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    

1950s Zildjian Turkish K/made In Turkey 16" Crash Cymbal Listen1950s Zildjian Turkish K/made In Turkey 18" Ride/crash Cymbal ListenZildjian K Constantinople Medium Thin Low 22" Ride-with Rivets (2426 Grams)!Avedis Zildjian 20" Ride Cymbal (thin Stamp 1970s) ListenZildjian K 20" Inch Ride Cymbal (2,486 Grams)Avedis Zildjian 15" Hi Hat Cymbal Set Vintage 1960'sZildjian K Mastersound 14" Hi Hat Cymbals Pair 14/36Paiste 2002 Wild 18" CrashcymbalZildjian K Custom 14" Dark Crash Cymbal 14/36cm18" Paiste Signature Thin China *good Condition*Avedis Zildjian 20" Trans Stamp Ride Cymbal Vintage 40's Matt Bettis Sizzle KSpizzichino 22" Ride14" Zildjian Thin Crash Avedis A Series Sabian Aa 17" Inch Medium Thin Crash CymbalMeinl Byzance Brilliant 14" Medium Hi Hat Cymbals. Mint ConditionPaiste Signature 17" Mellow Crash Sabian 21" Hh Raw Bell Dry Ride CymbalZildjian K Custom Special Dry 21" RidecymbalZildjian K Custom Special Dry 21" Ride Cymbal 21/53cmZildjian 14" K Kerope Hi Hat CymbalsZildjian K Custom 18" Hybrid Crash Cymbal K1218 Excellent17" Sabian Hh Thin Crash Early 80s Bubble Font Very Hand Hammered CymbalSabian Aa 15" Inch Thin Crash CymbalPaiste Signature 14" Sound Edge Hi Hat Cymbals SoundedgeZildjian 22" K Kerope Ride Cymbal18" Paiste Signature Power Crash Cymbal - Excellent ConditionZildjian 19" K Kerope Crash Cymbal22" Istanbul Mehmet Xperience X-cast Flake Thin Ride Cymbal 2075 Grams1960's Paiste 18" Formula 602 Cymbal - 1508 GramsNew 13" Saluda Decadence Swiss Vented Splash Cymbal AeroZildjian Drum Cymbal Set Zbt 20" Ride 14" Hi HatSabian Hhx Evolution 13" Hi-hats* * * Used Paiste 18'' Signature Reflector Full Crash * * *Avedis Zildjian 16" 40 Cm Medium Crash CymbalMeinl Byzance Traditional 17" Thin CrashVintage Zildjian Ride 22" CymbalPaiste 24" Giant Beat Ride CymbalMeinl 17" Mb20 Heavy Crash CymbalZildjian 20" Thin Crash CymbalSabian Aa 12" Splash CymbalPaiste Signature Sound Edge Hi-hats 15" PairZildjian K 20" Eak Heavy RidePaiste Twenty Custom 22" Metal Ride Cymbal No Re$erve!!21" Zildjian A Custom Projection Ride Cymbal - Solid Bright BellAvedis Zildjian 15" Hi Hat Cymbal Vintage 1940's Transition StampZildjian 14" A Armand Hi-hat CymbalsZildjian 12" Splash K SeriesSabian 18" Hh Hand Hammered Medium Thin (bril) Crash Cymbal. Big & Dark. Nice!Meinl Byzance Dark 20" Ride Cymbal Mint ConditionZildjian 13" Remix Jingle Hi Hat CymbalsSabian Hhx Power Crash 18"Zildjian Cymbal Vintage 20 In RideZildjian Z Custom Medium Crash 19"Vintage 1970's Zildjian Avedis 18" Mini-cup Ride-2237 Grams-sound File!Paiste Alpha Cymbal Set, 5 Cymbals + Skb Hard Case20" Avedis Zildjian Pang Cymbal Rare Vintage Cymbal 1 Owner Hollow Logo !!Zildjian Oriental Crash Of Doom CymbalZildjian 18" Z "power Crash" CymbalNew 14" Saluda Decadence Hybrid Prototype Crash Cymbal16" Meinl Classics Custom Medium Crash Cymbal - Great Shape