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    

Sabian Hand Hammered Hh Raw-bell Dry Ride 21"/53 Cm Cymbal No Reserve!!!!!!!!Paiste 2002 Novo China Cymbal 20'' Beautiful!Vintage 1977 Paiste 2002 14" Sound Edge Hi Hat, Black Label, Video No ReservePair Of Zildjian Avedis 14" Medium Hi Hat Cymbals - Made In UsaZildjian 22 K Ride Made In Istanbul Turkish Sounds Amazing UntouchedPaiste Prototype Mega Bell Ride 22'' Unique!Paiste 2002 China Cymbal 20'' Beautiful!Zildjian K Custom Hybrid Cymbals 14.25-inch Hi-hat Pair And 21-inch RideZildjian K Custom 22" Ride Cymbal In Excellent Condition. Legendary. No Reserve.Zildjian K Constantinople 18" CrashcymbalSabian Aax Stage Crash Set Of 3 Crashes 16'' 17'' 18''. Beautiful Set.Zildjian A 14" New Beat Hi-hat Cymbal Pair A013320" Zildjian Avedis Ride Cymbal - Made In Usa! Zildjian Custom Dry Complex Ride 22" K Series Medium Thin Cymbal 2200 GramsSabian Paragon Neil Peart Hi Hat 15'' Unique Size Hats!Paiste Signature Precision Heavy Crash 18" Cymbal No Re$erve!!Paiste Prototype 18" Crash Cymbal In Very Good Condition. 2002ish. No Reserve.Paiste Sound Formula Signature Alloy Thin China18'' Still In BagZildjian A Custom Medium Ride 22'' Beautiful!Zildjian 23" Sweet Ride #a0082 CymbalZildjian K Dark Thin Crash 19"Sabian Aa Medium Ride And Crash 18'' And 20''. Beautiful Set.Zildjian A Custom Crash 18'' Beautiful!Zildjian Vintage 60's/70's A Series Ping Ride, 3867g, 3 Dot, No Reserve! Video!Zildjian A Master Sound 13" Hi-hat CymbalZildjian K Custom Dark 18" Crash Cymbal Sabian Hhx 17" Extreme CrashPaiste Signature China Cymbal Black 18'' Unique In Ebay!Vintage Dream Bliss 17" Crash Cymbal! Avedis Zildjian 17"/43cm Medium Thin Genuine Turkish Crash Cymbal Great Shape!Saluda 16" Decadence China 865g VideoZildjian 13" A Crash Cymbal And Wuhan 12" Splash China CymbalSabian Aa 14" Regular Hats Cymbals (hi/high/hihat)Paiste 20" Signature Full Ride. 2500 Grams. A Perfect Medium! Excellent!Avedis A Zildjian 17" Inch Medium Thin Crash CymbalZildjian A Armand 18" Medium Thin Crash CymbalPaiste 2002 China Cymbal 16'' Beautiful!Vintage Zildjian Avedis 22'' Ride Cymbal With BagZildjian A Custom Crash 16'' Beautiful!Zildjian A Custom Rezo 17" Crash CymbalSabian Hhx Chinese China Cymbal 20'' Beautiful!Avedis A Zildjian 21" Sweet Ride CymbalSabian Hh Fusion 14" Hi-hat Cymbal TopPaiste Signature Precision Hi-hats - 14" Hihat No Re$ervePaiste Signature Series 16" Inch Power Crash CymbalAvedis Zildjian A Series 14" Rock Hi Hat Cymbals (hi/high/hihat)Sabian Aax Omni Ride Jojo Mayer 22'' Barely UsedZildjian A Series Thin Crash Cymbal 19" Saluda Decadence 10" Splash Cymbal - 287g VideoZildjian 17" A Custom Crash Cymbal - Cracked Centerhole :(Sabian Pro Set Of 3 Ride 20'' Crash 16'' Hi Hat 14'' (don't Confuse With B8 Pro)Sabian Aax Omni 22" Ride - Jojo MayerZildjian K Custom Dark 20" RidecymbalPaiste Sound Creation 20" Mellow Ride Cymbal In Excellent Condition. N.r.Paiste Signature Fast Crash 14'' Beautiful!Vintage 13.5" Zildjian Turkish Cymbal Made In Istanbul Turkey Free ShippingPaiste Visions Full Hi Hats Black 13'' Unique In Ebay! Signature AlloyPaiste Signature Precision Crash Cymbals, 16" & 18 Inch Store Demo/display ModelZildjian A Ping 22" Ride CymbalZildjian A Custom Projection Ride 20'' Beautiful!