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    

New 15" Bettis Hi-hat Cymbals. Andy Zildjian Old K Istanbul B20 Bronze Formula.New 22" Bettis Medium Ride Cymbal. Andy Zildjian Old K Istanbul B20 Bronze.New 22" Bettis Medium-thin Ride Cymbal. Andy Zildjian Old K Istanbul B20 Bronze.Zildjian 20 A Custom Ride CymbalVintage 1978 K Zildjian 20" Heavy Ride Cymbal Made In Canada 2830 Grams! Paiste 505 20" Medium Cymbal 1981-82Paiste 505 16" Medium CymbalAvedis Zildjian Vintage 20" Crash / Ride 2063g /1950's Small StampZildjian K Custom 20" Ride CymbalVintage Paiste 2002 China Cymbal 14" Switzwerland Zildjian K 20" Ride Cymbal Used, Sounds Amazing And In Great ShapeNew 20" Bettis Medium Ride Cymbal. Dark Andy Zildjian Old K Istanbul B20 Bronze.Zildjian K Custom Dark 20" RidecymbalPaiste 18" 505 Crash Cymbal21" Sabian Hhx Groove Ride Cymbal - Great ConditionVintage Avedis Zildjian Co 20-inch Crash Turkish Cymbal Made In Usa17" Sabian Aax Stage Crash Cymbal - Great SoundK Zildjian 20" Dark Crash Thin CymbalPaiste 2002 Top Sound Edge Hi-hat 14" Crash CymbalZildjian 22" K Custom High Definition Ride CymbalPaiste 2002 18" Crash CymbalZildjian Rock Crash 16" Avedis Vintage 1441 Grams Power! Cymbal For DrumsZildjian A 17" Medium CrashMeinl Byzance Traditional Turkish 22" Medium Ride Cymbal, Rich Complex SustainPaiste 2002 17" Crash CymbalA Zildjian & Cie 16" Constantinople Usa Concert Crash Cymbal 1824 Grams AvedisPaiste 20" Dry Ride CymbalPaiste 18" 3000 Crash Cymbal * 1986 First Generation Lathing16" Zildjian Avedis Medium Thin Crash CymbalPaiste 2000 Hi Hats15" Zildjian A Custom Crash CymbalZildjian 18 Inch K Custom Dark Crash 1 OwnerPaiste 2002 Sound Edge 14" Hi-hat CymbalZildjian Gen16 Drum Module W/ A Set Of 14" Gen16 CymbalsZildjian A Platinum 12" Splash Cymbal Chrome Discontinued 435 Grams No Reserve!Zildjian A0354 18" China Boy High Efx Cymbal No Reserve22" Paiste 2002 Ride Cymbal20" Paiste Signature Precision Ride CymbalZildjian Avedis A 16" Fast CrashPaiste 18 Inch Alpha CrashZildjian A 16 Midium CrashZildjian K Dark Thin 16" Crash CymbalNew 18" Saluda Ambiance Thin, Fast Crash CymbalZildjian A Custom 20 Ping RidePaiste Giant Beat 18" Thin Crash Cymbal Lot Of 5 Cymbals (4 Zildjian & 1 Wuhan)Paiste 2002 Medium 16" Crash CymbalNew 14" Saluda Earthworks Acid Rain Crash CymbalPaiste Formula 602 Joe Morello 17 Crash Cymbal Black Label 1290g Rare - Cracked16" Zildjian Zht Efx Vented Crash CymbalZildjian 14" New Beat A Hi Hat CymbalsZildjian 14" Hi Hat Cymbals, Hollow LablePaiste Bronze 502 18" Crash Cymbal 14" Zildjian K Mastersound Cymbals Hi Hats Tiny CrackZildjian 16" Crash Cymbal Vintage12" Zildjian Avedis / K Custom Dark Hi-hat Cymbals Accent HatsZildjian K Custom Dark 14" Hi-hat CymbalMeinl Byzance Dark 14” Spectrum Hihat, Pair16" Zildjian Oriental China Trash Cymbal - Excellent13" Sabian Aa Fusion Hi Hats Cymbals