Sound Quality

The gong is one of the richest sounding instruments in existence, capable of producing a wealth of overtones and a long sustain. This richness is a result of the component metals and the processes used in making and shaping the gongs. Gongs of good quality are made of bronze (75% copper, 20% tin, 5% nickel) and undergo five processing stages: pouring, hammering, smoothing, tuning and polishing. The gong is struck right in the center, since it is here that the greatest volume and purest tones are produced. Depending on which kind of mallet is used (and on the dynamics) the gong sounds dark, metallic or majestic. The striking points also matter. Each gong has its own extraordinary radiating sound with a unique diffusion of tones and sound colors. The larger the gong, the more multilayered the sound.

History of Gong

The existence of the gong dates back to the Bronze Age, around 3500 BC. Evidence suggests that the Gongs existed at this time in Mesopotamia. Myth has it that sacred gongs included pieces of meteorites that fell from the heaven.

The earliest written mention of the gong was in China in the 6th century (Northern Wei period, during the reign of Emporer Hsuan Wu). Chinese people used gongs for many ceremonial functions and healing rituals. Only certain families were privileged to be gong makers and the process required great skill.

Gongs migrated from China to Java by the 9th century (the word ‘gong’ is Javanese in origin) and became an integral part of their Gamelan Orchestra, where gongs of different sizes and of specific pitches are played together. In his book ‘Music of Java’, Jaap Kunst says: “Gamelan is comparable to only two things, moonlight and flowing water … mysterious like moonlight and always changing like flowing water …”. It is believed by historians that China, Annam, Burma, and Java were the main gong producing centers.  It is known that these centers produced at least seven gong forms and corresponding sound-structures. 

A Roman gong from the 1st or 2nd century was found during an excavation in Wiltshire, England. After a slow migration from Asia to Africa, finally gongs were introduced to the West in the late 18th century, when a few composers started to include gong in some of their compositions. In the second half of the 20th century, they were being used by rock groups.

Types of Gong

Gongs are mainly of three types: (a) Suspended Gongs: The suspended gong is generally a flat circular disc of metal (typically bronze) that is hung in the air vertically. It is not tuned to a specific pitch, and thus makes a loud, multi-toned ‘crash’ when played. The Chau Gong (7″ to 80″ in diameter), also called a Bulls-eye Gong or Chinese Tam-tam, is the most recognizable kind of suspended gong mainly originating from the Wuhan Province of China. Another example is the rather thinner Wind Gong or Feng Gong. They are lathed on both sides and played with a large soft mallet giving rise to wind-like crash. (b) Bossed Gongs or Button Gongs or Nipple Gongs: Button gongs have a raised center point. They are tuned to a specific pitch and have an added beat note of 1-5 Hz. They are usually suspended or played horizontally. This type of gong is common in Indonesian Gamelan ensemble (the largest one being Gong Ageng and the next largest one being Gong Suwukan) as well as in Kulintang ensemble of the southern Philippines, and (c) Bowl Gongs or Singing Bowls or Meditation Bowls: These gongs are bowl-shaped and rest on cushions. Tibet is considered to be the home of the gong bowls.