In Javanese gamelan, the gambang plays cengkok like the other elaborating instruments. However, the repertoire of cengkok for the gambang is more rudimentary than for other instruments (for instance, the gendér), and a great deal of variation is accepted.
The gambang gangsa has a similar construction, although it generally has fewer keys (typically 15) and is thus somewhat smaller. It has largely been replaced by the saron family of instruments. It was formerly thought to have been a forerunner of the one-octave saron, although more recent evidence, including the appearance of the saron in reliefs at Borobudur in the 9th century, indicate that the instruments are of the same age or that the one-octave saron is older.
In early 19th century writings on the Javanese gamelan, it seems to have been played like the gambang kayu; that is, as an elaborating instrument. Later, by 1890, it seems to have merely substituted for a saron, and have been restricted to a small range. Mantle Hood associated this use of limited range to a preference for certain octave arrangements of the cadences in various pathet.