How to choose good handpan? No matter if you are a pro or a beginner in playing this amazing instrument, this question is hard to find an answer to in any way. I was in your shoes. There are so many scales, how to choose the one from all the drums available for sale? Here’s a step by step guide based on my own experience to help you make the right decision.
When I was a beginner
Choosing the handpan for the first time was a real problem for me. I acquired some basic techniques in a handpan school but I still was a newbie in the handpan world. Still I wanted to get my own instrument to keep learning and practising by myself outside the school.
I started surfing the place where to buy a handpan. My searching criteria were simple. The instrument should be of high quality and still be affordable. I also wanted the brand to present some options to choose from. My handpan tutor warned me not to take a used instrument, as it’s like taking a pig in a poke. You never know what hidden defect it may have.
So the first step was to choose the brand. I knew there was the famous Hang from PanArt which is good but insanely expensive (especially since the company stopped the production and the instrument became a rarity). And there were some handcrafted handpans available for sale being purchased from hand to hand without any warranty or quality proof. Without the need to say they were also hard to find.
Thankfully, today choosing a handpan is way much easier than it used to be a few years ago. There are many trusted brands that create and tune up the handpans. What I needed as a beginner was a good and affordable handpan that will suit me both at the beginner and pro-level, the instrument that would grow together with me. And I found one.
Which scale I chose as the first one
I heard about RAV before and I saw their eye-catching and unique RAV Vast drums. What I didn’t know was the fact that since January 2018 the company makes the handpans as well. I was familiar with this trusted brand before and decided to give the RAV Pan a try.
RAV makers offer 4 pan scales – the classic D Major, 2 Celtic Minor scales (tuned in D and B), and the mysterious F Pygmy. The D Major scale has a happy (and at the same time a little bit nostalgic) feel. This harmony is quite popular, but the scale itself is tricky and can be hard to deal with for a beginner. What I chose for myself (and what I recommend) is the D Celtic Minor. This RAV Pan has a melodious sound with some medieval music vibes. The Ding is tuned in D3, however, it has a little secret inside. It has an adjuster in the lower soundhole called Heartbeats that is tuned in D2. This adjuster is very meaningful. It brings massiveness to the ding’s bass and affects the overtones and makes the sound deeper and lusher (and also balances the instrument). This scale is the most approachable among the other RAV Pans and is great for practising and learning some new techniques. What I was looking for and what I found in the D Celtic Minor was the flexibility in the types and the complexity of music I could create with it. I keep playing the D Celtic even now when I have become an experienced musician. There’s a lower more moody option – the B Celtic Minor. The choice between these two scales for me is more about the matter of taste. I preferred the D tune but you can choose the B if you prefer a lower handpan voice.
When I evolved as a handpan player
Now I am ready to try new and even more challenging scales. I’ve decided to take another handbsence of metallic twang in the RAV Pans that many handpans suffer to have. I prefer a softer, woody sound and the RAV Pan provided it to me.
The pan from RAV again as I am already familiar with this brand and like the quality and the sound. And the RAV Pans are great for advanced musicians too. The pro players will appreciate the abrand designed a few options that can interest the advanced musicians – the D Major and F Pygmy. The D Major will be a good friend for an experienced handpan player. But I am dying to try the F Pygmy – a mysterious scale with the traditional Pygmy music vibes tuned into it. This RAV Pan produces a great amount of sympathetic resonance and has a very pure, electrifying sound. It’s great for solo play or jamming with other handpan musicians. It also has 2 additional bottom notes – 11 in total instead of regular 9 (and it really makes a big deal in case of diatonic instruments), and it obviously lets you create more music variations. It has a loud sound that makes it a great instrument for busking and performing on a stage. This scale is exciting but can be a little bit tricky, so be sure you take it when you feel confident enough.
What I learned from my experience of choosing the handpan is, first, listen to your heart and choose the scale you feel the greatest connection with. And never forget about the practice to be able to create the best handpan music one day!