Updated: Mar 23, 2020
Get inside the handpan maker's workshop. See how a handpan is made, from start to finish. Enjoy this interview with Sean Beever of Symphonic Steel about his Iskra handpan. Click here for info about the Iskra.
Sylvain: Hi and welcome to another video about handpans. My name is Sylvain Paslier, I've been playing handpans for over 10 years and I'm really passionate about this art-form.
Recently, I had the incredible pleasure to visit Sean Beever of Symphonic Steel. Sean is working on something really special that I want to tell you about. So, check it out.
So, Sean, we are here in your workshop. This is where the Iskra is made. Your company is Symphonic Steel, you just gave us a tour.
One of the questions that I wanted to ask you is: people will hear the sound of the Hang, the original Hang, and they will feel like it sounds different from other handpans. It is my understanding that with the Iskra, you've re-created that original sound. What was your motive behind that and how do you actually achieve that original sound?
Sean: The motive, number one, is that it really wasn't offered anymore. There's a lot of handpans out there and it's almost gotten generic, not necessarily unique. And there's still people out there that want an instrument that's like the Hang.
And, I mean, I love the sound of the Hang. Of course, I build steel-pan and stuff like that, so I'm used to unique timbre. And the Hang has that unique timbre, that's distinctly different than, basically, all the handpans you can buy nowadays.
So, that's kind of why I wanted to go back to it. Since PANArt has since basically moved on from the Hang, I figured I would sort of maybe take some of their ideas and stuff that they released on building the instrument, make a few little changes here and there tuning-wise to give it my own little flavor, but ultimately I wanted to get that timbre because I feel it's important. It's really what kind of caused the big interest in the instrument. It was the Hang that really started it all.
Sylvain: So, how do you actually get that sound?
Sean: So, it comes down to several factors. Number one, a proper heat treatment of the proper steel. And then beyond that, it's primarily building a tuning method so there are basically some things that I don't do that a lot of handpan makers do do as far as hammer shaping. It's really ultimately about note structure. And the tuning style is vastly different than a typical steel-pan tuning technique that a lot of handpan makers use nowadays. So, we're in this space.
Sylvain: Obviously, you're here in this workshop day in and day out. What's a typical week looking like for you?
Sean: Let's see. So a typical week... I'll do various parts of the process on any given day, generally.
Most recently, over the last week, my employee and myself have been basically just making more shells. Every couple of months, I need more shells to build the instruments out of. So, they start from flat sheets of steel that we cut out before they go into my hydroforming machine, they get hydroformed. That's using around 80 tons of force. You don't have to do the math. So we hydroform them. That's what I've been doing this last week.
But on a typical week, I'll generally go through the entire process, from start to finish. But basically, it's lots of hammering. And lots of tuning.
Sylvain: That's awesome. What do you do when you're not hammering steel? I see a huge banner on the wall.
Sean: Yeah, I'm a big fan of hockey. I play a lot of hockey, generally, from 3 to 5 times a week. It keeps me active, and on hot summer days like this it's nice to go into an ice rink as well.
Sylvain: And you're playing tonight, right?
Sean: I am playing tonight, yes.
Sylvain: Do I understand we might see how a handpan is made?
Sean: Yeah, I think we can go build one.
See, literally, it's funny I've never written any of these down. You'd think I would have over time. It's all in the head. It goes in, I line it up so it's in the center.
Sylvain: Alright, so we've got our ding.
So, we've got all of our dimples pressed. What's the next step?
Sean: It will go in the kiln.
Sylvain: Does it sound like anything?
Sylvain: That's crazy!
Jill: So is there any sound right now or not yet?
Sean: No, if we were to play it, I'll do in the inside so we don't get any fingerprints.
So it's rough-tuned. The next step would be glueing. After the glue is sufficiently cured, there will be one round of fine-tuning and it's going to sit for a week or so. And then, I'll do another round of fine-tuning because it will drift in that time of a week, as far as tuning is concerned. Generally, it's going to go sharp. And then, so I give it another fine-tuning and give it another week of rest. And then, at that point, we basically see if it's stable.
Sylvain: Thank you for watching this video. I hope you enjoyed the interactions with Sean who was so generous with his time, showing us around the workshop.
I personally picked up my Iskra handpan, and it's one of the finest instruments I've ever played.
If Sean's intentional handpan-making approach resonates with you, check out his website and I'll put a link in the description (www.symphonicsteel.com).
I'm going to be releasing a lot of videos about this new Iskra. So be sure to subscribe if you want to stay tuned and hear that.
Finally, I'm going to wrap up this video with a clip of my brand new Iskra handpan.