Master of Gong Making

Lin Wu Ironworks

Introduction to Lin Wu

Mr. Lieh-chi Lin took over the family business before his father Mr. Wu Lin passed away. His dedication has maintained the loud reputation of Lin Wu Ironworks throughout Taiwan. At the age of 14, Lieh-chi Lin started to learn about the making of gongs from his father. He is now the top-notch gong master in Taiwan with four decades of experience under his belt. After he took over the family business, he has created a few records in the history of gong making. In 2008, he produced for Chau Shing Temple in Siluo Township a gong with a diameter of 7 feet and 9 inches, the largest ever in Taiwan. Below is our interview with Lin Wu Ironworks in Yilan.

Interview with Mr. Lieh-chi Lin

In addition to copper, what else is required to make a gong?
In addition to bronze copper, we need phosphorus, a natural mineral to make the metal elastic so that it is easy to cast into shapes. We also add a bit of zinc to make the cooper surface smoother. Different metal compositions are required for different purposes. If the gong is too hard, it will not resonate much and will not endure beating.
How did you balance between innovation and tradition for your work in Milan Design Week?
Milan Design Week is a furniture exhibition. I worked with two designers. I crafted the gong based on their design. I worked according to their parameters for the surface, pattern sizes and styles. I hit the gong with a mallet in front of the designer and presented my best work accordingly.
Could you share the secrets of making enduring and thunderous gongs?
The selection of materials is the first priority. The gongs made of wrong materials will not last. Even a gong master will not be able to produce good tones with gongs made of crappy materials. The foundation is criterial to everything. Otherwise, you will falter along the way.
What are the key steps in gong making? What is the most difficult part of producing large gongs?
Concentration is crucial. The biggest challenge for making big gongs is the casting. It takes about four to five days to mold into the flat shape.
Will the thickness, shape or surface patterns affect the sound quality?
The gongs are made for different types of repertoire. Different materials are required for different gongs. The key determinant to sound quality is the thickness and the patterns on the edge. The patterns in the center do not matter much.
Will the temperature and humidity affect the sound quality of gongs?
It is important to stay away from moisture. You may wipe a gong under the sun with cold water to cool it down. Sometimes granules pop up on the surface if the temperature is high. It will be necessary to rub off the granules with rough abrasive paper so as to maintain the sound quality. The sound quality is subject to the influence of materials and temperatures. In a cold climate gongs may even break.
What are the types of gong mallets? Which one is the best? What is the most suitable cover for gong mallets?
Mallets also come with different types depending on the sizes and purposes required. Inside the mallets is rubber. The cover should be made of cotton, not nylon. Another cotton towel can be used to wrap up the mallets so that the sound becomes softer. Of course, different gongs and mallets are required to produce different sounds and on different occasions.
You and your father Mr. Wu Lin worked together to produce jumbo gongs and won Folk Art Heritage Awards. Why did you decide to make super large gongs?
Usually a large gong comes with a diameter of approximately 120 centimeters. We produced a supersized gong with a diameter of 150 centimeters for Matsu Pilgrimage Procession organized by Beigang Chaotian Temple. My father and I worked together for this gigantic gong and we won Folk Art Heritage Awards in 1984. In 2008, I crafted for Chau Shing Temple in Siluo Township a massive gong with a diameter of 7 feet and 9 inches, the largest ever in Taiwan. I wanted to pass on the tradition established by my father.
Does U-Theatre have specific requirements for their gongs?
They want absolute precision, either in equal temperament or half notes. They send the gongs back for tuning for any deviation even just by 0.5%.


Conclusions with Mr. Lin

We learned about Mr. Lin’s meticulous attention to the making of gongs, from material selection, shaping casting to bronze sheet sizing. He does everything himself. His dedication to traditions stems from his development of the craftsmanship since a young age. The creation of a gong with clear notes and roaring sounds requires the true mastery. Mr. Lin explains to us the challenges in the hand making of gongs and the difficulty in tuning based on experience. He hopes to pass on the heritage of this folk art.

Photo credit: Thunder King of Drums