Cymbal production has three stages:
- Casting (melting metal, pouring it into a mold and cooling it down).
- Hammering (crafting the shape and strengthening the material by hitting it either by machine or manually).
- Finishing (cutting, shaping, polishing the cymbals and printing a logo).
If you ever wondered how cymbals are made and what materials manufacturers use to make these wondrous instruments, stay with me to find out.
I’ll do my best to give accurate information about all the things you didn’t know about the cymbals, but you always wanted to learn.
The production of cymbals has three main parts:
How cymbals are made
Fill out the form, and I will hand-pick the best cymbals for you and drop you an email.
The casting itself has four steps, so let’s go through it step by step.
Casting cymbals is a process where the craftsperson heat and melt metal, then pour it into a desired geometric-shaped mold. After it is cooled down, it will be ready for the other processes.
Melting the alloy and pouring it into the mold filled halfway with water so that it doesn’t get stuck inside the mold.
The next step is the heating and pressing machine. It is a process where the cooled alloy is removed from the mold, heated again in the oven, and put into the pressing machine. The pressing is repeated a couple of times, depending on the type of cymbal being made, to get the right thickness for the object.
Bell press is a process in which a cymbal-like object goes into a hydraulic pressing machine. The machine will press the bell right into its center.
After the cymbal-like object has been tampered with, the craftsperson will place the object on the unique machine, cutting the edges and creating a more accurate shape.
Hammering is one of the essential steps in making cymbals, as it will impact the sound.
Cymbals can be hand-hammered, but nowadays computer-controlled machine does most of the hammering – like at Zildjian.
On the other hand, the Paiste Company uses a machine, but it’s operated by a craftsperson who controls the velocity and the speed of hammering.
Hand hammering is done in a more random but still right way, while the machine works with a symmetrical pattern.
Finishing is the last process in producing cymbals, and it has certain steps like:
Cutting and shaping using a rotary tool, the cymbal gets its shape and more accurate look. The craftsperson will use the right tools to cut and shape the cymbal’s surface and smooth the edges of the cymbal.
Polishing – the cymbals will get polished with a special coating that prevents dirt and rust.
Logo printing is the final step of manufacturing. The cymbals will get a trademark and unique serial number with a laser, and the silicon stamp will place the company’s logo onto the cymbals.
What is a cymbal made of?
Cymbals are made from different materials, such as Brass, Nickel silver, Silicon, but predominantly from copper alloys, and the most popular is Bronze.
You may didn’t know, Bronze is an alloy of tin and copper, and the amount of tin can affect the sound of the cymbal – the more tin to a bronze alloy darkens the tone of the cymbal, giving it a richer sound.
As I already mentioned, proportions of copper and tin impact the sound, so manufacturers have produced different types of cymbals, mostly using B20 and B8 types of Bronze.
Along with the B20 (80% copper, 20% tin) and B8 (92% copper, 8% tin), they started experimenting with B10, B12, and B15, to give a more complex frequency response.
Some of the best companies that produce cymbals are surely Paiste, Sabian, Zildjian, and Meinl.
Paiste, a third largest manufacturer company from Switzerland, makes legendary cymbals from CuSn8 (B8) Bronze, also known as “2002 Bronze.”
Sabian, one of the four best manufacturing companies with headquarters in Canada, makes the highest and mid sets of cymbals from B20.
The same as Sabian, Zildjian produces high and mid sets of cymbals mostly using B20, but they call it Zildjian secret alloy – which consists of 80% of copper, 20% of tin, and some traces of silver.
Meinl, a manufacturing company from Germany, produces professional cymbals mostly from B8 Bronze alloy, but they also produce cymbals from Pure Alloy bronze. The cymbals that give more traditional sounds are hand-hammered in Turkey and made from the B20 alloy.
How many days does it take to make a cymbal?
Compared to the present-day manufacturing process, traditional manufacturing takes more time to produce cymbals, it takes around 21 day to create a perfect cymbal.
Why do cymbals have dimples?
Since cymbals are very simple made and there is no much room for changes, dimples serve to shape the overall sound of particular cymbals.
The difference between hand-hammered cymbals and cymbals hammered by the machine is that the first tend to have dark, low, and richer tones, while the others tend to be brighter and higher in pitch.
What are the best sounding cymbals?
When it comes to the cymbals with the best sound, it does come to your budget and taste.
Yes, most people can’t afford that high-quality, expensive cymbals, but that doesn’t mean that the great ones don’t exist.
Manufacturers take care that all of their cymbals have good definition and sound quality – with every type of the cymbal.
Before they leave the factory, the experienced person will test cymbals for the sound – he will compare freshly made cymbals with the master one.
Only when all the cymbals get approved by the person in charge of testing can they leave the factory.
If any doesn’t match up to the master, it will get put aside and recycled.
All of this means that you will not have to worry if the cymbal you would go for has a bad sound quality.
All in all, the competition is fierce, and it all depends on your budget and your taste.
But as a closure, I would say that the best sound comes if you choose the right cymbal for the right type of music.
The cymbals are made of approximately 80 percent copper, 19 percent tin and 1 percent silver. The exact mixing process and chemical formula which marries the metals together is, of cource, the Zildjian secret. When they are mixed in the electric furnaces, we pour the resulting secret alloy into the casting bowls where they emerge as circular ignots. The casting bowls are filled half with boiling water so that when the melted bronze is poured into the bowls the circular ignots won’t stick in the bottom. Zildjian cymbals, own much of their unique sound and mechanical resilience to the fact that their original cast preform is tested by striking to see if the material has a ring in its cast state. If it does not, it is remelted. After the castings cool, they are sorted by weight into different bins. The weight of the castings determines the size of the final cymbal. All Zildjian cast cymbals, are fashioned from this one type of bronze ingot, the difference is what happens further down the line. A big part of it is not only the secret alloy, but knowing what to do with it once the casting is made.
Different thicknesses of the castings are being slowly carried through a large rotary hearth (or oven) on a conveyor. The temperature inside the oven reaches about 1,500 degrees Fahrenheit. Peering into the oven’s opening you see the castings glowing bright orange in the intense heat. Every cymbal that goes in there gets heated for the same amount of time. A casting will travel through the oven from four to 25 times, depending on the size and thickness of the final cymbal. After each trip, the crude cymbal will be gradually flattened in the rolling mill. As the discs are rolled again and again, a dense interlocking weave is formed in the granular structure that prevents warping and weak spots. Once the required thickness and size is achieved, the center is marked with chalk where the hole will be drilled. During the previous procces of thinning, the colour of the discs changes from silver to a deep purple. When the latter colour is reached, the discs, are subjected to two further temperings, first in a chemical solution (a Zildjian formula) containing herbs and oils, and secondly in cold water.
This cold water bath tempers the hot metal and makes it malleable enough to shape the casting into what will eventually resemble a cymbal. The metal changes instantaneously once it hits the cold water. It’s called ’quenching’ the metal. Because we have 19 percent tin, we are going from a very brittle state, and we are trying to achieve a ductile state so we can do all our ’cold’ work on the cymbal. After the metal has been quenched and is no longer brittle, the hole is drilled and a heavy stamping machine presses the cup. With the center and diameter of the cymbal determined, a craftsman can now shear the jagged and uneven edges off the blank disc. Over the last few steps the once unrecognizable piece of bronze begins to take on the shape and profile (but not the finish) of a cymbal.
The main spec is a weight parameter, depending on what cymbal it is going to be. Every single model we make, from a 6″ splash to a 24″ ride has a specific weight tolerance within a certain amount of grams. Then there is the visual inspection. We take a look after each stage, making sure everything was done properly — if a mistake was made you’d be able to see it. We have team leaders who lead each process and inspect each cymbal. And everyone is empowered to halt the process if they see a mistake. It’s really a team effort.
The next stage of the operation requires a craftsman to first backbend the cymbal by hand on a jig before it is placed in a shaping press where 80 to 100 tons of pressure will come down and give the cymbal its shape and profile.
At this point the cymbal is very malleable and you can really work the metal. In the old days this is where the hammering would start, but because of the new methods we have, we can press an initial shape that the cymbal will eventually take. Because every cymbal and every size has a different shape, there are different stamp dies used for each model.
Once the cymbal is pressed into a basic shape it’s ready for the hammering machine, this one-of-a-kind proprietary hammering machine plays a major role in creating the mystical Zildjian sound. Unique (and costly) “chucks” with raised hammer patterns are used in the state-of-the-art, computer-controlled machine. The machine brings a previously unheard of consistency to each model family of cymbals.
Basically the human hand is not strong enough or consistent enough to make the cymbals the way we feel they should be made. Some cymbals go through a very quick hammering process, and some go through an over-hammering stage. Obviously Constantinoples are very different from A Zildjians and they require very different hammering techniques.
An A-line cymbal gets hammered just once, a K Custom Dark Crash will get hammered several times in different stages of its creation, which helps dry out the sound. Constantinoples get hammered quite a bit. Depending on what we’re trying to achieve, that’s how much work goes into the cymbal. It’s all about the end result. After being hammered, the cymbals are taken to lathing machines to be turned. Each cymbal is secured vertically on the lathe and as it spins, the lathe operator leans his weight against a large cutting knife and begins to cut sound or tonal grooves into the cymbal. One craftsman will do a rough pass on a cymbal and another will do a finish pass. Finish lathe operators have more time on the job. They’re more skilled so we can ensure the cymbal comes down to its final weight and thickness. It’s one of the most critical parts of cymbal making, you can make the cymbal come out right, or you can just ruin everything everyone did before you.
There are small but discernible differences between cymbals that are the same size and type. This is where the human touch comes particularly into play, because no matter how consistent a lathe operator is, there will always be minute differences in the way he cuts a groove.
The sound grooves help define the sound of the cymbal. Just the slightest variation in lathing will create a different sound. We want each cymbal to have its own character. Unless you were doing it robotically, it would be virtually impossible to lathe two 12″ splash cymbals exactly the same way.
Each step of the process is as important as any other. It’s like a cake recipe: if you change one of the steps or do it incorrectly it throws everything off.
Before the cymbals leave the main production room, the edges are made as smooth as possible. Some models are buffed and finished on the way to the quality control area where longtime employee Leon Chiappini personally oversees the testing of each and every cymbal made by the company. Chiappini has been with Zildjian for over 40 years, and chances are, if you own a Zildjian cymbal, he played it before you. With the help of “tester” cymbals, which represent a range of what the cymbal is supposed to sound like, Leon goes through the cymbals one at a time. He hits them a few times and makes sure they fall in line with the tester cymbal.
Once Chiappini signs off on the cymbals, they need to be sprayed with a protective coating and then taken to a laser etcher to engrave a unique serial number and have the logo printed onto the cymbal. The finished cymbals are then wheeled to the legendary Zildjian cymbal vault to rest and age and await shipping.
Around the early 1600s a metal worker named Avedis Zildjian I discovered a method for treating an alloy of copper and tin in the casting process to produce instruments of remarkable power, sonority and strength.
There is no secret formula, it’s bronze: what they call B20 in the metal industry, which means it’s composed of 80% copper and 20% tin, and you’ll find that a lot of copper has trace elements of silver in it as well.
B20 bronze is extremely brittle, especially with all that tin in it, but the larger proportion of tin is what contributes to the brilliance and sonority of the sound. Now if you tried to put together a B20 alloy just any which way, then heated it and rolled it, it would break up like a dry cracker.
What Avedis Zildjian I discovered was a process for treating this alloy of copper and tin to make a casting that could then be heated and rolled repeatedly without breaking because the structure of this alloy was so malleable and ductile. This process for treating the metals and making the casting haw been handed down through the generations, traditionally to the eldest male member of the family.