A Matter of Perception
In talking to various drummers, and reading online drum forums, one thing that keeps coming up is the idea of cymbals (and Gongs/bells/metals) breaking in. Im my own experience, I feel that this is a 2-sided issue.
One side is that yes, metals after being played do seem to break in. I have found that particularly with new Gongs. I remember getting some new ones from Michael Paiste in Switzerland in the summer of 2005. While I liked all 3, and they sounded good, they also felt stiff under the mallet. One in particular. a 23.5" Volcano, just didn't thrill me. I kept playing them and the metal vibrated. In November I did a 2 week solo concert tour. Over the course of the first dates of the tour, the sound seemed to open up more and the Gongs felt more responsive. After the clinic I did at PASIC, in Columbus, Ohio, I excitedly called Michael and told him how great the Gongs were sounding now.
I had this same thing happen again a few years back when I got a new 24" Paiste Venus Planet Gong. For the longest time I wondered if I had made the wrong choice—the Gong was very stiff feeling and did not want to give up its sound. Last fall, on another tour, it finally opened up and the most wonderful sound appeared! I now love this Gong and its sound. Before, I was ready to get rid of it and find something else.
While this type of experience does happen, some instruments are ready when you get them. At the same time I got the Venus Gong, I also got a 28" Jupiter Planet Gong. I loved this one right out of the box, and it sang right away. But over time it has settled in and opened up even more! In fact, I would say it's the best Jupiter Gong I have ever heard.
This brings us to the other side of things: personal perception. While it seems that there is a definite change to the vibrational properties of metal over time, so too I feel that there is a change in our ears/mind/body/soul on how we perceive these sounds. As much as anything, I'm convinced that we become accustomed to how new instruments sound. We also learn their personalities and how to respond to them as a player. From my experience, each Gong has its own personality, and it takes time to get acquainted with it. Over time, you learn how to strike it, what mallet to use for what sound, etc. So it's as much a matter of the player changing, growing into the instrument, as it is the instrument changing, growing into the player.
Don't ever forget to look at the other side…