Our Handpan Journey
The HAPI Handpans are made by me, Grahm Doe. Below is my story of learning how to make handpans:
I got my first handpan a (PANArt Hang) as a gift from my wife, Trish in 2002.
At the time we organized a Didgeridoo Festival in Joshua Tree, CA. There were didgeridoos and all sorts of unique instruments represented there. A friend was helping find homes for a few of the amazing Hang from PANArt. He was working with a U.S. distributor for PANArt (the creators of Hang in Switzerland). Secretly Trish conspired with him to acquire a Hang for me. I was blown away to be gifted with such a beautiful handpan and it changed my life.
I had made other instruments like didgeridoos in the past and I am comfortable making instruments and using tools. I have been working with steel as a creative medium since high school and furthered my studies with metallurgy in college. I am always fascinated by how steel can be bent, cut, drilled, welded, heat treated, to change its composition and formed into all sorts of useful things. It’s amazing that new musical instruments are being created from steel, an evolution of sound for the 21st century.
HAPI Drum is owned and operated by Grahm Doe and Trish Kelly (above). Creators of the popular HAPI Drums that began selling in 2008.
I began experimenting with different steels, dies and molds for my
handpans. I found tuning to be near impossible in the beginning.
Creating three different simultaneous tones in one note was a hard
concept to grasp. I went to Texas and studied with a pan maker which
helped. During this time, I also began experimenting with steel tongue drums when Trish showed me a website by
Dennis Havlena showing a technique for making a steel tongue drum. This turned out to be a great jumping off point for experimenting and coming up with our own versions of them. I really enjoy prototyping and trying different things to arrive at a
desired effect. Learning how to get the most out of the sound of steel
takes a lot of practice. Trial and error helps a lot when learning to
make handpans as there are many variables to experiment with.
As I continued working towards a handpan I acquired some tools from the
great folks at Pantheon Steel to help with the process. Together with
Dave Beery from Daves Island Instruments we collaborated on many
different things and experiments. One exciting thing is a new hybrid
handpan that combines tongues with the instrument. Dave is an amazing
tuner, with over 20 years experience making pan drums and now handpans
as well. I built my own shop with custom made tools and tuning rings.
With helpful guidance from Dave and a huge pile of rejects, I finally
started making some good progress in the summer of 2014.
Each handpan takes thousands upon thousands of hammer blows to shape and
tune. Heat treatment is used to adjust the steel. Our steel produces a
wonderful warm tone. Once a proper note shape has been set on the
handpan, it holds its tuning very well.
It takes me about a week to make one handpan. I also do several rounds of tuning until the handpan has settled into proper stable tuning. It takes more blood, sweat and tears to make a handpan than I ever imagined. It’s certainly one of the hardest things in my life I have learned to do. There is still much to learn and experiment with but I am very hapi to finally be able to start offering some instruments.
One of the most wonderful things about creating a handpan is towards the
end of the process. After days of working on an instrument there is a
point where the tones and vibrations form together. The handpan truly
becomes alive and sounds incredible. Each handpan is slightly unique
and has its own voice and that is part of the beauty.
I want to give much thanks to PANArt for creating the first instrument, also thanks to all who have helped me along the way and the amazing community of handpan lovers worldwide!
Only a few handpans can be made each month. We will be posting them here on our website as they become available. Please click here for our current handpan stock. Thanks!