Tahlequah Daily Press

Local News

July 17, 2013

Making metal music

In the park, a man sits holding two large oval metal pans, one on top of the other, pounding and tapping along the top. It is an unusual sight as is the sound, which is bell-like but tropical.

TAHLEQUAH — In the park, a man sits holding two large oval metal pans, one on top of the other, pounding and tapping along the top. It is an unusual sight as is the sound, which is bell-like but tropical.

That man is Bob Taylor.

When a friend sent Taylor a YouTube video of someone playing a hand pan, he was fascinated. Now, hand pans have become a passion for the local musician.

“After seeing the video, I really wanted one, but couldn’t afford it. They’re hard to come by unless you’re on a four-year waiting list, can travel to Switzerland and have about $5,000,” Taylor said.

The hand pans are known as “panart” here. The original creators are in Switzerland and call theirs “Hang” (pronounced “hong”). There are now about 10 people, including Taylor, who make them.

He bought two 55-gallon drum barrels and started hammering in about April 2011.

“I built several shields in the process that made no musical sounds, but I kept trying. I got more barrels and learned a little more each time,” he said.

After 30 tries, he’s built five he’d actually call instruments, and keeps making improvements.

“I’ve kept two and I’m about to finish another one,” he said. “The others I’ve turned into planters, shields, a bird bath and fire pit.”

Once he felt like he was on the right track, he and his dad got sheet metal to make the hand pans, and have built special tools and clamps to use.

“It’s been a non-stop project, a trial-and-error process. I’m 95 percent there,” Taylor said. “They say it takes about two years to make an instrument, and I’m close to being able to offer them on the world market.”

A friend in Russia he met on the Internet has offered suggestions along the way.

“Victor, in Russia, has given me a few pointers when I got frustrated,” Taylor said. “He’s been building about six years.”

Unlike a drum cymbal, hand pans can only be hand-built because you’re balancing the stress and tension in the metal, so you can’t mass-produce.

“When you’re hammering, carbon hardens the metal,” he said.

“To machine one, you can get the shape in 5 or 10 minutes, but there’s no sound. Sound takes about a quarter of a million hammer strikes.”

A hand pan is tuned to the scale and Taylor can put them in any scale you want.

“Now I roughly have a two octave scale,” he said. “All I’ve built are in A sharp. I’m working to get them down to a D.”

He’s now having some tools custom-built.

“When they’re done, I’ll be able to get more accurate and deeper sounds,” he said.

With a commitment to quality, Taylor takes his time with each hand pan.

“I’m not in a hurry. I have about 100 hours in each one, but eventually I’ll get it down to about 40 hours,” Taylor said.

He started making them because he wanted one. Now his goal is to produce them for friends at a reduced rate, who will play them.

“I saw one go on eBay for $15,000, but that was probably a collector, not a musician,” he said.

Eventually, he plans to sell on eBay, but at a rate musicians can afford.

“I love the sounds of a hand pan, the musical overtones. There’s eight or nine notes on each pan, but each note has three tones in it. You can play harmonies and get about 24 actual tones,” explained Taylor.

“It sounds like a bell, but a more warm, mellow sound.”

In Europe and on the East Coast, they have annual gatherings of hand pan enthusiasts, he said. It’s a goal of his to attend one, and perhaps in the future host one here.

“One step at a time,” he said.

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