Well, well you decided not to wait any longer and now you want to make your own sound sculpture, handpan, PanTam, Cupola or steel drum ;-). Can’t blame you, they are hard to find and you usually have to pay 2000$-3000$ for a decent one.
Pantheon steel has their new ‘machine’ made pan for 1500$USD apparently … that wont last long lol
So here are a few good videos of ways you can make one … Just keep in mind you’re going to save money going the DIY way but you will not have a good sounding hanpan – well not at first 😉 The good news is that you should expect at minimum a great practice handpan and if you’re like super good or just plain beginners luck, you might have a decent sounding sound Sculpture.
Before you watch the handpan videos, check out the original steel drum designs …
A few makers sell tuning rings and shells in Canada ! Expect to pay 300$ – 500$ for a kit. Using your little ball pin hammer and rubber mallet should get you started …
If you’re on a stick budget you can use a traditional 22 inch wok from china town … make sure it’s carbon steel and not black or cast… They usually are in plastic bags with oil on them – hammer the outer-edge flat to get your ring lips… you could also make holes on that ring to then use screw in a plywood instead of a tuning ring … enjoy 😉
Tips : So you see – it easy 😉
I find this maker has made a nice general description of it all : https://www.symphonicsteel.com/handpan-building/
To be honest it’s not that hard but since there are many steps in the making process you need to get all of them right and in order. That is where it gets tricky and having someone ‘live’ to show you hands-on is the best. Some makers offer ateliers in their shop ! Go ahead and ask your local maker if you can look at him working … offer them good value in exchange !
The thing to keep in mind from A to B here is TENSION. You must hammer the steel in the intent of stretching it into tension BUT also not to much because it has to spring back into shape so to be struck again and again by the player.
About the hammering… once you have your note shaped and dimple in … use the soft mallet and give 4 quick firm blows on all around the top flat surface … then do the same on the other side but slower until you here the note sing… make sure hit with the intent of making the short axis up and the long down. Repeat until you get the right note. If your repeating more than 3 time this step then make the note flat again and let it site 15 mins … then try again. Or just go to and other note…
You note’s outer border and also the dimple’s edge are very sensitive parts to deal with but can really improve the tone and levels of the sound. Using a small ball hammer find with the tuner the spot where your note tension is. As a general rule, a linear hit towards the dimple will augment the level of the note and raise the octave, in reverse hitting from inside toward the edge will also increase the level but lower the octave but it could be the reverse also 😉 yup ! If you need to hit the nipple then do so to change the note sound to an other note. Now there is a way also to gain back clear harmonics when you lost the fundamental during tuning. This will happen on notes that are hard to tune or if you had to move notes around to fancy a scale. So similar to hammering the outer edge of the note, you can hammer with the ball end of the hammer the inside edge of the dimple : doing so will input additional pressure on the plain field – very effective but your note’s fundamental might jump to a stronger 1st and 2nd.
You also will find that placing your desired scale on the proper note fields it not easy. Usually a note field will start its sound emission at A5 or A6 lets say. That is high. So you must try and get it to sound good low as in A4 or even harder as A3. I have noticed that B4, A4, G4 are sort of easy to get, finding an C4, D4, F4 is event more fascinating – octave 3 is tricky … pro stuff 😉
Perhaps the most important tip I’ve learned is to let the instrument rest – the longer the better – like 3-4 days. When doing heavy tuning, don’t try and fine tune right there and then the finer harmonics. LET IT sit for a bit !
The second most important tip here is to make sure your bottom and top shells ‘sing’ the same tune. Test the shells individually to get a pulse on their base sound. If it has no specific sound then you need to activate it by hammering the shells edge. I like to hammer firmly the flat rim all around, during that process, listen and you will hear it sing. Some makers prefer to hammer from the the lower shells 1cm towards the ring. Alternatively you could base tune the lower shell to match your Ding’s fifth … Extra notes here regarding fine tuning once the shells are glued dry – hammer from inside the GU : doing that will give the top shell a new tension from the lower one pushing up. Using your flat head hammer with your hand inside, hard tap the ‘flat’ inner GU rim until you here the pan hummmmm ! Your general harmonics will benefit a lot from theses little trade secrets 😉
Ok got a few new tricks for you … if your note sound like the bottom of a cane then your dimple is to stretched an he is making the sound … stress it by hitting with the ball hammer the outer edge of the dimple where it’s sticking out towards you, dimple up.
Start buy hammering the inner shell inside the ring to max out the shell tension … do that to gain more sustain once the notes are all set…
Make the top ding first, make sure its nice and bright and has the long axis as your 1st and the second axis as your 5th (preferred), 4th or 3rd harmonic … stay clear of 2 axis with the same 1st but on different octaves … very bright but un-stable once you get all your other notes in … If you set the ding with the 5th harmonic then do so for all the other notes = don’t mix some notes with 5th and others with 4th because … it will be an unstable instrument 😉