Tongue drum V.S. handpan. Are they enemies or friends?

Handpan is a holy grail of many no matter whether it’s an enthusiast or a professional musician. We bet you would love to get it too once you hear the celestial sound of this instrument.  

The tongue drums that are relative to the handpan are often considered to be a cheap substitute for the handpan. Both drums have the same origins, both are steel drums and both are idiophone non-chromatic instruments.

There are many cheap tongue drums for $60-100 with a muffled iron-sided sound that has absolutely nothing to do with the lush soft and harmonious sound of the handpan. The average price of a good handpan starts from $1400-1500 and has no upper limit. It’s obvious you can’t get the same Louboutin pair of fancy shoes for $60.

So what about the tongue drum? Is it still worth buying? Are the handpan and the tongue drum two polar opposites? Or maybe, they were meant to be together in your steel drum collection? Let’s lay bare the truth.

What is a tongue drum?

Although it’s often underestimated, a high-quality tongue drum is actually an incredible instrument with a very melodious harp-alike sound. A good tongue drum can conquer the handpan in many ways. It depends on quality, manufacturer, and price.

The price for a quality tongue drum like the RAV Vast starts from $650 which is 3 times cheaper than an average well-tuned handpan. As well as the handpan, the RAV Vast has the shape of two joint hemispheres, but unlike the dimples on the handpan, it has tongues carved on its top surface.

Just like a high-quality handpan, the RAV Vast is harmoniously tuned, but it has a much longer sustain (up to 25 seconds compared to 5-7 sec in the handpan), is more durable, and doesn’t require any retuning – the great problem of having a handpan. So for one-third of the price of the handpan you get a high-quality instrument with a reckless sound which is the reason to choose it for many professional players.

So what to take? The handpan or the tongue drum?

In the end, it’s not about the substitution. It’s about having two different instruments with their specific sound characteristic. It’s like choosing between cello and violin – both are string instruments but they are different and unique and sound really good together. Many professional handpan players have the RAV Vast tongue drum in their inventory to get the advantage of playing both instruments.

If you are new to the steel drum world, we recommend taking the tongue drum first as the instrument is beginner-friendly and self-teaching. When you learn the basics, you can move to play the handpan.

A lifehack for choosing the scales. If you take the drums of the same scale like the B Celtic Minor RAV Vast and the B Celtic Minor RAV Pan, the shift from one instrument to another will be easy as pie as the drums will have an identic note layout. Learn fast and enjoy playing both of the amazing steel drum instruments.