Looking for steel drums for sale? Been there, done that. And I might be there soon again.
I still remember buying my first steel drum in 2002 when I was just a teenager. I also remember all the mistakes I did then and with about dozen others I bought ever since.
I learned a lot about how and where to buy a steel drum in the last years. I bought new steel drums, used steel drums and steel drum accessories like stands and mallets.
Some of mistakes were very costly, but I learned a lot. I want to share my knowledge, so you won’t do the same mistakes I did while buying my first steel drums for sale. I hope you’ll enjoy my guide and have a great experience while buying a steel drum.
If you are looking for specific information, help yourself with this link to jump to the part you are looking for.
1. Who invented the steel pan?
Before we start looking for steel drums for sale, let’s learn more about them first. If you don’t know who invented the steel pan yet, than you are in for a treat.
It all started on the Island of Trinidad in the 1940’s when kids used biscuit tins and similar items as instruments during the Carnival.
A man by the name of Spree Simon has discovered how to get different pitches by denting different sized bubbles in the cans and tins. It took another 20 years or so before Ellie Monnette made a first steel drum with 14 notes out of a 55 gallon oil barrel.
Not much has changed since then. Most steel drums are still made with 55 gallon oil barrels. They are still being built in the same manner as they used to. However, we have a better understanding of how to manipulate the steel and of course better tools.
2. Types of steel drums
Another thing you need to know before you go looking for steel drums for sale is which type of steel drums you want to buy.
You might not know, but there are 5 basic types of steel drums. Here they are:
- Double tenor
- Double second
- Guitar steel drum
- Cello steel drum
Tenor Steel drum
Tenor steel drum is a single drum. There are basically two types of tenor steel drums, low tenor and high tenor. The only difference between these two is the pitch range. Both of them are commonly used by soloists.
Low tenor steel drum (also called C tenor) has a pitch range from C4 to E6. Interesting thing about low tenor is that it is mostly used in the USA and very rarely in Trinidad.
The high tenor steel drum (also called as D tenor or soprano pan) has a pitch range from D4 to F#6. Even though high the tenor steel drum is a lead instrument and normally carries the melody, it can easily play the harmonic role.
Another great thing about the tenor steel drum is that it’s easy to transport it and it’s a bit more affordable than the other types, since you only need to buy one steel drum stand and one case.
Double tenor steel drums
Double tenors have two drums and are less common compared to the other types. The great thing about double tenor is that it can carry the melody, a harmonic voice, for chords or counter melodies.
Its pitch range is between F3 to B5 or two octaves. Since arrangement of the notes is not symmetrical, that makes the double tenor steel drum a bit more difficult to master than the others.
Double second steel drum
Double second steel drums are my favorite. I love how versatile they are. You can play harmonic voices, leads, chords or counter melodies. If you want to play in a steel drum band or any other band, you’ll probably play melody lines.
Just like the double tenor steel drum, double second also use two drums. However, both drums carry the notes of a whole-tone scale. This makes them very popular among steel drum soloists.
Guitar steel drum
The guitar steel drum uses 2 pans ranging from C#3 to F#5. It got its name for being used mainly for strumming.
The guitar steel drum is usually used to provide the harmony, but can also be used for the counter melody.
The guitar steel drum has a deep and mellow sound due to its longer skirt.
Cello steel drum
Cello steel drum uses 3 separatepans ranging from C3 to B4. It’s based on a minor-third relationship so it gives a deeper, more melancholic tone.
One of the best features of this drum is that you can adapt the layout and the arrangement of the pans to suit your style. If you aspire to play low harmonies and counter melodies, you have found just the right drum for you.
Bass Steel drum
If you are planning to buy bass steel drums, then I hope you have a van. Most bass steel drums consist of 6, full sized 55 gallon drums.
Rarely will you see that pannists use seven-bass, nine-bass and even more rarely twelve-bass. You need 6 (or more) bass steel pans because they only have 3 different notes.
Because they are big, hard to transport and take a lot of space, many steel drum bands will opt for an electric bass guitar instead.
3. Where to find steel drums for sale?
Steel drums are one of those instruments you can’t usually buy in the first music store you come across around the corner. They are also not that simple to fix, so it’s important to know how to find a well-tuned one.
The first place almost everyone looks for steel drums for sale is the local instrument shop. I get it, it’s convenient since you can ask about it in person and don’t have to wait to buy steel drum.
Although your selection will be significantly limited and they often don’t have steel pan drum for sale you wanted on stock.
More advanced pannists usually seek custom steel drum makers, since they provide high quality steel drums for sale, usually made by professional pannists themselves.
The downside of this is that it can cost you a lot, I’ve broke my bank once to get one of these. It’s worth noting, that there are not many custom steel drum makers, so the waiting period can stretch for quite a bit.
One of the most popular options nowadays is buying online. It also my favorite, since I have almost unlimited selection, I can compare prices, read other people’s reviews and look for discounts and bargains. You can also buy used ones on sites like Craigslist and eBay, but I’ll talk below about it below.
Well, how do I know a good steel drum when I see it? – That’s the question I asked myself too in the early days, that’s why I wanted to offer some useful tips.
The best thing would be if you could take an experienced pannist with you to check the steel drum.
If not, try to find as much as you can about the drum you want on the internet before you check it out. If you notice any dents and damages on the outer drum try to avoid it.
They will alter the sound of the drum and it will probably be out of tune. Check the pictures and compare yourself.
Take an electronic tuner with you and check for the sounds of every note. Avoid every steel drum that doesn’t sound properly and if some notes stand out from the others.
4. Finding used steel drums for sale
As I said before, steel drums can be quite expensive and not everyone can afford a new one.
Or maybe you are just looking to buy your first one and you don’t want to spend too much before you finally commit to playing it.
Finding used steel drum for sale can be time consuming and a bit tricky. Not only there are not a lot of places where you can buy it, you can also end up with a shitty used steel drum if you don’t know what you are doing.
Let’s save buying tips and tricks for later and let’s talk about where you can actually find used steel drums for sale. This is where I usually look for them:
EBay and Craigslist might be the most obvious places where you would look for used steel drum for sale, but they come with few downsides that I don’t like that much. I’ll talk about this in a few seconds.
Buying used steel drum from a fellow pannist (steel drum musician) can be a good idea as long as you are sure they won’t play you. Some will just try to sell it because it’s damaged or doesn’t sound good.
The best would be when they are selling it because they gave up on playing. In this case there is a great chance they didn’t use it a lot and that it is still in great condition.
The first steel drum I bought was a used one and I bought it on Craigslist. That wasn’t the brightest decision I’ve made, since the drum was in much worse condition than described.
The pan was all dented and sounded horribly, so even though it was cheap, I wasted all the money I paid for it.
EBay was another place I had a somewhat bad experience with used steel drums for sale. The drum I ordered was damaged, but this time during the shipping. However, I have previously ordered and received 2 cheap steel drums in great condition on eBay, so it’s hit and miss with it.
In my opinion, it’s best if you can if you can afford to pay a bit more for a new one. There are some places where you can buy steel drum that’s not used but still cheap, I’ll write more about it in the part below.
5. Cheap steel drums for sale
You might be tempted to look for cheap steel drums for sale, but be careful. If you are a beginner you can either buy a used drum or a cheap new one. Buying a new drum is always a better option in my opinion.
With the used ones you can never know what you are going to get, it might turn out great, but most of the time it will not.
When you are buying a cheap steel drum for sale that is new, you know that what you see is what you get, although it may not always be the best quality made drum.
If you decide to look for cheap steel drums for sale anyway, I would suggest visiting Amazon. You would be surprised how many steelpan drums you’ll find over there.
While they have a few professional quality drums, they also have several entry level steelpans for very little money. You can get steel drum kit for as little as for 160$. If you really want to find cheap steel drum, than you should take a look at amazon.
6. Steel drum stand
They say that behind every good steel drum there’s a great steel drum stand. Actually no one says that, but it’s true. Cheaper steel drums often come with a pretty poor plastic stands and if you are serious about playing steel drums, you should consider investing in a steel stand.
Every playing style and type of drums will require a bit different stand. It’s important to have a quality made stand as it holds expensive equipment and it makes your playing time as easy as possible.
Even though the steel drum stand should be strong, it should also be lightweight and easy to transport.
I personally use the stand from the link below. It’s quite heavily enforced, but at the same time it’s lightweight and collapsible, so I have no troubles in moving it over. It fit easily in most of my carrying bags, and was simple to assemble again.
7. Steel drum pan mallets
Steel drum pan mallets are a bit different than the regular ones. They have a wooden base like any other, but the heads are wrapped in either rubber or leather in order to make no damage to the drum.
No one wants to experience playing on a damaged, out of tune drum.
Bass steel drum mallets are a tad different as they have a thicker rubber head in order to make deeper notes.
Even the best made mullets are pretty affordable. So I highly recommend buying quality percussion mallets over the ones you get with the drum, since they are usually quite poor.
8. Learn to play steel drums
If you still don’t know how to and want to learn to play steel drums, you’re on a good way already. The best method would be if you could find a professional instructor to teach you.
But that is very unlikely, except if you live in the Central America.
True, you can find some great online steel drum lessons, but they often cost too much.
The cheapest and the most rewarding way is to buy a booklet or a DVD with lessons and learn steel drum yourself.
Some drums even come withplay along DVDs and instructions on how to play, especially the beginner ones.
I’ve found some great lessons on Amazon that introduce you to the basics of steel drums and make it fun at the same time. You’ll learn how to read the chords, how to play scales and songs, and you’ll learn the circle of fifths in no time.
9. Steel drum music
In order to play steel drum music, you need to listen to it first, right? That’s why I want to show you some great sources, whether you just want to relax or learn how to play it.
My favorites are the Caribbean Steel Band Ensemble and Steel Drum Island. The first one is great for relaxing and enjoying Caribbean steel drum music as it is, and the latter provides you with the pure steel pan solo sound that every beginner aspires for.
I hope the information I’ve shared will come handy to you and that you will be able to successfully find what you want. I’ve experienced the struggles in finding information for good steel drums for sale, that’s why I wanted to make it easier for future steel pan enthusiasts. I’m confident that you will make a right choice and have a lot of fun while playing steel pans if you decide so.