Updated: Feb 26, 2020
After years of watching, listening, and perhaps even mildly obsessing over the handpan you’ve decided to pull the trigger and get one of your very own! But where do you even begin? Nitrided steel? Stainless steel? Kurd? Hijaz? SaByeD? How much should I spend? Am I getting ripped off? If you are feeling a bit confused and overwhelmed, then this article is the one for you. Here I will walk you through the five simple steps to make sure you end up with a handpan that’s exactly what you’re looking for.
Let’s dive in.
Step 1: Find a handpan that’s built well
Before we dive into the nitty gritty of the different traits, we can choose from, we need to find an instrument that’s built and tuned correctly. This is our first step because if your handpan is not built or tuned properly the following steps won’t make much of a difference in the quality of your instrument. Typically, every handpan should be built with octave and compound fifth harmonics tuned to each note and should be stable enough to withstand reasonable playing force.
Here are a few ways to know if a handpan is high quality:
Watch online videos to hear the handpans tuning quality and tone
Look for reviews from players and customers
Inquire with other handpan fanatics online for feedback
To learn more about what makes a good handpan check out:
Step 2: Choose a scale that fits you
Now that we’ve found a high-quality instrument, we need to decide what scale our handpan will be tuned to. Since handpans aren’t chromatic instruments (like a piano) choosing the scale is an extremely important and personal decision since you’ll be bound to the limits of your chosen scale. We can divide the most common handpan scales into three main categories.
These scales are arguably the most used in western music. The major scale is often described as happy, bright, or uplifting sounding.
Common major scale derived handpan sound models include:
Natural Minor Scales
On the opposite end of our scale spectrum we have the natural minor scales. Natural minor scales are often considered dark, sad, or mysterious sounding.
Common minor scale derived handpan sound models include:
If a handpan is not based on either the major or natural minor scale it will most likely fall into the category I call “Exotic” scales. These handpans are not based on the traditional major/minor harmonies most common in popular music but instead are often derived from modes or the harmonic minor scale. These scales often sound stereotypically exotic, foreign, or just unusual.
Common “Exotic” scale handpan sound models include:
Listen to as many recordings of various handpan scales as you can to get a feel for what you like, making sure to take note of these scales. There is no one correct way to choose your preferred handpan scale, you just have to follow your intuition.
To learn more about how to choose a handpan scale check out:
Step 3: Choose your steel
Great, so now that we have a list of high quality handpans and scales we like, we can choose the type of steel. What??? Choose the steel? You mean it’s not all the same??? Indeed, it is not. Much like how different guitars can be made from different woods, han