Satellite Drums

Satellite Drums

(Satellite Cans, Shade Drums)

Mfg. by Pete Engelhart

Can play on rods or can part for different timbres.

Satellite drums are usually played with a mallet or drumstick. Also known as “satellite cans,” satellite drums consist of a steel bar welded onto a hollow, shallow disc of metal. Hitting the bars creates a loud, resonant metallic sound.

Master metallic percussion craftsman Pete Engelhart made a chromatic set of satellite drums for Emil Richards in the late 1990s at his request (Pete didn’t usually make chromatic sets of them up to that point). Knowing his talent for welding and enthusiasm for making percussion instruments, Emil would occasionally ask Pete to create more instruments. Emil wanted to have the satellite drums set up chromatically so he could have fluency on them, like other mallet keyboard instruments. Having a chromatic set with a 2-octave range allowed the playing of melodies similar to other instruments in the orchestra. In the studio, Emil would sometimes use satellite drums as a substitute for steel drums, as the sound is similar (but more percussive).

While many composers were enthusiastic about using new and eclectic instruments in the percussion section, they used them more as a featured, novelty sound. However, composers such as Lalo Schifrin and Jerry Goldsmith were notable in their “marrying” of percussion instruments, and used the satellite drums in combination with other instruments to create new textures.


  • Robots

    From Robots (2005), composed by John Powell. Listen for soft, metallic melody. Repeating phrase is a bit less than 1-measure long. Also, go to 2:15 to hear more in faster section.

Please note: these are just examples, as playing technique and mallet/stick choices often have a great effect on the timbre.

These sound excerpts, to the best of our knowledge (unless otherwise noted), include this actual instrument from our collection. To hear the instrument yourself, or to let us know of any errors, please contact us.