Friction Mallets

Superball Friction Mallets

The thing I get the most questions about are my Superball mallets. These are the ones that I drag across the face of the Gong to get those fantastic squeals, whale sounds, space/electronic sounds with. While they’re not difficult to make, I’ve found out some things by trial & error.

First you need Superballs. I’m always checking at toy and variety stores for different balls. because not all balls work well enough. 


While they all bounce great, only some have the right surface to grab on to the face of the Gong. In the photo below, the shiny balls on the left are the ones to avoid, as they are too slippery to work. You can sand the surface down, but that’s a lot of work. The pebble faced, matt finished balls on the right are the type that grip the metal. Although  you will need to try them, as not all of these work well. One thing to note is that many balls have a slick surface. This is the lubricant used to make it easy to remove them from the molds. This needs to be washed off with a good dish soap or cleaner.


For the handle, I like to use Piano Wire (also called Music Wire) that I get from my local hardware store. It often comes in a tube, like at the top of the photo. I use 3/32 gauge wire cut to 11” in length (I actually clamp it in a vise and bend it until it breaks, as it’s difficult to cut). I like it because it is both stiff and flexible. The wire acts like a spring and I can vary the pressure against the Gong for different sounds. I like that I can feel what I’m doing with the wire. Other people use wooden barbeque skewers, like at the bottom. These can work fine, but I find the wood can break easily. Still others use a drumstick type handle, but I find it way too stiff to give me the effect and sensitivity I want.


Now to attach the balls to the handle, I always pre-drill the hole to the size of the handle. I’ve found that if I just stick the handle into the ball, the ball might split, as they are rather fragile. The critical part is getting the ball to stay on the smooth wire. I use Liquid Nails glue, poking some down in the hole as best as I can, and also sticking the wire into the glue before inserting it into the ball. I then insert the wire until I can just feel it at the top of the ball.


I use the shiny balls on the other end as a handle. I place this in my palm when playing. I also wrap a piece of red tape around the end with the playable ball for quick identification at a gig.

Here’s a short video clip from a workshop I did in Cleveland 

at Passport Project, November 2007.

All photos, including the top photo, Sound Waves, © 2008

Video & sound examples, © 2007 Michael Bettine

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