Esoterica, Part 3: How To Choose A Gong
So you’ve decided to get a Gong. The first thing to ask is, what will I use a Gong for? What type of music do you play? Do you want to use it in a rock band, a jazz band, solo? Are you looking for a meditation device? These are important questions and will help determine what type and size of Gong to get.
One important thing to look at is how big a Gong do you want? Gongs can be very heavy and are not easy to transport. If this Gong will stay in your house/studio, then that makes it easy to have a larger size. But if you plan to travel in a band with it, you need to look at the impact a different size Gong will have on transporting it.
A lot of drummers want a Gong because they look cool and sound cool. They also want that type of sound in their percussive arsenal. People into Yoga & Spiritual Practices are looking for something to meditate & focus with. A good place to start is a 22” Chinese Wind (or Feng) Gong. This is a flat-faced Gong that is easy to transport in a cymbal bag, and creates a rather large crash sound for its size. The name Wind is apt, as played softly it sounds like a gentle breeze, and played forcefully it sounds like a raging wind. It’s also easy to hang one from a cymbal boom stand. Wind Gongs are available in sizes from 6" - 60", with 16" - 40" being typical.
One thing to note when buying a Chinese Gong of any type is that they vary widely in sound/pitch/quality. You can have 10 - 22” Wind Gongs and each will sound different from the others! If possible, find a dealer where you can audition a few different Gongs and pick out the one that sounds best to your ear.
Next, I would check out a Chinese Chau Gong. A Chau is a heavier weight Gong with a turned back edge. They are usually lathed partly on the face giving them a "bulls eye" target sort of look. A Chau is capable of a very powerful crash sound. A good place to start is with a 24" size. This is still fairly portable and has a big, deep sound. Anything from 24" - 32" is a great Gong that is still easily transported. 34" and larger get difficult to carry and weigh a lot. Chaus are available in 6" - around 50".
Finally, I would recommend a Paiste Symphonic Gong. They are shaped like a Chau, with a turned back edge, but instead of being made from cast B20-22 bronze, they are made from flat discs of NS12, nickel-silver. The thinner Paiste Gong is more sensitive to the touch than a Chau and has more prominent highs. This is the classic type Gong seen with bands like Led Zepplin and Pink Floyd. Unlike Chinese Gongs, Paiste Gongs are very consistent in sound from one to the next and are available in 20" - 80".
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The most important thing is to try out as many Gongs as possible to find one that fits you.
I've always felt that it's as important to find a Gong that you like, as much as finding one that's right for the music you play. Keep playing them, when you play the right one, you will know! There will be some sort of immediate connection, something you can't put into words - you just know the Gong is right for you. Trust yourself.
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As a side note, people will often say/write to me, "What you are talking about is actually a tam-tam, not a Gong." My response has always been that tam-tam is an orchestral term used to distinguish a flat-faced Gong, like a Chau, from a Gong with a raised center Boss (aka knob/cup/nipple), like the Gamelan Gongs of Indonesia & Bali. "Gong" is the correct term commonly used for all metal disc shaped instruments, whether flat or bossed. I prefer to use the term, Gong for all types.
What to look/listen for in a Gong: when you play a Gong, listen to and feel the vibrations. Pay attention to how they affect you. Does it sound/feel good to you? Even a dissonant sounding Gong can sound/feel good. Gongs tend to be very personal instruments. They each have their own sound character and personality. You will know when you have found the right one, as you will feel a resonance inside yourself. If you are planning on buying more than one Gong, I would suggest getting either different types, such as a Wind and a Chau, or 2 widely different sizes, such as a 20" & 28" Chau (or Wind). Something like a 24" & 26" may be too similar in sound character. But then again, if that is the sound/s you are looking for, follow your own feelings.
If you are playing in a loud rock band, you may want to go with a larger size Chau or Paiste Symphoinic, as it will have enough power to be heard. While Wind Gongs are great, they are much less powerful than a corresponding Chau or Symphonic of the same size. If you are looking for a personal meditation Gong, then a 20" - 26" size of any type Gong should fill your needs.