Short history of the handpan

The history of handpan begins in Switzerland, at PanArt®. In 2000, Felix Rohner and Sabina Shärer, then steelpan manufacturers, invented a new melodic metal percussion, and gave it the name Hang®. In Bern, Hang means “hand” in the local dialect. The creation of this instrument would have been born from a meeting between Felix Rohner and Reto Weber, a ghatam player, imagining a metal jug with notes. The Hang®, sold worldwide by specialized music stores, was an immediate success. But in 2005, PanArt® changed its strategy. It stops distribution and favours the direct sale of its “sound sculptures” on motivated request only.

Consequently, the emergence of the first competitors is changing the manufacture of this new instrument. Dynamic and innovative, it creates a positive emulation with the emergence of other models and the community adopts the generic name “Handpan”. Experiments by manufacturers are legion and the first mutant handpan is born with the Chromatic Spacedrum of Metal Sounds. Today, the handpan is gaining acclaim from a wide audience as an intuitive musical instrument. Its democratization and the diversity of its fields of application augur well for the future.

Metal Sounds, a craftsman with recognized expertise

Handpan manufacture - Stainless steel handpan 8 notes model

The manufacture of handpans requires rare know-how that calls on the experience and passion of the manufacturer. Like Felix Rohner, Philippe Maignaut has a solid background in the manufacture of steelpans. Long research and years of practice have forged his experience and he has passed it on to the tuners on our team.

Metal Sounds masters manufacturing processes and tuning techniques that allow it to work with different types of steel. Thus we now offer two different lines of handpans. Whether it is Spacedrum Evolution® or Spacedrum Nitro®, the instruments benefit from identical manufacturing processes. The instrumental craftsman’s instrument making gives each instrument an extra soul.

Nitrided 10 notes handpan makingMetal Sounds manufactures all its handpans in France and its craftsmanship is recognized throughout the world thanks to its mastery of quality and instrument monitoring. From the selection of raw materials to the finishing of the various models, the entire process can be easily controlled. Each step thus accessible allows us to always strive for optimal quality, that of top-of-the-range instrumental craftsmanship.

The manual work of an artisan also allows us to meet specific requests, which allows us to produce, under certain conditions, custom models, ranges and finishes.

Innovation, Research & Development

Sound frequencies of a handpan

Spacedrum® handpans (pantam) are the result of several years of study and research. This new metal percussion is exciting and complex to design. It is also very constraining to be manufactured for the human organism. Thus, we have researched and developed several innovative processes to reduce the impact of physical and noise pollution.

But innovation, research and development also benefit our instruments. On several occasions we have collaborated with acoustic design laboratories or engineering schools that master the properties of steels. The results of this research have enabled Metal Sounds to develop a range of handpans in three diameters, to use a stainless steel alloy for the manufacture of handpans or to create the first 13-note handpan (chromatic scale).

This philosophy has above all enabled us to achieve a combination of objectives, namely the convergence of the 5 parameters below, which make a handpan, a truly successful instrument:

  1. Sound Quality
  2. Ergonomics game
  3. Finishes
  4. New Formats
  5. Best Quality/price ratio

Materials & manufacturing processes for handpans

Building a quality handpan requires solid experience and knowledge. It is necessary to master the manufacturing processes and know how steels react according to their technical specificities.

A good craftsman defines the sound identity he wants to give to his handpan and knows how to reproduce it.

The character of a handpan comes above all from the material used to make it. The shaping of the shells and the heat treatment also contribute to the sound of the musical instrument. But it is imperative to define and control the mechanical and vibration characteristics of the sheets to create the desired identity.

Thus we use two different steels depending on whether we manufacture Spacedrum Evolution® (stainless steel) or Spacedrum Nitro® (mild steel). Our 1.2 mm thick sheets are selected according to precise technical specifications. Concerning their shaping there are several techniques, which we have all tried, to finally use a reverse stamping process. The dimples (buttons), round or oval according to our models, are made with a press and the appropriate tools. The differences in the construction of Spacedrum Evolution® and Spacedrum Nitro® are mainly related to the shapes, heat treatments and assembly of the sheets:

– Spacedrum Evolution®: Highly profiled shape with asymmetry of depth between the bottom and the dome. Rectangular” note architecture with DING and round dimples. Heat treatment at 610° in our gas furnaces. Assembly of the shells by welding. GU (blowhole) without collar.

– Spacedrum Nitro®: General rounded shape and symmetry between dome and bottom. Oval note architecture with DING and dimple ovals. Heat treatment by nitriding or nitrocarburizing to harden the metal surface and increase corrosion protection. Assembly of the hulls by gluing. GU with collar.

Handpan tuning

Handpan tools - Hammer for handpan shaping and tuning

In addition to the materials and manufacturing methods used, the sound identity of a handpan comes from the tuner’s work. Tuning is a delicate art. This know-how acquired over time is a guarantee of quality that allows us to produce reliable and powerful instruments today.

Our team consists of three experienced tuners. The Handpan notes shaping and tuning is done in several steps. Different techniques are used and require specific tools.Depending on the construction methods and materials used, we carry out up to four tuning levels, from the first step to the fine tuning. Handpan tuning consists of mechanically and/or manually hammering the inner and outer surfaces of the banknotes. The type of hammers used, the steels used and the result the tuner wants.

The handpan is a harmonized instrument. Each note is composed of a fundamental and two harmonics, usually the third and fifth or quarte, Phillipe Maignaut Handpan France The tuner must therefore adjust all the notes in order to obtain a perfectly balanced instrument. For a really successful tuning it will also grant the GU score and the shoulder tones of the DING.

Our tuners use strobe software (including Linotune) to accurately control the accuracy of notes and harmonics. Indeed, the craftsman needs this support to validate the accuracy of the frequencies.

Handpan tuning by Phillipe Maignaut with Linotune

The tuning of the handpans is also done as part of our support, when repairing and/or re-tuning instruments. This is an important element to note because handpans are sensitive musical instruments. Having two workshops in France allows us to guarantee you an efficient after-sales service with the follow-up of the Spacedrums and their maintenance in the best conditions.

A study and a quotation are systematically proposed because the repairs or re-tuning to be carried out are specific to each instrument. Contact us for any request.