Are Zildjian Cymbals anything Special?

I just caught a local TV show about this 400 year old family business. Zildjian’s claims to be in business since ca. 1620. Their factory is in Norwood MA now, and they claim to have a secret formula to make the best cymbals in the business. They do have a long history-and have sold to drummers like Buddy Rich and many other famous musicians.
apparently, the alloy they use (copper tin. and silver) is a secret, and also the process of hammering the cymbals.
This sounds like a lot of hot air to me-is there anything really complicated about making cymabls?

Well, based on the attitudes of (jazz) drummers I’ve worked with in the past, I’d hazard that cymbals are personal, often irreplaceable pieces of gear that are really instruments in their own right.

There are loads of people who make cymbals – not all of them Turkish – and I’ve heard the results are all just a bit different. It probably takes just as much art and skill to make a cymbal as it is to make other similarly complicated musical instruments by hand.

Every drummer I have ever known has held them to be the gold standard of cymbals. In fact I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who played anything else.

Maybe it’s hype, but I would never purchase any cymbal that is any other brand. And they truly sound fantastic.

They’re just status cymbals.

You win one Internets.

It’s interesting (to me, anyway) that someone who sells cymbals door-to-door would be called a drummer; and yet a drummer who sells cymbals is called “unemployed”.

To answer your second question, cymbals are pretty hard to make, because they have to be pretty much perfect. Most major instruments can be tuned in some way or another, but cymbals can’t be adjusted, so they have to be perfectly consistent.

Considering that if you were to take 10 “identical” cymbals (same brand, size, type) you’d end up with 10 subtly different sounds, I’d say that making cymbals is more of an art than a science. Art is of course highly subjective, and everyone has their own opinions.

Zildjian does make some really great sounding cymbals, all but one of mine are that brand. The other is a Sabian, my splash. It was a gift and I love it. Sabian was actually founded by one of the Zildjian brothers, so they have some family experience there too, if not the exact same procedures.

That said, Zildjian also makes some “economical” cymbals that sound like utter dog shit, as do the other brands. They tend to use more bronze, which really comes out in the color of the cymbal. There are a few exceptions to the economy cymbals sounding awful, but they are few and far between.

Zildjian is definitely the most popular brand of cymbal, but the other brands are certainly not inferior by any means. The big three in cymbals are Zildjian, Sabian, and Paiste, and there are numerous other companies like AA Meinl, Wuhan, and the little guys like Saluda.

Basically, what makes a good cymbal is the sound. Small companies can come up with a winner, and big companies can have a few stinkers, but it’s all subjective. One man’s garbage, may be another man’s prize effects cymbal.

I forgot about Paiste. Those were like #2 when I was in music school.

Technically they can. If you’ve ever had a crack cut out of a cymbal edge, you would notice the change in timbre. Also, creative usage of tape or other muffling can change the volume, sustain, and attack of the cymbal. That’s more nitpicking than anything else though.

I think that the emperor (Sultan, bey) has a new cymbal.


Sabian cymbals are made locally. They’re not mass-produced; it really is quite an art form. As mentioned they are the same family. I think the process for both is pretty similar. You can see Zildjians being made here.

I love shows like “How It Is Made” because I have spent too much of my life working in factories and watching how things are made and am totally nostalgic. Except yesterday. I saw an ep of “Modern Marvels,” of all things, showing how cold cuts are made. I may not eat bologna for some days. OTOH, Grandma Mame’s recipe for head cheese was worse, Tofurkey was completely disgusting, and I need to go to the Carnegie Deli for a pastrami. Totally looks like food and the dude claims that if you ask for a doggie bag he’s failed at piling it high enough. (heavy sigh)

It’s a drummer thing, and I don’t understand. Every cymbal sounds, to my non-drummer ears, as bandwidth limited white noise with an ADSR envelope. My favorite drum tracks tend to be the ones with the fewest cymbals, like Peter Gabriel’s I Don’t Remember or Kate Bush’s Running Up That Hill.

It seems that way when you listen to MP3s at 128kbps, which do not include the nuances and any strike of a cymbal is a generic crash. Something, ANYTHING, better makes the cymbal a proper instrument. Live is best, obviously.

For such a seemingly-simple instrument it is surprisingly complex.

The base metals are not a secret. All the manufacturers use copper + tin … because they all make bronze cymbals and copper & tin are pretty much the ingredients of bronze.

The different manufacturers take those base metals and tweak them into different ratios and formulations.

One could say Coca Cola and Pepsi both use corn syrup and carbonated water but they tweak their formulations differently. The end result is that their sodas taste different.

The hammering and lathing of the cymbals is also another area where the manufacturers differentiate. The Sabian cymbals are more “hand hammered” than Zildjians. Zildjians are known for automated machine hammering. The pattern, distribution, and amount of hammering has a drastic effect on the final quality of the cymbal’s sound.

Each manufacturer has a carved out a niche for a particular type of sound. Bosphorous cymbals are more mellow than Zildjian or Sabian. Paiste and Meinl cymbals are very bright.

For the record, I have a set of Zildjians but I’d also be happy with Sabian. Paiste cymbals are way too bright and hurt my ears.

Well, it must be more complicated than making a round lid to a steel garbage can. If you’ve ever seen the Stomp show, banging a garbage lid sounds nothing like cymbals.

Quite true. If pressed I could probably come up with 20 different ways to play a cymbal or pair of them. I was looking up getting a crack cut out on a crash when I came across this. It’s remarkable how many services one can offer for such a seemingly-simple thing.

and this: A & K are just a tradition with me (though I use Paistes for my “hats”)

I don’t know if this has been mentioned, but you know the rivets they used to put in the cymbals to make 'em “sizzle” as a “ride”?

My dad once told me that if I EVER bought one of those, he’d disown me. No shit, he was SERIOUS.

What I did instead was hang one of those “dog-tag” type chains from the felt and wing nut?

Same thing, man!

Try it sometime (if you haven’t already, that is! :slight_smile:

Another thing (off-topic) one of the bands I was in used to do, was make our own “strobe” just putting a very bright bulb behind a fan and making it turn at a slow speed (with the UV light on too, of course!)

We “made do” in those days (the 60’s), but we did “git 'er dun”! :wink:



Live, in a studio, listening to a drummer over a great set of monitors, or listening to a live drummer at a concert, they still sound like bandwidth limited white noise. As I said, I’m not a drummer and I don’t understand, but the difference between a mediocre cymbal and a great cymbal is not apparent to me, and I suspect, virtually everyone else who is not a drummer.

Good cymbals are expensive and it’s hard to find just the right one(s). Zildian usually has the sound I’m looking for, with Sabian crashes coming in a close second. I’m still playing a fantastic K ride that I bought 20-something years ago. Unfortunately crash cymbals don’t last as long in my experience (they’re cheaper, too, but not by much).