Somewhat overshadowed by their European counterparts at Paiste, UFIP (Unione Fabricanti Italiani di Piatti musicali e tam-tams) are nevertheless part of the European gong-making tradition.
Bronze working in the area around Pistoia in Italy can be traced back nearly 4,000 years to the Etruscans. Centuries later, during the 1700s, the Tronci family were using bronze in pipe organs. They had a long tradition of bell making dating back to the Renaissance and, by the 1800s, they had expanded into chimes, bells and cymbals with the demise of large pipe organs. The great Italian opera composers such as Puccini, Verdi and Mascagni commissioned large gongs and tam-tams for their operas (e.g. Puccini uses large tuned gongs in Turandot).
The current range of UFIP gongs and tam-tams are made from either cast bronze or from rolled sheets of bronze or brass. They also use two bronze alloys – B20 and B8 bronze and, surprisingly, brass! Generally, instruments up to 28" (71cm) in diameter are made from bronze and from 32" (81cm) diameter from brass. Forming the gongs from either casting or from rolled metal sheets involves hammering as well as lathing techniques. UFIP also use the term 'gong' and 'tam tam' indescriminatly - five of the gongs are actually tam tams and one is a tuned gong.
Cast Bronze Tam-Tams
Wind gong in shape, these are available in 20" (50cm), 24" (60cm), and 28" (70 cm) diameters with a lovely warm crash sound. These really are superb instruments for the price and deserve more recognition outside of their native homeland of Italy. Sometimes described as part bell, part cymbal and part gong, they have a unique sonic presence. Not as loud as Paiste gongs but suitable for the modern home with small rooms and very portable.
Sheet Bronze Tam-Tams
A range of tam-tams made from sheet B8 bronze and of the same cross-section as the cast tam-tam i.e. a slight convex shape with no turned over edge or central boss. The sound is not as strong or as sustained as the cast bronze tam-tam and the crash is short-lived, which reflects the different tonal qualities of B8 bronze compared to B20 bronze. They are available in two finishes – a plain yellowy bronze 'traditional' finish, and the visually striking 'Tiger' finish. With a 'Tiger' finish, an orange coloured lacquer is applied which is patterned using scrapers, emery paper and gas torches. The finish is a stripy, wavy pattern representing aspects of a tiger. A definite visual impact, but the surface is distressed, so if you want a scratch-free gong, this finish is not for you. Available in 20" (50cm), 24" (60cm), and 28" (70 cm) diameters.
Sheet Brass Tam-Tams
These instruments have the same cross-section as the two previous tam-tams (flat convex, no rim, no boss), but with a heavily hammered face and are made from brass sheet. If you thought brass for percussion instruments was reserved for cheap school instruments, think again. It has a wonderful low growl of a crash with good sustain and overlapping harmonics that sound like someone strumming their fingers over the lower strings of a grand piano. It has a certain weight to the sound which is more 'oriental' than other Western gongs and the roar is warm without sounding shrill. Available in 32" (80cm), 36" (90cm), 40" (100cm), 44" (110cm), 48" (120cm) and 52" (130cm) diameters.
Gongs – Sheet B8 Bronze with Border
The gongs share physical and acoustical similarities with the B8 tam-tam but have a flat edge or 'border'. They are available in 20" (50cm), 24" (60cm) and 28" (70cm) sizes.
Gongs – Sheet B8 Bronze with Bell and Border
Essentially a 'tuned' gong with hammered out centre. Available in 20" (50cm), 24" (60cm) and 28" (70cm) sizes. There is a strong element of tuning within the gong but it cannot be ordered tuned to a specific pitch.
Gongs – Sheet Brass Symphonic with Border
These gongs share physical and acoustical properties to the sheet brass tam-tam but have the flat edge or border. They are available in 32" (80cm), 36" (90cm) and 40" (100cm) sizes.