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What Makes a Handmade Singing Bowl Sound so Unique?

What makes a singing bowl sound the way it does?

There are five factors that determine a singing bowl's sound: the bronze alloy, bowl shape, thickness, lip shape and age.

These factors produce a great variety of sounds, but arguably the most important is the bronze alloy—a singing bowl can't produce the best sound if it is made with anything other than the highest quality ingredients.

Handmade bowls—whether new or antique—are made from a specific bronze alloy called "bell metal" bronze. Bell metal bronze contains a higher tin to copper ratio than traditional bronze: 22-23% tin, 77-78% copper. This high tin content is difficult to make but results in a more warm and complex sound that rings truer and longer. Without bell metal bronze, any singing bowl is certain to have an inferior sound regardless of any of the other four factors.

Contrary to what most other sellers around the world claim (unfortunately, even sellers in Nepal have started using this), no singing bowl is made with "7 Metals" or "7 Sacred Metals". The alleged seven metals are gold, silver, copper, iron, tin, mercury and lead. This has been a pervasive lie for years, but many merchants continue to spread it because it adds to the mystique of singing bowls and makes it easier for them to sell.

There are multiple reasons why this claim is false:

  1. Expense: Even a small, 0.25kg bowl would be prohibitively expensive due to the gold and silver content.

  2. Sound: These seven metals do not combine to form any sort of pleasant sound and would be quite poor instruments.

  3. Safety: Mercury and lead are not safe to handle and have never been used in the making of singing bowls.

  4. Metallurgical analysis: Himalayan Bowl's founder and leading singing bowl expert Joseph Feinstein, in partnership with researchers from Oxford University, has performed exhaustive analysis of hundreds of singing bowls from multiple centuries and has never found a 7 metals bowl. Bowls studied from the 1600s to today only contain bronze (tin and copper) or, more commonly today with the many mass produced bowls, brass. It's easy to tell the difference between brass and bronze, so there's no need to worry about mistaking the two.

Bowl shape separates singing bowls from other bronze instruments such as gongs and cymbals. The bronze disc is pulled from the furnace and held over an anvil with tongs. Artisans, whether one for a smaller bowl or four to five for a larger bowl, then hammer the disc while rotating it. The hammering naturally beings to curve the sides upwards until a bowl shape is formed. After, the bowl goes into a wooden mold to further hammer and refine the shape.

Handmade bowls can have a wide variety of shapes. They can have round or flat bottoms, short or tall sides, thick or thin walls, symmetrical or asymmetrical forms, flared or closed rims, and wavy or smooth rims. Each difference contributes to making a truly unique singing bowl!

For handmade singing bowls, thickness is responsible for the complexity of the sound. Because the bowls are shaped by hand hammering a bronze disc, small irregularities in the thickness of the sidewalls arise. These irregularities produce multiple harmonic overtones when the bowl is struck rather than the one dimensional tone of a machine-made brass bowl.

As mentioned above, lip shape can change a bowl's sound. Folded rims contribute to a higher-pitched bowl with a steadier tone. Filed rims generally make for a more prominent overtones. Rim shape has varied greatly through the centuries, as new techniques were formed and old techniques were lost and then found again. Modern artisans in Nepal are slowly perfecting their technique and finding out how to recreate some of the ancient singing bowl methods.

Finally, age can play an important role in singing bowl sound. Antique bowls are coveted for their superior sound due to changes in the bronze from age. As bronze ages, it becomes more brittle and crystalline, which helps produce an unparalleled auditory experience. There is no sound quite as rich as that of a high quality antique singing bowl.

Unfortunately, most antiques are not of the highest quality. Many have been damaged through the centuries or were made in a less prosperous time by less skilled artisans. Our new singing bowls have a superior sound compared to lower quality antiques and can now almost match some of the higher quality antiques due to more recent discoveries of old techniques. Our new Lingam bowls are the highest quality singing bowls ever made, and each will turn into a world class antique as they age. 

But the highest quality antiques stand alone and are true treasures. Before antiques became popular and widely available online, Joseph personally collected hundreds of the finest antique singing bowls ever made over more than a decade in Nepal. They are individually recorded and photographed with no editing, so you can hear the difference for yourself without needing to rely on our word!

We hope you have found this information on what makes a handmade singing bowl so unique valuable! This is just one small piece of the true singing bowl history Joseph has collected from his decades of experience.

Written by Patrick, Himalayan Bowls Owner

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