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    

Meinl Byzance Dark 14" Spectrum Hi Hat Cymbal Pair Used See PicturesPaiste Signature Dark Energy Mark I 19" Crashcymbal No Re$erve!!Avedis Zildjian A Thin Crash 16" Made In UsaSabian Hh Medium Thin Crash 16" 838 Grams Used Cymbals For Drums Why Pay 2691960s K Zildjian Instanbul 20" Ride 1841g Cymbal Traditional Turkish Ks Vintage Meinl Byzance Vintage 20" Sand Ride Cymbal - Used See Pictures - B20sarZildjian A Series 21" Sweet Ride Cymbal - No ReserveMeinl Byzance Jazz 20" Extra Thin Ride Cymbal - Great Condition Used B20jetrSabian Aax - Freq Crash - 18" - 45 Cm - Drum CymbalSabian Hhx Evolution 18" Ozone CrashMeinl Byzance 20" Vintage Crash Cymbal - B16vc - Used Demo Model See PicturesMeinl Byzance Brilliant 14" Fast Hi-hat Cymbal Pair, Used Demo B14fh-b See PicsMeinl Generation X 12"/14" Trash Hi Hat Cymbal Pair Used - Gx1214th See Pictures1960s K Zildjian Instanbul 20" Ride 2082g Cymbal Traditional Turkish Ks CleanZildjian Rare Vintage K Istanbul 14" Hi Hat Cymbals Video/audio For Drums Hot !!Meinl Byzance Traditional 20" Ping Ride Cymbal - Used Demo Model See PicturesSabian Paragon 22" Ride Cymbal Amazing 3833 Gr Cymbal For Drums Used Nr Meinl Soundcaster Fusion 14" Medium Hi-hat Cymbal - Used - Trade Show ModelZildjian K Mastersound Hi Hats 14" Awesome!!!Sabian Hhx 18" Suspended Crash Cymbal - Natural - 11823xn - UsedPaiste Drum Cymbal 3000 Power Crash 18"Vintage Avedis Zildjian Co "new Beat" Hi-hat Cymbals 14" Turkish Cymbal VintageMeinl Byzance Brilliant 16" Medium Crash Cymbal - Used Demo - Video B16mc-bPaiste 2002 20" Medium Crash Cymbal 1061520 - Used Demo StockZildjian Z Custom Rock 16" Crash CymbalMeinl Cymbals Byzance 20-inch Vintage Crash Cymbal - 20"New 24" Bettis Medium-thin Ride Cymbal. Dark Zildjian Old K Istanbul B20 Bronze.Zildjian 22 Inch K Ride Cymbal24" Vintage Avedis Zildjian Ride Cymbal Paiste 404 Medium Hi-hat 14"New 22" Bettis Medium Ride Cymbal. Dark Zildjian Old K Istanbul B20 Formula.Bosphorus Master 22" 1934 Gram Thin Ride CymbalPaiste 18" Giant Beat Thin Crash Cymbal - Used - 1011218Zildjian Gen16 Buffed Bronze 20" Acoustic/electric Cymbal Used See PicturesSabian Custom Shop 16" Artisan Vault Crash New See PicturesZildjian A Custom 17" Crash CymbalUnheard Of 50s 24" Zildjian 2660gZildjian 22" K Heavy Ride Meinl Generation X 19" China Crash Cymbal - Used - Gx19chcbSabian Hh Hand Hammered Dark Brilliant Finish 17" Crash Cymbal - See DescriptionSabian 16" Aaxplosion Aax Crash Cymbal Meinl Soundcaster Custom 20" China Cymbal Sc20chb - Used See PicturesAvedis Zildjian A Custom Crash 18" CymbalAbsolutely Superb Vintage 2004 Avedis Zildjian "a" Custom 8" Splash Cymbal 158 GZildjian Kerope 14" Hi Hat Cymbals - Beautiful Tone!Zildjian K Custom Hybrid Crash 19" 1702 Grams (s07021200)Sabian Aax - Stage Hi Hats - 14"/36 Cm - Drum Cymbals1960s A. Zildjian A 16" Crash Cymbal 997 Grams Clean Vintage Paiste 19" Signature Full Crash No Re$erve!!Sabian Hh Hand Hammered Medium Hi Hats 14" Cymbals BrilliantPaiste Signature Traditionals 20'' Etched Medium RideMeinl Mb10 19" China Cymbal - Uber Durable Metal Ride China - Loud! Mb10-19ch-bPaiste 14'' Signature Series Dark Crisp Hi-hats Hihats No Re$erve!!Zildjian 17" Medium Thin Crash Cymbal.Sabian Aax Stage 21" Ride CymbalMeinl Mb8 17" Medium Crash Cymbal, Used Mb8-17mc-b Trade Show Used See PicturesMeinl Classics Custom 22" Powerful Ride Cymbal - Used Trade Show Cc22pr-bMeinl Soundcaster Fusion 13" Medium Hi-hat Cymbal - Used - Trade Show ModelZildjian 21" A Sweet Ride Cymbal . Great Sound!)Zildjian Drum Cymbal Mega Bell Ride 21"