The Steelpan Store started in 2009 when Matt Potts decided that he was tired of not knowing what options are available for the steelpan. Our mission is to provide a single location that allows panists to compare products and pick the ones that suit their needs and budget best. The store is 100% owned and operated by panists and we strive to only bring quality products to our customers.
How It Started
Matt started playing pan in 2005 and always struggled to find information about the instrument or accessories. He utilized beginner piano books, made a stand out of PVC, used his drumset bass drum case (with pillows), and had the one pair of mallets that came with the pan he bought on eBay. He did not know anything about the pan at that time and was very fortunate to actually get a pretty good instrument that he still owns today.
It wasn’t until around 2008 when Matt started to realize that there were a lot of different options out there for mallets, stands, music, and cases that he just didn’t know how to find. At that time he started working on the idea for the store. He started talking to other panists to see what products they like and where they get them from. He started making some products of his own. Finally, he started figuring out how to make a website in order to put this all together.
In the beginning, Matt didn’t really want to deal with bringing in instruments. He realized that offering instruments would require an in-house tuner to go through all instruments before they are sold to check for tonal quality. After getting the store up and running, it did not take long for the requests for instruments to start coming in. For the first few months, Matt stood his ground and said no to offering instruments. After a while though, he realized that this was a major issue for new pan players and remembered the struggle he had purchasing his first instrument. At that time, he decided to start working on his tuning skills.
Matt had already been working with Cliff Alexis for a few years at this point and had the basic idea of building and some of the concepts of tuning. Before leaving college, Matt was awarded a USOAR grant to spend six weeks in Trinidad studying the art of pan making. He floated around, observing as many tuners and builders as possible, soaking up every piece of information he was able to get access to. While in Trinidad, Matt was able to spend time with tuners such as Mapo, Jimi Phillip, and Yoyo Kalicharan as well as spending time at pan businesses like Gill’s Pan Shop and Panland.
Upon returning home, Matt took the information he had learned from all these different sources and started putting the pieces together. He worked relentlessly to figure out how to do work the hammer and massage the metal to get the harmonics to line up and the pan to sound good. He eventually felt confident enough in offering instruments for sale through The Steelpan Store and started partnering with various builders and tuners.
After leaving college in 2011, Matt started up a professional steelband (Potts & Pans Steelband) and shifted his focus to that. Upon playing throughout the Chicagoland area, Matt realized that there was a serious lack of pan awareness and decided that he needed to do something about it. He started the Great Lakes Steelpan Festival in 2013 in order to create an educational festival that helped not only teach the audience about the instrument but also teach the participants about proper playing techniques and the rich history of the steelpan.
Leading into that first festival, Matt was in what seemed to be a never-ending uphill battle with people that did not want him to be involved in pan. As this battle seemed to get worse and worse, Matt made a deal with himself saying that if the festival did not reach his goals that he would quit pursuing pan and utilize his engineering degree to make a living. After receiving no support from any steelbands in Illinois, things weren’t looking good. However, Matt had managed to get Dr. Elliott Mannette to agree to come out and that helped get some bands from surrounding states to travel in. It was at that first festival, that Matt’s path was decided. During the evening concert, Dr. Ellie Mannette stood in front of the audience and said: “I am the history of this instrument, but this young man here (gesturing to Matt) is the future.” After the concert, Ellie told Matt how impressed he was with what had been accomplished. Ellie even complimented the tone of some of the pans that Matt had tuned. Needless to say, this greatly outweighed all the negativity from other local panists and encouraged Matt to keep going.
The Steelpan Store Takes a Back Seat
After getting the words of encouragement from Dr. Mannette, Matt decided to double down on the education side of things. Along with two of his bandmates, Christina Guerrero and Anthony Jay Houston, Matt created Culture, Arts & Music, a 501c3 organization that celebrates world diversity, transporting people to different countries through immersive learning experiences. Between the professional performances and now all the educational performances, Matt decided to put The Steelpan Store on the back burner for a while.
Through their performances and school events, Potts & Pans and Culture, Arts & Music was able to create enough interest in the community to start up 3 community steelbands. Having these bands required more instruments, equipment, and maintenance. This new avenue of spreading pan education took top priority, but also created the opportunity for Matt to continue to work on his tuning. It was also during this time that Matt developed a long distance mentorship and friendship with Ellie Mannette and Chanler Bailey. Through their help, Matt continued to improve as a tuner and soon people started to hear about him.
The Store Fights It’s Way Back
Matt’s main attention was still focused on pan education through Culture, Arts & Music, but more and more people started asking him to tune their pans, or get them stands, or make them mallets, or get them new pans. Eventually, that demand got to the point that Matt had to shift his focus back to the store. Although Matt still gives much of his time to the running of Culture, Arts & Music and pan education, he has shifted most of his performance energy back to the operation of The Steelpan Store and helping other people spread steelpan education.
In the end, it’s all about pan awareness and education. Whether it was at the beginning and the frustration of not knowing where to get proper equipment, or if it is today with helping a new school program get started. Pan education is what we’re all about here at The Steelpan Store. We all are in the unique position to have the opportunity to do our part to help this young artform grow.
So what’s next? Of course, nobody really knows. However, we can say with certainty that whatever comes next is going to be another opportunity to help the pan community flourish. Do you have an idea to help the pan community? Maybe we can work together to make it happen!