Ah, don’t you just love the sound of that name? It’s so, rhythmic, so erotic in the feeling (that special pressure that hits at the back of your mouth and ends at the tip of your tongue). Needless to say, I like saying it a lot. But more so, the sound of the drum itself! I mean, with that very low-end and amazing sustain that you simply feel through your body, who wouldn’t enjoy that?
Though there’s been debate on what characterizes a gong drum,—besides it’s relation to the bass drum—the usual qualifiers are a shell (or in some cases, just a frame) of at least 20 inches in diameter (typical of a rock kick drum) and a single head. Orchestral versions are usually around 28 inches but can get to about 60”, such as this doozy by Remo in the Memphis Drum Shop Gong Chamber. If you have a good pair of headphones, this is a time to use them, ‘cause dayuum.
The origins of the g-drum date back to the mid-19th century in England as a single-head style bass drum, according to James Blades, one of the most famous English percussionists and probably all-around quintessential Englishman (seriously, Lord Grantham from Downton couldn’t be more English).
In his book Percussion Instruments and their History, he writes that the gong drum came into popularity with orchestras because of how long it could resonate and their Gigantor-like size, surely a visual feast for audiences. There are records of a gong drum produced for the 1857 Handel Commemoration Festival that was around 8ft tall! Oh Lordy!
Yeah, people must’ve been digging it. I mean, imagine you’re in the 1800s in London at the Crystal Palace, an amazingly well-known venue at the time, celebrating who many believe to be one of the greatest composers of a period where much of the musical techniques we know today was idealized and…
wha the deuce?
Out comes this beast of a drum rolled onto this huge-ass stage that’s fitting hundreds of musicians who’ll be sharing an experience together via Handel’s compositions.
You know it’s going to be a show to remember, one of those shows that makes you re-evaluate your life!
By the end of the century, though, use of the g-drum died out in favor of the two-headed bass drum. Blades claims it was the lack of a definite pitch from the double-header that gave way to the orchestral gong drum’s drop in use; any well-tuned single head is gonna have a discernible note and composers at the time were wanting a non-pitched boom to really make it percussive.
What most modern non-orchestral drummers consider to be a gong drum was first made by the Japanese drum company Tama in the late 70’s. It consisted of a 22-in drum head stretched over a 20-in shell with special lugs so that the tension rods screwed in at an angle to hold down the edge of the head, kinda like the ones to a timpani. Here’s a link to a pic of someone’s Tama Starclassic gong drum to show you what I’m talking about. Also, this guy does a nice zoom-in of his tension rods:
The over-bearing head (…heh) is the reason for its strong resonance as it doesn’t rely on a resonating head to give it the do-o-h sustain. You can see and hear that same kinda set-up in other showcased gong drums. Some have related the sound to a taiko-style feel, including Tama in the description for their drum.
Since, other drum companies (DW and as mentioned above Remo) have made their versions of gong drums.
Today, gongs drums are here and there, some especially made for a kit and some for orchestral use. I’ve also seen regular kick drums mounted unto stands as gong drums, which causes quite a bit of ruckus on forums and such.
Personally, I understand the naysayers. For one, with most of the vids I’ve seen with these kick/gong drums, the reso head is off, which, without the larger-than-shell head, would actually make the drums lose all the possible resonance it could’ve had.
But, I know there are other factors that can give the gong drum its sound. Some drummers even say the material of the hoop is integral for the g-drum sound.
Oh, should also note that Pork Pie, an A-1 drum manufacturer, showcased a kit where the kick drum had an over-sized batter head and a reso head, in the attempt to add a big sound to the small bass drum (18”x 16”). For more info, check out this review by Brad Schlueter on the Loop kit.
What do you think about all this? I would love to hear any opinions or new info on the subject! I’m definitely not an expert but love doing this so any suggestions would be much appreciated. But yeah, until we meet again, may the world be on your side. 🙂