Some time ago I wrote a critical blog post about some commercial handpan brands. I received a comment on the website, but since the commenting function of my site appears to broken, I decided to take all the comments down. However, I wanted to share a comment that I got from a player called Tokhi.

“Hello dear handpan friend and brother ?

I would like to response. You said that you never played a handpan from Meinl (Harmonic Art) – so why the judging? I can understand, that you dont have to like the price from Thomann, but it depends on each and only buyer, to consider the price and the quality of the instrument.

I play Harmonic Art – Harmonic Sculptures for many years, I am professional percussion player, I use them in studio, recording sessions, for TV commercials and so on. And I would proudly recommend them. I will have 4 pieces at home now, and against other handpans I played before – the sound is strong and very clean, with lot of aliquotes, people and producers just love it. The steel is beeautiful, I didnt have to retune once – and I use them almost every day, at least for practice sessions….

And I dont have problem to order them from Colombia and pay the shipping costs, or take them from Germany and pay the same to Thomann, but have it faster, without boring paper stuff and immediately without waiting. My choice, my happines.

I really love it and just wanted to response to all the guys, who will read this. You should play them first :-))”

Although I would still be cautious about buying an instrument from Meinl/Harmonic Art or especially Terre, I admit that he’s got a point: everyone should play instrument first before judging or making a decision to buy one. Sometimes even a well known builder makes an instrument that doesn’t work well for the player.

The reason why I’ve been critical towards Meinl/Harmonic Art is that none of the videos or sound samples I’ve heard have made a really good impression. I don’t want to be too harsh, they sound relatively nice and seem to be tuned pretty well. However, the timbre of the sound is not very refined. The tuning of a handpan is a very complex art and it is one thing to get all the partials in tune and stable and another thing to really work on the timbre and dynamics. If fine tuning is what the tuner does last before the instrument leaves his hands, this sculpting of sonic qualities happens much earlier and could be referred to as deep tuning. It is more about the overall architecture of the instrument and how the material is worked and treated.

Building a handpan is totally different from building a guitar or a piano. A cupola builder gets to work with the sound very early in the process. Every hammer blow from the early shaping gives you acoustic feedback of the acoustic character of the instrument. This is when the deep tuning happens. A luthier who builds a guitar or a violin has to go through most of the building process without hearing almost any sound of his instrument (other than what comes of the woodworking tools).

Deep tuning is a good topic that I could write more about on The Cupolist

I’ll close this post with three thoughts:

  1. Don’t buy a handpan unless you have tried that particular instrument personally! At least you should know the work of the builder very well.
  2. If you buy a Meinl/Harmonic Art or Terre instrument from Thomann (or elsewhere), you are paying extra for the convenience of having the Thomann return policy. Which, of course, is smart in case you end up wanting to return a poorly built instrument…
  3. Generally I find it a positive thing we have commercially available handpans, but the price should reflect the quality. Just to remind you, when PANArt started selling their Hang in 2001, they cost something like 250 euros each and the quality was on a par with a lot of today’s handpans that sell for 1500 euros or more.