How to Build a Handpan: The Basics

High Demand

In the colorful field of handpan distribution, the demand is much higher than the rate of production and availability. Part of the reason for this phenomenon is due to the private nature in which handpans are made. In the same way a magician never shares his secrets, a handpan craftsman retains the powerful insider knowledge that makes his instrument so specially tuned. Many times the craftsmanship of the handpans remains a trade secret for those who are dedicated to the fine-tuning of the instrument, until they find an apprentice. It takes years of dedication and strength to refine the practice of patiently constructing a finely tuned handpan. Practitioners are required to exercise great patience during the making of these instruments, and in order to fully understand the delicate creation of these modern miracles of sound, practitioners must have a working knowledge of music theory and a talent for tuning and note recognition.

Original Form

Some handpan artists come from the schooling background of making steel drums. A typical steel drum includes about twenty-seven notes, while the Hang, in its original form only included about eight. The current incarnation of the handpan now achieves a musical expression, to include a wide range of notes from several pentatonic scales, both major and minor, to full chromatic sets. The size and shape of handpans vary, though most are about 48cm to 60cm in diameter. It is rumored that the original size of the handpan was created so that it could be transported in the overhead bin on European flights. Today, many musicians fear the fate of checking in their handpan while traveling, as it may disrupt or damage the sound quality of the handpan in its original purity and to have their instrument repaired or to acquire a new one is a costly journey in itself.

Dedicated Practice

The construction of the handpan takes years of practice, and learning how to build a handpan requires dedication and focus. Thickness of steel, breadth of reach, and the precision of bend are all elements in faceting a finely tuned handpan. Air hammers are often used to shape the steel shells used to make the oval surfaces of the handpan, though metal spinning and deep drawn shells are more pevalant in the companies that can afford the costs. Through trial and error, exact notes on a scale are determined and arrived at after various efforts to mold the steel to suit that note in harmony with the whole of the instrument. To go even more in depth on the complexities of tuning a handpan, each note is kept in tune by hammering the tone field to properly vibrate with 3-6 harmonics, and it must properly vibrate like harmonics on the rest of instrument without fully activating them. The note must also be isolated from vibrating any harmonics that could cause dissonance or crosstalk. The tricky part — creating all these dynamics on a single piece of steel.

Trade Secrets

At the National Association of Music Merchants, NAMM, artists and companies gather to discuss and discover new instruments. In 2015, Tzevaot joined NAMM to support the handpan industry in its quest to achieve greater availability and presence in the music community. Tzevaot has repeated their presence at NAMM in 2016 with a strong response from artists, music directors, composers, music stores and music distributors alike. Tzevaot Handpans are made and licensed according to the original PANArt method. With no lotteries, anyone can purchase a handpan through the company website, where dedicated practitioners of the art of playing the handpan are available to discuss how to build a handpan from the ground up, delivered right to your door.

A Constant Study

The mysteries of how the handpan is built have never been so close to the surface, as when your hand grazes the finely constructed metal in its majestic form. Always available to discuss the inner workings of this dedicated musical craft, Tzevaot offers an intimate view into the shrouded mysteries of how to build a handpan. Though once you dive in, you’ll understand why most who are given the undertaking of building a handpan quit within the first two weeks.

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