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    

Rare Unique & Vintage Early Zildjian K Constantinople Turkish 13" Hi-hat Cymbal Crystal Clear 1965 Avedis Zildjian & Co. 20" Medium Ride Cymbal 2371 Grams!Crisp! Explosive! Vintage 1999 Zildjian A Custom 18" Projection Crash Cymbal New 15" Bettis Hi-hat Cymbals. Dark Zildjian Old K Istanbul B20 Bronze Formula.Vg++ '59-1966 K Zildjian Istanbul 18" Crash/ride Cymbal18” Zildjian K Thin Crash Cymbal 1338g Zildjian A 21" Sweet Ride CymbalVintage Zildjian A Avedis16" Medium Heavy CrashMeinl Byzance Extra Dry Thin Crash 20" - Barely UsedNew 21" Bettis Medium Ride Cymbal. Dark Zildjian Old K Istanbul B20 Formula.18" Paiste Pst7 Thin Crash Cymbal - Mint ConditionNew 20" Bettis Thin Ride Cymbal. Dark Zildjian Old K Istanbul B20 Bronze FormulaNew 18" Bettis Thin Ride Cymbal. Dark Zildjian Old K Istanbul B20 Bronze FormulaVintage 19” Avedis Zildjian Crash/ride Drum Cymbal 1736 Gram Ex! No ReserveSabian Effeks 17" Crash Cymbal Dave Weckl Signature Series No ReserveZildjian A 18" Medium Thin Crash CymbalSabian Synergy Heavy 21' Inch Hhx Ride CymbalZildjian Zht 18" Fast CrashVintage Zildjian 20" Ride Cymbal18" Zildjian K Custom Hybrid Crash Cymbal - Sweet ConditionBeautifully Preserved 1999 Zildjian Pair 14" A Custom Projection Hi-hats!!Meinl Byzance Vintage Crash 20" - Barely UsedNew 24" Bettis Medium-heavy Ride Cymbal. Dark Zildjian Old K Istanbul B20 BronzePaiste 18" Fast Crash Cymbal*no ReserveRazor Sharp Vintage 1965 Avedis Zildjian & Co. 16" Thin Crash Cymbal 1025 Grams!Sabian Portnoy Max Stax 8" High China Kang Splash CymbalPaiste 2002 18" Classic Crash CymbalZildjian Custom Crash 18" Crash Cymbal *look* PercussionVintage & Rare Boosey & Hawkes Edgware Krut 13" Hi-hat Cymbals Pair From 1960'sZildjian Heavy Gong Mallet #p0550 Mint 18" Length Black Yarn No ReserveZildjian K 24” Light Ride Cymbal20" Paiste Signature Heavy China Monster Cutting Power Rude Raw Novo Swiss20" Zildjian A Custom Medium Ride Cymbal - Great Bell 2015Paiste 2002 Big Beat 19" Crash / Ride Cymbal16" Zildjian Vintage Thin Crash Cymbal & Pearl Stand Excellent Sound N/rZildjian K Custom Dry 20" Ride Cymbal Hammered 2449 GramsVintage Sabian 16” Hand-hammered Medium Thin Crash – Early 1980’sPaiste Signature 17" Fast Crash Cymbal ...beautiful But With A 5/16" Edge CrackVintage 1960's Zildjian 14" Hi Hat Bottom Cymbal- 1257 Grams-3 Dot Stamp!Zildjian 8 Pc Cymbal Set In CaseMeinl 14" Byzance Benny Greb Signature Sand Hi-hat Cymbals*no Reserve20" K Zildjian Kerope 2022 GramsZildjian 18" K Dark Crash Cymbal16” Zildjian K Custom Session Crash Excellent Condition! 1103gSabian Hhx Evolution 18" Crash Cymbal *cleaned*Avedis Zildjian A Series 18" Crash Ride With 6 Rivets 1578g 70's - No ReserveFrosted Quartz Crystal Singing Bowl 13" Perfect Pitch- Chakra Healing No ReservePaiste Signature 18” Full Crash -- Mint Condition Zildjian 18 Inch K Custom Session CrashPaiste Signature 16" Full Crash Cymbal*no ReserveSabian Hhx 20" Studio RideZildjian A 17" Thin Crash Cymbal3 Zildjian Cymbals Planet Z 14 Inch Hi Hat , 16 Inch Crash, 20 Inch RideZildjian 20" Rock Ride Drum Cymbal Excellent ConditionZildjian A Custom 18" CrashcymbalZildjian Avedis Genuine Turkish Cymbals Usa 15" Hi-hat Pair Sabian B8 14" Hi-hat Cymbals (pair) - No Reserve!Paiste 2002 14” Sound Edge 1045g Red Vintage Hi-hat Bottom CymbalSabian Hhx Legacy Heavy 22" RidecymbalSabian 20"hhx Ozone Crash Cymbal