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    

Zildjian K 13" Hi Hats, New, Unused, Never Played, Free Global ShippingZildjian K Custom 16" Hybrid Crash, New, Unused, Free Global ShippingZildjian 20" Medium Ride Cymbal No Reserve 18" Vintage K Eak Zildjian Dark Crash CymbalSabian 20" Hand Hammered Jazz Ride, Good Used Condition, Free Global ShippingAvedis Zildjian A 18/45cm Medium Thin Crash Cymbal13" Zildjian Avedis Mastersound Hi-hat Cymbals Super Crisp Hats13" Paiste Sound Formula Medium Heavy Hi-hat Cymbals Super Sweet HatsZildjian K Dark Thin 17" Crash Cymbal22" Vintage Zildjian Thin Ride Cymbal - Rare 60's 2597 GramsPaiste 20" Sound Creation Bright Ride, Good Used Condition, Free Global ShippingNew 13" Saluda Symbolic Jazz B20 Hand Hammered Hats CymbalsZildjian A 16" Medium Crash CymbalZildjian 22" K Ride Cymbal Nice DrumZildjian 18" Medium Thin Crash Cymbal No Reserve Sabian Neil Peart Paragon China Cymbal*19 Inch*np1916n*no Reserve*19" Zildjian K China Cymbal - Beautiful SoundLot Of 10 Mismatched Hi-hat Cymbals(zildjian Amir Hihats) Drums Vintage WowPaiste Signature Traditionals 22" Extra Light Ride Nr22 Inch K Zildjian Istanbul Ride - Old And Nice! Old Stamp.Paiste Signature 14" Fast Crash Cymbal 21" Bosphorus Masters Thin Flat Ride Cymbal - A Beauty - Turkish B20 1930gPaiste Signature 18" Fast Crash CymbalK Zildjian 10-inch Splash CymbalSabian 18" Cymbal Prototype Crash Ride Jazz Rock Rare Drum Set Kit No ReserveZildjian K 19" Dark Thin Crash, New, Unused, Free Global ShippingOld Stamp Istanbul K Medium Ride Vintage Zildjian 20" 2415g21" Zildjian Avedis Sweet Ride Cymbal - Solid BellVintage 1970’s Avedis Zildian 22” Ride Cymbal Thin Stamp Turkish CymbalNew 14" Saluda Symbolic Jazz B20 Hand Hammered Hats CymbalsSabian Xs20 Set: Hihats, Crash, Crash /ride Cymbals 13" 14" 18"Paiste Pst-5 Series 14" Thin Crash Cymbal - UsedK Zildjian 20” Light Flat Ride18" Zildjian A Custom Crash Cymbal - Excellent Condition14" Meinl Classics Custom Medium Hi-hat Cymbals Super Crisp HatsZildjian Z Custom Rock 19"/48cm Crash Cymbal Niiiiiiice!! No Reserve!!Paiste 20” 2002 Novo ChinaVintage K- Zildjian Hi-hat Cymbal Set, Trademark, 1940's, 1950's Excellent!Zildjian K Custom Dark 16" Crash CymbalZildjian A Custom Projection 20" RidecymbalSabian Neil Peart Paragon China Cymbal*20 Inch*np2016n*no Reserve*2 Paiste Crash Cymbals / 16" 2002 / 17" Signature ModsNew 12" Saluda Glory Hand Hammered Reverse China Cymbal13" Paiste 302 Hi-hat Cymbals Set Of Hats (top And Bottom)18" Zildjian Pitch Black China CymbalIstanbul Agop 24" Special Edition Jazz Ride NrK Zildjian & Cie Constantinople 14.5" Signed With Super Rare Paper Label 1920sZildjian A New Beat 14" Hi-hat CymbalZildjian 14" Hi Hat Cymbals - Set Of TwoBrand New 20" Bettis Thin Ride Cymbal. Dark Istanbul Old K Vintage Craftsmanship10" Sabian Aax Thin Splash CymbalPaiste 18” Rude ChinaPaiste Giant Beat 24" "multi" Ride CymbalZildjian A Custom Projection Ride Cymbal 20"/51cm20" Zildjian Zbt Rock Ride Cymbal12" Saluda Decadence China Blast Splash - New CymbalBrand New Zildjian K Constantinople 14" Hi HatsPaiste 302 Series 18" Crash Ride Cymbal - UsedZildjian 21" A Sweet RideBrand New Zildjian K Constantinople 19" Crash Ride