You’ve narrowed down your favourite maker(s) and scale, saved up your money and now you’re ready to take the magical step of buying your own handpan. How exciting! But before you snap up that ‘legit original Hang’ you’ve seen advertised on Ebay for an unbelievably low price, please do yourself a favour and read this little guide to help you avoid the pitfalls of a bad purchase.
You’ve come into our steel-tinged world at the right time… just a few years ago, handpans were as rare as hen’s teeth, but now there are many good makers in many parts of the world, as there are players wanting to sell or swap their handpans. Sadly, however, this also means there has been an increase in the number of dodgy offerings, scams and cons.
Just in the last few months, I’ve seen or heard about:
- Flippers: Those who buy (legitimately but against community rules) to immediately re-sell for a large profit – relying on those who are desperate for a limited edition Halo etc.
- Too good to be true offers: Dubious Facebook users contacting you via Private Message to sell their ‘1st gen PANArt Hang for 799€’
- Bad (possibly deceptive) Ebayers: Buy-It-Now listings by sellers with little/no ratings. Possible multiple listings of the same thing. They include You Tube links that don’t work and very little technical detail about their "fantastic new hang drum for only $999.99".
- Even worse Ebayers: Listings of pans they don’t actually own - that have been copied from a legitimate handpan seller in the past.
- Craigslist scams: Ads accompanied by a fuzzy photo from someone who says they are selling on behalf of a mate (convenient way to claim no knowledge or to avoid answering questions), but of course it’s going cheap if payment is made in advance by PayPal etc.
- Opportunists: People – across all sites - selling things that look like handpans but sound worse than dustbin lids, offered for a "mere" €2,000 or some other crazily high amount.
- Clever cons: Subtle and convincing posts on a Belgium/Dutch/other auction site, advertising an original Bells Magic Hour (or similar) for the low price of $1,800. This was a whole series of detailed posts by someone who seemed to know about handpans and gave what looked like genuine reasons for sale. The red flags were the price, the payment method (things like Western Union are particularly bad), the fact that the same photo/wording had been used many times elsewhere (likely by the same scammer) and their language, despite claiming they were mother-tongue Belgium/Dutch/other, was riddled with errors. Also, when experienced members of handpan.org spotted the potential con and ‘offered’ to come in person to pay/pick it up, the seller conveniently gave them a great excuse, for example they had just moved to another country.
It’s a sad stain on our wonderfully honest community. I’ve heard of many people, especially beginners, who fall for such, give their hard-earning money to criminals and chancers and end up only with a dent in their bank balance, a bruised ego, a broken heart and a piece of metal that melts the ears, or nothing at all.
While we cannot prevent all of these scams, we can do our best to inform and advise as much we can. So please read this article and share it with anyone and everyone who may find it useful.
Handpan buyer beware! 11 simple tips to protect yourself from scams.
1. Do your research
I know I say this a lot, but it will give you invaluable knowledge in advance of any potential purchase. First things first, don't miss this fundamental article exploring everything you need to know to take the best decision for your future handpan purchase and also have a look at my complete guide to choose the right scale for you.
2. Ask the community
When you spot an advert that sounds promising, ask our amazing handpan community for their opinion.
Advice and help on purchasing, as well as very trusted second-hand sales, can be found at the following Facebook pages:
- Handpan Instruments;
- Handpan Instrument Lovers(swap/sale)
- Swap and Sale (Alessio of HCT);
- as well as the forum on handpan.org (see below).
Read reviews from experienced players. What can you find out about the seller or maker? Have they written a detailed post about the pan for sale? Do they have a website? Do they have a YouTube channel with tens of videos of them playing? Do they have reviews from credible sources? Does the existing feedback seem genuine? How many of their Facebook friends are handpan players / people you may already be connected with?
3. Have a thorough read of the Buyer Beware thread on the forum of handpan.org
Handpan.org compare the exposed scams to the legitimate posts on the Swap and Sale section. Swap and Sale is actually a great place to purchase your first handpan from long-term, active, honest and highly-rated handpan owners.
If you’re not already a member of this free and well-moderated site, get signed up now – it is an invaluable resource full of wonderful community members, experienced players and reputable makers who are all looking out for each other. And we love to guide and protect the newbies 😉
4. Avoid buying on Ebay
While there may occasionally be some honest sellers on there, the vast majority of listings are not worth touching, even with a very long stick. Any experienced handpan owner and reputable maker will likely be on the main Facebook groups and forum (see above) and will post sales there.
If in doubt, contact the seller and ask as many questions as possible, such as their reason for sale, whether they can post a link to a recent video of them playing, whether it would be possible to come and try it out before you buy etc.
If they want you to purchase it outside of Ebay, run away… you wont have Ebay’s/PayPal’s protection in case things go wrong. If still in doubt, post the listing on the forum/Facebook and ask others for their opinion.
5. Avoid buying on Craigslist
For the same reasons as Ebay, but it’s even less protected. Stay away at all costs.
6. Never buy on the basis of a photograph
Scams often involve images of beautiful condition, top class pans to tempt you in. So check for ‘catfishing’. That is where people steal photos from others and post online/claim them as their own.
Luckily there’s an easy way to see if they’ve been posted repeatedly by a scammer, and/or if they have been copied from an original seller who was legitimate. Use Google ‘reverse image search’. See this blog for instructions.
Furthermore, handpan community rules mean every post about a sale should include a recent video, preferably of the seller playing it (every note) themselves. Even if genuine sellers forget, they will always be happy to provide a recording when asked.
If they have a YouTube channel, check it out – if it’s a new account and their only video, or conversely they have lots of similar ones with the same title ‘Great hang drum for sale!’, beware (not to mention hang drum is not the right terminology 😉).
You can also search Google’s comprehensive video database to check if the video actually belongs to someone else.
If still in doubt, ask them for a video with today’s newspaper included (or another detail that proves they made the recording just for you, like a pair of shoes next to the pan or their name written on their hand as they play).
7. Be cautious with re-sales
For re-sales of a known brand that aren’t coming directly from the maker themselves or from a legitimate owner on one of the good sites (see points 2 and 3, above), have a look at our Maker’s Directory.
I highly recommend that you contact the maker directly in ALL unconfirmed cases of re-sale and send them a link to the advert. They will be able to advise you whether it’s genuine and/or whether they approve of the sale (in the case of flippers/those re-sellers seeking a large profit).
If the advert doesn’t give details of the make/model (and preferably year/serial number/history/a video), or if the re-seller doesn’t provide these details when asked, run away as fast as you can!
8. Ask to go and see the handpan
A good way to catch online fraudsters is to ask to go and visit them/their instrument personally.
No, that doesn’t mean you really have to buy a plane ticket to the other side of the world. Just say that you’re planning on coming to the area and can pop by. Many scammers have been exposed by experienced handpan owners ‘offering’ (falsely) to come and check it out in person.
A legitimate seller will likely welcome this, giving you directions to their place and even offering you their sofa for the night. A con artist will use any excuse to put you off – sick grandma, a sudden crisis/emergency, moving house, leaving the country et al.
9. Be cautious when trying a handpan
If you are offered the chance to try it out at the home of an unknown private seller and/or the workshop of a new/unproven maker, and can afford the travel, here’s a quick checklist:
- ALWAYS take a friend/family member/fellow handpan player with you. This isn’t just for support but for your own safety in the (unlikely but not impossible) situation that they are not who they say they are.
- Write a list of questions in advance and make sure you ask them. It’s important to know about the history of the instrument, what it’s made from, why they are selling it and, if they are a maker, if they offer any kind of after-sales support and what their refund terms are. A reputable maker or owner will usually be happy to tell you anything and everything about their pan with great enthusiasm! Conversely, a dodgy geezer may give you vague or incomplete answers or avoid the questions altogether.
- If possible, download a tuner App or take a tuner with you. Your ear may not yet be trained to pick up the problems.
- Take your time with the instrument. Examine it for rust, scratches and dents and if it looks like it’s been well-cared for. Also, without touching/potentially scratching the handpan, carefully shine your phone light in the Gu/sound hole to see what it’s like inside. While small signs of use/ageing can be inevitable with second-hand instruments and should not affect the quality, if they are extensive, they could cause long-term problems and costs. They could also be a reason why the seller is desperate to get rid of it… and if they don’t want it, you shouldn’t either.
- Make sure you play it yourself! Even if you’re a beginner and don’t know how to play it well yet, don’t be embarrassed - try tapping all the notes of the scale and see if you can tell the differences in quality between this pan and those you’ve researched/fallen in love with elsewhere. There’s nothing like the sound of a good pan played live. It should send shivers down your spine. A bin lid wont. Check out my article on what to look out for a quality handpan.
- Don’t be afraid to say no and walk away. A reputable maker or owner will never apply pressure to a potential buyer on the spot or make you believe that it’s the best thing in the world and you’d be foolish to miss out. They understand that it’s an investment and it can take time to think about it and decide if it’s right for you.
- Trust your instincts. Always.
10. Buy your first handpan from a respected maker
Ultimately, until you get familiar with the handpan world and the people in it, I recommend, wherever possible, to buy your first pan in person from a respected maker. Most are very happy to let you try-before-you-buy. They use trusted payment programmes. They offer after-sales care and advice and can help with re-tuning if needed.
They can organise well-protected, insured shipping if you cannot take it away that day (sometimes included in the price of purchase and/or with a free bag). And they will let you try out all their instruments… just in case that quirky one in the corner is waiting to steal your heart.
You can either arrange an appointment to visit them at their workshop or have the chance to play their creations at a festival. If you choose a maker outside of where you live, you’ll probably have to pay extra shipping and possibly some steep customs charges.
If, for any reason, you want to return it for a refund or tuning, that’s yet more cost. It’s completely standard, but just be mindful.
11. Go with your gut
Last but definitely not least, go with your gut and use common sense.
If it feels wrong, don’t ignore your feelings. As the old saying goes:
If something’s too good to be true, it probably is.
What's your experience?
Have you made a bad purchase?
What tips or advice would you give to someone who's about to buy a handpan?