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Simulating a Steel Drum

9/3/2004 5:20 PM
Rob Mercure
Simulating a Steel Drum
Howdy Folks,  
I don't use pedals too much - generally like generating my tone scape within the amp. Still, while listening to an amplified solid body banjo last night I "almost" detected something that sounded like a steel drum ("pan").  
So, can anyone steer me to a circuit that would mime a steel drum with my Strat input? And/or, has anyone really thought about/analyzed the tonality/timbre/sonic signature of a pan? If so, please describe it - I'm having trouble exchanging the sound in my head for an tonal description.  
9/4/2004 2:03 PM
Boss OC-2 (octave down pedal) in the loop of a Q-tron+ (envelope filter).
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9/7/2004 10:14 AM
Rob Mercure

Thanks for the reply - but I'm really not a pedal person - but have been fooling with tube amps for over 35 years. So I don't have the specific pedals nor would I purchase them just for this purpose - I'm more interested in information like "drop the pitch down an octave and modify the attack/decay like xxxxx while eleiminating everything over the third harmonic" - or some such. And then ciruits to produce this.  
Fer general fun viewers might try this link - much info about sound generation within a steelpan top.  
9/7/2004 10:30 AM
Mark Hammer

Steel drums are essentially highly damped cymbals with "subfields". That is, rather than being like one big freely vibrating cymbal, they are essentially broken down into regions whose vibrations are contained by nearby regions, with the whole thing being contained by the rim of the drum itself.  
Naturally, the same way a cymbal itself sounds different if you grip the edge with your hand and hit it with a stick, the steel drum also lacks all the high end we associate with conventional cymbals.  
However, the cymbal connection provides some positive leads in this tonal challenge. Cymbals are very nicely simulated by clever use of ring modulators. I've made one cymbal synthesizer that appeared in Electronics Today many years ago and was truly impressed with how lifelike it sounded and how easily it was tuned or revoiced.  
RM's produce their unique sound by producing a sum and difference signal from two inputs, one of which does the modulating and the other of which has the modulation mapped onto it. When the modulating signal is a medium to high frequency signal, what comes out is largely unpitched. For example, play a 500hz tone, modulate it with 350hz, and what comes out is 150hz and 850hz, not exactly harmonically related. Given that there are also harminics in the original guitar signal, you also have to figure all those sums and differences in there too.  
When the modulating signal is just inside the audio range (e.g., between 20hz and 80hz), the sum and difference will be reasonably close to each other across the entire fretboard, and the resulting tone will be "lightly pitched". That is, you can play a run and it will seem to go up and down correspondingly as you play.  
So, that's the long way of saying you should probably consider getting or making a ring modulator that can modulate at low audio frequencies. Of course, mixing in a bit (maybe even a lot) of the original signal so that you have a combo of the original pitch, something just a bit higher and something just a bit lower, will probably come a lot close to getting that ever-so-slightly "rubber band" tone.  
Of course, steel drum tone, as we know it, is generally played by more than one drum at a time, so a more authentic-sounding emulation would like include using a chorus after the modulation.  
Is that any help?
9/7/2004 12:46 PM
Rob Mercure

Mark, Thanks, this helps much - hope you like the link I posted. Was the cymbal synthesizer you published solely an oscillator (et al) or could it be triggered by external inputs? I.e., could it be the starting point for something that takes a guitar input and produces something like a pan?  
A few years ago I was honored the see the Steel Drum Orchestra of the University of the West Indies in Black River, JA. Probably 30 pieces or so ranging from tiny picolo drums to some that were about 3 feet in diameter - the orchestra consisted of students with a pretty even gender mix and they play everthing from calypso type music to Bach! One of the most mesmerizing evenings of my life.  
But, for my purposes I'd be satisfied with something that would produce a single melody line - not sure I'd attempt to mime a chorus of pans after having heard 30 or so play at once.  
9/7/2004 1:11 PM

If you twist the low E and A string on an accoustic and fret it around the 3rd fret you get a kind of Steel drum.That`s how i used to do it.  
9/7/2004 6:32 PM
Rob Mercure

Hey Ed,  
Hmmm, well, I'm primarily an acoustic guitarist - tuly acoustic, no amplification - who plays with hand drummers - and I've not been able to get the "effect" you mention. Wanna enlighten me on "twist?"  
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