes on a Hi-Gloss Black or painted steel pan, paper stickers will work, such as pricing dots found in stationary stores.