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What Are Cymbals Made Of?

Table of Content

Cymbals are an essential component of a drum set and are responsible for adding the distinctive shimmering and crashing sounds to music. They are percussion instruments made of metal alloys, and their composition greatly affects their sound characteristics. In this article, we will explore the different materials used to make cymbals and how they contribute to the overall sound.

cymbal (12)

Introduction

Cymbals have been used in music for centuries and have evolved in terms of materials and manufacturing techniques. Understanding the composition of cymbals is crucial for drummers and musicians who seek to achieve a specific sound or tone.

What Are Cymbals?

Cymbals are concave, round plates made of metal alloys that produce sound when struck. They are typically mounted on stands and are played by hitting them with drumsticks, mallets, or brushes. Cymbals come in various sizes and types, including crash cymbals, ride cymbals, hi-hats, and splash cymbals, each serving a different purpose in a drum set.

Traditional Cymbal Materials

Historically, cymbals were primarily made of bronze, brass, or other copper-based alloys. Here are some of the traditional cymbal materials:

Bronze

Bronze is one of the most common materials used in cymbal manufacturing. It is an alloy composed mainly of copper and tin. The most popular bronze alloy used for cymbals is known as B20, which consists of 80% copper and 20% tin. B20 bronze cymbals are favored for their rich, warm, and versatile sound.

B20 Alloy

The B20 alloy is highly regarded in the cymbal industry for its excellent sonic qualities. It offers a balance of warmth, complexity, and projection. B20 cymbals are often handcrafted and are preferred by professional drummers for their nuanced and expressive sound.

B8 Alloy

Cymbals made from the B8 alloy are more affordable and commonly found in entry-level or intermediate drum sets. This alloy is composed of 92% copper and 8% tin, resulting in brighter and more focused sound characteristics.

Brass

Brass cymbals are made primarily from copper and zinc alloys. They are known for their bright and piercing sound. Brass cymbals are generally cheaper than bronze cymbals but are considered less desirable in terms of tonal quality.

Modern Cymbal Materials

In recent years, cymbal manufacturers have introduced new materials to expand the tonal options available to drummers. Here are some modern cymbal materials commonly used today:

B20 Bronze

B20 bronze, mentioned earlier, continues to be the gold standard in cymbal manufacturing. It offers a wide range of tonal possibilities, allowing drummers to find their desired sound across various music genres. B20 bronze cymbals are often hand-hammered and lathed to enhance their complexity and responsiveness.

B8 Bronze

B8 bronze, also known as “budget bronze,” is a more affordable alternative to B20. Cymbals made from B8 bronze are often machine-made and cater to drummers on a tighter budget. They provide a bright and cutting sound but may lack the complexity and subtlety of higher-end cymbals.

Nickel-Silver

Nickel-silver cymbals are made from a copper, zinc, and nickel alloy. They offer a unique sound that combines the brightness of brass with some of the warmth of bronze. Nickel-silver cymbals are often favored by jazz drummers for their crisp articulation and controlled wash.

Sheet Bronze

Sheet bronze cymbals are made by cutting and shaping a sheet of bronze alloy. They are typically less expensive than cast cymbals but can still deliver a pleasing sound. Sheet bronze cymbals are popular among beginner drummers or those looking for affordable options.

Cymbal Manufacturing Process

The manufacturing process plays a crucial role in shaping the sound and characteristics of cymbals. Here are the primary steps involved in making cymbals:

Casting

Casting is the initial step in cymbal production, where molten metal is poured into molds to form the basic shape of the cymbal. The choice of alloy and the casting method used can significantly impact the resulting sound.

Rolling

After casting, the cymbal blanks are rolled to thin them out and shape them further. Rolling helps refine the thickness and profile of the cymbals, affecting their responsiveness and tonal qualities.

Hammering

Hammering is a crucial step that determines the overall sound complexity of the cymbals. Skilled craftsmen use hammers to strike the cymbal blanks, creating a series of indentations that shape the cymbal’s profile and lathing patterns.

Lathing

Lathing involves spinning the cymbal while a lathe removes excess metal, creating a smooth surface and refining the cymbal’s profile. Different lathing patterns and depths can further influence the sound characteristics, such as stick definition and wash.

Sound Characteristics of Different Cymbal Materials

drumstick striking on wet cymbal.

The choice of cymbal material greatly affects its sound characteristics. Here are some general tendencies associated with different materials:

  • B20 bronze cymbals: Warm, rich, and versatile with complex overtones.
  • B8 bronze cymbals: Bright, focused, and cutting with quicker decay.
  • Brass cymbals: Bright, piercing, and relatively one-dimensional.
  • Nickel-silver cymbals: Crisp, controlled, and balanced between brightness and warmth.
  • Sheet bronze cymbals: Varied sound characteristics depending on thickness and manufacturing technique, often more affordable with a balanced sound.

Cymbal Care and Maintenance

To ensure the longevity and optimal performance of cymbals, proper care and maintenance are essential. Here are some tips to keep in mind:

  • Clean cymbals regularly using appropriate cymbal cleaners to remove dirt, fingerprints, and oxidation.
  • Avoid using abrasive materials or harsh chemicals that can damage the cymbal’s finish.
  • Store cymbals in a padded cymbal bag or case to protect them from scratches and dents.
  • Use felt or rubber pads when mounting cymbals to minimize metal-on-metal contact.
  • Be mindful of striking cymbals too hard, as excessive force can lead to cracks or other damage.

Conclusion

Cymbals are made of various metal alloys, each offering unique sound characteristics. The choice of cymbal material, such as bronze, brass, or nickel-silver, significantly affects the tone, complexity, and projection of the cymbals. Understanding the different materials and their sonic qualities can help drummers and musicians select the right cymbals to achieve their desired sound.

Are all cymbals made of metal?

Yes, cymbals are typically made of metal alloys, such as bronze or brass.

Can cymbals be made of other materials besides metal?

While metal alloys are the most common, there have been experiments with cymbals made of non-metallic materials like carbon fiber or synthetic compounds, but they are not widely used.

What is the best cymbal material for rock music?

B20 bronze cymbals are often favored in rock music due to their versatility and ability to cut through loud and energetic music.

How often should I clean my cymbals?

It’s recommended to clean cymbals regularly, especially after each use, to remove dirt and maintain their appearance and sound quality.

Can I mix different cymbal materials in my drum set?

Yes, many drummers mix different cymbal materials to create a diverse and balanced sound palette. Experimenting with different combinations can lead to unique and personalized tones.

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