How to take care of steel drums and pan mallets
It is obviously very important that you learn how to take proper care of steel drums after having spent hundreds of dollars to purchase them, not to mention the amount of time that you spent selecting the best steel drums. Here are a few useful tips to ensure that your investment lasts quite a number of years.
Care of Steel drums before performing
Always double check that your steel drum hangers show no signs of damage before you perform. This will avoid your steel drum falling during your performance if the steel drum hangers should break. It is also wise to carry spare hangers as part of your accessories, so that damaged ones can be replaced before the performance.
Another thing is to always ensure that your steel drums are set up on a level horizontal surface to avoid them falling due to wind or somebody inadvertently brushing past them.
Did you know that all of your efforts could be undermined during a performance if your steel drums are exposed to direct sunlight? The heat from direct sunlight will cause the metal of the playing surface of steel drums to expand, causing them to go out of tune. Fortunately, the steel pan will most likely return to its normal tuning when its exposure to direct sunlight ends. But we want them to be in tune for the performance, so you must remember to avoid exposing your steel drums to direct sunlight.
You should not allow rain or any other liquid or foreign object fall into your steel drums (steel pans). The liquid will settle at the bottom the playing surface and disrupt the vibration of the notes, thereby detuning them until it has been dried off. Falling foreign objects can detune your steel drums permanently and you will have to seek the services of a steel drum tuner to fix the notes. It is therefore important to ensure that nothing falls into your steel drums.
During your Performance
While playing your steel pan (steel drum), never strike the notes too hard as this will distort its sound and can even detune it. If necessary, you should try to have your sound amplified in order to avoid having to play too hard. This is especially important if you are playing with other amplified instruments.
Many non-pannists (especially children) are fascinated by this relatively novel instrument and often attempt play them out of curiosity, especially if you are on a break during the performance. Since they know nothing about taking care of steel drums, they often bang on your instrument in their excitement (and ignorance) and can cause them to go out of tune. Some short kids will even pull down on your steel drums, which can cause your instrument to fall! Therefore, Never let anyone touch your instrument without your close supervision. If you must leave your steel drums, even for a while, you should put them into their case until you return. If that is not possible, then face them against a wall and hold onto your pan mallets!
After your Performance
After you perform it is good practice to dry your steel drums with a cotton rag to remove moisture such as sweat, water or sea blast, all of which could cause them to rust. Keeping silica gel in your steel drum case will help take care of steel drums by removing moisture.
You should polish your chrome steel pan regularly with chrome polish to preserve the chrome and maintain that bright look. One very important point when taking care of steel drums is to keep them in padded rigid cases in order to prevent them from bouncing against hard surfaces or the other steel drums. Your steel drum (steel pan) case should have pockets to hold accessories such as a cotton rag, steel pan mallets and spare steel pan hangers.
Never ever rest your front line pans (tenor pans, double tenor pans and double second pans) on their belly. Ideally they should go straight into your steel drum case, but if you must, rest them gently, face down. Resting any steel drum on its skirt (side) side may allow it to roll away and fall, so that is bad practice.
Caring for Steel Pan Mallets
While taking care of steel drums is very important, you should not neglect the care of your pan mallets. Store your steel pan mallets in a cool place to avoid the rubber becoming gummy and losing its elasticity. A gummy pan mallet will cause your steel pan notes to sound dull. It is wise to keep them in a pan mallet case to protect them from heat. Do not allow the rubber tips of your pan mallets to get cut or eroded, as the stick may become exposed and may contact the steel pan during your performance, resulting in a harsh sound. This can also damage the chrome on the playing surface of your instrument, leaving it prone to premature rusting.
Finally, avoid hitting your steel pan rim or skirt with your pan mallets or hitting them together as this can cause them to break.
Transporting steel drums
Frontline and middle range steel pans (such as guitar pans and cellos) should be carried in rigid padded cases and tightly packed (but not squeezed) to avoid them getting damaged by their being bounced around. This is especially important if your band is going to perform a good distance away, such as overseas where you have to load them onto a plane or a ship. It may help to attach ‘FRAGILE’ stickers to your steel drum cases or boxes to alert personnel that extra care is required when handling your steel drums.
Tuning your steel drums
You should have a reputable steel pan tuner check your pans at least once every year because no matter how softly you play, the instrument may still go slightly out of tune. If you have access to several steel pan tuners, you should listen to the quality of tuning that they have done on other steel drums. Choose the tuner that does a better job. It would help to acquire an electronic tuner to periodically assess the intonation of your steel pan.
Always remember that taking good care of steel drums will reduce the necessity and the extent of tuning required, hence saving you money.
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