Looking After Your Steeldrum

One of the common questions I get asked is "How should I look after my pan" ? Apart from the obvious things like keeping it in a case, getting it tuned regularly and not dropping it, here are some quick pointers that will help keep your pan looking and sounding good.

DISCLAIMER - the products and processes described below should only be used after you have properly understood the risks involved. Some of these chemicals can be harmful if used improperly. Please read all warning labels and follow product use guidelines. Wear appropriate protection equipment such as gloves and proper face masks. When painting, a simple surgical mask is not adequate.

Set the pan down properly

Never ever set your pan down on the floor on the bowl or on its side. It should always be placed with the playing surface facing down, flat on the ground. Be very careful about setting a chromed pan down on a rough surface such as concrete as this will scratch the chrome. Contrary to popular belief scratches in the chrome generally can not be buffed out.

Replace Pan Hangers Regularly

One of the most common things I run into when tuning pans is damage caused by hangers breaking. Please, do not ever use a cable tie for a pan hanger. They will break without warning. Every.Damn.Time.

Durable, safe hangers can be purchased from a variety of pan companies. Email me and I'll get you set up with replacements.

The most creative hangers I've seen are shown in my photogallery under the "AARRRRGHH" tab. Here's a sample...

Chromed Pans

Over time, chrome pans pick up a film of crud on them that makes them appear dull. Over long periods of time, chrome pans can start rusting. This is especially a problem near the coast or in areas of high humidity.

For basic pan maintenance before or after a gig, I use Windex and a paper towel to keep a chrome pan clean. Be sure that the paper towel is clean and free from dirt/grit/sand or you may scratch your pan.

If a pan is rusting, I recommend using Kleenstrip Prep 'n Etch with a paper towel. This is a phosphoric acid cleaner that strips rust; it's available at Home Depot or Lowes, usually in a gallon jug. I apply the solution with a paper towel and work it all over the surface gently. Avoid the temptation to press too hard or to use anything that will scour the surface of the pan. Once the corrosion is gone, dry the pan thoroughly, and then rinse it immediately with clean water and dry it. Then, apply a good chrome polish like Blue Metal Magic (see below).

In my experience, an annual coat of Blue Metal Magic chrome polish can help prevent a chrome pan rusting. It's readily available at places like Autozone. Do not press too hard on the notes when applying and removing the polish or you will put your pan out of tune. Also, be aware that the polish is removing a very small amount of the chrome/nickel every time you apply it. This is not a treatment that should be applied every week.

The images at right show the kind of results that can be achieved, as well as the product.

Please note, that if the pan was never properly polished in the first place, prior to being sent to the chromer, the metal polish is not going to magically make the pan shiny. The polish can only remove muck and stains off the surface of the chrome.

Dont let your chrome pan become like this

Painted Pans

There's quite a variety of paint finishes that are applied to pans. These range from the "el-cheapo" kind out of a spray can from the hardware store, to professionally applied automotive paints.

Budget-priced pans tend to have budget paint jobs. In some cases the pans are not even properly cleaned underneath the paint job. If the pan is not painted on the underside, chances are that the finish on the pan is about the cheapest out there, and it will not be long before the pan starts to corrode.


If the underside of the pan is not painted, its important to apply an etch primer as soon as possible. Before the primer is applied, the exposed metal needs to be properly cleaned. I use Kleanstrip Prep 'n Etch; I'll apply it with a scotch bright pad or even fine steel wool; and wear gloves and even a mask if I'm inside a bass barrel. If the pan has been unpainted for an extended period, this cleaning process can be a major task, especially on a pan with a long skirt such as a bass or cello.

Once the surface is clean, I dry it using a paper towel, then rinse it with water and dry it thoroughly, and then spraypaint it immediately using a basic etch primer such as Rustoleum. I apply the primer as thinly as possible so as not to affect the tuning of the pan; at the same time, I make sure that the entire surface is painted.


Sides of pans can be stripped down and repainted without affecting the tuning of the pan. Note - stripped down and repainted. If several layers of paint accumulate on the skirt its possible that this can dull the sound of the pan. This will be less noticeable on Basses and Cellos. However, it's still a good idea to strip down the paint off a pan before applying new paint so as to keep the pan as resonant as possible.

Playing Surface

There are a few pan companies out there that apply just a silver paint to the note surfaces, with no clearcoat over it. THis has some advantage in the sense that pan is quite resonant, but the down side of this is that the surface scratches really easily, and will corrode since it's not really sealed.

Refinishing this kind of pan will require the existing paint to be removed, the rust to be stripped, and then the notes to be repainted. Most likely the pan will need to be retuned. For best results, the pan should be painted with an automotive base-coat/clearcoat finish. This kind of finish that can generally only be applied by a professional.

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