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    

20" Paiste 2002 Novo China - Excellent Shape 20" Paiste Twenty Ride - Rare Raw Bell Version - Sweet Versatile Cymbal24" A Zildjian Medium Ride - Great Shape 22 Inch Zildjian K Ride Dark Medium Cymbal Used24" Paiste 2002 Ride - Great Shape Zildjian K Custom Hybrid Crash (17")18" Paiste 2002 Novo China - Great Shape 18" Paiste Prototype Dark Thin Crash CymbalZildjian K Custom Series Dark 20" Left Side Ride Bronze Cymbal 5%78524" Zildjian Medium Ride Cymbal Hollow Logo Zildjian K Custom Session 20" RidecymbalPaiste 3000 Vintage Pair 15" Heavy Hi-hat Cymbals, Super Rare, Switzerland 1987 Zildjian K Custom Hybrid 18" CrashcymbalZildjian K 15 Inch Dark Crash Used No Reserve CymbalNew 14" Saluda Symbolic B20 Hand Hammered Hats CymbalsNew 16" Saluda Decadence Swiss Vented Crash Cymbal AeroSaluda 13" Symbolic Series - Hi-hatsZildjian K Custom Session 18" Ride CymbalZildjian K Custom Session 16" Crashcymbal20" Zildjian A Custom Medium RideZildjian A Custom 8" Splash CymbalBosphorus Traditional 15" Dark Hi-hats-beautifulZildjian A Custom Ping 22" Ride CymbalBrand New 20" Bettis Thin Ride Cymbal. Dark Istanbul Old K Vintage CraftsmanshipZildjian 15" K Custom Dark Crash - CleanZildjian K Constantinople 14” Hi-hats10" Sabian Hhx SplashZildjian K Custom Session 18" CrashcymbalPaiste 2002 Crash Cymbal. 18". New. NrNew Sabian 19" Aa Holy China Cymbal14" Sabian Hhx Hhxplosion Crash22" A Zildjian China Boy High - Nos - Rare - Never PlayedVintage Zildjian 70's Classic 18" Crash Ride CymbalBrand New 22" Bettis Thin Ride Cymbal. Dark Istanbul Old K Vintage CraftsmanshipMeinl Byzance Extra Dry 16" Medium Thin High Hat Cymbals No ReserveNew Sabian 18" Aax Aero Crash CymbalNew Sabian 18" Aax Xplosion Crash CymbalZildjian A 17" Crash Cymbal, Thin, Vintage, Versatile, A True Classic Rich SoundZildjian A 14" Crash Cymbal, Thin, Vintage, Amazing Versatility, Classic SoundVintage 15" Zildjian 70's Crash Cymbal (hi Hat Bottom Cymbal?) NrZildjian K Istanbul 20'' Ride Cymbal 2182.9 Grams Paiste Signature Dry Dark Metal 22" Ride CymbalSabian Aa Cymbal Set20"meinl Mb20 Heavy Bell Ride Cymbal*brilliant Finish*made In Turkey-murat DirilIstanbul Agop 20" Ride CymbalZildjian A 6" Splash Cymbal, Vintage, Perfect For Fills And Accents, Classic 8" Zildjian A Series Splash Cymbal Sabian Fierce 21" Ride CymbalSabian Vault 21" Fierce RidePaiste Signature 14" Fast Crash CymbalZildjian A Custom 18" China CymbalDream Bliss 20" Ride Cymbal - No Reserve!20 Sabian Hh Bounce Ride Vintage Hammered Sound Ping Good Shape Natural MetalNew Sabian 17" Aax Dark Crash CymbalPaiste Signature Fast 15" CrashcymbalPaiste 2000 Sound Reflections 22" Power Ride Cymbal Percussion Good Serial Saluda Decadence Pre Aged 20" China Cymbal - Awesome Cymbal !!!14" Sabian Hh Bright Hats Vintage Hammered Sound Hihat Good Shape Natural Metal22" Sabian Aax Metal Ride Brillaint Aa/aax/hh Natural Cutting Rude Z Raw BellOld Stamp Iiib Istanbul K Extra Light Hi Hat Cymbals Vintage Zildjian 14" Cymbal