Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Handpans But Were Afraid to Ask

That’s right, here is the dirty low down on the fancy steel drum that is the Hang ®, sound sculpture, DÔME, cupolas, Steel Drums, PanTam… all very good variation names for the what is now known as the Handpan family of steel percussion instruments.
  • It’s over priced ! Well as a sound sculpture they are priceless REALLY and if people are prepared to pay huge ebay auction fees on a over priced item … then ynot. As with any art item you best be sure to get what you pay for, so study your item – ask around.
  • Sound Sculpture are bulky and too big for smaller people, If they are of 1mm material thickness the weight is not that bad but they are easy to dint, on the other hand if they are 1.2mm thick then they are stronger but also not so light any more. Did you ever notice why very few woman play the handpan … well 22 inch is just to big to handle, give a mini a try 😉
  • Handpans are rare and hard to find/buy… guess again, there are dozens of handpans out there for sale if you’re prepared to start with a homemade quality instrument. We don’t recommend buying online at all. Find a maker and strike a deal with him, visit his aletier and try his instruments – as they say it’s not the destination but the road leading there 😉
  • Steel instruments are unique ! That’s right, no handpan will have the exact same sound as the other, sound on metal is ‘alive’ and will wiggle it’s way from A to B on the note filed. Did you know that each tone field holds many ‘in-active’ sounds, well not audible and that they can be activated by gently tapping the edge of the note field… Get yourself a good tuner and unleash your instruments 😉
  • Steel drums need constant tuning just like any instrument, no way around that one. All manufactures will offer re-tunings, what they don’t tell you is that if you’re a professional musician, you will be sideways to hear how wacky your instrument sounds first thing in the morning when it’s brisk or during a hot day at a rainbow gathering. Ask around about any local tuning services in you area or learn how to tune. There is no way this instrument will continue it’s rise if people can’t tune them locally – such as pianos, there will be tuning booth in drum shops 😉
  • Metal will rust, so what ! It’s a known fact that metal will rust but really, surface rust is not going to affect your sound. Leaving your instrument in a storage container for 2 years will destroy any art form. Keeping it clean and not humid will go a long way. Beeswax is a good place to start.
  • What ever you do – don’t drop it ! The single most damageable thing you can do to any musical instrument is dropping it. Dropping a wood guitar is bad but most likely it will not change the sound and you can re-tune it easily. Now drop an unprotected handpan from your car and its going to sound wacky, permanently.
  • Steel instruments have fix scales… you are going to get ‘tired’ of your scale and want more instrument or want to trade it for a different scale. Concept as trading circles and handpan rentals will surely popup as main stream interest continues to grow.
  • Beginners should chose an instrument with less notes, especially if you’re not a percussionist. Why ? a 7 and up note instrument requires you to know how to play them in a certain ‘order’ to sound right and because the combinations are many you will have a harder time figuring it out. On the other hand, getting an instrument with 4,5,6 notes is fun – as in anywhere you stoke the handpan will have a tune = fun right away.
  • Handpans sound gooood 😉 It’s true,  playing for others is very exciting – all that attention but i find playing by yourself is where the healing starts. When properly tuned, a handpan will make you travel your own universal sound waves. Not all UFO looking instruments sound divine – a ‘godly’ note is one where ALL the harmonics are in tune, up to 16 of them !
  • Play gentile – striking now and then your instrument with more force is not the end of the world, do it all the time and it will remove the tuning stress in the note early, strike it at the wrong spot hard then you risk inputting a new stress pattern on your ‘perfect’ note, might turn out to be better but probably not.
  • Introduce yourself to the instrument… Ok so what does that mean ? Well if you grab it and start slapping it’s notes like a cave man/woman then you’re missing the point – it’s not going to sing to you … for real – so instead gently brush the notes on top for a second and flip it over to tap it’s bottom. Wake it up from it sleep, activate the bottom shell first so that the vibrations will go in the top shell and then after 2-3 minutes of this warming up, start playing. Respect it and it will love you back 😉
  • Amazing communities are rising from the ground as more and more makers learn to make and tune a proper handpan in order to sell. Tuning services during gatherings are becoming the norm. As with the didgeridoo, djembe and now the handpan people want to share their exploration into the instrument. Makers need players and players need instruments so get yourself a homemade handpan (600$) or a tongue drum (300$) and enjoy the journey 😉