HANDPANS – from highly sought-after and hard-to-get unique pieces to a flooded market ?

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There were times when the world of the handpan & hang was still in order, say the old-timers. There were very few instruments and they were held in much higher esteem than they are today. The sound was direct (deliberately with little sustain) and reduced. So was the playing. If you have to wait years for an instrument, when you finally hold it in your hands, you treat it with appreciation, respect and care. And these are precisely the qualities that make the player’s connection to the handpan valuable.

photo credit: Ariel Zutel

The fact that there was no social media in the old Handpan days was certainly a blessing in those pioneering days. Playing the Hang and Handpan was mainly something very intimate. Something without an audience. The approach to playing these instruments was very different compared to how people stumble into the handpan virus today.
Today the web is flooded with thousands of handpan videos every day and the patterns you hear on these videos are 95% more or less the same. This is not only a pity – it also ignores the qualities of this special instrument. You have to understand a HANDPAN to be able to play it in such a way that its strengths, its character and its uniqueness come to the fore and it unfolds its true power. Quick fascination is something completely different from actual touch! It’s not enough to learn a 4/4 pattern – the true strengths of many things are often hidden – handpans are no different!

10 years ago, the average waiting time for a handpan was more than a year. With the best makers at the time, you sometimes had to be patient for 3 years or longer. This increased the anticipation for players of these instruments immeasurably, but of course it also had its downsides. The fact that makers and tuners who hammered life into these tin lenses were almost worshipped at the time did not do everyone any good. The ego of some – manufacturers and players alike – exploded. The danger of becoming conceited and arrogant through celebrity and ‘being idolized’ is great. Not only in the handpan scene.

Markets in which the balance between supply and demand is out of kilter are aggressively advertised. Due to mass production, the range of handpans on offer today is huge – almost unmanageable. Anyone who wants to buy a handpan is inundated with offers from all over the world. Masses of special offers. You might think that prices have fallen sharply, but this is not the case!
High-quality handpans cost the same today as they did 10 or 20 years ago. No surprise when you think about it. The ‘good handpans’ are made by hand. This special and very intensive process is not just about craftsmanship and experience, but also about creativity and creative art itself. Both have their price – the manual work and the art, of course. It is not the cost of the paint used that determines the value of a painting, but the work itself. This is exactly the case with high-quality handpans.

But even the sector of high-quality handpans seems to be becoming increasingly saturated. In relevant markets (e.g. Facebook groups) there are more and more offers of high-class instruments at reduced prices. Something that was unimaginable just a few years ago. I can still remember selling a handpan myself, and within an hour of posting the ad online, I had several buyers from all over the world bidding for it. The problem as a seller was not to find someone, but to give preference to ‘the right one’. It wasn’t long ago when Handpan deals were exactly like this!
Today (and I have my own experience here too) you can offer a high-quality, really good instrument at a greatly reduced price without a single interested buyer turning up for weeks.
The fact that there is a larger selection of high-quality instruments at fair prices is the sunny side of the current market development – at least for buyers.
Handpan beginners who are interested in real quality, in ‘soulful handpans‘ should definitely look around in this sector of used handpans! There you can find real ‘pearls’ at really fair prices.

No matter what the market offers, in the end the buyers decide for themselves. For or against sustainability (e.g. 2nd hand, durability, …), for or against quality, for or against production methods and also for or against certain advertising strategies.

By the way, I VERY much doubt that there is such a thing as “beginner handpans”. It seems to me that the term “beginner handpan” was invented in order to be able to sell bad handpans at all. In this case, bad means above all: sloppy mass production!
Experienced musicians can produce an incredible variety of sounds on ANY handpan. But only a high-quality, well-tuned instrument will be able to show a beginner where the real power and magic of handpans lie! This clearly does not lie in playing any standard patterns that are distributed tens of thousands of times in courses, workshops, videos or handpan books.
Handpans should be a companion to a creative and usually highly personal process – and they can be.


But if you prefer to copy something and would rather play like player XY, a 300 euro mass-produced ‘handpan’ would be enough for you. In the hands of a good percussionist, even these “cans” sound amazingly fascinating……

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4 Comments

  1. Now it’s just like with any other instrument, where there is everything from crap to state-of-the-art. With handpans, it’s just a little more clear to hear if the instrument is well built or not – especially when the cheap ones go out of tune over time. A good quality handpan costs more than many other instruments though, so more people will look for affordable options. It’s all inevitable, and I’m happy to see the handpan become a popular instrument, easier to aquire. With more players, one also needs to become better on the instrument to get succes as an artist. In the “old” days, any sloppy percussionist with an out-of-tune pan could become a popular street artist. Now it takes more, luckily.

  2. As a musical artform and as a new musical instrument, i believe the handpan is experiencing a Renaissance of sorts. Of course there is the downside of commoditizing something as precious as a handpan, but I see this “flooded” market with many people playing the same tunes on the same scales and from the same makers, as a way of expanding the world and not contracting as this article suggests. So many more people can now enjoy learning to play with great teachers and fundamentals available to so many – what was previously a somewhat elitist, prohibitively expensive world – open to only the few lucky ones, is now wide open. There is still room for discernment and for those special instruments to be discovered by the “right” players. Don’t forget, when Sabine and Felix were in their hayday, you had to write a fax and literally beg to get on a wait list to have a chance of flying to Basel to one day choose one and own it. I really don’t believe that was a better playing field compared to what we have today. And IMO, many of the pans have far exceeded the capabilities of the original PanArt pans..

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