Handpan or Steel Tongue Drum?

How do I find the right instrument? A few tips to help you decide which instrument is best for you

Finding the right instrument that suits you is not that easy. Do I prefer to buy a Handpan or a Steel Tongue Drum? Which manufacturer do I choose, which scale, which material, which frequency and how long do I have to wait until it is delivered to me? Would I like to pay in advance with the uncertainty of whether the instrument will actually meet my wishes?

We want to simplify the tedious process of choosing the right instrument. In our Handpan Shop you will find a variety of instruments (Handpans and Steel Tongue Drums) from different manufacturers, tunings and materials. All instruments can be tested and are usually available for immediate purchase.

If you would like to inform yourself in advance, we have some basic information, advantages and disadvantages of handpans and steel tongue drums compressed in a comparison for you below.

Steel Tongue Drums

Steel Tongue Drums  are usually smaller, but heavier than hand pans. They are made of thicker steel and resonate much longer than a Handpan. They have a meditative sound, but are less suitable for fast, percussive playing.

Advantages

  • Not as expensive (purchase price is approx. 1/3 of a Handpan)
  • very robust, can’t get out of tune
  • can be played with mallets
  • neither sensitive to cold nor heat (-10 to +45 degrees)
    smaller

Disadvantages

  • not as loud as a handpanHandpan
  • Notes are smaller
  • heavier

Handpans

Handpans can be played much louder than steel tongue drums and for many have a magical sound that captivates them.

Advantegs

  • Sound is “magical”
  • bigger note fields, easier to hit
  • suitable for faster playing
  • is much louder than a Steel Tongue Drum and still good to hear even with louder background noise
  • Handpans made of stainless steel (!) do not rust
  • wider choice of manufacturers, materials, scales and more variety

Disadvantes

  • more expensive than a Steel Tongue Drum
  • more sensitive, can get out of tune faster
  • must be retuned approx. every 1-6 years (depending on the type of play / handling and manufacturer / material)
  • Handpans, which are not made of stainless steel, can rust.
  • sensitive to heat (sun!)

The correct handling of your Handpan

When handling the instrument you should consider a few points:

  • To avoid scratches, remove rings, watches and other jewellery from your hands to play the instrument.
  • Before playing, it is best to wash your hands, as dirt and sweat are harmful to the instrument and can lead to rust.
  • Protect from moisture and high humidity (e.g. do not play in the sauna or store in the washing cellar; be careful when camping with the morning dew, at some Handpan festivals there have been some nasty surprises). If your instrument gets wet, dry it immediately with a cloth and store it in a dry place so that the residual moisture can evaporate from inaccessible places.
  • Don’t leave Handpans lying in the sun and certainly don’t play it in the sun because the handpan can get out of tune (the pans get very hot!). If the Handpan does heat up, let it cool down to room temperature before you play it again.
  • Do not store the instrument permanently in a bag or rucksack, but only use it for transport (steel must breathe).
  • Since handpans are made of steel, the sound can change depending on the temperature. When it is cold the metal contracts and the tones become higher, when it is hot the metal expands and the tones become duller.

Transport and protection of your Instrument

For transporting your handpan it is best to use a Hard- or Softcases. As the name indicates, your instrument is better protected against shocks in a hardcase than in a softcase. The softcase has is cheaper, lighter and more comfortable to carry though. You should consider how often you are on tour with your instrument and what “conditions” it will be exposed to.

The right care

Handpans and steel tongue drums that are not made of stainless steel should be regularly maintained to protect them from rust. Most manufacturers recommend Phoenix Handpan oil, Ballistol, coconut oil or car wax. You should find out from the manufacturer (or from us ;-)) which care product is most suitable.

As a rule you should rub your instrument every 2-4 weeks on top and bottom with a care product and a microfibre cloth. We also recommend wiping the instrument with the same microfibre cloth after each playing to remove sweat and dirt.

The best thing is to find out for yourself, what is right for you. Come by and try!