Birth of the Saraz Handpan
Mark Garner conceived the Saraz in 2011 in Asheville, NC, USA. As a musician and percussionist with an interest in exotic instruments, Mark discovered the Panart Hang™ in 2009 while living in Switzerland. Like many other builders, the inaccessibility of the instrument inspired him to build his own sound sculpture. He spent a year of researching and gathering tools while also briefly observing Dennis Martin of Rhythmical Steel, Kyle Cox and Jim Dusin of Pantheon Steel, Victor Levinson, the creator of the SPB, as well as Robbie Davis and Ellie Mannette of Mannette Musical Instruments. While Mark is endlessly thankful to each of these people for the valuable hints and instruction that they provided, it has still required many thousands of hours of hammering by a team of people to create the current chapter of the Saraz.
Design and Building History
The Saraz crew have explored a variety of materials and designs. The following is a brief timeline of developments:
In November, Mark introduced Saraz Prototype #1 at the Song of the Forest Handpan Gathering.
Mark’s father, Steve, joined the crew in late 2012. Steve has become a master of sinking shells with an appropriate thickness profile as well as the fine details of pressing notes and dimples. With a background in drafting, civil engineering, land surveying, and carpentry, his mathematical and artistic skills have proven endlessly valuable.
Most instruments built in 2013 were formed entirely by pneumatic and hand hammering.
It was an exciting year of exploring the basics of tuning, building, heat-treating and annealing steel.
The crew spent months building the Saraz on only rolled shells fabricated by Pantheon Steel. They also began exploring additional notes on the bottom shell of the instrument while tuning at least one shoulder tone on the center note border of most Saraz.
In mid 2014, The Saraz Foundation was created to promote and sponsor music education, environmental sustainability, and most importantly, a healthy, happy, and balanced seventh generation of life on planet Earth.
For Hang Out USA, a 6 Saraz Chromatic set was built and debuted at the festival by Mark Garner, Maxime Le Royer and Peter Levitov.
Later in the year, the Saraz was offered on both rolled and fully hammer shaped shells until the crew decided to focus primarily on fully hammer shaped instruments. They also started pressing both the dimple and tone field on each instrument.
In late 2014, the Saraz crew welcomed Josh Rivera as the second tuner. He now tunes the majority of the Saraz we build. Josh has a background in recording engineering, which made him the perfect candidate to master the first Saraz Entourage album. He also brought by far the best playing skills to the team. He purchased his first Panart Hang™ in 2006, and has over 10 years with the instrument in addition to his percussion experience with drum set, tabla and frame drum. Josh’s playing skills are featured on almost all of the Saraz videos since early 2015.
Recognizing the need for quality carrying cases, Saraz Handpans became the US and Canadian distributor for Hard Case Technologies.
Mark and Josh began tuning multiple shoulder tones on almost all Saraz. Mark also focused on further developing the fine shaping process, note shapes and dimple sizes.
In February, nine Saraz were built and used for the Saraz Entourage to record their first album, Reentry, which features the songs of E.W. Harris. Six of the instruments were designed as a chromatic set.
Later in the year, our great friend Chris Genereux joined the crew and now helps with endless details of both Saraz and Hard Case Technologies.
The crew began exploring limited edition deep drawn shells fabricated by Shellopan in France as well as Isthmus Handpans made in the USA. In addition to fully hammered shaped and rolled shells, the new shell forming process introduced novel insights into the internal structure of the steel.
Watch a video of C# minor Deep Drawn Saraz
Two new sizes of Saraz were introduced in 2016. In addition to the original 21” diameter Saraz, the crew began building 20” and 19” diameter instruments in order to utilize better internal resonance for each offered scale. By using three different diameters, many inherent wobbles of notes that do not resonant with stable sustain in a particular sized chamber can be placed on a different sized chamber where they resonant with stable sustain.
Mid year, Chet Plant, who is one of Mark's oldest friends of 20+ years, joined the crew. He has since taken over sinking half of our shells, making all of the ports and learning the many details of fine shaping instruments.
We released our collaboration with Paul Vo of VO Inventions. Paul designed and built a prototype magnetic oscillator that is capable of driving the vibration of a handpan and ultimately turning a handpan note into a speaker.
Watch a video demonstration
In June, we completed our fifth chromatic set. It consisted of six Saraz and was the first set to be built on three sizes of Saraz in order to maximize ideal internal resonance. The set ranged from B2 - D#5 with every note between F3 and D#5 represented in 2-4 places for ideal resonance and ergonomics. The set was debuted at the Asheville Percussion Festival by River Guerguerian, David Kuckhermann and Adam Maalouf. River and David then composed and recorded an EP with the set. Far more details about this project will be coming soon.
Saraz helped create Handpan Makers United whose mission is to advocate for protection and cultivation of the global tuned steel community through spread of truthful information, collaboration, camaraderie and free creative expression within the Handpan Art form.
Over the past few years, the crew has explored a wide diversity of note shapes, border designs, dimple shapes, dimple to note ratios, port and interstitial designs, note alignments, bottom notes, helmholtz tuning and fine shaping methods. We are always exploring further developments as this young art form continues to grow.
The Saraz is currently offered in a note range from B2-D#5. Tuning lower and higher notes is quite achievable, however tuning high notes with nicely sustaining partials (particularly compound 5ths) or tuning lower notes with ideal architecture and appropriate shoulder tones is considerably more challenging. G2 - Bb2 are currently in development for our first set of four Bass Saraz that will cover G2 - G#3. E5 and above is also in development for a set of Soprano Saraz and the crew has no intentions of stopping there.
Since the beginning, one inspiration to build the Saraz was to push the musical limits of the handpan’s development. With only one scale per instrument on high quality handpans, Mark’s first impression was that the instrument appeared simple and limited. Although he has developed a deep appreciation for the nuances of each instrument, he has never lost the desire to build high quality chromatic handpan sets for the professional musician that can be utilized in any genre of music. From 2012 - 2017, five chromatic sets of Saraz have been built. They have each ranged within B2 to D#5 and from three to six Saraz Handpans with the most recent set covering the entire range. We are currently preparing to offer Saraz Chromatic Sets in a vast array of options in 2018.
For more information about the Saraz, our building process, history and future, please visit our social media pages.