Big (and fun) decision

People always ask me where to purchase steel drums, and my answer is always the same: “I could write a book on that.”  This blog entry won’t quite be a book, but it’s a start.

First, there are basically three ways to purchase a steel pan:  You could go to one of several US based companies, import your own pan from someone in Trinidad, or try to find one used online. 
With the pans made here in the US you can expect to get a very high quality pan with nearly perfect chrome and very in-tune.  These companies may have waiting lists from 1-10 months, depending on exactly what you are looking for.  A tenor pan from one of these companies can range from $2500-$6500.  With this price, you are basically guaranteed to get a great pan!
Connecting with a builder or tuner in Trinidad can offer substantial savings from the American builders but there are a few more things to consider.  Many of these people make great pans but might require you to wire transfer the funds before they mail you the instrument.  I’ve never had any problems, but there’s not much one can do if you don’t like the pan you receive.  Otherwise, my advice here is to make sure you are VERY specific when you order your pan.  Do your research and specify the exact note layout that you want by sending a diagram. 
The last way to find a steel pan requires some luck.  Right now there just isn’t a big supply of used pans on the market.  Very seldom can you find these on eBay, Craigslist or other online resale sites.  I would only recommend this if you’ve played many pans before and can play the pattern you are looking at.  I once had a student who purchased a single pan from someone for a “bargain” rate of $400.  It took me a few minutes to recognize the pattern, but it was the LEFT side of a double tenor – only half of an instrument!! 
The last piece of advice is this:  Don’t buy a toy!  Steel pans need to be built from 21 1/2’ barrels or larger.  Anything smaller will be limiting and disappointing.
If you would like more help please feel free to call or e mail me!  Good luck and happy panning!

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