Gongs & Fingerprints

From this week's mail box, a question about fingerprints on your Gongs:

I was wondering what your opinion is on the accutonics position to never touch your gong because the oils from your fingers will destroy the purity of the vibration from the instrument. For those of us that do a lot of performances and have a lot of moving to do it seems rather difficult even if it were true. 

Have you seen this anywhere?

Ah, the dreaded fingerprints! Please realize that there are 2 very different sides to this story and that neither one is wrong. 

One side is the people who always wear gloves when handling and setting up their Gongs. They also tend to wipe them off often and even do a lot of cleaning to keep them looking brand new.

The other side, which I belong too, takes great care of their Gongs, realizing that they are very fine musical instruments. But we also realize that they are tools of the trade as it were. I have some Gongs that I've had for over 40 years. Some of them look as new as the day I bought, others look well worn and well used. So much depends on the type of Gong and how it's finished. The Paiste/Meinl nickel-silver Gongs all have a very smooth and shiny surface. The one problem with this type of surface is that it easily shows any and every mark put on it! That includes fingerprints, scratches, water spots, corrosion/tarnish, etc. And the brilliant finished Gongs seem to get marked up just by looking at them.

 Tarnish and water spots in the protective coating
A world of fingerprints

Asian Bronze Gongs are a different story. While the surface may be smooth, it rarely is as polished and reflective as their nickel-silver counterparts. Various markings just don't show up as easily. This is especially true of the darker brown and black Gongs. I have some 40 year old Thai Gongs that have been everywhere with me and still look like when I bought them, even though I don't clean them. The same can be said for some older Chau and Wind Gongs.

So what's a percussionist to do:

  • Wear those white cotton gloves every time you handle your Gongs to keep finger oil from touching the surface.
  • Wipe your Gongs off regularly, or after each performance, with a soft cloth/towel.
  • Regularly use dish soap (DAWN blue works well) and water to wash your Gongs, then dry with a soft cloth/towel.
  • Don't worry so much, just keep your hands clean so fingerprints and dirt are kept at a minimum.
  • Take care of them, but realize that if you travel and perform regularly, your Gongs will acquire marks and scratches from being used.

Even if you don't want to do the white glove thing, remember that the best thing to do is to buy and use a quality bag or case to store and transport your Gongs in. I'm always surprised by how many people I see with expensive Gongs, just wrapping them in a blanket and putting them in their car when they travel. Or even worse, just putting them in their car with no protection at all!

Unless you regularly clean your Gongs with a strong metal polish, to keep that shiny, new look, all Gongs will tarnish with age. Paiste's tend to turn a nice shade of brown on the unpolished edges. Bronze Gongs will develop a nice, dark patina. I have some old UFIP Gongs that have a beautiful, dark patina that I would NEVER clean off. The same goes for my Singing Bowls and Bells. I let them age gracefully, darkening over the years. 

And now on to that question about how the oils from your fingers will destroy the purity of the vibration. If you have a Gong for 20, 30, or more years and a heavy layer of tarnish/dirt/etc accumulates on the metal, it will tend to dampen and darken the sound some. But the important word here is some. Unless you have an actual crust or a very thick coating of dirt/grime, the sound will not be affected that much. In fact, most people won't notice it. Some people might actually prefer the aged, darker tone. 

In the end, I'd keep my Gongs clean, but have not become so fanatical about it that it takes away from creating and enjoying the music they make.

~ MB

Chop Wood / Carry Water / Play Gongs™


  1. I received an email a few weeks back concerning the Acutonics 'warning' about fingerprints on Gongs, and was asked my opinion. This was my answer:"Sounds like idiotic banter to me."

    I think I've only cleaned 2 of my Gongs once or twice ever, in over 4 decades of playing. A fingerprint compared to a hammer-mark is nothing. The lathing on the front of the Meinl and Paiste Gongs has more effect on the sound than a fingerprint. One only needs to read the senseless banter on the Acutonics website to realize that they know very little about Gongs.

  2. Thank you Michael for keeping it real, and thank you Mitch for your comment on the subject as well


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