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 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!
Best 7 Steel Tongue Drums – Our Pick
1. Asmuse Steel Tongue Drum (10 Inch)
For this list, we’re recommending steel tongue drums that offer an excellent balance between quality and price. This one definitely meets such criteria.
It is a well-made instrument that offers quite a rich tone and excellent tuning. It’s tuned to the F major pentatonic scale, which is a great sounding scale for the overtone sound of a steel tongue drum.
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 a few usual pieces of accessories – a pair of mallets and a nice carry bag.
2. Moukey Mini Tongue Drum Steel Pan
It has a total of eleven sounds in D major. If you’re looking for a steel tongue drum that’s tuned in a versatile key and also useful for playing alongside popular music, then this could be a great option.
This one comes with a total of 11 sounds. It’s a relatively large one at 10 inches and comes with mallets that you can optionally play with.
Great sound, very affordable, and quite a popular option.
3. Pearl PMTD9LYD690 9 Note Tongue Drum Lydian
Pearl is a household name when it comes to drums and instruments.
This peal steel tongue drum is made of high-quality steel and features 9 tones. The distinctive part of this instrument is 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.
4. Beat Root Tongue Drum Multi Scale
The Beat Root Multi Scale tongue drum is a fantastic option which has an impressive tuning system that allows you to quickly switch between 6 different scales (easily done using magnets). It contains a built-in microphone and a 1/4″ jack connection that can be hooked into an amp or interface for live shows or recording.
This is tuned by default to G major (with the option to change to 5 other scales).
Alternatively, you can get the Full Tone tongue drum by Beat Root, which offers 7 notes of the C scale (and 4 scales in the same instrument).
It sounds really nice, has lovely overtones, and looks great. Both of these tongue drums also come with a very good quality bag.
If you want to get the most amount of versatility out of your instrument, then choosing a tunable steel tongue drum is a very good option. The built-in piezzo microphone would also make this great for busking with an amplifier or for musicians that want to add it to their setup with minimal hassle during sound check! The Beat Root Multi Scale tongue drum is certainly one to consider.
Note: These tongue drums are tuned to standard 440Hz tuning; therefore, they will sound nice with other standard instruments. However, you can also request the tongue drum to be tuned to 432Hz instead (which can sometimes be preferred for meditation, etc.).
5. Tongue Hand Pan D Celtic Minor
This steel tongue drum is a high-quality option. It is handcrafted in Russia and features premium-quality, 2mm thick steel. It offers an excellent sound which is maybe even on par with the sound of some quality hang drums.
Its D celtic minor key promises a lot of beautiful tones if you prefer that more traditional and spiritual kind of sound.
Besides great sound and material quality, you can easily notice great craft skills. It doesn’t just sound beautiful; it also looks very impressive, thanks to its shape and beautiful tongue pattern.
6. GUDA DRUM Freezbee
Unlike most tongue drums that look pretty plain, this one also features a very attractive look. The 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 can you guess that it uses an exotic scale.
The sound of this steel tongue drum definitely follows the styling. Tuned in the 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 tuned notes, you can count on a lot of rich sounds characterized by excellent resonance.
It is tuned in the 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 a 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. A ten times lower price is a strong argument, but what about the sound?
Does It Sound as Good as Hang Drum?
Everyone who has 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 the sizes of the two instruments. Because of that, many manufacturers offer mallets as a part of steel tongue drum kits. It is a great way to make this instrument louder. Still, such an 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.
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.
The 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 off. 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 the desired tone. A common way would be to add weight with a neodymium magnet. It is a great solution for getting the desired scale while keeping the same or similar tongue size.
Speaking of scales, here is one strong point of this instrument. Just like hangs, steel tongue drums can come in many different keys. First models featured pentatonic or common diatonic scales, while newer tongue drums come with such a variety of tone colors. All in all, you can stick to the common major/minor scale and its modes, but also try something more exotic, such as traditional Japanese, Arabic, Oriental, Egyptian, Balinese, and many other scales.
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. The 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.