Bertie Marshall

Master tuner, Electronic Panman, Innovator.

Bertie Marshall is called the “ Electronic Panman”, having been the first to introduce amplified pans – an innovation that should be distinguished from Tripoli’s ‘first’ use of microphones on pans. Tripoli miked their pans simply to get a bigger sound from what was then a smaller aggregation. Bertie created a system specially for the amplification of pans – an innovation that was a direct result of his training in electronics and his determination to use it, for the benefit of the steelpan. This was in 1965.

In 1971 he invented the Bertphone. Many knowledgeable pan enthusiasts are still of the view that this was the ultimate pan invention, since it combined tone control and amplification via speakers, mixers and equalizers. Unfortunately, the Bertphone equipment was lost in a fire on 7th May, 1980 at Laventille. That no other band ever produced its own ‘Bertphone’ was probably due to its cost – a prohibitive TT $10,000.

Bertie Marshall began his steel pan career in 1957 with the now defunct Highlanders steelband of Mango Rose and Laventille. It was his burning desire to give the tenor pan or ping-pong a leading role in the steel orchestra which had now grown, due to Panorama, to accommodate as many as a hundred or more players. Because of this, the lead or tenor pans could not be heard in some parts of the band.

Pragmatic innovator that he was, Bertie designed and introduced the double tenor – dubbed by some enthusiasts, “the perfect pan”, and the most popular instrument in any steelband, up to this day.

This was indeed a very great step forward, since the double tenor introduced a new musicality to the steelband. It had an entirely different sound being more mellow than the single tenor, as well as having a musical range of thirty-two notes which made it ideal for solo artists. Moreover, it was Bertie Marshall who revolutionized the methodology of pan tuning – tuning the notes by octaves and harmonics, that is to say, complex tuning.

Musicologist Newman Alexander has noted that previous to the advent of the double tenor, pan music was capable of expressing or producing tones from around the middle C on the piano and extending about two octaves onwards. Up to this time, bass pans were of very limited range, which left large, empty spaces between the bass pans and the melodic tenor pans. With the advent of the double tenors, the range was subsequently extended downwards and with that downward extension there evolved a mellowness that was hitherto non-existent. This led to a progressive extension downwards which in turn led to a family of lower pitch pans which were also chromatically tuned. This made all the difference in the total pan sonority.

Source: The Trinidad and Tobago Steel Pan
History and Evolution
By: Dr. F.I.R. Blake