Economic Backbone - Arts & Culture
Pensacola-based steel drum maker one of only a handful of makers in nation
Alan Coyle has perfected the evocative and distinctly Caribbean sound of the steel drum — but not as a player. Coyle’s Pensacola manufacturing shop turns out about 300 steel drums annually that sell for $2,500 to $6,000 apiece. His shop is one of only a handful of steel drum makers in the U.S.
Originating in Trinidad and Tobago in the early 20th century, the steel drum is “a happy sound, very much equated with the beach life,” says Coyle.
It takes Coyle and his small staff of metalsmiths at Coyle Drums about 70 hours to make each hand-made drum. Each drum emits a “voice” that can range from tenor to alto and soprano.
While most steel drums today are made from 55-gallon empty oil barrels, Coyle says he is one of only two U.S. manufacturers that make drums from raw rolled steel.
“We manufacture the entire drum from scratch,” he says. “It’s a bigger drum than what you would make from an oil barrel, and it’s of a much higher quality.”
Chicago area musician Scott Johnson, one of Coyle’s longtime customers, says Coyle is among the top steel drum manufacturers in the country. “His steel drums have great dynamic range that really project a beautiful tone,” says Johnson.
Coyle describes his steel drum product as a “niche within a niche” and adds that his marketing strategy is simply word of mouth.
“There’s a much bigger demand than supply,” he says. “We have a year-and-a-half backlog of orders for our drums.”
Read more in Florida Trend's June issue.
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