Updated: Feb 20
If you’re new to the handpan world you may have found yourself asking one question over and over.
Why are handpans so expensive?
Well, why ARE handpans so expensive? After all, it’s just a piece of steel right? Surely, this whole industry has to be one big grift.
In this article, I’ll break down this question, explore in-depth why handpans can be pricey, and explain why their high prices may just be worth it.
Reason #1 - Building a handpan is really, really hard.
Let’s get straight to the point. Building a handpan is really quite tricky and the average person has little to no chance of ever being able to build one themselves. That’s not to say that building your own handpan is impossible, but the sharp learning curve and high initial investment cost (both financial and time) of handpan building have created a world with far more failed handpan builders than successful ones. When explaining the world of building handpans I often allude to the story of the ship repairman. To summarize: There once was a giant ship whose engine had failed. The ship’s owners sought out one expert after another, but none could figure out how to fix the engine.
After much searching, they brought in an old man who had been fixing ships since he was a young boy. With him, he carried a large bag of tools, and when he arrived, immediately went to work. He inspected every part of the engine carefully, top to bottom.
After looking things over, the old man reached into his bag and pulled out a small wrench. Gently he loosened a single bolt. Instantly, the engine sprung to life. He carefully put his tools away. The engine was fixed!
A week later, the ship's owners received a bill from the old man for ten thousand dollars.
“What?!” the owners exclaimed. “He hardly did anything!”
Outraged, they wrote the repairman a note. “We demand you send us an itemized bill.”
The man sent a bill that read:
Loosening a bolt………………….. $2.00
Knowing which bolt to loosen…………………….. $ 9,998.00
There is no shortcut in learning to build handpans and most handpan builders spent years before they were able to build a functional instrument. It is true, a handpan is nothing more than two sheets of steel held together by a strip of glue, but much like the story of our repairman a handpan maker's prices come not from the material, or even the time put into creating, but rather the days, months, and years of tireless unseen work, research, and failures that lead to the creation of their instruments today.
Reason #2 - Supply and Demand
Ahh yes, supply and demand, the natural governing law of all free-market enterprise. The reality is a LOT of people want handpans and with a new viral handpan video popping up every week, this number doesn’t seem like it will be shrinking any time soon. On the opposite end of our economics scale we have our supply, in this case handpan builders. While the global number of handpan builders is increasing the number of new handpan enthusiasts is increasing as well, and likely faster. Because of this, most reputable handpan builders often find themselves with more orders than hands to hammer and hours in the day to build. Until demand for instruments from handpan enthusiasts drops substantially I don’t foresee any significant price changes coming in the global handpan economy anytime soon.
Reason #3 Handpans are Hand-Made Instruments
It is important to remember that the handpan instrument is still in its infancy. In fact, most handpan companies are typically made up of no more than a few individuals at most with many still functioning as single-person operations. Because of this, the handpan can’t offer the same benefits of large-scale production that most other companies can. When you order a handpan from a builder often your instrument has yet to be constructed, instead it is being built to order specifically for you. In addition to this because of the relatively small-scale operation of most handpan artisans, much of the work building your instrument will be done by hand in small batch orders. While this individual-focused production model might not offer the same economic benefits that have been achieved by other companies when you order a handpan from a skilled handpan builder you can take pride in knowing that your instrument was built with individual care and attention just for you.
At the end of the day, handpans can definitely be pricey instruments. But for those that understand and recognize the full story behind this weird little market, their price might not seem so unreasonable after all. If you’re looking to dive into the handpan world be patient and knowledgeable and whenever you’re ready come join the family of steel.
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