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Cymbal Anatomy & Characteristics 101

Welcome to the wonderful world of cymbals!  In order to help you select the right cymbal, you must know what affects the sounds of cymbals.  Note that the exact science is far more complicated than I can understand and it varies among the different master cymbalsmiths in the world.  However, the following information will help you hone in on certain sound characteristics that you seek.  Each variable interacts with other variables in a variety of ways, hence the huge variety of cymbal designs available.  Therefore, when I compare characteristics, I’m referring to two cymbals who are otherwise exactly alike except for the variable in question, (i.e., the Latin phrase “ceteris parabus” meaning “all other things held constant”).

The source of this information comes from what I’ve learned over the years from:  1) various internet discussion forums such as Cymbalholic; 2) the Cymbal Book (link)  by Hugo Pinksterboer, which is considered the authoritative work on this subject; and 3) my personal experience with cymbals in general, and these Constantine Cymbals in particular.  I’ve done my best to capture this information accurately, but due to the complexities of metallurgy and the unique approaches of cymbalsmiths, these observations may not always apply in every circumstance. 

Size:  The most obvious variable to consider is the size of the cymbal.  The larger the cymbal the deeper the tone/pitch.  Consider the type of music you play and environment.  Higher pitched cymbals tend to be easier to hear and may appear to be louder than larger cymbals due to the presence of the higher frequencies.  However, larger cymbals move more air and would be louder. 

Alloy:  All Constantine Cymbals are made from “B20” bronze, sometimes called “bell bronze”.  B20 consists of 80% copper, 20% tin (where the 20 comes from) and a few other trace elements that are held secret by the cymbalsmiths.  B20 is known for its warmth and relative ease to work with.  B20 is considered to be the highest caliber alloy, but many cymbal makers create wonderful cymbals using alloys with lower tin content, such as Paiste’s 2002 line made of B8 (8% tin).  The higher tin content makes the cymbal warmer, but there’s a limit to the amount of tin in the alloy before the cymbal is too difficult to work with.  The process of melting and combining the metals, taking the solid ingots and pressing them into a crude disk, tempering the metal, and preparing the cymbal for final hammering and lathing is a complex process (and varies between makers) that I won’t cover.  (UPDATE:  In 2024 Constantine Cymbals will also have a limited number of B25 alloy cymbals to create an even darker palette to choose from!  Keep an eye out on this website and our social media pages for updates!  Also join our email distribution list!)  

Profile/Bow:  The profile is the shape of the cymbal from the side (or cross-section view).  How high does it rise up off of the table it’s lying on?  The higher the profile, the louder and more prominent the sound.  Lower profile more subdued.  Flat cymbals are comparatively very quiet.  Related to the profile/bow is the taper of the cymbal which is the difference in thickness from the upper bow to the edge. A gradual taper will help the cymbal respond and decay faster, and little or no taper will take longer to respond and decay. 

Bell/Cup:  The shape/size of the bell is very important.  The bell is a kind of amplifier for the cymbal.  A larger bell will be louder, respond faster, and have more overtones than a smaller bell.  Many drummers want a strong bell sound when striking the bell.  Others want the characteristics of the smaller bell and have a much more subdued and non-bell-like sound. 

Hammering:  Once a cymbal is trimmed to the set size, the metal goes through various hammering processes.  Many cymbals are hammered by hand by experienced cymbalsmiths, and others use a machine guided by a person.  Constantine cymbals are hammered entirely by hand.  This allows minor variations in the force and location of strikes compared to machines, which helps each cymbal be a unique creation.  The hammering serves to not only affect the surface tension (which affects the amount of wobble the cymbal has when struck) but it greatly affects the sound by disrupting sound waves as they course through the metal.  For many Constantine cymbal series, the hammering is clearly visible on the finished product.  The combination of large, small, and/or concentrations of hammering disrupts the sound waves traversing through the metal.  This creates “texture” to the wash.  Hammering can be smoothed out during Lathing (see below).  Hammering can also occur at different points during several cycles of heating, tempering, and lathing.  Constantine Cymbals with extensive hammering visible include the Blaze Series, Experience Jazz Series, Galaxy Series, Turkmaster Series (concentrated pockets of extreme hammering) and World Series.

 

Left:  Galaxy Series with Large and deep hammer marks.

 

Right:  Close-up of a large concentration of hammering on a Turkmaster Series. 

Lathing:  Once the cymbal is hammered, the lathing process begins.  At this point the cymbal still looks like a burned pizza.  This “crust” can vary in appearance due to the variety of heating, tempering and other preparatory work that occurs.  Lathing the crust allows the cymbal to open up and effects the texture of the wash.  If left alone, unlathed cymbals are very “dry” (subdued wash, short sustain) compared to lathed cymbals.  Lathing can be fine point, standard, point, or large point all with various degrees of concentration of the lathing.  Fine point lathing tends to be very concentrated and creates a warm “buttery” sound.  Standard lathing creates a bit of texture but not too complex.  Historically most cymbals use a standard lathing.  Fine point is very popular now for “modern” sounds.  Large point lathing looks scraggly and can leave a degree of crust behind.  Larger and less concentrated lathing darkens the texture by providing a degree of disruption in the sound waves.  Using a variety of lathing, and even leaving portions of the cymbal unlathed allow these characteristics to work with each other to create unique sounds.  Constantine offers a variety of lathing techniques including the Natural Raw Series (unlathed), Perfect Series (raw bell, raw stripe in the bow), Relax Series (Raw bell and upper bow, standard lathed edge) Big Master (raw bell, fine lathe and polished).

Unlathed Natural Raw Series, Partially raw Relax Series, and closeup of wide lathing on the under side of the Black Pearl Series. 

 

Weight:  The weight of the cymbal allows you to have a comparison point between two like cymbals.  A heavier one will have a higher pitched attack (strike) and wash, as well as slower response and decay as there is more metal to move.  In the cymbal world the weights are measured in grams, and boutique cymbal makers like Constantine Cymbals note the weight in grams in sharpie under the bell.  Constantine Cymbals come in virtually any weight you wish. 

Other Considerations

China” cymbals have bent outer edges that greatly disturb the sound waves.  Some companies even make unusual bell designs.  These cymbals are extremely “trashy” and are popular effects cymbals.  Constantine can make China cymbals in any Series, in standard or “reverse” configurations.  We also make a variant called the "Pang" cymbal which is less harsh but still has tons of character.  

Holes drilled through the cymbal are very popular.  Holes also greatly change the sound waves and paired with a lighter cymbal and disrupted sound waves, they can sound trashy and more airy. Constantine offers two types of drilling configurations:  Standard FX ( large holes equally spaced around the cymbal, or “Senfonic” style where smaller holes radiate out from the bell to the edge, equally spaced outward and around the cymbal.  We can even drill holes into hi-hats, chinas, splashes, etc. 

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Black Pearl Series (unlathed center with unique fired texture) with "Senfonic" style holes.

FX Series hole pattern

World Series China cymbal.  

 

Sticks:  I would be remiss if I didn’t mention that the type of stick used as well as the players’ technique greatly affect the sound.  The more surface area of the bead of the stick will give a more prominent attack, and can affect the amount and type of overtones produced.  Constantine cymbal demo videos use 2 different sticks.  One stick is usually a standard 5A stick, and the other a lighter smaller bead stick such as a 7A. Keen ears will hear the difference so you’ll have a better idea of what your preferred stick will produce.

Summary:  This handy chart is from the Cymbal Book and is credited to a chart from Zildjian.  

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