Phone: 562-706-1719

FAQs

It is good to hear from all of you!
Please feel free to ask me questions at: info@davesislandinstruments.com.
You may see your question/answer right here!

 

General Pan Questions

 

Hi Dave,
I am a beginning pan player. Doesn't your company manufacture a diatonic pan that can be used for tunes in the keys of C,F, and G? If so, can I buy one? I do not see one on your price list.

Thanks,
New Jersey

Dave’s Answer

Thanks for the email. I only make fully chromatic pans. As you may know, fully chromatic pans can definitely play in C, F, and G. If you're interested in a fully chromatic pan, please let me know.

 

Question

Are some pans not worth the effort? I have a low lead i got used, and it
had been repaired in a few spots, so it doesnt speak as clearly or
roundly or evenly, and the sustain has been affected. But, perhaps a good
tuner can alleviate much of that? ...or not.

Dave's Answer

In regard to your pan. Some cracks and damage to pans can be successfully remedied. However, each case is different and unique. I'd have to see the damages/repairs personally to make a good judgement call. Sometimes nothing can be done and you just have to live with the problem. Other times what seems to be a lost cause can be fixed very quickly with a deft hammer.

If you have the money to ship your pan here and back, my tuning fee is $65.00/hour. Shipping is about $30.00 each way. So you'd be looking at a total cost of about $125.00.

 

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Tuning Questions

 

David,
The tuning aspect is baffling. I can see or feel the elliptical bulge of any note, understand it has both concavity and convexity, somewhat like a sliding pond, to create tension, that there are ways to loosen the steel, shape the note, tune in the overtones. but doing it seems a mystery. I lost a note once on my single second pan (yes, it has had some history), and a man from finland gave me those suggestions to tune it back in. thanks for your reply.
can a repaired pan, which had been cracked and welded, sound as good as a clean one, or will those spots always be a little clunky?

Regards,
New York

Dave’s Answer

Tuning a pan that has been crafted by someone else is always a mystery at first. Some tuners tune very differently than others. Some of the principals of creating tension on the notes can vary greatly, and indeed, often times can be opposite of another tuner. Be careful. If you can't get the note to move closer into tune within about 5-10 hits, you may be making it worse.

If you have a trouble note and it has been tuned numerous times without success it may not be able to be retuned to its original glory. But it all depends. Many factors come into play when trying to tune a trouble note.

Certain pan designs have inate problems as well. Certain note placements on a pan can have inate problems, too. The size of the notes need to be appropriate. Too big or too small can cause lots of problems.

Lot's of people have trouble learning to tune a pan because they've never made a pan. Learning to manipulate the steel is extremely important to knowing how to tune the notes. Usually, the beginner concentrates too much effort within the perimeter of the trouble note. They don't consider the surrounding metal and other surrounding notes to be part of the solution. Sometimes a note can sound terrible simply because the note next to it has a harmonic that conflicts with it. Or, the note sounds bad because the metal around the note was not smoothed completely. Etc.

Soldering or welding causes tight spots and/or soft spots in the steel. These spots will never respond like steel does. That said, depending on the location of the weld, tuning notes that have a weld on them or next to them can be very problematic. Generally, if a weld is between notes it generally doesn't bother the overall sound. But if the weld comes within 1/4" of the perimeter of the note or if it is on the note, the quality of the sound may never be optimal.

I've tuned hundreds of pans by countless pan tuners. I've seen the best and the worst. I've made great pans and I've made terrible pans (and so have all pan tuners). Some ugly pans sound great, and some beautiful pans sound terrible. Even if the best tuners tune a pan certain pans just can't be saved and it's time to get a new one. Conversely, sometimes a pan that seems irreversibly damaged can sound great again.

I'd be happy to look at your pan if you'd like to send it to me. Otherwise, you may want to send it to a master tuner close to you.

The mystery continues....sorry
Good luck!

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Question

I noticed your video, and was curious, as i have been told it is an arduous process to complete a pan so one actually ends up with a decent sounding instrument, that the building and tuning process is trial and error. i know there are tricks and secrets, to building, to tuning.. would you comment?
Thank you.
New York

Dave’s Answer

The video shows all of the steps I take in making a circle of fifths tenor pan. Getting a barrel, getting tools, burning, shaping, tuning, chroming, fine tuning, are just a few of the steps that are covered. I've had a lot of positive feedback from people who have purchased the video. Even everyday people enjoy it.

I started making pans in the early 90's with just a few hammers and very few good tools. I had a booklet with some measurements and designs that Ellie Mannette put together and I had passively seen Ellie and Patrick Arnold tune some pans also. Myself and a friend decided to just go for it one year. Most of my early pans were tuned to fundamental pitches only. After about a year I began tuning octaves to the notes. They sounded pretty good. Then, I was fortunate to be able to ask Ellie some questions about tuning once in Phoenix. Shortly thereafter I had a good concept of making most any steel pan in the orchestra.

Basically, if one is determined the goal will be achieved. The video simply jump starts the process and enlightens others about the tricks of the trade. Tuning is discussed at length in the video, but most people want to know more about how to fine tune the notes. The process of fine tuning could be a video in and of itself. Perhaps someday I'll get more of that on tape too.

Whether you get the tape or not, I wish you good luck! Making pans is a lot of fun.

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Question

Mr. Beery,
I started to tune the notes and I have got all the notes to sound their fundamentals. I am just having a lot of trouble marrying the octive and the other harmonic to the fundamental. I was wondering if there was any advice you could give me on this. I know that this is the hardest part to get and is what drum making is all about but any help you could offer would be great.
Thanks,
Illinois

Dave’s Answer

Good to hear you are making progress.
The octave and the fundamental are elusive to the beginner, indeed. The most common mistake is that the person will build the note bubble too high. When the bubble of the note is too high, you will not be able to hear the octave clearly. If you haven't already, try flattening the notes a bit and listen for the harmonics. If you hear one that is close to the octave pitch, try manipulating it by working around the edges of the note. Hitting from the top will bring the harmonic sharp, and hitting from the bottom will bring the harmonic flat.

Good luck!

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Question

I bought your on how to build a pan [video]. One question, what kind of strobo tuner would you recommend? Ive noticed that there are several different ones on ebay. Just want to get the right one,
Thanks

Dave’s Answer

Good to hear from you. I hope the video has been helpful. Please let me know what you think.

I use a Peterson Strobo-tuner model# 520 (about $500.00 at that time). I've used Conn strobo-tuners before and they worked well too. The first strobo-tuners that I used were old tuners that I got from from public school music programs that no longer used them. They usually worked fine, but I would often have to calibrate the strobe with a separate digital A440 tone. They also often didn't have power cords, so I had to aquire them somewhere else. I know that there are digital strobotuners now also. However, I have not had the chance to use one yet.

My current strobe worked great for several years. Then for no apparent reason, the calibration went flat. So I now have to calibrate my strobe to A-440 with a separate digital tuner. As long as I don't travel with my tuner, it seems to stay calibrated, though.

Good luck! I'd be happy to help you again if you need it.

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Question

Mr. Beery,
Some more sucess on the current pan project. I bought reconditioned drums and was able to sink it to 7.25 inches. The metal started to rip though in multiple places at the end, but it was fine because the drum was already sunk pretty far when they started. There was stamping in the metal also that ripped a little. But I got all the notes to fit and was able to work around the cracks.

I started to tune the notes and I have got all the notes to sound their fundamentals. I am just having a lot of trouble marrying the octive and the other harmonic to the fundamental. I was wondering if there was any advice you could give me on this. I know that this is the hardest part to get and is what drum making is all about but any help you could offer would be great.

Thanks for your help,
Illinois

Dave’s Answer

Good to hear from you again. I hope your reconditioned barrels hold up beyond 6" this time. I know how frustrating cracks can be. If you can get the barrel sunk to about 7 1/4" you should be able to get all of the notes drawn inside. Less than 7" deep may require you to reduce the amount of notes you will have on the drum.

As far as shaping the bowl of the drum is concerned, I've seen lots of pans, and lots of bowl shapes. Most of them sound fine. However, I've noticed that bowl shapes that are an exact hemisphere produce some difficulties when it comes to tuning the rim notes. Simply because the bowl pushes the notes very close to the rim and it's hard to tune them with such a small area between the notes and the skirt. Also, I've noticed some tendency for the rim notes to get choked up and not produce a smooth tone.

Another shape that I've seen is the cone shaped sink. Less sinking is done around the rim and more sinking is focused around the center area. This often causes the metal in the center to become very thin and has a tendency to crack. Also, some severe cone shaped drums don't have enough surface area to accomodate all of the notes needed to complete the pan.

I've come to like the sound of a slightly cone shaped bowl. However, I don't really sink the center portion until later in the process. This way I can sink the thin center steel with a smaller hammer with more detail and accuracy. Larger hammers tend to stretch the metal too fast and will create cracks. Interestingly, though I strive to create a slight cone shaped bowl, I find that much of the sinking process is focused on the middle area of the bowl (2"-6" in from the rim). If I don't concentrate on this area I find that the bowl becomes too cone shaped for my taste. I tend to like the sound of the high center notes better with a cone shaped bowl also.

I just finished sinking and tuning 6 tenor pans. Since they are hand made they are all slightly different. So far I liked the outcome of the more cone shaped pans. To the naked eye, you can hardly tell the difference. But a 1/4" here or there can make a noticeable difference to an accomplished tuner.

Oh yea, I still avoid hammering too much close to the rim. When I do hammer there, I use a large flat hammer in order to avoid producing dents in the metal.

Good luck!

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Question

Dave,
Some time back you helped me out with a question I had about tuning harmonics and I was wondering if you might give me one last piece of advise. I have been making progress on building, however I ve ran into a problem with some of outer notes. I can't seem to get some of the outer notes to "spring" or get that "steel drum sound". It is in tune, but sounds more like a ping pong than a modern steel drum. Is it perhaps that I'm not stretching the metal enough? Am I going to need to grind? I havent tried either yet, thought Id get a pro's advise before I ruin a another pan. I've even had this prob with a set of guitars I built, and I really spaced out the notes leaving only one inner note (what would be the low c on a tenor), and got the same ping pong sound. Any advise?

Dave's Answer

Great to hear from you. Off hand I can think of three things that may be the cause of your problems.

FIRST: The metal you are using may be too thick. Be sure that it is no more than 18 gauge (1.2mm) steel. I've used 1.3mm steel and the notes had a very heavy sound and were much more difficult to tune than 1.2mm steel.

SECOND: This may be the most likely cause. The notes need to be tensioned from the perimeter of each note. If the tension is not adequate or too severe then the note will not respond with good tone. Getting the proper tension on a note is probably the most problematic issue for beginners. Moreover, I think each tuner has his/her specific method of doing so. So one tuner may do it one way while another may do it a vastly different way. For instance, Ellie Mannette uses a propane torch to create tension on his notes. I've tried this myself with limited success. I've never quite figured out his technique. So I stick to mine.

THIRD: The notes are shaped too tall. That is, the dome shape of the note may be too high. When the dome shape of the note is too high it keeps the note from flexing/vibrating and can make it sound like a ping pong pan. Try flattening the notes a little, but not completely flat, this will reduce tension on the note. This idea of shaping the notes tends to be quite elusive, however.

My technique for tuning the rim notes has changed a bit since I made my video. I developed a process of about 4-5 steps that make tuning the notes more easy.

  • Step 0: Remove the pan from the fire and let it cool down.
  • Step 1: Flip the pan over and raise the notes with a rubber hammer.
  • Step 2: From the top side, press the metal down between the notes with a steel hammer. This will create a visible trough around each note. This also tends to put tension on the perimeter of each note.
  • Step 3: From the top, flatten the notes with a large flat hammer. Make sure not to dent the metal from here on. Try to create a very smooth surface on and around the notes.
  • Step 4: From the top, smooth the metal on the perimeter of each note. This may cause some of the notes to pop up again. This is ideal. When you see or hear a note pop up, it means that tension is being created around the note. This will make tuning much easier later.
  • Step 5: Do steps 1-4 again, but with less severity. Focus now on smoothing the metal. The side effect is that tension will also be added to the notes.
  • Step 6: Do steps 1-4 again if necessary. I usually stop the process when I find a majority of the notes begin to pop up when I smooth the perimeter of each note. Not all notes will do this. But the method seems to work well for me.

* *Be careful not to over-do this process and sink the drum more than necessary. This process usually makes my drums about 1/4" deeper. If you stretch the metal too far during this process you might make things harder on yourself. It's a delicate balance.

Last idea: Send one of your pans to me and I can inspect it myself. Maybe take a video clip of me tuning on your pans if you like? $65.00 tuning fee.

Feel free to ask more questions.
Dave

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QUESTION

Hi David,

I was wondering if you could share your training background in tuning with me. I am currently directing a small band....In addition, I have several other pans I use to do workshops in area schools....

...While price is a consideration, I also know that there are at least subtle differences in what tuners are hoping for, beyond accurate pitch, and while I know this is difficult, I’m wondering if you could give me a sense of your tuning style...could you describe what you work toward in tuning?


Dave's Answer

Thank you for contacting Smarty Pans!

You've got some great questions. I'll try to answer them as best I can without sounding completely egotistical. :)

I've been tuning pans for about 15 years now. I'll send you my Bio to save space in the email. I basically learned how to tune from three tuners: Ellie Mannette, Patrick Arnold, and Cliff Alexis. I also gained a lot of experience along the way by tuning imported pans from Trinidad. Anyway, I have made and tune pans for numerous bands around Southern California, and have also traveled to Utah, Colorado, Arizona, Alaska and other states to make and tune pans.

Mostly I tune local bands - I have a wife and a baby girl now which tend to keep me anchored here at home lately....In regard to my tuning style in comparison to the others...

Many people come to me because they want me to make a copy of a set of pans that they played on before or that they saw or heard somewhere. A lot of custom jobs, really.

I've tuned pans made by so many makers that I don't think I could attempt to name them all. Unfortunately, I probably don't even know the names of half of them! But I'll drop a few names that come readily to mind. I've successfully tuned Mannette pans, Alexis pans, Arnold Pans, Guppy pans, Mappo pans, dozens and dozens of Gill's pans (but I don't really know the names of the individual pan tuners who made them), Lincoln pans, Mitchell pans, Herman pans, some Coyle pans, Panyard pans, TTIL pans, Wabich pans, Joseph pans, and more. I'm quite familiar with most of their tuning techniques and subtleties since I've seen so many of them through time. I usually try to keep the character of the pans as I found them. But sometimes if there is a 'bad' note I'll take some time to make it 'better'. The owner of the pan is usually most sensitive to any tuning changes, so I always ask before doing any major surgery on a 'bad' note. In generall I tune the fundamental pitches and the octaves to A-440. I also check harmonics if they stand out as being problematic or noticibly out of tune.

Overall, I have been met by others like yourself with smiles and gratitude when I finish tuning their pans. I tend to have a lower price for tuning ($65.00 per set + travel expenses) and seemingly do just as well tuning pans as any other tuners do. I can generally tune about 10 sets of pans per day depending on the amount of work that needs to be done.

Sounds like you have a substantial program going. I wish you all the best.
David Beery

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Question

Just a note to thanks David for such a fantastic video. I am already telling every pan player in Puerto Rico about it. Thanks David
PS. Can I buy magnet templates from you?

Dave’s Answer

Hello Luis,
Thank you. I'm glad you liked the video! I don't have magnetic templates for sale at this time. If I make some to sell in the future, I'll let you know.
Thanks again

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Question

Hello Mr.Beery
I'm from Bangkok ,Thailand and I start to play a pan but I have a lot problems, many times Pan is out of tune. I want to study to tuning a pan be cause is doesn't work if send to retune somewhere. Many time is more expensive. I know is not easy to tune a pan but in my country nobody play and nobody know this instrument. And If you can help me I will travel to study with you in your country and pay you for a lesson. And If you dosn't teach please recommend somebody for me and let me know his e.mail address.

Thank you very much
Best regards
Thailand

Dave’s Answer

I have been making a video lately on how to tune a steel drum. I'll be selling them in a few months. It shows how to make a drum and it shows how to tune several notes. I think it would be good for you.

Generally, if you really want to learn to tune, I suggest you try to make your own pan (see my video). If you try to learn to tune a pan made by someone else you may end up damaging it. Also, a lot of the tuning issues make more sense after you make a drum. You'll also need a strobo tuner to make sure all the harmonics are precisely in tune. I have a Peterson Strobotuner. Once my video is ready, I'll email you back and you can buy one if you like. If you have any questions before then, please email again. I'll try to help you.

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Question

David,
I got the peterson 520. I see that I can use it to tune the fundemental and the octave.
Is it possible to use it to tune the harmonics also. say if you are in the key of G......
could you possibly turn the knob to C or D to try to tune to the fourth or fifth harmonic, or are the harmonics just something you do by ear. I appreciate your help.

Dave’s Answer

Congratulations on the new tuner!
Discussing harmonic tuning is like a politician discussing how to save social security. It’s a barrel of monkeys and filled with debate. It's like touching the third rail! But I'm willing to take a stab at it anyway.
Mostly, I tune the harmonics by ear. However, I'll occasionally turn the strobo tuner dial to the harmonic pitch and bring it into tune. This is especially true on double seconds and cello pans. A bit less likely on basses and I rarely tune the harmonics on leads with a strobotuner.

Reasons: Doubles/Cellos - the harmonics on doubles and cellos tend to ring out more and can conflict with other notes when played together with both hands. Ex. G and D on a set of doubles. If the low G is tuned with a fifth (D) and the fifth is sharp or flat, the combination of playing G and D together will produce dissonance because of the descrepancy of the tuning of the harmonic on the low G. When the harmonics are precise, the overall sound of the instruments increases. Especially when chords are played. Basses - Generally the bass plays single note lines. The discrepancy of harmonics is less likely to be noticed. However, my ear is pretty good and I often tune them with the strobe if I notice anything dissonant going on. Tenor pans - Due to the way 'circle of fifth' style tenor pans have been designed, harmonics often conflict with neighboring notes and create dissonance. Ex. Low C is generally tuned with a fifth or G harmonic. This will often conflict with the octave G that is located just to the right of the middle C note. Sometimes fluttering and or deadness will occur if the G harmonic is tuned precisely. This goes for nearly all of the rim notes on a tenor pan. Tuning the harmonic sharp or flat can result in a more pure tone from the rim notes. But be careful. Sometimes the sharp or flat harmonics can be annoying also. It can be a tough decision for the tuner to deal with. Lastly, some of the rim notes above 'A' don't accept fifth tuning easily. And if forced to accept a fifth harmonic, the note can sound 'choked up' or have less overall tone. I've only tuned a handfull of tenor pans in which all of the rim notes had perfectly tuned fifth harmonics and a pleasing uniform sound was acheived. Some tuners insist that tuning a fifth on every note is the only correct way to tune a tenor pan, but I just can't agree. I usually tune the middle and center notes with harmonics between a 2nd and 4th.

Good luck deciphering this information! If you get some good results from tuning your pan, let me know. I'd love to hear it.

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Question

David,
What is the difference between the terms 'tuning' and 'blending'?

Dave's Answer

'Tuning' usually refers to the process of bringing the notes of the pan into tune, or tuning them to a definite pitch. However, just because the notes on a pan are in tune pitchwise, may not mean that they 'blend' in sound characteristics from one note to the next. For example one note may sound short in duration and the note next to it may produce a longer duration of sound in comparison to the first. The process of 'blending' means that the tuner will attempt to blend each note on the pan to ring out with a similar characteristic sound. When you listen to a well made pan the notes should all ring out consistently and with similar character. A lesser made pan will produce a variety of note characteristics even though it may be 'in tune' pitchwise.

Generally, when a pan player sends their pan to get 'tuned' or when a pan tuner comes to town to tune up a steel band, it is usually understood that he/she will also do a bit of 'blending' when necessary.

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Chrome Questions

 

Dave,
[What is] the difference between chrome on [your] pans [vs.] imported pans?
Thanks,
Alaska

Dave’s Answer

Basically the chrome plating on pans that I've imported from Trinidad is the lower cost chrome plating. It has a "brushed" appearance. But they usually look and play fine.

The chrome plating that is done on my pans is the best I can find locally. It has a high polish appearance on the sides and on the playing surface and is quite striking under the lights.


Chrome plating is a pesky animal. The process is completely in the hands of the plating company and I have found that it is hard to get 'specialized' work out of them. (I believe, largely due to the fact that the guys who generally do the work are usually non-English speaking and I assume they are not paid very much. Thus, it's hard to communicate with them and it's hard to get them to care about it.) I have gone to great lengths to get consistency from this chrome shop, though. We're on a first name basis now!

                            Dechromed Pan

Interestingly, I tend to like the quality of the chrome plating that comes out of Trinidad better than the plating done here in the U.S. I've tried numerous plating companies but the consistency is never like I see it from Trinidad. Trinidadian chrome just seems more clean and sturdy. I'm not sure why. Nevertheless, I continue to press on for better quality every time I get a pan plated.

I Hope this wasn't too much info. :)

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