Hang Drum Vs. Handpan

Hang Drums, Handpans, ufo drums, etc……  what are they?

You probably have known these to be called Hang Drums.  What makes a hang drum different than a handpan?

Hang Drum

For anyone new to the handpan, the difference between a Hang or “Hang Drum” is usually one of the first questions to come up.  Is one better than the other?  Or are they really just the same thing?  We’ll try to break it down for you here!

The PANArt Hang – Where it Began (The Original Brand)

The Hang (pronounced similarly to ‘hong’) was the first sound sculpture of its kind, invented by PANArt in Bern Switzerland around the year 2000.  Most people nowadays know this instrument as a hang drum, even if they are speaking of a handpan made by a company other than PANArt..  You can read further information regarding the history of the Hang in our article here, including why the phrase “Hang Drum” is actually a huge misnomer.

But we are here to see what makes the Hang different, or similar, to a handpan (in this case, the Iskra handpan).

Hang Drum


The Hang

The Hang is generally on the smaller side when compared to handpans.  Rim to rim, it measures about 20.5 inches (~52cm).  It weighs approximately 8.5 pounds.

Its smaller size helped make it popular among busking musicians (street performers) across Europe.  While many street performers had to lug around guitars, violins, didgeridoos and other large instruments, the Hang was a perfect size to make it easy to carry in a backpack style bag.  Heck, many players even used it to transport their clothes by shoving them inside of it!  Just don’t forget to take them out before playing or it will sound quite dull!

The Iskra Handpan

The Iskra handpan is slightly larger than the Hang.  It is 22 inches in diameter from rim to rim.  It weighs approximately 10.5 pounds.

The slightly larger size allows more room between tone fields, allowing better isolation to prevent ‘crosstalk’ between neighboring and dissonant tonefields.  It is still not too large to play though, and is middle of the road size-wise when compared to other handpans.


The Hang

The Hang is constructed of one millimeter thick steel which has been heat treated by a process known as gas nitriding.  This process hardens the steel, enabling efficient tuning of the instrument and the possibility of very stable notes.  A secondary benefit of nitriding is the creation of a rust resistant surface (though not rust proof).  

The Iskra Handpan

The Iskra handpan is constructed of 1.2mm thick carbon steel and also gas nitrided just like the Hang.  The material itself is very similar to the Hang, allowing for the use of the unique and more complex note shaping and tuning methods devised by PANArt.  

Other handpan brands have been found to either not sufficiently heat treat their steel, or simply avoid it altogether.  Some also use stainless steel.  All materials have upsides and downsides, but we prefer to stick to the proven nitrided carbon steel.

Tonal characteristics

The Hang

While the Hang got its inspiration from the steel pan, invented in Trinidad and Tobago in the 1940s and 1950s, it veered slightly away from traditional tuning practices.  

As a quick overview, the tuner of a steel instrument can force different tones, or harmonics, into several ‘modes’ of each note or tonefield, beyond the main fundamental pitch of the tonefield.  The tuning of these harmonics is what creates the unique sound of tuned steel, and the instrument’s overall tonal character.  

Some of the most defining tuning traits would be the second harmonics of the notes on a Hang, particularly the higher notes.  For the second harmonics on these notes, it was standard practice for the PANArt tuners to utilize seconds, major thirds, and minor thirds.  Even the central note, called the ‘ding’, would occasionally have these harmonics tuned into it, instead of the standard ‘compound fifth’.  

The Iskra Handpan

Most handpans offered now will have their second harmonics tuned to compound fifths, regardless of which tone fields they are, or which sound model the instrument is.  On the smallest tone fields, this can lead to ‘choking’ the tone field, and not allowing it to ring as well as it could.

Our Iskra handpan will generally use the methodology of the Hang by using seconds, minor thirds, and major thirds, depending on the sound model and the other tone fields on the instrument.

The Iskra will have the closest similarities to the Hang than any other handpan available, though the Iskra will also be a bit more pure sounding than the Hang as well.

Surface Finish

The Hang

The surface finish of the Hang is the result of the gas nitride process, which leaves a matte and ceramic-like surface layer.  Under the hands, it is similar to the surface of a smooth clay pot, and does not feel entirely metallic in nature.  While this surface can be polished to produce a true metallic appearance and feel, it was rarely done, and most that have been polished this way were done by someone other than PANArt, usually in response to the appearance of rust arising from negligent care of the Hang.

The Iskra Handpan

The Iskra is offered in two distinct surface finishes.

The matte finish is offered for those who prefer a look and feel similar to that of the Hang.  As mentioned, it will have a texture similar to that of ceramics.  It also has a bit of an Earth-y and handmade appearance, as each finish is unique due to the oxidation layer created from kiln heat treatments.

Also offered is a polished finish.  Polishing the surface will result in a slight increase in sustain and volume of the handpan, though this is sometimes only discernible by trained ears.  The texture will be more metallic in nature as well.