The handpan is a musical instrument that does not come from large production lines. The production of a handpan is time consuming and requires not "manufacturers" but real "craftsmen".
Making a handpan is an art, and giving it its resonance, offering it its scale and ensuring its harmony in melodious chords requires the greatest skill.
How is this instrument with its angelic sound created? What are the secrets of making a handpan? Immerse yourself in the workshops of the handpan makers whose pieces are available for purchase at Zenapan.
Making a handpan by carving a steel sheet.
The first step in making a handpan is choosing the steel sheet. There are two different types of steel:
- The nitriding steel (DC04),
- The stainless steel.
Handpans are very often made from nitrided steel, so we will first explain this steel before we look at the others.
Nitrided steel is a steel that has been thermochemically treated. As the name of this technique suggests, nitriding involves heating the steel and enriching it with nitrogen.
This nitrogen injection has two main functions:
- It strengthens the handpan,
- It protects it from rust.
However, the use of this type of steel has some drawbacks. The first is that the nitration does not prevent the appearance of rust, but only slows it down. Therefore, you should take extra care of your instrument.
The second reason is that nitriding changes the tone length of the instrument. Nitrated handpans, which make up the vast majority of instruments today, develop a sound whose sustain is shorter.
The sound of handpans made of nitrided steel is also changed. It becomes loamier and is often referred to by musicians as "ceramic."
In contrast, nitriding provides a louder sound that makes it much easier to play outdoors. It also allows the instrument to stay in tune for years.
Stainless steel is sometimes used by manufacturers because it does not rust. Therefore, it does not require maintenance like a handpan made of nitrided steel.
Making a stainless steel handpan also guarantees greater freedom in choosing where to play. This means that it can be played anywhere, whether by the sea or in humid areas.
The sound quality is also different. The duration of the note is longer, its melody deeper. However, the sound is also much quieter. So it is much more of an instrument for home use.
However, stainless steel handpans have one very big disadvantage: they are not heat resistant. If you play in the summer sun or forget about it in the heat, your handpan will go out of tune.
Either it will return to its original tuning after cooling down, or it will need to be retuned by the manufacturer.
Hammering the structure to form the dome
Forming the dome requires a high level of technical skill. The steel sheet is screwed onto a support and the hammering can begin. It continues until the dome shape is complete, and continues until it is perfectly flat again.
The craftsman then notes the location of the notes inside the dome and begins some initial tuning work, giving the handpan the curved shapes. Now begins a long work to form a first tuning.
The dome is then heated to 400°C for about two hours to strengthen its structure, and then the craftsman continues tuning the dome.
A second metal sheet is placed on a base and hammered until it forms the base of the handpan. It is then glued to the upper part of the instrument.
Thermochemical treatment by nitriding
Nitriding of the steel is done at a temperature of about 500°C. Nitrogen is sprayed on the surface of the instrument to make the metal stronger and more resistant to rust.
Nitriding not only helps to make the handpan less susceptible to corrosion, but also increases its stability. This step ensures that the instrument will remain in tune for many years.
The final tuning of the Handpan
Tuning a handpan requires a high degree of precision in handling the hammers. Each note is achieved by a greater or lesser depth of form. So, to achieve a correct and precise sound, precision is required.
Any frequency can be achieved, but generally handpans have a frequency of 440 Hz, which corresponds to the classical Western instruments. This allows handpan percussionists to play in concerts with other instruments.
The importance of accuracy in tuning the handpan is based on the need not to create interference. That is, an area where two notes cross, which would create wrong notes. This is roughly like bowing two strings at the same time on a violin.
For this reason, most handpans have no more than nine notes, to avoid such interference and consequent loss of musical quality.