Birth of the Saraz Handpan
The Saraz was conceived in 2011 by Mark Garner 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. Each person provided valuable hints, however it still required thousands of hours of hammering by a team of people to create the current chapter of the Saraz.
Mark’s father, Steve, has been involved with the project since 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.
In late 2014, the Saraz crew welcomed Josh as the second tuner. He now tunes the majority of Saraz. 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. Purchasing his first Panart Hang in 2006 has given him over 10 years with the instrument in addition to percussion experience with drum set, tabla and frame drum. Almost all videos of the Saraz since early 2015 have featured Josh’s playing skills.
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.
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 1 shoulder tone on the center note border of most Saraz. In later 2014, the Saraz was offered on both rolled shells 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 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.
With Josh now part of the crew, Saraz Handpans became the US and Canadian distributor for Hard Case Technologies.
Mark and Josh began tuning 2-5 shoulder tones on most Saraz while Mark also focused on further developing the fine shaping process, note shapes and dimple sizes.
In February, 9 Saraz were built and used for the Saraz Entourage to record their first album, Reentry, which features the songs of E.W. Harris. 6 of the instruments were designed as a chromatic set.
The album was released later in 2015.
The crew began exploring limited edition deep drawn shells fabricated by Shellopan in France as well as from another builder 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.
Two new sizes of Saraz were also introduced. 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 3 different diameters, many inherent wobbles of frequencies that do not want to resonant with stable sustain in a particular sized chamber are eliminated.
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. As always, they are still exploring further developments as this young art form continues to blossom. 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. A2 and E5 are in development 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, the instrument appeared simple and limited to Mark’s first impression. 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. As of early 2016, four chromatic sets of Saraz have been built on 21” diameter instruments. They have ranged from C#3 to D5 and from 3 to 6 Saraz Handpans in each set. The next chromatic will use 3 sizes of Saraz for ideal internal resonance. A chromatic set of currently offered Saraz scales can be as few as 3 instruments while additional instruments expand the range of lower center notes. Currently a 5 Saraz set will cover every note between C3 and D#5 with all notes between F3 and D#5 repeated 2-3 times for easy accessibility while playing.
For more information about the Saraz, our building process, history and future, please visit our:
Facebook page (we sometimes also announce flash sales here)
Saraz House on Handpang.org/forum
Building Page (numerous building notes and pictures)
Mark’s Instagram page (where you can find photos of building the Saraz and Mark’s other passion, growing food)