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Old 12-10-2009, 10:35 AM
Der Trommler's Avatar
Der Trommler Der Trommler is offline
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Cymbal alloys explained

This is a very informative article about cymbal alloys I came across on Global Oneness (adapted from a piece on Wikipedia), and I thought it would be good information for our members to have.


Cymbal alloys

Cymbals are made from four main alloys, all of them copper-based. These are: Bell Bronze, Malleable Bronze, Brass and Nickel Silver.
See also bell, gong, cymbal making.

Cymbal alloys - Bell Bronze

Bell bronze, also known as bell metal, is the traditional alloy used for fine cymbals, many gongs and, as the name suggests, bells. It is normally stated to be one part tin to four parts copper, that is 20% tin, and this is still the most common formula. But there has always been some variation. Larger and smaller bells are cast with differing amounts of tin, and some bell, gong and cymbal makers use small but significant amounts of other elements, notably silver, gold and phosphorus.
Bell bronze is a two-phase alloy, meaning that some of the tin is not dissolved in the copper grains but exists between them. This makes the metal harder and more brittle than a single-phase alloy, and also affects the way the metal responds to hardening by hammering and lathing, and greatly restricts the use of mechanised techniques of manufacture.
One notable alloy in this group is Paiste Signature Alloy, the subject of patents in various countries. The US patent reveals that it is phosphor bronze shaped in hot and cold state pretty much like other bell bronze cymbals.
Major orchestras generally use bell bronze cymbals, which are capable of a greater dynamic range than any others.
Examples: Saluda Mist Brilliant, Saluda Mist Traditional, Saluda Mist Hybrid, Saluda Expressions, Saluda Voodoo, Anatolian, Bosphorous, Istanbul, Masterwork, Meinl Byzance and Marathon B18, Paiste Signature and Traditionals, Paiste 602 and some Exotic Percussion, Paiste Sound Creation and Sound Formula, Sabian HH and HHX, Sabian AA and AAX, most Sabian Signature, Spizzichino, Ufip, Wuhan, Zildjian A and A Custom, Zildjian K and K Custom, Zildjian Z Custom.

Cymbal alloys - Malleable Bronze

Malleable bronze is an alloy of tin and copper containing no more than 8% tin. It is a single-phase alloy and can be cold rolled into sheets, unlike bell bronze. It is readily available as commercial sheet metal in many grades and thicknesses. Being less sensitive than bell bronze, malleable bronze cymbals are easier for a beginner to play.
From the mid 20th century there were attempts to make top quality cymbals from malleable bronze, originally for reasons of economy. As the Paiste patent referred to above says:
Less than three decades ago experiments were carried out for economical considerations with a commercial common bronze sheet or plating containing 8 percent tin by weight. The result was that the old bronze rule was confirmed and proven to be correct. One had to realize that with careful working and processing of the cymbal it was possible to achieve considerable qualitative results with the bronze sheet or plating containing 8 percent by weight tin, but these results could never approach the results obtained with traditional cymbals having a tin content of 20 percent by weight.
Not everyone agrees with this unfavourable assessment, written well after the development of the very successful Paiste 2002 series. In particular, top-line malleable bronze cymbals proved exceptionally suitable for the louder music then developing. The best of them now approach and some claim equal the best bell bronze cymbals in quality.
Examples: Harpy H, Meinl One of a Kind, Meinl Custom and Amun, Meinl Lightning and Raker, Meinl Classics and some Generation X, Meinl Trooper and Cadet, Meinl Meteor, Orion Solo Pro and Solo Pro Master, Orion Viziuss, Paiste 2002 and Giant Beat, Paiste 802 and Alpha, Paiste 502 and some Exotic Percussion, Pearl Pro, Sabian B8 and B8 Pro, Sabian Pro Sonix, Saluda Glory, Zildjian ZXT and ZBT.

Cymbal alloys - Brass

Some of the finest traditional gongs and china-type cymbals, and nearly all zils, are made from brass.
However, most brass cymbals are toy or beginners' cymbals.
Many of the "show" cymbals provided by some drum kit manufacturers for use in shop window displays are also made from brass. These are typically very poor in tone, some even being simple disks of untreated metal and unplayable despite the reputable brand name they may bear.
The normal brass for cymbals is about 38% zinc in copper, which is very easily worked, readily available as sheet metal, and is easily the cheapest metal stock normally used for cymbals.
The tone of brass cymbals tends to be warm but dull compared to any sort of tin bronze, and very few drummers exploit it.
Examples: Harpy B, Meinl Marathon M38, Orion Twister, Paiste 302 and some Exotic Percussion, Pearl, Royal, nearly all zils of all makes.

Cymbal alloys - Nickel Silver

Nickel silver as used in cymbal making is an alloy of copper and nickel, and an alloy with about 12% nickel is used for some beginners' cymbals. A very few specialised high-quality cymbals are also made from nickel silver, as are some top-quality gongs tending to the more modern and exotic sounds.
Some maintain that the term nickel silver should only be used for alloys containing an appreciable content of zinc, and would call this cymbal alloy nickel bronze instead, but the use of the term nickel silver for all cymbal bronzes with nickel as the main alloying metal is well established.
Nickel silver is malleable and available as commercial sheet metal, and gives a bright tone but without the shimmer and sensitivity of tin bronzes. In the early to mid 20th century nickel alloy cymbals were far more widely produced and used, and so many older recordings were probably made using cymbals with a significant nickel content.
Examples: Some Foremost, Meinl Streamer and Marathon N12, Paiste 402 and some Exotic Percussion, Sabian Signature Glennies Garbage, Saluda SSX, some Zilco.

Cymbal alloys - Other Metals

Cymbals have also been made from silicon and aluminium bronzes but these alloys have not become generally popular.
Meinl FX9 is an alloy of 69% copper, 15% manganese, 15% zinc and 1% aluminium, and was used for the new Meinl Generation X line released in 2003. Previous Generation X models were made from malleable bronze. FX9 is described by Meinl as not being a bronze at all, and was previously described by their sales literature as containing tin rather than zinc. There is a minority view that the word "bronze" should be reserved for two-phase alloys, which may be their usage here.
The Saluda GH alloys were a series of four different alloys, all copper-based and composed of eleven elements in all. They are now all out of production. Saluda describe them as "flex bronze".
Unlike cymbals, some gongs are made from several different metals fused together. Many different metals have been used. Parts of some traditional gongs, notably the bosses of some "nipple" gongs, are made from iron based alloys.

Cymbal alloys - Secret Alloys

In past centuries the alloys used by some cymbal makers were closely guarded secrets. Modern chemical analysis has made this a thing of the past, but despite this some cymbal literature still makes such claims. There are still many secrets in cymbal making but the composition of the alloy is not one of them.

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Old 01-08-2010, 10:15 AM
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Re: Cymbal alloys explained

Originally Posted by Der Trommler View Post
This is a very informative article about cymbal alloys I came across on Global Oneness (adapted from a piece on Wikipedia), and I thought it would be good information for our members to have.
Your post mentions Gold as being one of the elements used in the mix of modern cymbal making.

Yet not one current contemporary cymbal manufacture uses Gold... You are however quite correct, because Gold was used by the Sufi 600 years ago to make their cymbals. This was a closely guarded secret... Mostly because of the fear of being robbed by dishonest non believers and foreign invaders.

Recently by pure good fortune, and a dash of good luck, was able to have the inscriptions from the under side of a 300 year old cymbal translated. Because no two Sufi cymbal was the same, they would engrave the alloy composition and % under the bell of the cymbal for future reference.

Yes, there was a high volume of Gold used, because it adds a huge amount of sustain to the sound. No nasty overtones, and a complete lack of jarring or uneven harmonics.

In short the sound was orgasmic, rich with shimmering overtones. Nothing like you would hear from any contemporary cymbal.

I am sworn to secrecy about it's exact location, all I can say is Konya Turkey.

Commercially speaking, the cost using gold at today's prices would be prohibitive. However my current project is to save my pennies to buy ??? ounces of gold.

I will then contract a Turkish cymbal workshop to hand beat my new 25" cymbal using the secret Sufi formula I have in my possession.

Last edited by Drum Master 1; 01-08-2010 at 10:35 AM..

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