One of our families recent interests is in antique singing bowls. Singing bowls get their name from the sound they produce when the rim is rubbed with a wooden striker, like rubbing the rim of a wine glass with your finger. They are also played by striking the rim like a gong with a padded striker. The sounds that they produce are said to invoke a deep state of relaxation. They have been used for centuries as an aid to meditation and can be found on private Buddhist altars, and in temples, monasteries and meditation halls throughout the world. I like to play the bowls at the end of the "deep-relaxation" during the yoga classes I offer at the College.
Singing bowls are sometimes called 7-metal bowls, because they were traditionally said to be made up of seven metals including gold, silver and such. Actually, most of these bowls are an alloy of bronze, but their actual composition can vary significantly. I have seen singing bowls that appeared to be made up of almost all silver. The composition of a bowl was a highly guarded secret by the ancient bowl makers. The sound quality of these antique singing bowls is thought by many to be unique and the ability to reproduce their sound is now considered to be a lost art.
A harmonic series of three of our largest bowls, ranging from 9 to 12 Inches
I have gotten bowls from a variety of sources including shops I have found when traveling. One of my first bowls came from a group of several hundred bowls I sorted through in a small shop in Santa Fe. Many of the bowls in that shop were clearly old, but not very musical sounding. Most folks that collect these bowls say that it is very difficult to assign an accurate age to singing bowls. As far as I can tell, most of our bowls would be considered antiques, ranging from 100-400 years old. One of our oldest bowls is the large bowl on the left in the photo above that is thought to be close to 400 years old, it has a small hole in the bottom, but has a wonderful, long tone.
One of the top specialists in singing bowls is a fellow named Joseph that has a great website with photos and sound clips of the bowls he sells (http://www.himalayanbowls.com/himalayanbowls/welcome.htm). Our family stopped by his home to get me single bowl for a birthday present, but we were so impressed by his bowls that we left with a small pile of wonderful bowls. We had a fun visit and Joseph was a great resource for a neophyte like me. He screens hundreds of bowls and selects for sale a small percentage of the bowls he listens to, what fun.
This is a harmonic series of bowls ranging in size from 7.5 to 4 inches
When I get a "new" bowl, I try to determine its age, but I'm not very good at it. I think I can tell new bowls (1-50 years old) from old bowls (around 100 years old) from very old bowls (100+ years old), but that's about as far as I can go. There are a number of factors to consider when trying to determine the age of a bowl. For example, the shape of the bowl, the craftsmanship that went into making it, the amount of wear, the presence of small stress fractures in the metal, the sound of the bowl, movement of individual metals to the surface, and the composition of the metal itself are all factors that are used to age the bowls. I have found that many of the bowls that are sold on the internet and said to be antique bowls are in fact, quite new, and and are often treated with finished to make them look like old bowls.
Many collectors of singing bowls chose to keep their bowls in the condition they were in when they obtained them. Because I play and handle the bowls often, I like to clean and polish our bowls. I clean the bowls for several reasons, it is easier to see the condition and age of the bowls when cleaned, cleaned bowls seem to play better, especially when they are made to sing by rubbing around the rim, and finally, I find that there is a more immediate tactile sensation when holding cleaned and polished bowls.
In addition to the more traditional-style singing bowls in the photos above, I also have a collection of "Mani-Style bowls in a matched harmonic series. The Mani-style bowls are typically thicker and heavier bowls that have an truncated pyramid shape. They produce a high, clear intense sound that is quite different from the traditional bowls. Below is a series of six of these Mani-style bowls that range in size from 7 inches to just 4 inches. Most of the bowls in this series appear to be quite old. When these bowls are played together, the sound is almost overpowering as it fills the room.
Finally a harmonic series of the "Mani-Style" bowls from 7 to 4 inches
Here is another view of three of the "Mani-Style" singing bowls
Below are some sound clips of some miscellaneous singing bowls I have made. I do not have a very good setup for making sound clips, but these files should give a sense of the sound of the different bowls.