Your questions answered


Pan Sticks

"Where can we get some new sticks for our steel pans from?" - JT Yorkshire

Pan sticks (definitely not called ‘beaters’ or ‘hammers’) are available on the internet but you can end up paying over the odds. Music shops will also be able to order them in, but again at a price, and you may end up waiting a while. Some tuners and experienced tutors and players will sell them. If you want a local supplier with a quick turnaround at a reasonable price then Panstickability is your option. You shouldn’t have to pay more than £8-10 for a pair of wooden tenor sticks, a little more for aluminium, or £15 for bass sticks. Many experienced players have specific requirements of sticks and know where to get their favourites.

Cases

"I got a pan for Christmas a couple of years ago and I’ve used it mostly at home until recently when I’ve started to take it to school and entered a couple of music festivals as a soloist. I’ve noticed thatit goes out of tune quite quickly now even though I protect it with blankets when travelling. Will a case help? If so what sort?" - TR, Northumberland

In a word, yes. A case is definitely essential protection, especially for a tenor where the belly is so vulnerable. As to which sort, it’s partly a matter of choice, cost, and weight. The more common type of case until a few years ago was the fibreboard type made by companies such as LeBlond. They are still available at around £50-60 new for tenors, up to £120 for larger sizes. They will do the job but the pan can still be damaged by rough handling (see Tuning Tips elsewhere in this newsletter).

Recently the UK company Hardcase, which will be familiar to most kit drummers, has been supplying cases for pans. These are a much more sturdy proposition with a lifetime guarantee. They are made of 3mm moulded plastic and are extremely robust. They are a little heavier than the fibre type, but Hardcase have now built in wheels on all their cases making moving them around just like using a wheeled suitcase; many children in school enjoy using them, and even primary children can easily cope with large pans such as guitars in Hardcases, with other types of case even tenors is definitely a job for the teacher. A new Hardcase costs around £90 and can be easily sourced by any music shop or drum centre. All sizes of pan Hardcases are the same price but make sure that you put plenty of protection inside for tenor bellys.

The vinyl type with hardboard lining often used in Trinidad is even more expensive and usually only available from overseas making carriage expensive. The handles on these mean that you have to be quite tall to carry them any distance comfortably, so not very suitable for schools. The soft covers can be easily damaged too.

There is also the full flight case style favoured by professional musicians and steelbands who travel internationally. Made from plywood with metal corners and hardware they are very strong, secure, heavy and expensive. You can see flight cases made to take several tenors/2nds with dividers. Flight cases need large castors to move them, and preferably a roadie or two.

All styles of case can be obtained on the second hand market with obvious cost advantages, but if you go down that route make sure that the case is in good enough condition to do it’s main job of protection properly – this can be difficult at online auction sites.

Sounds like you definitely need a case now, pay your money and take your choice.

Tuning

"We’ve had some steel pans in school for some years now but they’re not sounding so good any more, some of them seem out of tune; how is this possible? My xylophones don’t go out of tune" - JD Cumbria

Your xylophones won’t because their tuning is governed by size and weight (and temperature a little) of the bars with no user tuneable facility. Even so it is possible for players to fine tune such instruments. Pans are not user tuneable either butthere are many other factors at play (shape, tension, player technique, care, etc.) which mean that, just like pianos, professional tuning is necessary from time to time. We still come across schools with pans who don’t realise that pans need tuning and maintenance, or who believe that their pans will somehow stay in perfect tune and condition without any attention for years – they hope to ‘get away with it’. All pans require tuning and good care to continue to sound their best and last as long as possible. Tuning needs to be budgeted for as the cost is significant. But this expenditure is good value and repays you with better sound (and player self-esteem), easier tuning and a long life for your pans. Ignoring tuning needs is a false economy in the long run.