No matter if you’re musically experienced or not, a steel tongue drum is definitely one of the instruments you should try.
Beautifully sounding but yet easy to play, this instrument fits everyone. It doesn’t require years of training, or thousands of dollars like it’s the case with hang drums.
Steel Tongue Drums are not electronic instruments, but they’re pretty epic so I wanted to write a guide on them!
About Steel Tongue Drums
It all started in 2007. Inspired by hang, as well as by some other instruments like whale drum and tambiro, Dennis Havlena invented this amazing instrument more than ten years ago.
Base design and working principle have a lot in common with the original hang, though there are diversities as well. It features a propane tank-like shape, with the base cut of. The top side of the instrument features seven-to-ten “tongues” that are cut radially. The size of the tongue determines the note, though there are several other ways to get desired tone. A common way would be to add weight with a neodymium magnet. It is a great solution for getting desired scale while keeping the same or similar tongue size.
Speaking of scales, here is one strong point of this instrument. Just like hangs, a steel tongue drum can be tuned in pretty much every key. First models featured pentatonic or common diatonic scales, while newer tongue drums come with such variety of tone colors. All in all, you can stick to common major/minor scale and its modes, but also try with something more exotic, such as traditional Japanese, Arabic, Oriental, Egyptian, Balinese and many other scales.
Best 7 Steel Tongue Drums
1) HAPI HDMINIDAKE Tongue Drum
Definitely one of the most popular steel tongue drums around. This manufacturer offers a variety of models of different sizes and scales. This one comes tuned in an exotic Akebono scale in D. With such intervals, you can count on a lot of beautiful notes that are perfect for relaxation, meditation, yoga and similar things. The overall quality of the product is very good, especially if we consider its very affordable price.
Tones are rich and with a good resonance, while the instrument seems quite loud, despite compact dimensions. Speaking of dimensions, this one measures 8×5.5 inches and weighs only 3.4 pounds, which makes it highly portable. A nice travel bag is included, as well as a pair of mallets. All in all, a great value for the price.
2) Pearl PMTD9LYD690 9 Note Tongue Drum Lydian
Pearl is a household name when it comes to drums and percussions, but they make steel tongue drums as well. In accordance with the company’s reputation, this model features very good overall quality. It is made of high-quality steel and features 9 tongues, or 9 tones if you wish. The distinctive part of this instrument it that it comes in Lydian mode. For those who aren’t that familiar with music theory, this scale is a perfect example of how just one note can make a huge difference. It heavily relies on a common major scale but adds a very special flavor with its raised fourth degree.
3) TOPFUND Steel Tongue Drum
While most people see this instrument as a perfect tool to make some exotic sounds, someone would still prefer more common notes. If you’re that kind of a person, here is a steel tongue drum for you. It comes in the most common scale – C Major. Such note choice makes it perfect for various kinds of music. The overall quality seems very good, while 12 inches in diameter provide fairly loud sound. In addition, there is a pair of mallets, as well as a beautifully-designed travel bag that will keep your instrument safe from bumps and scratches.
4) Tongue Hand Pan D Celtic Minor
This steel tongue drum is a real hi-quality product. It is handcrafted in Russia and features a premium-quality, 2mm thick steel. It offers excellent sound characteristics, which are maybe even on par with the sound of some hang drums. Its D Celtic Minor key promises a lot of beautiful tones if you prefer that more traditional and spiritual kind of a sound.
Besides amazing sound and material quality, you can easily notice great craft skills. It doesn’t just sound beautiful, it also looks very impressive, thanks to a slightly distorted shape and beautiful tongue pattern.
The price might seem too high, but the value is really amazing. Definitely worth the money!
5) Meinl Sonic Energy STD1BK
Many consider that a good product is the one that offers an excellent balance between quality and price. This one definitely meets such criteria. It is a well-made instrument which offers a quite rich tone and excellent tuning. It comes in A Minor key, a common scale that can be used for a variety of genres and music styles. Speaking of the styling, there is no fooling around. This is a pretty straightforward, common-shaped steel tongue drum, which prefers functionality over visual appeal.
Besides good quality, it also features few usual pieces of accessories – a pair of mallets and a nice carry bag.
6) GUDA DRUM Freezbee
Unlike most tongue drums that are rather practical, this one also features very attractive look. Designers of this instrument put a lot of effort into creating beautiful circular patterns. There is also a nice rope decoration. Only by looking at this one, you can be sure that it’s about some exotic scale.
The sound of this steel tongue drum definitely follows the styling. Tuned in so-called Arcane scale, it offers a pretty unique expression, perfect for orient music and similar styles.
7) ZENKO EQUINOX
This ZENKO tongue drum offers great built quality. With 9 perfectly tuned notes, you can count on a lot of rich sounds, characterized by excellent resonance. It is tuned in so-called Equinox scale, which could be considered as a common minor key, but with a few spices. It might seem expensive, but the overall quality is amazing. Quality mallets and a gig bag are also included.
A Cheap Alternative to Hang Drums
So far, you’ve probably realized that steel tongue drums are quite similar to hang drums. So what’s the deal? The biggest advantages over hangs are price and availability. Original hang drums from PANArt are not available anymore, though the Swiss company still offers a variety of interesting musical instruments. On the other side, there are various replicas that come from different manufacturers. Some of these are good, some aren’t, but all feature very high price tag.
While a common hang drum usually costs thousands of dollars, a decent steel tongue drum can be found for a few hundred dollars. Ten times lower price is a strong argument, but how about the sound?
Does It Sound as Good as Hang Drum?
Everyone who tried both of these instruments would easily agree that hangs offer a richer and more colorful sound. A hang drum is also much louder, which seems natural if we look at sizes of two instruments. Because of that, many manufacturers offer mallets as a part of steel tongue drum kit. It is a great way to make this instrument louder. Still, such approach definitely has a bad effect on dynamics and diversity that come from playing with hands.
Considering the difference in price, these disadvantages are something that everyone would expect. Still, is it ten times better? Probably not.
A Brief Conclusion
Buying an instrument like this one is definitely beneficial. It could be a great tool if you want to color your musical expression. Pros of these simple instruments are numerous. First of all, this is a great alternative to hang drums, especially in terms of price. Also, a tongue drum is relatively easy to make, so it’s no wonder that there are numerous models on the market. Such diversity in all aspects, starting from the price and scales, gives us a lot of possibilities.
Of course, listen carefully to the sound of the musical scales of the steel tongue drums, so you can easily find the one that perfectly fits your musical expression.