What is a Gong?
When picking the right gong for you, it can be tough to know where to start. Picking your gong is so personal it can be a bit of a challenge, and some would say the gong will pick you. The best way to start your search is knowing what you want to use the gong for. This will be decided by the function you want it to play, for example healing, yoga, orchestral playing, or any of the many others uses for which a gong may be used. Gongs can be broken down into three main categories, Symphonic, planetary, and other. Other can be broken down to sound creation, chakra, wind and a few more different types of gongs that fall under this category. This guide will help you answer some questions to try and make your gong purchase as easy as possible. It will outline the different types of gongs, sizes they come in, material they are made of, how they are made, the accessories you will need and some tips for owning a gong.
Andertons are recognised as one of the leading Paiste gong dealers in the UK, with a serious selection of differing models and sizes available. If you're looking to come down to the store and explore the range we have on offer, you'll need to book an appointment with our drum department. You can contact us here for more information!
What Types of Gong Are There?
Symphonic gongs will vary from 20-inch to 90-inch and are generally separated by 2-inch increments all on even numbers between 20-40 and thereafter by 10-inches, so 50-inch, 60-inch etc. Symphonic gongs are used in orchestral playing but also tend to be a good starter gong. They tend to be easier to learn how to play as they are not quite as complex as planetary gongs. They are easy to play across the whole face of the gong.
Planetary gongs vary in size and tone and have been designed and tuned in conformity of the natural harmonic series based in the orbital properties on the earth, sun, moon and the planets according to the calculations of Hans Cousto. Thus, they resonate in harmony with the cycle of the celestial bodies and communicate a distinct aspect of their musical spheres. Paiste have 17 planet gongs, and they vary from 24-inches up to 38-inches. Meinl have a slightly different range. The planetary gongs have a strong body and great fundamental note. They have a great versatility and allow you to discover new and exciting areas on their face. The planetary range will resonate differently with different people. For example, some of the planetary gongs can be more feminine and others can be more masculine. Planetary gongs are great for blending and getting new tones.
These gongs vary a lot from smaller much thicker chakra gongs, flat plate wind gongs and beautifully complicated sound creation gongs. Then there are specialist signature gongs from Meinl. All these gongs are great at adding texture to gongs you already have or if you want something very different. Chakra gongs have a particular use and are quite unique. Other unique gongs are the sound creations models. These are very powerful gongs and when warmed up and played firmly can sound like a jet engine. A very impressive gong but can also be an intimating gong. Wind gongs give a completely different sound and are a flat gong with no profile. All these gongs are different and tend not to be the perfect first gong.
Knowing Your Gong
What the gong is made from has one of the biggest effects on its sound and feel. The quality of the metal and how it has been shaped and manufactured also dictates the sound and feel. Gongs are made from bronze and are an alloy of multiple metals. Paiste use multiple bronzes but the most common in European gong manufacture is silver nickel. Sometimes Chinese made gongs use a lower quality bronze and is reflected in its tonal quality and price.
Anatomy of the Gong
Most European symphonic and planetary gongs have a heart in the middle which is a flat circle of polished bronze in the centre of the gong. Right in the middle of the gong there will be a centre punch, used to make the gong circular and all the related manufacturing marks, then a raised area of scribes. This is on the profiled shaped part of the gong. Then the bow of the gong which is the shaped darker part of the gong that rolls over at the edge. The darker part of the gong has been fired with a flame to make it malleable to hammer and bend. The heat has changed the colour of the metal hence the darker surface. Other areas of notice are the hammer tuning rings to tune the gong. These are most noticeable on the reverse of the gong and are completely normal. Final part of European gongs is the finish, Paiste offers brilliant finish symphonic gongs. These have been buffed, polished and cleaned until the surface of the gong is nearly a mirror finish. This isn’t just an aesthetic change it does also change the tonal quality of the gong. A brilliant finished gong will shimmer differently give the gong a brighter sound.
Gong or Tam Tam?
What is the difference and what are they? Technically a gong will have a nipple in the middle like the Paiste chakra gongs and many Chinese gongs. Technically a tam tam is a flatter gong which does mean technically all European gongs are actually a tam tam but have had the name switch over time.
Remember Who the Gong is For
Is the gong for yourself or are you planning to use it to do a treatment with? This is something that some players will overlook when getting a gong. Gongs are very personal and so is the reaction to each gong. The tone and fundamental note and over tones will all react with different people in different ways. Remember who the gong is for is important. Some gongs can be predominantly feminine and some masculine. Some gongs speak very quickly, and some are slower.
Some gongs have a low fundamental note and some higher. All these things can affect a person listening and feeling. Different people will react differently to different vibrations and some of the reactions will be soothing, and some reactions will be a lot more negative, head aches etc. The goal of taking someone to a transcendent state doesn’t always take the same journey there, hence why there is some many different gongs on the market.
Choosing Your Gong
Some will say that a gong will choose you. The best way to find your perfect gong is to try it before you buy it. Whether that is playing all the gongs your friends have or any gongs available on any training you do. Play as many as possible, different sizes and different brands. When doing this remember the gong you are playing, remember the room you are playing it in, sizes and acoustic properties and finally remember the mallet size and brand you are playing with. All these factors can influence your playing experience.
If you experiment with different gongs and talk to likeminded people, you will have a much better understanding of which gong is the right one for you. It then means you can start narrowing your search down. A 32-inch symphonic gong tends to be the most popular first gong. For many people it is the best compromise between multiple factors: easy to play, not too big so still practical to manage and move, isn’t too expensive, a good size to be compatible with future gong purchases whereby a size above and below will blend nicely, plus is made by multiple brands so readily available. It is a great place to start and is also a gong that a lot of teachers will recommend as a first gong.
Where the Gong is Made
Where the gong is made will influence how nice it sounds and how expensive it is. Different manufacture techniques in different parts of the world lead to different types of gongs. Chinese gongs compared to European gongs have more visual imperfections, use lower grade raw materials and are manufactured using different techniques. A European made gong will be more expensive than their Chinese counterparts and tends to be a more complex gong because of the profile and shape of the gong as well as the scribes on it.
Most Chinese gongs are made in the Wuhan province with a couple of larger factories there making a large percentage of the Chinese gongs made for export. Chinese gongs are made with different techniques to European ones and material quality varies as well as product finish. There are a couple of main different types of Chinese gongs: Chau gongs and wind gongs. A Chau gong tends to have a rim and a wind or Feng gong tends to be flat. Both Chau and wind gongs will vary in size from 12-50 inches and the thickness of the metal will vary massively. The thickness of the gong will affect the tone produced and the weight of the gong to move. The finish on the Chinese gong can vary massively and some can be nowhere near the quality of the European counterpart but that is reflected in the price.
As for European Gongs, the vast majority are made in northern Germany. Some will say with a few exceptions the world’s best gongs are made in Germany. There are also a few boutique gongsmiths in England and Italy that build on commission and make a great product. With the German made models you have the Paiste and Meinl brands. Some would say Paiste make the best gongs in the world and are the pioneers of European gong manufacture. They have made gongs since the 30s and have two factories with one of them specializing in gong manufacture.
Paiste also makes the world’s biggest production gong, and you can special order a whopping 90-inch gong! Paiste also continues their pioneering legacy having brought new gongs to the market. Offering new tones and different sounds to widen your vibration pallet. Paiste gongs tend to be the most expensive, but they are phenomenal and worth saving up for. Meinl gongs are made by ex-Paiste staff in the same manner and sound great. Meinl make a range of products but not all of them are made in Europe as some are made in China. Meinl do offer a few special gongs, one of them being the Don Conreaux eight corners of heaven gong and the others being the flower of life gongs in 24 and 32-inch.
How the Gong is Made
A Paiste gong will start as a flat sheet of bronze, it will be cut from a square into a circle and then have the centre punch added. All its manufacturing measurement marks will then be added to the back, and these give the gongsmith the markers for all the processes. The gong will then get fired, whereby the back of the heart and the darker edge of the gong get heated with a flame. This is so the gong is soft enough for the gongsmith to start hammering. The edge profile will then be hammered. This is done by two people, one will hold and spin the gong and one will hammer. Then the surface profile will be hammered, and the gong will have its distinct shape and colour and will start to look like a gong.The next part of the hammering is very precise and is the tuning rings. The gong will then move onto the scribing part of the manufacture. These are the lines down the surface of the front of the gong unless it is a sound creation gong or chakra gong. Now it is nearly made and will have the final touches, brand logo and serial number added. The last step before the gong is ready to be packaged is the final quality check. The note and frequency in Hertz are measured and the gong is fully checked. If it is a brilliant finish gong it will then go to a different part of the factory and buffed, cleaned, and polished. Then it is boxed and ready to come to you.
The Size of the Gong
“The bigger the better” - this is a phrase lots of people will say. It has some truth to it but isn’t something to get to carried away with. Bigger will have a wider tonal range and more body but might not fit your purpose, for example, if it is too big to hand hold or move easily and you are a mobile healer etc. for example. You still have the practicalities of owning it so consider the purpose for which you are buying it. Remember your budget and don’t get carried away. Remember the size of the space the gong will be played in as the gong could overpower the room. Remember the stand is even bigger than the gong and you will have to allow a bit more room to play it. The phrase “the bigger the better” may be a truism when it comes to gongs, but we’d caution against buying something impractical.
A lot of people will buy their first gong with budget in mind. Always remember this is a tool for a job. If you want to do classes with multiple people and in a medium to large room, a smaller gong just won’t work. If you buy a smaller 24-inch gong this will have its purpose but wouldn’t be big enough to fill a hall. On the other hand, a 24-inch gong might be perfect to hand hold or match to a bigger gong. At the other end of the spectrum, if you are doing one to one session in your spare room a 38-inch might be too big and overpower the room. The size of the gong as well as the sound waves coming from it will react differently in different rooms. If the gong is too small for a room, it will get lost and if a gong is too big for a room it will overpower the room and probably have an adverse reaction.
Picking the right size is key and knowing the playing environment is paramount. This is obviously trickier if you are a mobile therapist but is worth thinking about. The number of people in the class isn’t always the deciding factor in gong size.
The Environment the Gong Will be Used In
Where you are playing your gong will massively affect how the gong sounds and feels. A hall with a wooden floor and light to zero furnishings means the gongs will react and vibrate differently compared to playing in a yoga studio with lots of soft surfaces, yoga matts, curtains etc. The most extreme case of room affecting the sound we have experienced with our customers before are in a glass conservatory or underground in a bunker. These are extreme example but drastically change how the gong will vibrate. What the sound waves are hitting and reflecting off will determine how the gong will feel. This is something just to bear in mind as you might play a gong in a class or even at our shop and when you try the same gong in a different environment it sounds and feels completely different. Knowing your gong and what it is capable of is key.
While looking at your first gong it is important to understand what does and doesn’t come with the gong. This is something to bear in mind and remember to leave some budget for as well as the gong itself. This will make your owning and playing experience as straightforward as possible. Generally, the gong string will be included with the gong, but you will need a stand, some mallets and may need a case if you’re looking to move the gong regularly.
Mallet choice comes down to size and density of head, weight and feel, handle material, brand and colour. All these factors you will need to consider when picking your mallets. The mallets are important to your playing experience, they are the interface between your hands and the face of the gong. How they feel and the tonal qualities they produce are all changeable; it isn’t one size fits all. Mallets are like the gong itself try them before you buy them. Try your teachers or friends, experience different brands and weights.
Paiste has a mallet size chart that they have designed to make picking the right size mallet easier, but this is just a guide it isn’t a definitive answer. Your hands and the sound you want to produce will be unique to you, so finding the right fit is part of your gong journey.
Size is the biggest factor in choosing the right mallet and will have a direct effect on the sound produced and the feel in your hands. The head size and shape, as well as handle length and girth, are what you must figure out for yourself. The density of the mallet head will affect the tonal note produced. The bigger and denser the mallet head the lower the note that will be produced. The handle material, length and shape will affect the feel for you as you play. Some mallets have wooden handles, some have metal handles. The wooden handles feel different to play and sometimes have scalloped areas to hold onto, whereas metal handles are hollow so can feel top heavy in your hand. Brand and colour are personal preference and could simply be dictated by budget.
The stand is probably the most expensive accessories for your gong, but it is a key element to how stable your gong is and how nice an experience you have playing it. Gong stands can vary in size material and shape. Different brands have different ideas and have specialities they make. Some are foldable or come apart which is better for mobile therapists, and some are solid and can’t be made smaller. Some stands are height adjustable, and some aren’t, and some can hold multiple gongs, and some just hold one.
There are a lot of different options and the functions you may want and maybe your budget will dictate what you look at. A key piece of advice is the stability of the stand is protecting your gong investment. The wider and bigger the feet are on the stands the better the stand will hold firm and stable and not interfere with your playing experience.
Cases come in various sizes and brands and quality. Hardcase cases will be best for protection of your gong but only goes up to 30 inches. Protection Racket are then the next best for protection and are a great all round case. They are fleece lined and are a great quality case and keep your gong safe. The Meinl case we sell are the most affordable ones we sell and will get you started. If you are going to be a mobile practitioner, it is vital to get a good case to keep your gong safe. If you are looking to fly with you gong, we would recommend a hardcase. Another great thing about the hardcase cases is that they have wheels.
This is a whole separate subject and if you don’t know what flumes are, they are the rubber balled sticks that you drag across the gong to make the very distinct whale-like sound from the gong. The sound and vibration coming from the gong while using flumes isn’t to everyone’s taste. The bigger issue is you are dragging something across the face of your gong either the front or back.
This raises a few concerns as if done incorrectly, you can either leave a rubber snail trail across the gong or potentially scratch the face. This is done at the discretion of the player and something you should ideally be shown how to do properly or take measures to minimise any issues by cleaning the gong after flume use and keeping your flumes dust free, so it limits the chance of scratching.
Travel and Moving your Gong
Traveling with your gong, whether that is in your own car or flying abroad, it is key to keep your gong and associated items safe. You can get cases for your gong but also your stand and mallets. There is quite a challenge if you are trying to fly with a gong bigger than 30-iches and customers in the past have kept the original box the gong came in and then added blankets and bubble wrap to try and keep the gong safe. Check the carrier you’re flying with to see if the dimension of the luggage even allows an item that big. Then always add more packaging than you think you need so it is safe on the plane.
When playing multiple gongs at the same time you can create third harmonics that neither of the gongs can create on their own. This happens when gongs blend well together. This is usually achieved when there is a big enough gap in the gong sizes. If the gongs are to close in size, 30-inch and 32-inch for example, these can clash rather than complement each other. A good size gap is for example 24-inch and 32-inches. This is a big enough size gap that the gongs will complement each other well and give you even more tones to play with.
Do I Need a Pair?
This is a subject that divides players, some teachers will say you have to use pairs of mallets, and some say you don’t. Having different mallets will give you different tonal quality options and everyone will have a dominate arm that is stronger so may uses a heavier mallet in that hand. There isn’t set rule and is up to you and your playing style.