The Pang Instruments

Authors: Felix Rohner and Sabina Schärer
© Copyright by the authors – All rights reserved
Published in the Procedings of the ICSTS 2000 (publisher: Anthony Achong), pp. 197-202
Published online in the Tuniversity (external link) on PANArt’s first website December 2000
Republished on 18. February 2017
Language: English
Research paper presented by PANArt at the first International Conference on the Science and Technology of the Steelpan (ICSTS), October 16 – 18, 2000 in Port-of-Spain, Trinidad.

A picture with all the instruments (external link) described in this article can be found in the Hanglexikon.


PANArt Ltd, Engehaldenstrasse 131
3012 Berne, Switzerland


The Pang instruments are all made of gasnitrided steel. The stronger material led to a new shape and new edge conditions which allowed to construct new resonance bodies. A serie of new instruments have been developed.

1. Introduction

The Pang instruments have been developed by PANArt in the last five years. They are all made of gasnitrided steel, some of them based on the new rawform. The appearance of the dome was the beginning of a new tuning, because the elliptical dome determines the ratios of the partials. The tuning process begins in the center of the shell with the construction of the dome. When the navel was born, we immediately began to study the function of the dome of the gong. It was exciting to see gong tuners at their work. We observed that they charged the gong with clay and we realized that they damped vibration modes to control the frequencies. Step by step we began to understand their shapes, their manipulations to change the stiffness and to get the “Onkas”, the oszillations. We met gamelan tuners and exchanged our knowledge and we realized that the chance of steel lies in the harmonical tuning of the three lowest modes. We decided to follow the law of the dome, which centralizes energy, and to forget to tune the higher modes harmonically. Those were, due to the dome, much higher than the second octave and we appreciated the warm sound with a good intonation.

Studies of the tabla showed us the art of tuning a drum. Tabla tuners solve the problem of many disharmonical overtones of the drum by putting a stiff mass in the center of their drum. The form of this mass brings together pairs of higher modes, so that we can consider the tabla as a harmonically tuned drum.

Timpani, bells, singing saw and many other instruments revealed to us the laws of musical instruments. Explications we got from the physicists and other scientific people.

The Pang orchestra is a group of individual musical instruments. Some of our instruments can be integrated in the artform steelband. Others find their place in new formations. PANArt will continue to develop the sound of steel.

2. Pang Bells

The sound of cowbells belong to the European countries whithin the alpine region. The bells that hang round the necks of cows, sheep and goats are made of iron or bronze. Big bells of iron have a dark sound, bells of bronze a long ringing bright sound. The original reason why farmers spent a lot of money to get nice bells was to protect the animals from bad ghosts and to find them easy in the fog or by night. Some farmers hang the bells at their houses to show how rich they are. In summertime the cows of many different farmers stay on the mountains until the first snow reaches the alps, then they come down. Then you can hear a big cowbell orchestra coming down and the sound of brillant bells and dark cowbells is heard from valley to valley.

Pang bells are made of the hardened deepdrawn form. They are usually tuned to an octave and a fifth. The tuner changes the stiffness of the rim to get bells of a full octave range. The strike ton corresponds to the 3,0 mode. The bell is excited with a wooden hammer layered with rubber or leather. The leather hammer produces a brillant sound, the rubber a warm sound. The bell player has to give a short strong impact horizontally on the rim. A Pang- Glockenspiel consists of 12 bells arranged in two whole tone scales.

3. Tubal

The Tubal has a range of 3 ½ octaves (from A1 to D5). It is a percussive instrument consisting of individual notes. The shells have a thickness of 1.0 to 1.5 mm and they are clamped in a cylindrical resonance body and tuned in a ratio of 1:2:3. The resonance body is closed with a bottom of polymere (Styropor) which has a round hole. With this bottom the Helmholtz resonance can be tuned and the bottom itself is vibrating. The eigenmodes of the skirt are damped with the bottom. The mallets are made of light spruce wood with a rubber core and some layers of felt. The instrument is placed on a rubberlike material to avoid the loss of energy in the ground. The Tubal tones are arranged in whole ton scales.

4. Orages

These cymbales are made of gasnitrided steel of different qualities. The combination of sound and crash is very interesting. The difference to bronze cymbals is especially their radiation. Due to the higher speed of the bending waves, lower frequencies are louder.

The Orages are hammered on an anvil after nitriding to work harden the material. The different sounds originate from the different diameter, thickness, steel quality and hammering. The dome stabilizes the form and changes in curvature influence the shifting of energy.

5. Ping, Peng, Pong

These are the names of three instruments which are new members of the steelpan family. Their notes are hammered into the sphere and recople with their neighbours. The singing character of these harmonically tuned instruments is produced with a tremolo. They may have the place of a choir in a Pang orchestra. These three instruments are related to each other not only in the material and tuning but also in their layout. The layout is based on two whole tone scales which are distributed symmetrically to two resonance bodies: The musicians meet the notes in the same coordinates in all instruments. This integrated layout has been developed by PANArt and is a Standard in the western part of Switzerland. (fig.1)

Integrated layout of Ping, Peng and Pong
Fig.1 Integrated layout of Ping, Peng and Pong

The dome geometry demands a new art of playing. The place of energy impact is the dome. The mallet has to stay longer on the note to transport more energy into the body. We use mallets with rubber and felt. The construction of the mallets influence the color of the sound, because the attack on the stiff shell produces noises which can enrich the timbre. The Pang choir produces a warm sound and needs therefore a controled touch to keep the harmonical correctness.

6. Pung

Pung are made of cylindrical resonance bodies. The skirt gets a stiffer form made by the metal former. The dome is not a mass concentration like in many Buckelgongs but a center of energy impact. The shoulder is larger than in Buckelgongs and enables a stronger radiation of the fundamental. A strong impact on this instrument produces a bright sound or even a crash, a soft impact produces a warm harmonical sound. They are played with the backside of the fist.

7. Hang

A musician, who visited our factory with an Indian gatam, gave us the idea to develop an instrument in steel which could be played by hand. The hang was born. It consists of two spheres of gasnitrided steel fixed together. The notes are tuned in the upper sphere and in the lower sphere there is an opening. The instrument lies for playing on the knees or on the floor. Seven to nine notes are harmonically tuned around a central deep note. This low note can excite the Helmholtz resonance when it is played in a certain way. The frequency of the Helmholtz resonance can be changed by varying the dimension of the opening with the knees.