All About Metal Sounds
Learn all about this exquisite line of steel pitched percussion crafted out the highest quality materials in the South of France, and how WE PLAY WELL TOGETHER has brought them to the American Market for musicians in the ever widening handpan community. We're now convening an interconnected international network around these unique melodic instruments that anyone can pick up and play.
What's a Zenko Drum?
A Zenko Drum is Metal Sound's elegant tongue drum that comes in a variety of tunings. At We Play Well Together, we lovingly refer to the Zenko as the "Porsche" of tongue-drums due to its elegant curves and sweetly refined sound (like a 911 sports-car that will whisk you off to an altered state of consciousness)
A tongue drum (also called a "tank" drum or "hank" drum) is originally built from a propane gas tank, which was improved by Metal Sounds designer Elie Dacenko in collaboration with an industrial subcontractor to create the unique design of the Zenko Drum. The pitches of the instrument are produced by tapping on metal "tongues" that are precision-cut out of the domed shape. This stainless steel melodic percussion instrument spreads sound in smooth, soft waves. Its high harmonic content is the result of perfect tuning that remains stable over the years. Each Zenko is unique and handcrafted, allowing the company to create custom drums upon request with specific tunings such as in 432 Hz.
What's a Handpan?
In 1999, PanArt® created the Hang® the original of all handpans. Though there are hundreds of handpan manufacturers around the world today, each, as with all craftsmen, brings their personal touch to their instrument, often using identical formed and treated shells. The handpan belongs to the family of musical instruments, called Idiophones: a melodic percussion instrument made of hammered metal. A new word had to be invented to describe this new drum, thus Kyle Cox, founder of Pantheon Steel® and creator of the Halo®, coined the familiar term "HANDPAN". This word comes from the analogy of ‘Steelpan’ which defines the Steeldrum family of instruments. The prefix of ’Steel’ is replaced by ‘Hand’, and ‘Pan’ referring to the shape of these instruments for drum. In Israel for example, the term ‘PANTAM’ is more frequently used to describe this drum.
What's a Spacedrum?
Metal Sounds handpans are playfully called Spacedrums and come in two versions: Spacedrum Evolution (made of stainless steel) and Spacedrum Nitro (made of nitrated steel).
The Spacedrum EVOLUTION® was designed after many years of research to offer a full rich and acoustically powerful and brilliant sound, with a lot of overtones and a long sustain - similar to the quality of a gong. Moreover, it's the first handpan in the world to offer a complete chromatic range and 3 different sizes. This stainless steel very melodic percussion instrument has notes that respond quickly. It's an easy-to-play handpan that lends itself particularly to personal development such as relaxation, yoga and music therapy. It's made with a reverse note layout, opposite to that of most other handpans. Start by playing the Ding (center note) with the right hand then climb the scale by alternating between left and right hands.
The Spacedrum NITRO® is so-called because it's made of nitrated steel. While the tones are elongated, the sustain isn't as long making it more ideal for skilled percussionists who enjoy playing complex rhythmic patterns. It's a very responsive instrument, delivering a soft, rounded tone. It withstands powerful strikes well and doesn't saturate. This handpan suits musicians more concerned with varied, creative and precise hitting styles and techniques. The Nitro has the standard note layout (pattern) like that offered by most of the handpan manufacturers. This high quality handpan gets its original sound from its slimness and the technical characteristics of the treated steel used to make it.
There are quite a few differences between these two handpans. Essentially they differ in the material used, type of heat treatment, assembly of the shells, dimensions and aesthetics. But most important is to understand which application and user profile matches each model best before you decide. (Reach out to us anytime and we'll help guide you in your selection!)
A Story of Passion, Quality & Integrity...
In 2006 Philip Maignaut and the Djoliba Music Store began a collaboration and research project that five years later resulted in the birth of the Spacedrum and a new company: SAS Metal Sounds founded in October of 2011.
For more than 25 years, Philip Maignaut has been researching the machined manufacturing of steeldrums, complimented with traditional methods for producing 'Pans', The Spacedrum resulted from this craftsmanship and expertise.
This artisan instrument maker, the Metal Sounds Company is based in Toulouse, France, and today manufactures Spacedrums and Zenkos, as well as importing steeldrums (steelpans) and other instruments.
Impassioned by music and creation, the team at Metal Sounds are now the leading specialists in metal forming and the production of high quality unique instruments, with each handmade by experts. Their master craftsmen nurture and train young talented apprentices, supporting them in their learning while passing on humility and the pride of a job well done.
As the first handpan maker in France, Metal Sounds invests in the quality of each instrument over mass production, (which makes usual production and delivery time around 12 weeks!) The tuning of handpans is an art within itself - it takes patience to produce remarkable sound.
We Play Well Together is proud to have a selection of Spacedrums and Zenkos ready to order in stock here in the US. In case we don’t have your preferred tuning we can custom order them for you from Metal Sounds normally with a 10 week turnaround.
Metal Sounds customers tend to be musicians, therapists, music schools, and also ordinary people who enjoy their unique metallic, melodic percussion instruments. Each instrument has its story.
Manufacturing & Tuning: Artistanal Handpan Production
How is the Spacedrum different from other handpans?
To start, most handpan manufacturers purchase the already formed/treated shells direct from the same suppliers. It's an easy and practical solution for production, but the acoustic result is uniform and standard at best. These manufacturers have little scope to apply their own unique sound signature, having no control on their materials and forming from the start.
Metal Sounds in contrast shapes their own shells from raw metal sheets. If the shell-shaping and heat treatment contribute to the sound of the instrument, it's equally important to define and adhere to the technical specifications of every batch of material (giving the exact mechanical and vibratory characteristics desired) to give the handpan its own sound identity and be able to perfectly replicate it each time.
To your average person, the making and tuning of handpans seems easy enough, all you need are a few steel sheets, some tools and a bit of patience! While in reality Metal Sounds follows twenty four individual steps to fabricate each crafted handpan. Explaining some main steps in this process will help you better understand the creation and production of this versatile instrument.
Metal Sounds' handpan steel sheets are selected according to the team’s stringent criteria, giving their unique sound identity and recognizable design. The uniqueness of their handpan comes from the choice of high quality materials in its production, which ultimately effects the rest of the process and the final quality of the handpan. Once they've carefully selected the raw steel plates and their thickness defined, they manually stretch the base (bottom shell) to their perfect proportions and surface finish. After forming and pressing they then proceed to the thermic anti-corrosion treatment process..
The remaining forming work is carried out by pressing and manual hammering (shaping notes etc.) before the first tuning commences. The dome (top shell) in turn undergoes the same heat treatment and is tuned again. Finally the two shells (dome and bottom) are joined together by either welding or gluing depending on the model (Evolution or Nitro). After all these stages are completed, there is one final tuning, product validation and quality control. This tuning is an art! The Spacedrum is then packed in its protected customized box to be shipped safely and without risk, worldwide to our customers.
Producing the Spacedrum locally in France, ensures the highest quality control of Metal Sounds' manufacturing process. Every single stage of the manufacturing is supervised: from the purchase of the raw-materials, the heat treatments, shell shaping, hand tuning through the final handpan finishing. They have then more flexibility to modify and improve their work in order to continuously strive for the optimal quality possibly attainable.
Each handpan is a unique musical instrument, a fully handcrafted sound sculpture. That is also why Metal Sounds can respond to specific requests, for custom instruments with specific scales and alternate tunings.
We Play Well Together with Metal Sounds
We Play Well Together is honored to be the exclusive North American Distributor for Metal Sounds. Our founder Gabriele Schwibach has a long-time working relationship and friendship with Metal Sounds co-founder Marc Guilliou (pictured above together on the floor of the 2020 NAMM Show in L.A.) In addition to their exceptional products, the Metal Sounds Company prides themselves in offering expert advice, unrivaled support and after-service to all their customers (including ongoing maintenance and repair.) Gabriele and Team WPWT endeavor to always extend this same personalized service to their US-based customers. With your purchase you receive ongoing support plus our community of musicians along with your companion instrument. We all play well together indeed.