What Makes a Great Handpan? A Beginner's Guide to Choosing a Quality Handpan

What Makes a Great Handpan? A Beginner's Guide to Choosing a Quality Handpan

Handpans have become increasingly popular in recent years, captivating musicians and listeners with their unique, ethereal sound. If you're considering buying a handpan or upgrading your current instrument, it's important to understand what makes a quality handpan. In this guide, we'll break down the key factors to look for and help you find the perfect instrument for your needs.

1. Tuning: The Heart of the Handpan

Good tuning is the most crucial aspect of any handpan. A well-tuned handpan will sound harmonious and pleasing, while a poorly tuned one can be frustrating to play. Here's what to listen for:

  • Consistent sound across all notes
  • Accurate tuning of the main note, its octave, and its fifth
  • Stability in tuning over time (with proper care)

2. Sound Quality: What's Your Ideal Tone?

The overall sound of a handpan can vary greatly between makers and models. Some things to consider:

  • Do you prefer a warm, mellow tone or a brighter, more resonant sound?
  • Listen for any harsh metallic "pings" or "clangs" - these are generally undesirable
  • Check if the sound is balanced across all notes 

3. Sustain: How Long Do the Notes Ring?

Sustain refers to how long the notes keep sounding after you hit them. While preferences vary, here's what to look for:

  • Enough sustain to create flowing melodies
  • Similar sustain length across all notes
  • The ability to control sustain through your playing technique

Some players prefer shorter sustain for more percussive styles, while others love long, ringing notes for meditative music.

4. Dynamic Range: From Soft to Loud

A quality handpan should let you express yourself through a range of playing intensities:

  • It should respond well to gentle, soft playing
  • It should produce clear, strong tones when played with more force
  • The sound quality should remain good whether you play softly or loudly

5. Note Isolation and Crosstalk: Clean vs. Resonant

This refers to how much the notes interact with each other:

  • Some players prefer clear separation between notes for precise melodies
  • Others enjoy when notes resonate together, creating a wash of sound
  • A bit of intentional resonance between harmonious notes can add richness

6. Build Quality: The Foundation of a Good Handpan

The way a handpan is made affects both its sound and how long it lasts:

  • Look for high-quality steel (nitrided or stainless steel are common choices)
  • Check the craftsmanship of the shell and note layout
  • Consider the durability of the glue used to join the two halves

7. Harmonics: The Hidden Layers of Sound

Each note on a handpan actually consists of several tones. In a good handpan:

  • You should be able to hear clear harmonics (overtones) in each note
  • The main note, its octave, and its fifth should be in tune with each other
  • These harmonics add richness without overpowering the main tone

8. Scale and Note Selection: Finding Your Melody

While not strictly about quality, the choice of scale is crucial:

  • Consider what kind of music you want to play
  • Some scales are more versatile, while others have a specific mood
  • The number of notes can affect price and playability

9. Brand Reputation and Customer Service

While not about the instrument itself, these factors can affect your experience:

  • Research the maker's reputation for quality and consistency
  • Read reviews from other customers

Conclusion: Finding Your Perfect Handpan

Remember, what makes a "good" handpan can be subjective. While these factors provide a solid framework, your personal preference plays a big role. What sounds perfect to one player might not resonate as strongly with another.

At NovaPans Australia, we understand that different players have different needs. That's why we offer three distinct models:

  • Generation 7: Perfect for those seeking maximum sustain and a meditative sound. Made from stainless steel, it requires less maintenance and is ideal for sound healing and relaxation practices.
  • Generation 4: Our most versatile and affordable option. It offers a great balance of sustain and crisp tones, making it an excellent choice for beginners or those looking for the best value.
  • Generation 3: Designed with performers in mind, this model provides superior projection and dynamic range. If you're planning to play live or need an instrument that cuts through in busking situations, the Generation 3 is your best bet.

Whether you're just starting your handpan journey or looking to upgrade, take the time to explore different options. Listen to sound samples, watch videos, and if possible, try instruments in person. With patience and research, you'll find a handpan that resonates with your musical soul and inspires you to create beautiful melodies.

Ready to explore high-quality, affordable handpans? Check out our range at NovaPans Australia and find the perfect instrument to start or continue your handpan adventure!


Boura, D. (n.d.). The 7 marks of a quality handpan. Master the Handpan. Retrieved July 11, 2024, [link]

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