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 18" K Custom Dark Crash Cymbal Meinl Concept 22" Ride Byzance Overhammered Style Custom One Of A Kind CymbalZildjian 16" K Dark Thin Crash Cymbal Meinl Soundcaster Fusion 20” Powerful Crash Cymbal - Used, See Pictures Sf20pcZildjian 18" K Efx Effects Crash Trash Cymbal Zildjian 20" K Custom Medium Ride Cymbal Zildjian A Custom 17" / 43cm Crash CymbalNew 22" Bettis Paper Thin Ride Cymbal. Dark Zildjian Old K Istanbul B20 Bronze.Zildjian 16" K Dark Crash Medium Thin Cymbal Bosphorus 24” Vintage Masters Jazz Ride Cymbal/ 2495grZildjian L80 Low Volume Cymbal Set...14"hh, 16" Cr, 18" Cr/r...newPaiste Signature Series 14" Precision Heavy Hi-hat Cymbal Pair - New 4103414New 24" Bettis Medium-thin Ride Cymbal. Dark Zildjian Old K Istanbul B20 BronzeNew 20" Bettis Medium-thin Ride Cymbal. Dark Zildjian Old K Istanbul B20 Bronze.Paiste Signature Fast 17" Crash CymbalZildjian Avedis A Custom 18" Crash Cymbal - Usa Made - 18 InchSabian Aax 16" X-plosion Crash CymbalZildjian K Constantinople 18" CrashSemi-vintage Zildjian Avedis 18" Rock Crash-excellent Condition!Zildjian Wuhan Cymbals Zil-bel Efx China TambourineWuhan 15" Crash Cymbal Wucr15 Used Medium Weight Sabian Aax 18" X-plosion Crash CymbalZildjian A 21" Rock Ride Cymbal Made In UsaBosphorus Traditional 16" Thin CrashcymbalSabion B8x Cymbals (high Hats, Crash Set)Meinl Byzance Traditional 16" Medium CrashMeinl 15 Inch Byzance Dual Hi-hat Cymbals Extra DryZildjian K Constantinople 16" CrashSabian B8 Complete Set Cymbal Pack - 20 Ride, 18, 16, 14 Crash, 14 HatsSabian Aax 21" Raw Bell Dry Ride CymbalZildjian 14" Avedis Quick Beat Bottom Hi Hat Cymbal Zildjian Avedis 14" Hi Hat Cymbal SetVintage 1979 Avedis Zildjian & Co. 20" Crash / Ride Cymbal 2241 Grams!Zildjian K 18" Constantinople Vintage Med Heavy Cymbal Pair K1122Meinl Byzance Brilliant 13” Medium Hihat Cymbals Pair - Barely UsedVintage 1953 Zildjian 20" Ride Cymbal 20 50's 50sZildjian 18" Med Thin Crash CymbalZildjian Efx Cymbal PackSabian Aax 20" 'heavy' Metal Ride Cymbal! Good Used Condition! No Reserve!Set Of Sabian 14" Flat Ahat Hi-hat Cymbals - Made In CanadaMeinl Byzance Extra Dry 18" Dual Crash Cymbal - B18duc - Barely UsedPaiste 505 15" Green Label Heavy Hi Hat Cymbals14" Zildjian Zbt Hi Hat Set Top And BottomPaiste Sound Creation 20" Dark Ride Cymbal Vintage Zildjian K Constantinople 20" Flat Ride Byzance 20" Jazz Sweet Ride, B20jsr Meinl Cymbal, Pro Vintage SoundPaiste 20" Alpha Metal Ride Cymbal Excellent Condition No Reserve!Meinl Byzance Vintage 16” Trash Crash Cymbal - Used B16trcZildjian A 18" Medium Thin Crash Cymbal Zildjian CymbalsZildjian CymbalsMeinl Classics Custom 14" Medium Hihats Top & Bottom CymbalsSabian 16" Aa Thin Crash CymbalSabian 12" Thin Hi-hat Cymbals, Jazz Band StyleVintage Avedis Zildjian 15" Crash Cymbal 1939-1955 Trans StampZildjian 19" Kerope Crash Cymbal - Kp19c - 1628g Dark Classic American Sound20" Sabian Hhx Legacy RideMeinl Byzance 22" Tradition Flat RideByzance 22" Dark Stadium Ride Cymbal, Raw Dark Complex Rich SoundZildjian A Series 14" New Beat Hi-hat Cymbal Pair - New - A0133