History of the Hang

History of the Hang and handpans

How can I buy a Hang?

You have probably heard of an instrument called the Hang and might be wondering how to buy one? Or if you are fully up to date, then you might be interested in it’s younger sibling the Gubal? Or most recently, the Pang.

Well, sorry to burst your bubble, but you can’t buy a new Hang any more.

Neither of these instruments (originals made by inventors PANArt) is available to buy. The Hang is no longer in production, and the new version – the Gubal – is also not available.

As they say themselves on their website, ”currently it is not possible to order an instrument. We would kindly ask you to desist from sending emails or letters to PANArt.”

They continue: ”We would like to point out again that the conventional Hang instrument by PANArt will no longer be available, neither from us directly nor from instrument dealers.

Should you nevertheless come across an offer for instruments under the name of Hang or hang drum, these are not instruments from PANArt Manufacturing Ltd. ”


But in case you’re interested, here is a brief history of the Hang (and subsequently the Gubal).

A brief history of the Hang

(Hang drum handpan instrument by PANArt)

In the beginning

The Hang was invented in Bern, Switzerland, by Felix Rohner and Sabina Schärer (aka PANArt), who came upon their invention after a great deal of in-depth, scientific research into the making of steel musical instruments.

Inspiration came from the traditional steel pans of the Caribbean islands (Trinidad and Tobago, for example), though they took the technology further to invent their own, new instrument called the Hang.

The Hang was developed in the year 2000 and introduced at the Musikmesse Frankfurt in 2001. The name “Hang” is a registered trademark and property of PANArt.

Ce n’est pas un “drum”

You might be tempted to call it a “Hang drum”, but this is seriously frowned upon. PANArt finds the term too limited and say it is not simply a drum, but a sound sculpture or instrument in its own right.

The name Hang comes from the Bernese German word for hand, as the instrument is mainly played by hand.

PANArt spent years researching and experimenting with different metals, forming and shaping processes, which eventually culminated in the discovery of a new hardened steel and form that could produce slightly softer tones while still being durable.

The Hang consists of two hemispheres of steel – which basically look similar to 2 woks. The steel is much thicker than most woks, however, and has been treated/hardened by a process called “gas-nitriding”. Once attached together, the two pieces look a bit like a UFO.

Tuning in

Notes are tuned into the top half of the instrument through careful and precise hammering. Each note is meticulously crafted through many varying strikes of a hammer (namely the heart, crown, trunk, root and foundation blows – terminology coined by the ‘PANArtists’).

These notes are on the ‘top’ half of the instrument. Eight notes are arranged in a tone circle from low to high and arranged around a ninth low note (Ding) at the center of the tone circle. All are tuned harmonically (with fundamental, octave and the fifth above the octave)

The side considered the ‘bottom’ has an opening (Gu) in the center which allows the generation of the bass note through Helmholtz resonance.

There have been various stages in the development of the Hang, and several versions of the instrument. Without going into full detail, we’ll give a brief overview.

Generation game

First Generation Hangs were available from 2001 – 2005. But the popluarity was more than PANArt imagined, and spiralled beyond their expectations. In the Winter of 2005, Sabine and Felix felt there was too much pressure to mass-produce their instruments and put on the brakes.

They closed their doors for several months, so that they could dedicate the appropriate time and care to the fabrication of each instrument. They reported to their distibution network of music shops and suppliers around the world that they would no longer supply the Hang to them and orders for instruments should stop. Instead PANArt spent those months developing the second generation of the Hang.

In 2006, Second Generation Hangs, with a few adjustments, became available.

In 2008, after a decade of research and practise, PanArt settled on what they thought would be the final Hang design – the Integral Hang. There was only one scale with seven tone fields (D3 Ding, A3, Bb3, C4, D4, E4, F4, A4) and no other sound models offered. The Gu hole was adjusted to a subtly oval shape to improve the tuning. Other changes were made to the Ding.

Under pressure

Again demand exploded and PANArt felt the pressure. They made it clear that their priority was not to make something for experienced musicians, but that their instrument could be played by any individual.

Their aims and ambitions were published in a ‘Letter from the Hangbauhaus’:

“Playing with this Hang can lead to a form of freedom, an intimate conversation that can only unfold without pressure and coercion. If individuals are aware of this concept, they will be strengthened by this Hang. Thoughtless use can weaken a person.”

At that time, buying a Hang involved an application process – writing a letter to the PANArt headquarters in Switzerland explaining why you wanted one so much and how you intended to use it. Patience was indeed a virtue, as you would then be left waiting for a reply and hoping for an exclusive invitation to go there yourself in person.

Apparently PANArt did soon recognise what a difficult mission this was for many people (considering that applications came from all across the globe) and began to ship orders again. But potential buyers still needed to save their pennies for a while – at that time, the price was around 1200 euros!

Honour among players

If you did manage to buy a Hang, you would also be obliged to sign a “binding” agreement stating that the Hang may not be resold for profit and must be offered back to PANArt at cost price first. Many considered that a “gentleman’s agreement” (or woman’s), as it was difficult to enforce, but at least it did aim to encourage honour among players.

Next (around 2009-2010) came the Free Integral Hang, which incorporated a few changes compared to its predecessor.

PANArt emphasized that the tuning of this version of their instrument was basically “free” – in other words, the person tuning it did not rely entirely on calculating precise mathematical ratios, but on the impact each note made on the sound of the instrument as a whole. So the tuner took into account the artistic design of the sound structure in a holistic way, rather than exact frequencies of individual notes (similar to the way Trinidadian steelpans are tuned). This makes it a pretty unique insturment and one which is very difficult to match.


The Hang is no more

The Free Integral Hang was only made up until the end of 2013. Since the beginning of 2014, the original PANArt Hang (in any of its forms) is no longer being made. So in response to the question, “How can I buy a Hang?”, the answer is, “You can’t”.

However, there is a new kid on the block. PANArt has moved on to a new instrument called the Gubal (based on the Hang).

The main difference is that the bottom of the instrument is extended, so there is a larger, rounded chamber underneath, which serves to deepen and emphasize the sound of the ‘Gu’ note. There is more contrast and range between then highest tones and the lowest tones.

The Gubal can also be played by hands, but because of it’s differences to the Hang, PANArt see it as a new instrument – hence the new name Gubal (named after the importance of the deep ‘Gu’ sound, which was on the original Hang, but which is now emphasized and deepend on the Gubal).

Gubal ® is a registered trademark for musical instruments and property of PANArt Hang Manufacturing Ltd.


Latest news from PANArt

So what’s the latest news?  The Hang is no longer available, and the new version – the Gubal – is also not available.

As they say themselves on their website, ”currently it is not possible to order an instrument. We would kindly ask you to desist from sending emails or letters to PANArt.”

They continue: ”We would like to point out again that the conventional Hang instrument by PANArt will no longer be available, neither from us directly nor from instrument dealers.

Should you nevertheless come across an offer for instruments under the name of Hang or hang drum, these are not instruments from PANArt Manufacturing Ltd.

What now?

So what now? You wanted a Hang, until you realised they no longer make them, so now you want a Gubal instead. To learn more about the Gubal, go to the PanArt website: http://www.gubal.ch

Or try this site for more details: http://www.hanghang.info/gubal.htm

But, as we said before, even if you do find a Gubal for sale, it’s going to be way outside your budget. So what can you do? How can you live without this kind of music in your life?

For your information, Hangs have only ever been made by PANArt. Imitators (without honour or consciense) might call their instrument a Hang, but most likely they are just a handpan, which looks and sounds similar (but given the precise and exact way that real Hangs are made, are unlikely to compete with the quality of the original). Instead, it’s best to look for an alternative instrument, which is different yet still offers the same kind of mesmerising sound…

Best alternative to the Hang?

The AM Drum is a steel tongue drum which is designed to be a sister instrument to the Hang / Gubal.

The steel tongue drum was invented by Denis Havlena, a man of Czech origin in America, who makes all kinds of unusual instruments. As the wonderfully generous man he is, he gave his invention to the world freely, as an ‘open source’ design. Some steel tongue drum makers are now trying to patent the instrument in their own name, which is not only greedy but dishonourable. AM Drums will never do this.

Denis Havlena’s invention was a large, simple version of the hank drum which was designed to mimic the beautiful sound of the Hang. After he shared the design with the world, AM Drums began to develop the primitive design into their own version – something more sleek, portable and easier to play. AM Drums has been constantly refining and improving every aspect of their instrument, including the tuning, appearance, durability and longevity. While Denis may have shown the world the basics of his invention, it is down to the individual maker to really learn over time, through direct experience, in order to consistently make instruments of the finest, most professional quality. AM Drums has reached this level of quality and consistency (and has certainly paid its dues)… 😉
Steel tongue drums are a different kind of instrument (tuned by cutting tongues into the steel instead of hammering), but have many things in common with the Hang, and offer a similar playing experience and sound quality.

AM Drums (available now)

Am Drums can be played with rubber-tipped drum-sticks or by hand. Playing by hand takes a little practise, and can sound very quiet at first, but with more experience can be very satisfying. It’s not hard – it just takes a particular technique which is easy to learn. Some people pick it up instantly.

AM Drums can be tuned to any scale, in any frequency. You can even have different notes in different frequencies (if you wanted), though generally all the tongues on each drum are tuned consistently to the same frequency.

AM Drums sound similar to the Hang, but a little different. Notes linger for a little longer, though you can dampen the length of notes using various simple DIY techniques (see our pages on production and how to play).

Held in a trance

We don’t mean to brag, but many people actually prefer the sound to a Hang. The tone can be purer, and the lingering notes sound incredibly soothing and hypnotic. This is why they are good for healing, relaxation, meditation, Chakra therapy etc. They can also help you to go on a pretty cool inward journey 😉

Listen to AM Drums here, to see how they sound in comparison to a Hang.

When playing to the public (at markets), often people passing by are held entranced by the sound, and remain fixed in the same spot for about an hour. Sometimes they are so hypnotised by the sound they walk away looking confused, having completely forgotten what they were supposed to be doing or where they were going. We’ve also had parents bring over crying babies who are quickly soothed and relaxed.

So the Hang was a fantastic instrument, and the Gubal will probably be amazing too – but they are not the only options.

Available now (AM Drums)

MA Rustic fell in love with this instrument and since then has been spreading good vibrations as far and wide as possible – sharing the sound by playing freely in public places and lending them out to friends, as well as shipping them worldwide.

An AM Drum is a professional-quality, finely tuned and versatile alternative that is available to order immediately for a fraction of the cost and which can be delivered worldwide.

Given their experience, focus and attention to detail, AM Drums are sold at a fair trade price – a fair exchange for the hard work, special attention, personalisation and fine expertise that goes into their making.

AM Drums are hand-crafted with loving care, and can be 100% personalised for you, so each one is unique.

If you have any more questions or would like to order one, please send us an email.
We have a new email adress, so please send ALL messages here – acousticmage@gmail.com

Please browse the rest of our website for more information.