Famous for its UFO shape, the hang drum (or more accurately named ‘handpan’) has gained global popularity in such rapid way. Although these are not electronic instruments, I’ve still decided to write a guide about them because they’re such epic instruments!
What are the main reasons for such success of hang drums? First of all, this instrument has a pretty simple principle of working. Simply said, there are two half-shells joined together, which create a convex lens-like shape with the hollow left inside.
Basically, it acts as Helmholtz resonator. If you’re not a physicist, then just remember your childhood and times when you were blowing over the empty bottle, and you’ll know what is this about.
While the bottom of the hang features plained surface with one rolled hole at the center, the top of the instrument has a so-called Ding, or a center note, and seven or eight additional tones positioned around the center.
A Few Words About the Inventors
Development of this instrument started in the 90’s. Felix Rohner and Sabina Schärer are two enthusiasts from Bern, Switzerland, that founded a small company named PANArt.
The first hang was finally completed in 2000 and presented one year later at the Musikmesse Frankfurt. After a great reception, Felix and Sabina continued with the further development, so we can classify hangs in four main groups in these days. The original, first-generation hangs were produced between 2001 and 2005. The second generation has brought several design improvements and more colorful sound. In these days, few can also talk about integral and free integral hangs.
While PANArt was in the process of expansion to abroad markets, other manufacturers started to produce same or similar products. This resulted in a use of different instrument names. Today, some of the common names are hang, hang drum, handpan, pantam, cupola etc. Still, hang drum remained the most common, though a disapproved name by the inventors. According to Felix and Sabina, hang drum sounds quite offensive, since this instrument isn’t played like a drum, and also refers to emotional and mental turbulence. In Swiss-German, Hang actually means “hand and hill”.
Where to Buy a Handpan? Avoid Getting Ripped Off
Despite growing popularity, handpans aren’t mass-production instruments. The good ones are generally handmade, which means that you will hardly find good versions of such instruments in stock on a marketplace. Even if you find some of them in a local music store, or if you check on online marketplaces, you probably will struggle to find high quality handpans that are produced in bulk.
The best way is to contact a reputable brand directly. In most cases, these are very small companies, led by a small group of enthusiasts, where the owner is also a builder in most cases. Therefore, you can speak directly to a master and talk about your specific requirements.
Keep in mind that, in most cases, these manufacturers don’t have too many products in stock. So, you will probably have to sign in to a waiting list and wait to get your instrument.
The main takeaway is that not all handpans are equal.
These days, a list of handpan brands is quite long. Builders from all around the world are offering their products. As we already mentioned, most of them work by order, but there is also a certain number of brands that offer their products in places like online shops, local stores etc.
Building a handpan requires a lot of skills and time, so you shouldn’t be surprised with high prices. In most cases, a quality handpan costs thousands of dollars. Of course, you can find more affordable products, but there is a big chance that they will be nothing more than a decoration for your apartment.
Therefore, my advice would be to stick to renowned brands.
Here are a bunch of good options, in no particular order. We are in no way affiliated with any of these brands.
Omana is one of the better-known handpan makers in Europe. The Ukraine based company makes handpans the usually by order, so you should count on a waiting list. Once you order a certain handpan, it takes between two weeks and two months to get. This depends on many factors, such as materials, scale, acoustic issues etc.
Generally, the quality is pretty good. There are three main types this manufacturer offers. All models are made of steel, which is of pretty good quality. You can get your handpan nitro-carbonized, which slows down corrosion and also affects the sound quality. Most expensive products are made of stainless steel.
Founded in 2014 by Yhonatan Ale-Yahav, this company is these days known as a highly-renowned handpan maker. It is located in Israel and led by Yhonatan Ale-Yahav and another enthusiast, Ido Siri.
Generally, you can get any kind of handpan from this manufacturer. Basically, there are three sizes in the offer. There are handpans that measure 50, 53 and 56 cm (19.7, 20.8 and 22 inches) in diameter. All models are completely hand-made and a great thing is that you can order pretty much any exotic scale you can find. Practically, you can order any combination of notes between E2 and E6.
Although there are periods when you can find some instrument for a flash sale, you will probably have to sign up to waiting list.
Meraki Instruments is a well-known name in the business, despite the fact that this manufacturer doesn’t even have a website. The best you can get from it is a Facebook page. Even there, you won’t find too much information about the manufacturer, products, prices etc. Still, this doesn’t change the fact that Meraki handpans are amazing. All products are hand made in Italy. The overall quality is very good. The manufacturer pays a lot of attention to details, so the final touch is amazing.
Founded by Kyle Cox, Pantheon Steel has been around since 2004. For these 15 years of work, it became one of the leading companies among handpan makers. The products may look expensive to you, but be sure that the overall quality is amazing.
The company has a wide range of products in its offer. There are different series of so-called “Halo” handpans. A New-Era Halo is particularly promoted as the flagship handpan. This is a new product, characterized by the use of some new technologies and more sophisticated building process. Not only that the steel quality is improved, but these handpans also have a little bit different shape of foundation. All these things have a huge impact on the sound quality and overall playing experience.
The company usually have some of its products in stock, but if you’re looking for something more exotic, you will probably have to wait for a couple of weeks.
When your products feature great quality, you don’t need any kind of advertisement and Sibiria Sound Sculptures is a perfect example. Based in Russia, this small company offers products that are relatively affordable but give a lot of quality in return. The only way you can contact this manufacturer is via Facebook, and even there you won’t find too many details about the products. The fact is that this handpan maker has been specialized for custom handpans and the best thing is that prices are very reasonable.
A couple of enthusiasts led by Victor Levinson were among the first ones that started to make instruments based on the original PANArt hang drums. These days, it produces some of the finest handpans in the world.
Interestingly, SPB doesn’t have a website, but rather just a public group on Facebook, where you can sign to a waiting list, but also gather a lot of useful information. This is where Victor Levinson stands out from the crowd. Despite being a true master in building handpans, he is actually a humble guy, who is always open to share any kind of information you need about the building process and similar things.
As a professional banker, Soma Sound Sculptures’ owner never imagined that he will replace his life in fancy suits with a workshop. These days, this is a highly reputable name among handpans. The first thing that you’ll notice is a variety of products in the offer. Basically, there are two main groups of products, Major and Minor mood handpans. Within each group, you will find a bunch of handpans with different tunings, mostly typical major and minor modes, though there some exotic scales as well.
In most cases, you will have to sign up to a waiting list, although products for immediate purchase can be found on the webshop as well.
Based in the Netherlands, this company is actually a group of self-taught enthusiasts heavily inspired by eastern philosophy and yoga practice. Considering that handpans are made of steel, it’s no wonder that the company was named “Ayasa”, which means iron in Hindi.
The quality of these handpans is great. Also, you will definitely appreciate the fact that a certain number of products is always in stock. Just visit their website and you will easily find the “Available Now” section. A variety of products is great and includes various kinds of common and exotic scales.
Steel Tongue Drum – A Good Alternative?
The biggest issue with hang drums is price. If you’re not willing to invest a decent sum of money, then consider steel tongue drums instead of getting a low quality handpan. These instruments are pretty similar, though the price goes significantly lower. For just a few hundreds of dollars, you can get an instrument that is kind of close to a hang, in terms of sound and playing technique.
They’re still great fun to play, so I highly recommended to those who are newbies in the world of hang drums.
Conclusion – Hand Pans
There are several reasons why the handpan is an amazing instrument. Even though a typical handpan has a pretty high price tag, there is no reason why you shouldn’t try one. This is an instrument for everyone. Simply, it doesn’t require any real musical knowledge or skills to get started, so learning to play the basics is an extremely quick process. However, becoming an expert is quite a journey.
They also look amazing and would definitely be a nice addition to the decoration of any home or studio. Above all though, they feature beautiful, inspiring and pretty much unparalleled sound characteristics.