What is a Gong?
Gongs. Their distinctive shape and sound are immediately recognisable to pretty much everybody out there, but how much do you really know about them? The humble gong can be seen on orchestral and world-music stages, or as part of legendary rock drummers’ setups like John Bonham.
Many current-day percussionists have found ways to incorporate them into their kits and live shows too, providing both a visual spectacle and unique sonic texture that can’t be found elsewhere. They're now also a key component of alternative modern medicine/therapy situations. Gong meditation and sound baths are becoming increasingly popular, with many people swearing by their healing and restorative properties. They aren't simply just another member of the percussion family.
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!
The History of Gongs
Historians claim that gongs are the oldest musical instruments of South East Asia, but nobody can agree with 100% certainty where they actually originated from, with different forms and variations of the instrument popping up in archaeological digs all over the world. What is clear is that the word ‘gong’ is Javanese and comes from the name ‘gong ageng’, the languages word for an idiophone that’s been struck. However, the term didn’t make its way into common western vocabulary until around 1590. The influence of this ancient instrument stretches much further and wider though. The gong has been depicted in drawings from as far back as 6th century CE China and were regularly used in Java itself by the 9th century. A Roman one was even unearthed dating back to the 1st or 2nd century CE!
Historically, they were used for religious rites and ceremonies, to communicate or make announcements, accompanied theatre plays, or formed part of traditional musical performances. In Asia particularly, they were seen as a status symbol and were a barometer of a family’s success. The four main production centres (Annam, Java, China and Burma) produced seven contrasting shapes and sounds, with each being truly unique to their particular region. Manufacturing techniques were shrouded in secrecy and were passed down from generation to generation. Many craftsmen believed that a gong would only be successful with the assistance of higher powers and this level of spirituality is still associated with them during modern times.
Fast forward to the early 17th century and they'd been introduced to Europe – although they were largely viewed as exhibition centrepieces rather than viable musical instruments. It wasn’t until 1791 and Gossec’s ‘Funeral Music for Mirabeau’ where one was actually used as part of a western composition. The 19th century then saw the introduction of the tam-tam, a cousin of the traditional gong. A tam-tam features an indefinite pitch, whereas a gong boasts a definite one. These differences forced composers to note both the performance instructions and pitch into their respective scores.
Now in the present day, companies like Paiste and Sabian continue to produce amazing looking and sounding gongs. Both realised that the original manufacturing techniques (consisting of manual craftsmanship and high levels of skill) couldn’t be replaced through mechanical means, as this would completely destroy their sound. As a result, the brands stick closely to production methods that stretch back hundreds of years!
What Types of Gong Are There?
When it comes to the world of gongs, two brands dominate the space: Paiste and Sabian. Outlined below is a selection of some of their most popular ranges, encompassing a variety of sizes, sounds, frequencies and budgets. From small and compact models to some serious behemoths, there’s something here for everyone.
About the Paiste Symphonic Gongs
Symphonic (non-tuned) gongs are one of the most ubiquitous kinds on the market, but it’s not hard to see why. They are Paiste’s oldest model and can be found in sizes ranging from a smaller 20", right up to a massive 80", which is the biggest playable gong in the entire world! They feature a surface that is raised ever so slightly and produce a balanced, fundamental note which mixes well with its varied overtones.
This sound is highly malleable too; depending on your choice of mallet and power/location of each strike, you can create some really intriguing sounds. This well-rounded nature makes it a perfect, versatile entry-point for beginners.
About the Paiste Planet Gongs
Planet gongs (tuned) are made for more experienced players and range in size from 20" to 38". They boast a quality of sound on the same level as their symphonic cousins, however, they follow a far more spiritual tuning process.
According to their manufacturer Paiste, “Planet Gongs are tuned in conformity with the natural harmonic series based in the orbital properties on the Earth, the Moon, the Sun, and the Planets according to calculations of Hans Cousto.” Cosmic. They boast an impressive amount of resonance and project constantly evolving sonics with every hit.
About the Paiste Sound Creation Gongs
Every Sound Creation gong has a unique sound that reflects their dimensions. Across the range you’ll find smaller 11" models with brighter tones, right up to 38" pieces with contrasting, beefier, darker sounds. No matter the diverse sonic palette you end up choosing, users state that this series has a positive influence on their emotions whenever it’s played.
About the Sabian Zodiac Gongs
Built from Sabian’s innovative nickel-silver alloy combo, the Zodiac delivers a focused, splashy sound with welcome resonant overtones. A noticeable level of warmth is produced too, enveloping you when played both softly and hard.
About the Sabian Chinese Gongs
The Chinese series from Sabian sits at the larger end of the gong spectrum. They project a very traditional ‘oriental’ sound; the tone is big and powerful, with a subsequent release of dark and raw overtones when struck. This is all down to the traditional hammering techniques that they’ve been subjected to during production.
About the Sabian Symphonic Gongs
The Symphonic series is extremely tonal and highly playable. It produces an all-encompassing, full, luscious sound with a well-rounded level of response. The powerful notes delivered with each hit feature a strong fundamental note which is sprinkled with soft harmonic overtones.
What Are Gongs Used For?
Orchestras, World Music & Bands
In the current day, gongs and tam-tams continue to be used extensively in orchestral and world music ensembles, however, they’ve also found a place within rock, prog-rock and a multitude of other contrasting genres. When drummers and percussionists are looking to add some eastern-influenced flavour to their sounds, they're the ideal solution.
Drummers including John Bonham (Led Zeppelin), Danny Carey (Tool), Nicko McBrain (Iron Maiden), Ben Thatcher (Royal Blood) and Neil Peart (Rush) have all at some stage made use of a gong as part of their respective setups. Not only does it add an exciting new texture, presence and resonance to your kit, it adds heaps of visual flair to any performance too!
This special type of meditation started to become popular in the ‘70s and uses the therapeutic vibrations and sound from the gong to ‘heal’ the person involved. It’s known as a gong bath as the aim is to literally bathe you in sound waves. Used to manage a multitude of different health conditions, the treatment is based on the understanding that the cells in our bodies vibrate at many different types of frequency. These cells can then vibrate at unwanted frequency levels when you're suffering from depression, stress or other ailments.
They work with the participant lying down. The instructor then plays the gong softly at first, gradually increasing the volume without it becoming uncomfortable on your ears. Its sound will be changed regularly to prevent listening fatigue from occurring – its meant to be relaxing after all!
This form of sound therapy has been used for hundreds of years and many believe strongly in the benefits. People claim that taking part in a session has reduced their stress, boosted creativity, increased their happiness and outlook on life, and has even removed long-standing emotional blockages.
What Are Gongs Made of?
It’s important to note that the majority of gongs are handmade; they are not mass produced in the same way other instruments are. This means that each one can be truly individual – from both a visual and auditory perspective. When buying them, we strongly encourage that you try it out in person, as slight sonic differences can be common. We want you to find the one that suits you after all!
Each model is usually created from a circular brass or bronze alloy and usually features a sprinkling of other metals. This metal is hand-hammered, shaped, and is then moulded further to influence their range of frequency and sound expression. They're then meticulously tuned, with the process repeated until a perfect sound has been achieved.
What are the Best Gongs for Beginners?
You need to consider how much you’re willing to spend and whether you’re looking to travel with it at all. The bigger variants sit at the higher end of the price spectrum and can be a real challenge to transport – especially if they’re over 32". For beginners, we recommend picking one between 24" and 32", as they strike a balance between simpler movement, more accessible playing and great sound.
Large gongs require an understanding of precise striking and are not ideal to learn on. Smaller 20" ones can be too unpredictable and as a result, can be hard to control. Symphonic (non-tuned) models are usually easier for beginners to play than their planetary (tuned) counterparts; the latter are more suited to experienced players.
What are the Best Gongs for Gong Baths?
The gongs showcased above are firm favourites within the sound therapy community. Each has been extensively used and comes highly recommended by instructors and therapists from across the alternative medicine scene. Ultimately, what you select is purely down to personal preference – each person reacts differently to the weight, sound and frequency of particular gongs.
Why do You Have to Warm up a Gong?
This is usually done before using it during a gong bath/sound therapy scenario. Put simply, you need to ‘warm up’ a gong to help it resonate to its fullest potential. This is done by tapping the outer annulus very lightly with a soft mallet or your fingers.
How do You Play a Gong?
Gongs should be played using a mallet designed especially for use with the instrument. The sound can be influenced depending on the weight, size or material of the mallet that you decide to use. You can also coax out different tones depending on how soft or hard you play. Using an incorrect mallet can damage your gong and even detune it. Softer mallets produce mellower, warmer tones, while a harder one helps project a far brighter noise. Mallets adorned with a smaller head can create higher tones when applied to the rim, or can be ran over the surface to project moaning-esque timbres. You can experiment further by using your finger tips too.
Most feature three contrasting playing zones, each of which boasts distinctive characteristics. The deepest sounds and note building blocks are located in the centre; the outer annulus (near to the edge) contains higher pitches and shifting overtones; the rim offers the most highly resonant frequencies of the three areas.
You should consider the location you place your gong in too. Multiple reflections can have a detrimental effect on the sound by colouring or prolonging it. You want the sound waves that are produced to spread as clearly as possible throughout the space without being impeded. This means it’s best to place your instrument in an open area without objects in front or behind it that could offer resistance to your overall sound.
To get the most out of your gong, you’re going to need some key accessories to go with it. These include specially designed stands, durable cases, mallets and gong gut. Every essential accessory you could ever want is displayed below!
About Gong Stands
A stand provides a sturdy, solid platform, turning your gong from a stunning decorative display piece into a fully-fledged, useable percussion platform. Stands come in sizes that reflect the diameter of their respective model; for example, if you’re buying one that is 32", you’ll need a 32" stand.
Some even boast a set of rollers and/or legs that are adjustable in height. These features allow you to easily wheel the gong to where it’s needed and decrease or increase the height to suit your preferences.
About Gong Cases
A case will protect your investment while in transit by preventing scratching and absorbing potential impact or pressure damage. Reputable brands including Protection Racket, Hardcase and Meinl offer both hard and soft cases built specifically for your tam-tam or gong.
About Gong Gut
Reducing the transfer of vibrations to your stand, this special string safely suspends your gong, allowing it to move freely in all directions without hitting the stand when struck.
About Gong Mallets
The overall sound and response of your gong can be influenced by the material, weight and size of a mallet. Failing to use the correct type of tool can damage them and can even lead to detuning.