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A great jazz ride cymbal

A few thoughts and guidelines for selecting a great jazz ride cymbal— the same standards we apply in selecting every cymbal we sell.

Basics
20, 21, 22″ are normal, full-voiced ride cymbals. 18, 19, 24″ are semi-normal, but a little more limited— 18/19 are simpler, 24 is grandiose. Not every situation calls for the Gustav Mahler of ride cymbals.

<18″ ride cymbals are specialty items— for Dixieland, or Bossa Nova, or rehearsals; >24″ cymbals… consider seeking professional help!

Function
A jazz cymbal should be multi purpose. It needs to handle well and sound great when riding, crashing, playing accents with the shoulder of the stick, and playing the bell.

Playability
It should be well suited to your touch, so you can play in a way that is comfortable to you, and have it be the right volume— not louder or softer than you intend. It should be controllable and sound good played soft or loud, through the usual range of styles/settings you play. It should sound good with a variety of normal sticks for the music— it shouldn’t demand special sticks.

Sound
It should have a fairly complex sound— sought-after sounds are either warm/dark (like our Holy Grail or Kervan series, or vintage K Zildjian) or bright/airy/musical (like the Leon Collection, or Paiste 602), or moderately bright/complex (like the Merseybeat or American Artist series, or 1960s and earlier A. Zildjian). The ride cymbal is your main voice, so it shouldn’t be overly ear-catching or unusual by itself— just like any other normal instrument, an acoustic bass, piano, tenor sax. For their main voice, musicians typically seek sounds that are classically excellent. It’s an instrument, not the main show by itself.

Inspiration
It should make you want to play it— its sound on all the basic functions should be pleasing and exciting. It shouldn’t be annoying, or cause you to flinch because it did something you didn’t expect. It should sound like a record that defined a great cymbal sound for you. You could sacrifice playability a bit if it leads you to play more thoughtfully, without being a distraction.

“Left side” ride cymbal
The second ride cymbal is usually about forming an ensemble, complementing the main cymbal. You can make moderate compromises on the above criteria. Most often the second ride will be in the area of a crash/ride— a little lighter and airier than you might use for your main cymbal. It should contrast the main ride, and have a nice melodic interval with it. Usually smaller and lighter, sometimes heavier, it could also be a brighter or darker sound, too. Possibly with rivets, if the main cymbal doesn’t have them.

Classic sounds: searching for Tony Williams

In all of drumming, the most sought-after ride cymbal sound has got to be that of Tony Williams in the 1960s. To an extreme extent— in people’s enthusiasm for that sound, they sometimes seem to forget there are other possible sound conceptions… perhaps a concern for another blog post.

Tony’s cymbal was a 22″ K. Zildjian, said to be approximately 2600 grams— not quite a medium. Tony selected it with the help of Max Roach, and in an interview in Modern Drummer magazine he called it a “high, dark sound.” Listening to the Miles Davis LPs, it never struck me as a particularly high sound. I would call it semi-dark, with focused harmonics, broad but controlled spread, capable of an explosive crash, non-metallic, with a pleasing, well-defined stick sound through a range of dynamics. Despite the claimed heavier weight, it is in the family of airy, expressive light cymbals and not stiff, chunky medium cymbals.

For me the definitive recordings soundwise are Nefertiti and Four & More. The ride cymbal sounds incredible on those recordings (especially on the original vinyl) but they may not be great guides for actually choosing a cymbal. Four & More gives a feeling of the large hall in which it was recorded, with the more subtle harmonics absorbed by the room— the attack is emphasized, and the cymbal sounds drier than it is. Nefertiti is better, though if you’re like me, you may have formed an idealized concept of the sound on it, and need to give the record a fresh, close listen for it to guide your cymbal choices.

The Plugged Nickel recordings seem to give the most natural picture of that cymbal that I’ve heard— it really sounds like we’re in the room, not too far from the drums. The sound is a little funkier, with somewhat wilder harmonics than we hear elsewhere, with a slightly more exotic crash sound, and more highs present (though that might be attributable to digital mastering). And it’s a familiar sound— I feel like I’ve played a cymbal like this before.

After about 3:50 we can give it a good listen:

 

It’s actually reminiscent of a number of Cymbal & Gong cymbals that have passed through our hands (scroll the video to 2:12, there’s some dead air at the beginning):

 

Of course, this cymbal is much lighter than weight claimed for Tony’s cymbal. And the bell shape is probably wrong, and possibly other things about its design and construction. At a certain point, in hunting for a certain, idealized cymbal and sound, we have to ask what is our goal? What are we looking for, what are we trying to create, or duplicate? We are not playing with Miles’s band, we are not in the situations on those recordings, and if we were, we might not sound as good as Tony. Tony’s actual cymbal might not sound like the Tony cymbal when you play it.

At a certain point, a player’s attitude has to take over, in which we are creating our own musical space and statement. Cymbals are unique musical instruments, and one of the main things we do as drumming artists is to work with cymbals to get the best sound from them, and use them expressively in our music.

The “Tony sound” is absolutely a great model for a jazz ride cymbal, but I see that not as a specific magic cymbal, but as a category: a full, dark, non-exotic, harmonious crashable moderately light weight 22″ ride with a defined stick sound.

My new axe: “Werner”

A new cymbal for my personal use, replacing a similar model I sold to our man in Berlin, Michael Griener, last year: a 20″ Cymbal & Gong Holy Grail Jazz Ride, “Werner”, 1893 grams. This has a special heavy patina, which dries the sound somewhat.

I have another C&G 20″ with custom “Sultan” style lathing, which is more of a light medium. I was looking something for a “left side” role. Usually I want something a little airier for that, but in this case the relative dryness contrasts nicely with my Holy Grail 22″, which has more spread. Werner also serves nicely as a main cymbal. I made sure I had a nice pitch differential between this cymbal and the others I regularly use— a 22″ A-type Holy Grail, and a funky 17″ Holy Grail thin crash, which you hear a few times in this video.

By the way, in selecting this cymbal, I played a dozen Holy Grail 20s in rapid succession, all of them fantastic— the weights varied, but every one was absolutely solid. My final selection (which took about 15 minutes), was based purely on pitch and weight.

New cymbal videos are up

C&G proprietor Tim Ennis getting pictures on our June visit to the cymbal foundry in Istanbul.

I’ve just posted videos for a new batch of cymbals, handmade in Turkey by Cymbal & Gong, personally selected by me for awesomeness in the purpose of playing music, for you to purchase and love. I have several Holy Grail series, and a couple of flat rides.

The Holy Grails are a solid group, good primary cymbals for their size and model. There are three 17 and 18″ crashes, two 20″ rides, and a 22″ ride. They are all moderately dark, with no wild/exotic elements, and trending towards medium weight. The crashes are true crash cymbals, but are distinctly medium thins, not splashy thins or paper thins. The rides are all jazz weight, but they handle like light mediums— full sound but controllable, with good definition, and a robust stick sound. It’s a peculiarity of Cymbal & Gong cymbals that the heavier cymbals often act lighter than they are, and the light cymbals often act heavier than they are. What that means in practice is that most of them are excellent all-purpose jazz cymbals, suitable for riding and crashing, to varying degrees.

We also have a couple of special flat rides— an airy, delicate 20″ Leon Collection, and a very tight, light-medium 18″ Custom. Both have complex, pleasing brighter sounds, a la a Paiste 602… “only better”, as my German friends commented on playing them in Berlin in June.

And I have a lot of other great stuff in stock. I’ll be doing a meet in Seattle in January, where I’ll be moving out a lot of cymbals, so if you want to get yourself a nice holiday gift of a fantastic, heirloom musical instrument, you should order now!

Cymbal day: 10/4/19

Video from yesterday’s visit to Cymbal & Gong HQ. I got some fantastic cymbals I’ll be adding to the site soon: Holy Grail 22″ (1) and 20″ (2) rides, and 17″ (2) and 18″ (1) crashes. If you hear anything you like, let me know ASAP— the ones I didn’t get will be going out to other dealers soon.

The rides I got were in the range of light-medium jazz rides, some with the rounded K-type bell, some with the higher, squarish 50s A-type bell, all with a warm, clean, full jazz sound with good stick definition.  All are fully usable as main ride cymbals. The crashes are all thins, with excellent crash response, and a slight funky edge.

0:00 –  Leon Collection 20″ Thin Flat Ride
Very glassy but complex, delicate sounding cymbal.
0:28 – American Artist 17″ Medium Flat Ride
This looked like an 18″, but Tim said it was 17″. Very similar sound and feel to my old Paiste 602 18″ Medium Flat Ride.
1:25 – Prototype: 20″ Swish/China Type 
I may have the size wrong— these two swishes may be 22s.
1:53 – Project cymbal: 20″ “Dizzy Gillespie” Swish with cutout, drilled for 17 rivets
Very interesting “Swish Knocker” type cymbal, primarily intended as a ride. Sound improved as we added more rivets. The last time it is played here there may have been 10 rivets inserted.
3:19 – playing flat rides again
3:35 – Dizzy cymbal with more rivets added
4:00 – 20″ Holy Grail Ride
All of the Holy Grails played here sounded great.
4:11 – another 20″ Holy Grail Ride
4:20 – another 20″ Holy Grail Ride
5:15 – 22″ Holy Grail Ride
5:40 – another 22″ Holy Grail Ride
5:53 – another 22″ Holy Grail Ride
6:10 – another 22″ Holy Grail Ride
7:30 – 17″ Holy Grail Crash
7:47 – two more 17″ Holy Grail Crashes
8:10 – 18″ Holy Grail Crash
8:20 – another 18″ Holy Grail Crash

Classic sounds: Art Blakey

Art Blakey’s attitude about cymbal sounds, as he is quoted in Hugo Pinksterboer’s The Cymbal Book, was basically “I don’t have time for that, give me a cymbal and I’ll play it.” Many of those older players would seemingly just go to the Brooklyn Gretsch warehouse and grab what they needed out of the bins without giving it a lot of thought. But there is a special cymbal sound of Blakey’s that is worth talking about, heard on a couple of famous Jazz Messengers albums, mainly The Big Beat. There he plays a 20″ K. Zildjian ride cymbal, seemingly in the 1750-1850 gram range, with a big, long, throaty, slightly exotic crash sound:

 

And here on Indestructible— he may be riding on a smaller cymbal, but the crashes during this opening are on that same 20:

 

It’s actually quite similar to a cymbal we have in stock right now, the 1766 gram 20″ Holy Grail Ride “Tyrell.” Play those videos in different together— it’s very interesting. Blakey’s cymbal is a little lower pitched.

 

Holy Grail

A video shared by Sebastian Merk, a great drummer living in Berlin, who teaches at the Hochschule für Musik Carl Maria von Weber in Dresden. He’s playing an 1845 gram 20″ Cymbal & Gong Holy Grail jazz ride “Moyes”, which he bought from me on my last visit to Germany in December ’18. It’s a fairly funky cymbal that was given a special patina that gives it a drier sound. It sounds really great here, with him playing it— just a perfect, classic, dry jazz sound:

After the break are videos of the cymbal before and after it received its special patina:

Continue reading “Holy Grail”

CYMBAL DAY – 5/10/19

Todd Bishop at Cymbal & Gong headquarters in southeast Portland,  with company owner Tim Ennis, selecting cymbals for the site, and for our Germany tour in June.

We played 14/15/16″ Holy Grail hihats, 20″ Leon Collection rides, 20″ and 22″ Holy Grail jazz rides, and 20″ Holy Grail medium rides. Scroll down for a complete list of all cymbals played and selected.  As always the quality and consistency was extremely high. I don’t believe there was a single bad/difficult cymbal (or set of cymbals) in the lot.

Individual videos of all the cymbals we took are coming next week. Most other cymbals should be available in Cymbal & Gong’s stock for a short time, so if you see anything you want, let us know as soon as possible, and we will try to get it.

Here are the cymbals played, at what time in the video. Cymbals marked with a * were selected for Cymbalistic, and will soon be available on the site (as of 5/11 I have not yet starred everything I selected):

00:00 Holy Grail 16″ hihats – 01
00:48 Holy Grail 16″ hihats – 02
01:36 Holy Grail 16″ hihats – 03
02:18 Holy Grail 15″ hihats – 01
02:53 Holy Grail 15″ hihats – 02
03:13 Holy Grail 15″ hihats – 03
03:39 Holy Grail 15″ hihats – 04
04:47 Holy Grail 14″ hihats – 01
05:24 Holy Grail 14″ hihats – 02
06:03 Holy Grail 14″ hihats – 03
06:37 Holy Grail 14″ hihats – 04
07:05 Holy Grail 14″ hihats – 05
07:37 American Artist 14″ medium hihats – 01
08:01 American Artist 14″ medium hihats – 02* (this set is reserved)
08:41 Holy Grail 14″ hihats – 0 replay
09:15 Holy Grail 14″ hihats – 0 replay *
09:47 Leon Collection 20″ rides – L-R: 01 / 02 / 03
11:54 Leon Collection 20″ rides – L-R: 02 / 03 / 01
14:15 Holy Grail 20″ jazz rides – L-R: 01 / 02 / 03 / 04
16:20 Holy Grail 20″ jazz rides – L-R: 01 / 02 / 05 / 04
17:17 Holy Grail 20″ jazz rides – L-R: 01* / 06 / 05* / 04
18:44 Holy Grail 20″ medium rides – L-R: 01 / 02 / 03 / 04
20:33 Holy Grail 22″ jazz rides – L-R: 01 / 02 / 03 / 04
22:32 Holy Grail 22″ jazz rides – L-R: 01 / 02 / 03 / 05
23:34 Holy Grail 22″ jazz rides – L-R: 01 / 02 / 03 / 06

Classic sounds: Steve Gadd with Chet Baker

“I use a combination of K and A Zildjian. One ride and one crash. I have a high pitched A with the big bell that blends very well. It’s good for recording — very clean. I vary my cymbals depending on the date. It’s a matter of what the tune is supposed to sound like and the style of the artist I’m playing for. For an R &amp; B date, I’d probably use both. Sometimes I’ll use a sizzle. Paul Simon occasionally likes that sizzle quality. Of course, the sound changes over a period of time. As cymbals get dirty, they take on a personality all their own.”

On Chet Baker’s record She Was Too Good To Me, Steve Gadd is playing a 20″ K jazz ride which he played on quite a few records in the 70s— I don’t know if he owned more than one of them.  This is airy, very dark, very live, with a great stick sound, and a little bit of an exotic edge when crashed. It’s a very classic sound. The second cymbal is a somewhat funky A, with that metallic edge that’s very common in newer A. Zildjians. Hihats are 14″ medium Ks, with a fairly straightforward dark sound.

 

He uses this same basic set up on his instructional video Up Close. You can listen closely and decide if these are the same cymbals— here the ride and hihats are solid light-medium weight:

 

 

Describing cymbal sounds

Here is a glossary of words I use to describe cymbal sound and performance.

Generally, these are for describing a ride sound, crash sound (strong accent on the edge of the cymbal), accent sound (shoulder of the stick on the ride area) bell sound, and harmonic profile. Also for describing definition and response, which are qualities of riding, accenting, and crashing.

Bright
Higher harmonics are emphasized generally.

Dark
Lower Harmonics are emphasized generally. An over-used word; I may use it to describe a very broad category of cymbal, or to mean, with specific individual cymbals, very dark, compared to warm or smoky.

Warm
Mid and lower harmonics subtly emphasized, generally harmonious profile.

Smoky
Lower harmonics moderately emphasized. Many Holy Grail cymbals fall in this category.

Gong-like
The cymbal crashes with a bwah sound; in my mind suggesting a low sound. Can be a pleasing quality, or it can be a flaw.

Exotic
Suggests an unusual Chinese cymbal or gong like sound or pitch bend.

Splashy
Suggests a cymbal that is very responsive to crashing, possibly with a high sound.

Clean
Focused, harmonious profile.

Dry
Harmonics de-emphasized relative to the direct stick sound.

Dead
Excessively dry or muffled, lacking in expected overtones. Not always a negative quality.

Live
Full harmonic profile, big wash, easily crashable.

Fast
Responds quickly to the touch of the stick. When crashing and rolling, builds to a peak and fades quickly.

Slow
Long crash sound that peaks well after the cymbal is struck. Could also describe a cymbal that requires a lot of force to get an explosive crash sound.

Funky
A mysterious combination of dark, dry, trashy, and exotic.

Noisy
Pronounced random harmonics. Could be used interchangeably with trashy, but noisy has a more negative implication.

Trashy
Harmonic profile tending towards a white-noise like sound; random harmonics dominating the sound.

Cutting
Strong, focused attack, tending to be higher-pitched, to cut through a large ensemble or electric band.

Piercing
Unbalanced high harmonics present. I would never use this word as a positive adjective.

Metallic
A persistent, obnoxious metal sound.

Clangy
A forceful metal sound. Generally negative, but moderate clanginess can be desirable; it can give raw energy.

Airy
Bright, light, non-metallic sound. I use airy to describe many of our Leon Collection cymbals.

Glassy
Lacking in body; almost an empty sound. Airy and glassy could be used interchangeably by different people, but for me, airy is positive, glassy is more negative.

Thin
Not referring to the actual thickness of the metal— suggests an insubstantial, tinny sound.

Other words:
I have never thought to describe a cymbal as hot, but it is used. Sweet is a commonly used word the meaning of which I am unclear on, other than “sounds pretty”, or a pleasantly bright sound. I have played a few cymbals with a distinctly tubby sound. Cymbals are essentially springs, and I have encountered a few very strange cymbals with a springy, slinky-like tone. Some people say sticky to refer to a cymbal with a pronounced stick sound. Some have described sounds as actual colors: blue, red, green, yellow. I have no idea what is meant by that.