Cymbals are thin discs of metal, typically bronze or brass, that are usually part of a drum kit. The first cymbals were developed along with the invention of bronze, around 3000 BC. These flattened discs were used for music, as a way to signal animals, for military communication, and as part of religious ceremonies.

Though the location of the first cymbal’s invention is unknown, Turkey became its adopted homeland, as artisans in the region perfected the necessary alloys which would not shatter even after being repeatedly struck. The most famous of these craftsmen is Avedis Zildjian I, who developed a unique mix of copper, tin, and small amounts of silver while attempting to create synthetic gold.

The fantastic sound of Avedis’ cymbals caught the Sultan’s ear, and he was invited to live at Topkapi Palace and produce his instruments exclusively for Turkish military musicians, known as the Janissary Bands. Eventually, the Sultan gave Avedis the surname Zildjian, which translates to "son of cymbal maker" in Armenian.

Finally, in 1680, the cymbal moved squarely into the realm of popular music with its inclusion in the opera “Esther” by German composer Nicolaus Strungk. Though well-known musicians like Haydn and Mozart would include the instrument in their scores, these parts were always written for pairs of cymbals to be clashed together. Over the next hundred years, the instrument spread among military bands but was rarely included in orchestral scores. However, toward the end of the 19th century, composers like Berlioz and Wagner began incorporating more complex cymbal arrangements, and experimented with single cymbals played with mallets or sticks.

Zildjian cymbals remained the most sought-after products, and the descendants of its original founder eventually relocated the company to the United States after Avedis III emigrated in 1929. Avedis III soon befriended jazz drummer Gene Krupa, who advised him to produce thinner cymbals that could be incorporated into a drum kit. (Today, the fifteenth generation of Zildjian heirs runs the family business, which is considered the oldest company in America.)

Most of the cymbals used in modern drum kits were developed during the jazz boom of the 1930s and '40s, though their common names wouldn’t be fixed until the '50s. These include the ride cymbal, which has a wide surface used for sustained rhythm; the hi-hat, made of two cymbals mounted one on top of the other; the crash, used for a loud, sharp burst of sound; and the splash, which is a smaller, higher pitched version of the crash. In the process of refining the best tools for a drum kit, other ideas were tried and discarded, like the clanger, a cymbal that was vertically mounted and struck with every beat of the bass drum.

The standard size of cymbals used by drummers also began to grow during the 1940s, from around 10 to 12 inches up to more than two feet in diameter. In the 1960s, as the influence of rock and roll spread, companies experimented with louder cymbals that could compete with amplified guitars and vocals, like Paiste’s “Giant Beat” series from 1965...

Still, the cymbal market wouldn’t grow significantly until the early '80s, when newer companies like Sabian, established by Robert Zildjian in Canada, expanded the limited selection of cymbals available. Throughout the '80s, many drummers also added the explosive tone of the China cymbal to their kits, a style developed in Asia with a raised, cylindrical center, originally allowing it to be handheld.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Vintage Drum Guide

Vintage Drum Guide

David Anfuso’s Vintage Drum Guide is primarily focused on Slingerland, Rogers, Ludwig, Gretsch, and other major A… [read review or visit site]

National Music Museum

National Music Museum

The National Music Museum, which is located at the University of South Dakota in Vermillion, features 15,000 instru… [read review or visit site]

Most watched eBay auctions    

22" K Zildjian Constantinople Light Ride - DiscontinuedBrand New 22" Bettis Medium-thin Ride Cymbal. Dark Istanbul Old K Vintage Vibe.Vintage Early 60s Zildjian Avedis Small Stamp 3-dot Heavy 15" Hi Hat Cymbal PairBrand New 19" Bettis Thin Ride Cymbal. Dark Istanbul Old K Vintage CraftsmanshipAvedis Zildjian A Series 14" Inch New Beat Hi Hat Cymbals (hi/high/hihat/custom)K Zildjian 60's Istanbul 14" Hi Hat Cymbals 864/774 Grams Rare Vintage! Jazz BopK Zildjian 60's Istanbul 18" Ride Crash Med/lite Cymbal 1425 Grams Rare Vintage!Vintage Zildjian New Beat 14" Hi Hat Cymbals Late 70s Hollow Logo Paiste Traditional 18” Thin CrashVintage K Zildjian Eak Cymbals 14" Hi Hats 1980's 1010/1220 Grams!Paiste 2002 20" Crash. New. SignatureSabian 18" Hhx Evolution O-zone Crash CymbalPair Avedis Zildjian A Custom 13" Mastersound Hi Hat Cymbals UsedZildjian 18" A Custom Medium Crash Cymbal Great ConditionZildjian K Custom Hybrid 19" CrashcymbalZildjian K 15" Dark Crash Thin UsedUsed Sabian Hhx 19" Extreme Crash Cymbal Free ShippingPaiste 2000 18" Inch Blue/green Color Sound China Cymbal Avedis A Zildjian 18" Sizzle Jazz Crash/ride Cymbal W/ 6 RivetsZildjian K Custom Dark Ride 20" With Pearl Double Braced Boom Stand - Used (#4)Sabian Paragon 19” Chinese Cymbal - Brilliant FinishNew Bosphorus Master Vintage 22” Ride Cymbal - 2219 Grams17" Zildjian A Custom CrashSabian Hhx Evolution 14" Hi-hat CymbalRare Vintage Zildjian Late 1940s Trans Stamp 22" Ride! Hard To Find!Zildjian A Custom Cymbal Set - Used - No Keyholing (#3)Zildjian K Custom Hybrid Crash (17")K Zildjian 18” Dark Thin CrashAvedis A Zildjian 16" Inch Medium Thin Crash CymbalZildjian K Custom Dark Ride Cymbal Zildjian 10" K Custom Dark Splash No Reserve!!!!!!Bosphorus Traditional 15" Dark Hi-hats-beautifulPaiste Signature 17" Fast Crash - Used (#7)Sabian Symphonic Gong With Mallet - Used (#9)Zildjian Z Custom 14" Hi Hat And 20" Ride Set With Bag - UsedSabian 18” Paragon CrashPaiste Giant Beat 24 Ride Cymbal. New. Signature. 2002Zildjian K0915 18" 18in K Dark Drk Med Medium Thin Crash CymbalVintage Paiste 2002 Sound Edge Hi Hats 13" - Rude Series - Classic, Rare Size!Meinl Byzance 20" Medium CrashPaiste Sound Creation 20" Bell Ride Cymbal -b20 Alloy-*early 80s*mint Condition!17" Zildjian Z Custom Medium Crash Cymbal - Excellent ConditionSabian Hhx Crash Cymbals 16 Evolution CrashPaiste 18" Innovations Medium CrashSabian Aax 13" Fusion Hat Set Of 2 Cymbals - Very Nice !!!! No Reserve !!!20 Inch Zildjian K Custom Dark Ride Cymbal **no Reserve**Zildjian A Custom 8" Splash Cymbal8" Zildjian A Custom Thin Splash CymbalAvedis A Zildjian 18" Inch China Boy High Cymbal (hi/chinese/type/crash) Sabian Aax Dark Crash 18" Cymbal - Very Nice !!!! No Reserve !!!13" Zildjian Avedis New Beat Hi-hat Cymbals Super Crisp HatsVintage Zildjian Avedis 20" Heavy Ride Cymbal 3005 Grams - 1970s Hollow LogoZildjian A Custom Fast 14" Crash CymbalSabian Hhx Ride Cymbals 20 Evolution Ride Sabian B8 Pro 14" Hi-hat Cymbals 31402b Brilliant No Issues No Reserve!Sabian Paragon 14" High Hats, Neil Peart Signature - Used (#10)Paiste Signature 10" Splash Cymbal. Nice Used. Sound Clip Included! No Reserve!Roland V-cymbals. 12" Hi-hat (vh-12), 2x 14" Crashes (cy-14c), 15" Ride (cy-15r)17" K Zildjian China Boy - Eak - Rare Zildjian Z3 Medium Crash Drum Cymbal 19" No Reserve