Grooving

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Grooving

There's quite a lot of debate around what the function of the groove is on the pan. Without a doubt, the groove creates a good visual definition of the note panels for both the tuner and the player.

Back in the 1940's and 50's when pan was in its infancy, the instruments were not sunk very deep at all - a few inches at most. As a consequence, there was very little geometric separation between the note panels, and without a doubt the groove helped to separate the notes. A wonderful video of early (1956) pan-making techniques was made by the late Pete Seeger. This video is available on Youtube here.

The grooving is done with a flat punch and a 24oz ball-pein hammer. Do not use a tuning hammer for grooving! This is the easiest way to mess up the face of the hammer.

In modern times, several pan makers have dispensed with grooving the pan. Perhaps the first tuner to go grooveless was Phil Solomons. On my high end pans I do not use a groove. On the Heritage Series pans, which I make intentionally using largely traditional methods, I do use a groove.

A problem with grooving the pan is that once you've spend all that time getting the shape of the pan right and the steel smooth, it seems crazy to then put a groove in the pan and then have to repeat the smoothing process. So, it seems easier to spend the time getting the pan smooth and tight once and then not put a groove in.

Another common problem with grooving a pan is that the pan is sometimes prone to split when the groove is smoothed out.

If one dispenses with the groove, then one is faced with the problem that there is no way to accurately tell where the notes are when working from the underside of the pan. During my tenure at Panyard, Inc we developed a system of drilling four small (3/64", about 1.1mm) holes on each note to mark the ends of the long and short axes. On the top of the pan we scribed two lines around each note that roughly corresponded to the edges of the grooving punch; on the underside, we scribed a single line which intersected all four holes.

It's my opinion that the groove serves no acoustic purpose whatsoever on the modern instrument. I'm not suggesting that the groove is an inherently bad thing, just that it's not serving the purpose today that it did when it was introduced in the 1950's. The separation of the notes is achieved by properly shaping the pan. The best pans I've ever made had no groove line on them.

The grooving punch and hammer I use. I find it useful to put a strip of latex tubing over the punch so that it's easier to hold. Close up of the punch. I chucked it up on my lathe and smoothed the corners a little so that it has a neat flat dome shape on the face. If you leave the face perfectly flat with sharp corners, the punch may cut too deep into the pan.
Some of my scribing tools. The two pens in the woodblock are use to mark the dual lines. The scribing tool is self explanatory. The templates are made from Plexiglass/Perspex. The templates need to be very carefully made and require regular sanding to keep the edges smooth. It is not necessary to have a complete set of scribing templates, as one can scribe more than a few different note sizes with each template. Close up of the scribing tool. I like to put a length of latex tubing over the the scribing tool to make it easier to hold. I sharpen the point frequently, maybe a couple of times during the process of scribing a single pan. Scribed notes. You can see the position of the 4 holes on the ends of the long axes. This pan is going to be a chromed instrument, and it has already been polished prior to being scribed.


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