Are You Paying Too Much For Your Cymbals
Cymbals are one of those items that can quickly rack up in cost in your life as a drummer. These little pieces of metal can range between 50 bucks to 500 bucks, and the worst part is that you can’t just be done with a single piece; you minimally need a set of 3 to start (hi-hats, crash and ride), and the possibilities are limitless. Today we explore the contributing factors to why cymbals are so expensive, what contributes to their costs, and are they worth the price?
Factors contributing to price
Seemingly a fairly straightforward product, the journey of making a cymbal seems to be a highly replicable and automated process. You can easily imagine big factory lines producing these cymbals in quantum of thousands of pieces per day, costing a couple of dollars to produce. From there, all you need is to pump up the marketing and branding and charge exorbitant prices for these “pieces of metal.”
Nothing can be further from the truth.
As with most quality products in the market, the cost does not often derive solely from its material cost or the brand’s size. There are many more factors to consider when factoring in the costs of cymbals. Some costs, for example, include
Research and Development, Marketing
Creating products that lead the market and are accepted by professional musicians is no easy feat. Most of the cost often goes to research and development, where the manufacturer might spend and waste thousands of pieces of cymbals to create the one perfect sound.
You will also realize that different brands often have their defining sound due to these research and development efforts.
The research and development process is always ongoing as artists continually develop and create new sounds and styles. One of the more popular research and development arm is called Zildjian Sound Lab, where they explore and develop together with different artists, different shapes and textures that help to create unique sounds.
The process of manufacturing a cymbal can be broken down into three main categories – casting, hammering, and finishing. A cymbal’s typical production time takes about 21 days and is very technical and tedious.
This is the stage where the cymbal gets formed into shape. A couple of factors affect the resulting sound and tonal of the qualities of the finished product and are perfectly balanced to get the ideal sound. Some of these factors include the size and thickness of the cymbal, the taper, the bell size, bell thickness, and so forth. These qualities can affect the pitch, the texture, and even the sustain of the cymbals.
As mentioned in our previous article, hammering affects the density of the cymbal, therefore altering the tonal quality. Cymbals are traditionally hammered by hand by master cymbal smiths. This crucial part of the cymbal-making process requires a lot of technique and experience to master. However, given technological advancements, certain companies have also managed to recreate a great sound through machine hammering. This significantly helps reduce costs while allowing them to achieve a great sound.
The finishing process does not only mean the packaging and logos but, most importantly, the cymbal’s texture, which will affect the sound as well. Traditionally, cymbals come with a lathed finish, but manufacturers have recently been exploring different techniques to create different tonal qualities.
Some notable finishes are – unlathed, sandblasted, semi-lathed, etc.
B8 vs B20
The next factor that affects the price are the materials used. The materials used for the cymbals can fall under two common categories, B8 and B20. These are broad guidelines of what they are, although you want to keep in mind that these are often the start of the alloys, and manufacturers often add their own “secret” ingredient to the mix.
Cymbals are made of bronze, and as we know, bronze is made from a mix of copper and tin. The term B8 or B20 describes the quantity of tin present in each copper alloy mix, and B8 represents an 8% tin presence, while B20 represents a 20% tin presence. The remaining materials are mainly copper, but companies often add their ingredients to the alloy. The B8 and B20 alloy is considered the industry standard.
The different companies also have different preferences in terms of alloys. Paiste and Meinl prefer B8 alloys, while Sabian and Zildjian primarily use B20 alloys in their high-end cymbals.
How to determine the value of a cymbal
Choosing a cymbal is a very personal and complex process; what sounds good to one drummer might not sound good to another. Although the process of deriving the price point of a cymbal is pretty complex, you should not let the price point affect your assessment of its sound. Before selecting cymbals, always have an idea of what sound is ideal for you, and then look for a cymbal that matches that description. This will ensure that you do not give in to trends, pricing strategies, or marketing gimmicks. Once you embark on this approach, you might find cymbals and brands that give a great sound at a fraction of the cost, or otherwise.
The process of creating cymbals, as is the process of selecting cymbals, are both complicated affairs. Reading more and looking at reviews is one way of increasing your knowledge and would help you in your journey to understand them better, but nothing beats a real-life experience. To truly understand these cymbals, we highly recommend you go down to your local drum store to try them out. Or simply pay more attention the next time you sit down on a drumset, and you might just find the sound that you are looking for.