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 Gen16 Ae Cymbals 5 Cymbal Box Set No ReserveVintage Zildjian 20" K Istanbul Ride! Approx 2070g!Rare Paiste Signature Etched 22" Light Ride! Jazz Thin!Paiste '74 14" 2002 Sound-edge Hi-hat Cymbals Black Label No Reserve!Paiste 22" Signature Blue Bell Ride Cymbal No Cracks Stewart Copeland Series20" Zildjian K Custom Dark Ride #1Paiste Signature 20" Dry Crisp Ride - 2330 Grams - Excellent - RareAvedis A Zildjian 16" Inch Medium Crash CymbalZildjian A Custom 17" Medium Crash - No Reserve!Avedis A Zildjian 18" Inch Medium Crash CymbalZildjian K 19 " Custom Hybrid Crash Cymbal Vintage 60s A Zildjian 14in Hi Hat Cymbals Nr NiceRoland Td-20 Module With Tdw-20 Expansion Board20" Zildjian K Custom Dark Ride #2Gorgeous Sabian 22" Artisan Medium Ride - Factory Seleced - No Reserve -Zildjian K Custom Dark 16" CrashcymbalIstanbul Agop Traditional 19" Crash Cymbal 1711 GramsIstanbul Mehmet 70's Nostalgia 22" Ride 2313 GramsZildjian A Master Sound 13" Hi-hat Cymbal- Top & BottomIstanbul Agop Traditional 22" Ride Cymbal 3270 GramsRare!!! Paiste Formula 602 22" Thin CrashZildjian A Custom Projection 16" CrashcymbalPaiste Masters 20 In Crash Ride Used Mint Wonderful!!!!!!!Paiste 18" Signature Full Crash Cymbal Excellent Condition No Cracks, Light UseVintage Zildjian Avedis 14" Hi-hat CymbalsDream Cymbals Energy Series 14" Hi-hatsMeinl Byzance Vintage Series Sand Cymbal Set Benny Greb With Trash CrashBrand New 22" Bettis Thin Ride Cymbal. Dark Istanbul Old K Vintage CraftsmanshipSabian 18in Ed Thigpen Crystal Ride Cymbal Hand Hammered BinVintage Avedis Zildjian New Beat 14" Hi-hat Cymbals 70's Hollow Logo No Reserve!Zildjian Custom Crash 18" CymbalSabian Iso Crash Cymbal 18" Aax/perfect New Condition//mint Condition/no ReserveSabian Paragon 16" CrashcymbalZildjian 22" A Series Medium Heavy Ride Cymbal (brilliant Finish)Sabian Hhx Legacy Crash 17Ludwig 10" GongIstanbul Mehmet Nostalgia 15" Hi Hat Hats CymbalsZildjian Avedis, A, 18"/45cm Rock Crash Cymbal Excellent ConditionAvedis Zildjian Platinum Medium Thin Crash 16" Paiste Twenty Masters Collection Ride 21"Brand New Meinl Byzance Sand 18in 18" Vintage B18satc Thin Crash CymbalZildjian A Custom 18'' Crash Cymbal Brilliant Excellent!Zildjian Gen 16 Controller Module - No ReserveAvedis Zildjian A Series 14" Inch Rock Hi Hat Cymbals (hi/high/hihat)Zildjian Avedis 17" Medium CrashPaiste Twenty 22" Ride. Imaculate ConditionBrand New Meinl Byzance Sand 20in 20" B20sar Ride CymbalPaiste 2002 Ride 24"Meinl Byzance Traditional Medium Crash Cymbal 16 In *made In Turkey* Murat Diril18" Sabian Hhx Power Crash (solid Condition) CymbalSabian Paragon Neil Peart 14" Hi-hatsZildjian 14" New Beat Cymbals (pair) Top And BottomZildjian K 14in 14" Hihat Hi Hat PairSabian Aax Ozone Crash Cymbal 20"Zildjian K 20" Crash Ride CymbalPaiste 2002 Black Label 18" Crash Cymbal Zildjian A Custom 20'' Ride Cymbal Brilliant Excellent!Paiste Masters 22" Dark RideZildjian K Custom Dark 17" CrashcymbalSabian 5 Set B8 Cymbals + 12" Wuhan China