This musical instrument, called the handpan, has been around for nearly 20 years, but chances are... you are just finding out now! Let me reassure you (and welcome you!), you're not alone. Believe it or not, this remarkable instrument is still largely unknown to the world...
I have spent the past 12 years of my life exploring this unique art form & engaging with its incredible global community of players. And I would be honored to help you learn along the way.
If you are looking for guidance about handpans, the information below is a great starting-point. The instruments listed here are some of the best handpans ever made (and they are my personal favorites!). Here we go: here are 6 handpans I think you should know about!
(Oh, and if you're ready to start your own handpan journey, check out available handpans in the store!)
The Original PANArt Hang from Switzerland
The Hang from PANArt (often called "hang drum") was the first instrument of this kind ever made. Its inventors, Felix Rohner and Sabina Schärer, had been building steel drums before creating the Hang—and they had already improved the steel drum making process by developing a special alloy steel they called Pang. This new material gave them a better control of the tuning and the timbre of their steel pans.
One day, a musician visited the PANArt workshop and suggested the Swiss makers try to build an "inside-out steel drum" that could be played by hands... and the Hang was born. Over the years, the Swiss invention went through several iterations known as "generations" but the Hang was an immediate success. From 2000 to 2013, it is estimated that PANArt built 10,000 Hang sound sculptures.
Already by the year 2007, acquiring a Hang instrument had become incredibly difficult. PANArt had slowed down its production of their steel instrument and would continue to do so until it came to a full stop in 2013. This marked the end of the Hang.
The successor of the Hang was the Gubal. Where the Hang was uplifting and ethereal, the Gubal was earthy and grounding featuring very low frequencies. And since introducing the Gubal, PANArt has invented several other steel instruments (although they never completely returned to their original Hang).
I was blessed to get my own Hang in 2007 (read the full story here) and I had the chance to meet Felix and Sabina at several occasions. I am grateful for Felix and Sabina's work. Without them, these remarkable instruments would have never come to exist.
The Halo Handpan of Pantheon Steel from Missouri
Kyle Cox and the late Jim Dusin are the co-founders of Pantheon Steel and the makers of the Halo handpan.
The duo's paths complimented each others' well. Kyle came from a musical background in tuning steel drums and Jim was an industrial engineer. Through the Halo, Kyle and Jim opened the handpan era by offering the first alternative to the original Hang and by helping aspiring tuners to learn the craft of tuning steel.
Pantheon Steel's Halo handpan quickly gained popularity as PANArt had slowed down its production of the Hang. The Halo, being the only handpan available in North America, built a huge following of lifelong fans & friends. Pantheon Steel's handpan differentiated itself from the original Hang due to its larger diameter (22" and 23") and lower pitch.
What's more, Kyle's generous approach of openly sharing handpan-building knowledge with others, his contribution to many handpan gatherings and his willingness to tune original Hang instruments spoke volumes about his character and his vision for Pantheon Steel. Kyle Cox is undoubtedly the second most influential character within the handpan story, after the originator Felix Rohner.
Since then Pantheon Steel's early beginnings, Kyle has trained many others to tune handpans with the hope that more people can experience creative freedom. Nowadays, Pantheon Steel has expert tuners in the United States, Belgium and Greece.
Listen to my conversation with Kyle Cox of Pantheon Steel for the 10-year anniversary of the Halo.
The Saraz Handpan from North Carolina
It was in the spring of 2013 at Handpangea, a handpan gathering in North Carolina, that I first met Mark Garner and played a Saraz handpan prototype. It was exceptional! Unsurprisingly, Saraz handpans continued getting better and better and Mark became a key member of the handpan community.
But in the fall of 2013, I was fortunate to acquire a Saraz handpan through a flash sale on their website (it's a fabulous instrument—see this video). I like Mark's instruments so much that, a year later at HangOut USA 2014, I went back to North Carolina to pick up my second Saraz (an Oxalista—watch this video).
Since then, fellow handpan player Josh Rivera has joined Mark and his team, and together they are continuing to make the best handpans possible. I have had the chance to visit the Saraz workshop—you can read the story here—and I can't say enough good things about Mark and his team.
Josh Rivera has since launched his own handpan tuning company called Rivera Steel Tuning. Listen to Episode 5 of The Handpan Podcast "The Art of Blending with Josh Rivera" to hear a fascinating conversation I had with Josh about the tuning of handpans.
The Boreal Handpan from Montreal, Quebec
I met Jocsan Rivera at Pantasia in 2017, a handpan gathering in Joshua Tree, California. He and Phillip Gagné were attending all the way from Quebec, Canada. At that point, I already had three handpans and truthfully did not intend on getting any more... Little did I know!
When I played Jocsan's C# Celtic Minor Boreal handpan I feel in love with the magical sound of the handpan all over again (listen to this piece on the Boreal). It was the instrument that Jocsan had brought for the event's lottery. I participated and miraculously won the chance to buy this instrument!
Getting to know Jocsan was fantastic. He does all parts of the making process himself and even tunes by ear. That's amazing! I like to think that the handpan is more than a "market" or an "industry"... it's an art form! Meeting handpan builders, learning about their philosophy, hearing about the building process... It makes it all the more meaningful to play on such unique instruments!
The Iskra of Symphonic Steel from California
Sean Beever of Symphonic Steel has recently unveiled a handpan bearing strong resemblance with the original Hang... It's called the ISKRA sound sculpture (and you can buy it here on this website!).
He uses the same materials and tuning techniques as PANArt did. The result is a unique timbre that takes you back to the early years of the Hang. I have to say that Sean's ISKRA handpan is particularly refreshing because it's a return to the basics. It's a simple but intentional design whose success—as seen through the Hang—is guaranteed.
Sean has actually gone back to the original PANArt papers and done the research. He is likely the smartest handpan builder I know.
The Æther (CFoulke) of Colin Foulke from California
Colin first discovered handpans when Pantheon Steel introduced the Halo. Classically trained on the cello, he quickly picked up handpans and developed a a passion that became contagious. He joined online forum and began attending global handpan gatherings which made him a key player of the community.
At the Handpangea gathering in 2013, Colin unveiled steel pans he had been secretly working on. And a couple years later at another gathering called Pantasia, he announced he was making his own handpans called CFoulke back then—now called Aether.
But there's more to the story... You see, the most physically-challenging step of the whole handpan-making process is shaping the handpan shell (giving it that bulging shape). Some builders do it by hand-hammering the sheet of steel for hours, others use pneumatic hammers and finally, others invest expensive machines to press the shell into shape. Well, Colin developed and popularized the most efficient way to shape handpan shells... It's a method using water pressure that he calls hydroforming. On his website, he gives all the details and DIY instructions.
Sharing critical knowledge like that attests to his generosity and benevolence within the handpan art form. Colin could have easily patented this method and prevented others from using it, but Colin gets it. Like me, he's been a part of the first generation of handpan players who understand how special this art form is and that we need to protect it.
I recently visited Colin Foulke as part of The Handpan Podcast and recorded a two-parter series with him which you can listen below.