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 influenc...

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    

Set 5 Paiste Cymbals Pst5 20" Medium Ride 16" Crash 14" Hi-hat +alpha 10" SplashSoultone, Hand- Made In Turkey 14" "extreme" Series Hi-hats. Dark Yet Crisp.New 12" Saluda Decadence China Blast Splash CymbalZildjian Earth Plate Cimbal HighQin Bowl By Wuhan # 4 Used2 - Vintage 10” Brass Cymbals With Wooden HandlesSabian 16" B8 Crash Cymbal - CrackedMeinl Soundcaster Custom Medium Crash 18"Rare Paiste 20" Ride Cymbal Hand Hammered Raw Multi Lathed Rings Very Unique NewVintage 60's K.zildjian 18" Thin Ride Cymbal Made In TurkeyZildjian K Constantinople 22" Medium Thin Low Ride K Zildjian 15 Inch Hi HatsZildjian K Constantinople 18" Crashcymbal2007 Dark Trashy 24" Zildjian K Light Ride Cymbal Sound File 3240gZildjian 22" K Medium Dark Ride Meinl Byzance 14" Vintage Sand Hi HatsZildjian K Custom Dry Light 22" Ride CymbalNew 22" Bettis Paper Thin Ride Cymbal. Andy Zildjian Dark Old K Istanbul B20. Old 1945 Hi Hats 14'' K Zildjian Istanbul Damaged Cymbal 631g / 651g Signature■ Meinl Byzance 20" Jazz Thin Ride Cymbal ■Sabian Artisan 14" Hi Hats UsedZildjian 14" K Hi HatsSabian Paragon 15" Hi Hats Neil PeartVintage Zildjian 14" Cymbal K Istanbul Old StampPaiste Dark Crisp 14" HihatsZildjian K 20 Inch Crash RidePaiste - 15" Giant Beat Hi-hat Cymbals - Pair *new* 2002 602 Bonham20" Zildjian K Ride Cymbal - Sweet SoundPaiste 2002 18" Crash CymbalPaiste 602 15" Ride CymbalPair Of Avedis Zildjian 14" A. Quick Beat Hi-hat Drum Cymbals!Zildjian Zbt Cymbal SetIstanbul Agop Traditional 20" Thin Crash17" Zildjian K Custom Fast Crash CymbalSabian Paragon 22" Ride Cymbal Neil Peart Rush No Cracks. Paiste, Meinl, Pearl16" Zildjian K Dark Thin Crash CymbalPaiste- 22" 2002 Ride Cymbal - With Balanced Stick Sound *new* 602 Bonham GiantNew 24" Bettis Medium Ride Cymbal. Andy Zildjian Dark Old K Istanbul B20 Bronze.Zildjian K Custom Dark 20" Ride CymbalPaiste 2002 15" Crash CymbalPaiste Giant Beat 24" RidecymbalNew 14" Bettis Hi-hat Cymbals. Andy Zildjian Old K Istanbul B20 Bronze Formula.Zildjian A Custom Mastersound 14" Hi-hat Cymbals Pair Top/bottomSabian 21" Crossover Ride CymbalSabian 18" Aa Extra Thin Crash Excellent Condition!Zildjian A Mastersound Hi-hat Cymbals 14"Meinl Byzance 16" Brilliant China Zildjian A Custom Hi Hat 14” Cymbals Pair Top And Bottom Brilliant 1960's Zildjian A 15" Hi Hats - Giant Stamp - 1389/1429 Grams!Sabian Hand Hammered Hh 10" China Kang Cymbal17" Sabian Aax Stage Crash Cymbal - Perfect ConditionSabian Chopper Fx Stack Cymbal 12"*****zildjian 14" New Beat Hi Hat Cymbals L@@k*****Sabian Holy China 17'' AaVintage 1979 Paiste Formula 602 Ultimate 20" Ride Cymbal Take It To The LimitVintage 1950's Big Stamp 20'' Ride Avedis Zildjian 2148g Cymbal Music Drums OldSabian Aax 14" X-celerator Hats - Hat Top & Bottom Cymbals, CymbalZildjian Avedis A Medium Ride 22" Cymbal Cymbals Drum Drums PercussionSabian Aa 14" Flat Hi Hats Brilliant CymbalsSabian Hh 18" Thin China Chinese Cymbal-brliiant Finish!