These are the kinds of questions we often see online, and maybe you have the same concerns. That’s why Rafael d’Arco and I want to help you to really understand the effects of heat and cold on your handpan, so that you can be safe and sure about what to do and where to play.
As a general rule, temperature will always have an effect on sound. A simple way to think of it is that it alters the density of the air. Sound waves travel through the air, so they get affected.
How can the heat affect my handpan?
Heat is a very important process when making handpans. It’s used for several reasons, and one of them is to stabilize and stress-test the tuning. Many makers use this to ‘test’ if the instrument is stable. They do it by tuning, heating it to a certain temperature, tuning again, and repeating the process as needed.
The main thing to consider is that metal absorbs heat VERY fast. This can easily be proven when you enter your car after leaving it out in the sun. When you touch the seats, they’re definitely warm, but if you touch any metal parts, such as your seatbelt buckle, you can actually get burned!
And how does this relate to handpans? Well, this is not a big news, handpans are made of metal. They will absorb heat very fast if exposed to a source of heat, such as… the SUN!
If you have ever tried to play your handpan out in the sun, you will almost certainly have noticed this effect: Quickly after starting to play, your instrument gets warm, and the sound starts to get a little ‘weird’.
“Handpans are like vampires! They fear the sun!”
The general rule is to avoid playing out in the sun. Be very careful especially in summer or on hot days. Your instrument won’t be damaged if it’s exposed for only a short time, but it can be left permanently out of tune if it stays exposed for too long, especially when being played under direct sunlight. Remember, heat is used to ‘stabilize’ the instrument, so, it might change the tuning by a few cents if it’s exposed for too long. If you happen to leave it under the sun, wait until it cools down before playing it again.
Can the sun melt the glue?
Another question that is often asked is whether the sun can damage or even melt the glue. And the answer is… ask the maker of your instrument. The glue used by most makers is intended to be used for outdoor applications, so it should be resistant to the heat of the sun. But we would always suggest you ask your handpan maker. It’s better to be safe than sorry!
How can the cold affect my instrument?
Cold is a different story… Technically, cold doesn’t ‘exist’! It’s the absence of heat. So, when we talk about cold temperatures, there isn’t a ‘source’ of cold, just a lack of heat. In this case, there’s nothing directly sending ‘cold waves’ to your instrument.
But metal transfers heat very quickly, and that means it will transfer its own ‘heat’ to the air around it. That’s why it will feel cold to the touch. As a result, the effects are not as marked as when playing in direct sunlight. However, you may feel your handpan is a little ‘out of tune’, depending on how cold the temperature is. This is a temporary effect, and things will go back to normal when you go back to ‘normal’, ambient temperatures.
The main problem is that cold is often accompanied by humidity, and humidity is BAD, REALLY BAD! Rust is one of the worst problems that a handpan can have. So, if you plan on playing outside in the snow, for example, the most important thing to do is to dry it completely after playing.
In any instance of exposure to excessive cold or heat, the best thing you can do is to wipe your instrument after every time you’ve finished playing with a microfibre cloth.
If your instrument has a rubber ring on the rim, make sure you remove it, and dry it completely before putting it back. Once the instrument is dry would be a good time to reapply your protective oil. Read our full article on Phoenix oil.
If you think about it, even the case in which you are putting your instrument must be dry. So many people play and leave their case open for hours letting the foam or textile of their case soak up moisture. As a general rule, ensure the whole environment of your handpan is free from humidity, and keep everything as dry as possible.
Should I store my handpan in its bag or case?
We strongly recommend you do not to leave it at home in its bag or case. Your handpan needs to breathe. If you leave it in its bag or case, it will create condensation. If your handpan needs to stay in its bag or case for several hours, e.g. whilst travelling, we would recommend you use a moisture eater. This will absorb the atmospheric moisture in your handpan bag, keeping it as dry as possible, and so help prevent the development of rust. For more information see soundsinspiring.com.
To conclude, your handpan’s biggest enemies are the sun and humidity. Be careful in high temperatures and don’t leave your handpan in direct sunlight. If you play in the cold, be aware of humidity and always dry your handpan thoroughly after playing.
We hope that the points we have made have been useful to you, and will help alleviate any unnecessary stress or concerns on this topic.
What is your experience? Has your handpan ever melted :-)?