Gongs are thought to have existed in various forms for several thousand years, being one of the earliest metal instruments known.
Their origins probably stem from pools of molten copper, formed when copper ore in rocks being used as ovens melted and flowed onto the ground. The resulting 'disc' was struck and found to have certain crude sonorous properties.
During the Bronze Age (roughly 4000–2000 BC) copper was alloyed with tin to give a tougher metal than pure copper. It was used for tools, weapons and shields (amongst other things) and a crude gong may have been discovered by beating a bronze shield as a form of communication or intimidation.
Discs of bronze may have been used to represent the Sun in agricultural communities.
Musicologists suggests that the origin of the modern gong is a country known as 'Hsi Yu' located between Tibet and Burma, where it was mentioned in the 6th century during the reign of Emperor Hsuan Wu (AD 500–516).
The Chinese were certainly capable of making high quality bronze drums by this time. There are also claims that the gong arrived in China from Greece, via India, during the conquests of Alexander the Great.
By the 9th century, gong-making was well established in Java and other parts of the Malay Archipelago particularly around Semarang in Java. At least seven distinct shapes can be found in this part of the world.
Other areas of gong manufacture established themselves in China, Burma and Annam (an area between south-east China and Vietnam).
Gongs were introduced to Western orchestras from China in the late 18th Century and the Italians in Tuscany started making gongs during the 19th Century and the modern Italian firm of UFIP can trace its lineage back to these days.
The German firm of Paiste introduced gongs during the 1930's and has become the predominant maker of gongs in the West.