Steel tongue drums – tuneful, enormous fun to play, and surprisingly light on hours of strenuous practice – are an instrument that everyone from beginners to practiced percussionists can enhance their musical lives with.
They’re not electronic drums, of course. But they are extremely cool and very player-friendly, and once you’ve played them, there’s every chance in the world you’ll want to keep going.
Want to get a set of steel tongue drums, but not sure which are the best?
You should know, this post contains affiliate links. If you decide you’ve found the steel tongue drums of your dreams and make a purchase when you click through, we might make a small commission, with no extra cost to you.
That makes no difference to our recommendations, though. We love what we love for the reasons we’re delighted to share with you. We hope you’ll love them too.
OUR TOP PICK
Editor's Choice – Fantastic sound at a budget-friendly price means the best of both worlds
Aiming for a combination of quality sound and affordability, the Asmuse 10-inch is an easy pick for our favorite. The high build quality ensures richness of tone and easy, precise tuning.
Tuned to the F major pentatonic scale, the Asmuse gives you a great overall tone that easily carries the essential sounds of a steel tongue drum.
Functionality is the key to this well-built drum – it’s there to be played, not to be looked at. Adding a pair of playing mallets and a handy bag for transport, it’s a no-frills, plenty of thrills, highly affordable drum that will give you lots of pleasure.
11 tones in a popular key (D major) give these drums variety of play
Another 10-inch drum, there’s a joyous versatility about the Moukey Mini (however far it pushes that ‘Mini’ definition).
It’s tuned in the key of D Major, which is useful for playing alongside a lot of modern music, and it can give you a full 11 sounds. If you’re looking to explore new options with a steel tongue drum, this could well have your name on it.
Those 11 sounds give you a broader range of possibilities than some other drums, so the Moukey is right up there in terms of flexibility. As with the Asmuse, the Moukey comes with a set of optional mallets.
Magnetic tuning and a built-in microphones makes these the technologist’s friends
Pearl is a well-known household name among tongue drummers.
This 9-note drum never lets that reputation down. One of the most standout features of the Pearl is that it’s sold in Lydian mode.
What’s Lydian mode? It’s a 7-tone musical scale with a raised fourth degree that adds a little something unusual to the options it gives you.
You can easily coax 9 tones out of the Pearl – a versatility that, matched with the unusual Lydian mode makes the Pearl drum a talking point from a sonic point alone.
A built-in microphone and easy tuning gives you high-quality sound and the volume you need.
The Beat Root Multi-Scale tongue drum comes tuned to G Major, but that’s by no means the whole story. It also comes with a magnetic tuning system which can help you switch it easily into one of 5 other scales.
It brings a built-in microphone and a 1/4″ jack connection in case you want to amp up your steel tongue drum and really bring some power to your gig or party.
If you don’t want to go with the multi-scale, there’s also a full tone option, with 7 notes in the C scales – and which gives you 4 scales to choose from.
You get a quality travel bag with either option, and some overtones that will raise the hair on your arms.
Versatility is often the key to a great steel tongue drum. Getting one that’s tuneable is always going to broaden your options and your horizons.
The built-in microphone makes this a good option for gigging and busking, and the drums come tuned to 440 Hz, which gives you a good vibe for playing with other musicians.
If you’re planning to use the drum for more meditative purposes, make it known – it can be tuned to 432 Hz instead if you prefer, for a mellower vibe.
High-quality Russian-engineered steel gives you rich, traditional tones.
Quality, quality, quality. Nothing else will do here. Crafted in Russia out of premium 2mm thick steel, you’re getting a superlative sound – on a par with some hang drums.
This is a more traditional, spiritually vibing drum, giving you resonances and tones in D Celtic Minor.
The quality is not just evident in the tone and the build quality here, though. While our top pick is pleasingly minimalist, the Tongue hand Pan has got the looks that take your steel tongue drum game to the next level.
An arcane scale and stunning design work make this a standout set.
Annnnd then there’s this level, which in terms of looks is in a whole other league. This drum is allllmost too beautiful to use – but don’t let that stop you.
Perhaps fittingly for a drum this spectacular, it uses an exotic scale, with a sound that makes sense of the styling.
It’s tuned to the wonderfully explicit Arcane scale, which gives you a perfect base sound for more oriental music, and a calming tone for meditative uses.
9 tuned notes in the Equinox scale give you a range of tones with a minor key vibe.
The Zenko tongue drum gives you high built quality and the versatility of 9 tuned notes. That means you get some really impressive resonances out of your drum.
Tuned to the so-called Equinox scale, it’ll give you a slightly unusual range. It’s mostly a common Minor key, so you get some interesting spiritual notes, but it has the occasional note of the exotic about it too.
It comes with both mallets and a traveling bag, so while it’s more expensive than some – a factor which pushes it down our list – it’s a relatively complete package.
Like Hang Drums, but Economical
So – steel tongue drums. Similar to hang drums, but…different, right? What exactly are the differences?
Well, there are two main differences, and they’re connected in a single equation. Firstly, original hang drums (from PANArt), are no longer available. Weirdly enough, the company still makes a variety of other musical instruments, but hang drums? Not so much.
That means what? Scarcity. And scarcity, as any freshman economics student will tell you, pushes up the price. Even relatively common hang drums now retail for thousands of dollars.
Contrast that with the prices of steel tongue drums – say a few hundred dollars – and you begin to see what steel tongue drums are so popular.
But what about the sound?
We’re not here to flim-flam you. Chances are, any hang drum you get your hands on is going to give you, richer, more resonant, and more colorful sound. Also, the differential in sizes means your hang drum is going to be far louder than a steel tongue drum.
That’s led to manufacturers supplying mallets as part of their steel tongue drum kits. The mallet gives you a volume boost, though it can mar the dynamics of the drum in the longer term.
So yes, hang drums are probably better. But up to ten times better, which they’d need to be to justify the price side by side? Unlikely.
About Steel Tongue Drums
Steel tongue drums are an entirely 21st-century instrument, invented by Dennis Havlena in 2007.
In fundamental design, and in their working principles, they’re similar to original hang drums, but they’re made a unique instrument by their shape, and they feature somewhere between seven and ten radially cut tongues.
The size of the tongue determines that not, though you can change the tone in several ways – like adding weight with magnets.
Just as hangs can, steel tongue drums can come in a range of different keys.
The original models started out with fairly standard pentatonic or diatonic scales, but things have come a long way in the last decade and change, so newer steel tongue drums come in a range of tones and scales.
That means you now have a choice between something more traditional or branching out into more exotic tones and scales.
If you’re looking to add color to your musical life and self-expression, you can do a lot worse than investing in a steel tongue drum.
A great alternative to hang drums, they’ll cost you around a tenth of the price and, just as importantly, are now available in a wide range of interesting scales and tones, to help give your self-expression a much broader palette.
As steel tongue drums are relatively straightforward to make, we should only see an increase in the number and variety of models coming onto the market in the next few years, with even more diverse tones and scales to choose from.
Naturally, if you get the opportunity, take a listen to some steel tongue drums for yourself, and buy whichever most speaks to you. But if you want a single, one-click recommendation on which we’d go for, it has to be the Asmuse.
Its combination of outright competence, unfussy visuals, and richly resonant tones makes it a winner for us, even in a diverse and interesting field.
Last update on 2023-02-06 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API