Cymbals have been around for centuries. In ancient times they were used in ceramonies, celebrations and war. In many way the prppocess for making cymbals has remained unchanged for centuries. Yet in other ways it has changed considerably. Let's look at the various metals used in Cymbal making.
Copper is the most important metal and makes up the largest portion of most cymbals. Tin is the second most widely used metal in cymbal making. In general student or entry level cymbals contain about 8% tin and 92% copper in it's make up. These are known as B8 cymbals. High end and professional level cymbals are made up of 20% tin and 80% copper. These are known as B20 cymbals and are generally considered the best alloy to use in the creation of cymbals.
Any level or quality cymbals can be made with various amounts of other materials. These can be phosphorus, gold,nickel,zinc,manganese,aluminum and silver. The type of sound required of the cymbalsmith will dictate what types and in what amounts these other metals are used.
A 20% tin and 80% copper alloy is known as Bell Bronze. This formula produces Cymbals that have excellent dynamic range. The 8% and 92% copper formula is reffered to as Malleable Bronze this can be made into sheets and stamped into shape. THis greatly reduced manufacturing costs. Cymbals made in this way are often used in student and entry level set ups. because of their relatively cheap price and they are not as sensative as B20 cymbals making them a little easier to play for the beginner who's hand coordination has yet to develop.
Two-phase or double phase alloy is always B20 bronze or Bell bronze meaning some of the tin is not completely dissolved into the copper grains,but exsistbetween them. This makes the Bronze stronger , harder and more brittle than the malleable single phas bronze. THis is important because it effects how each type of metal is formed into cymbals. There are two basic methods for forming the basic shape of the cymbal.
Let's explore casting first. My personal favorite. First copper and tin are melted together in a furnace. This cannot be done in any old hap hazzard way. The prescious amount of each metal must be mixed in, the furnance must be kept at a certain tempature this is knowledged pass down from generation to generation. The molten liquid is then poured into molds This is the way bell bronze has been made for centuries. Large and small companies still use this technique today. The mold resembles the cymbals final shape and dimensions. But much more work is required before the final product is achieved.
Stamping is the second type of method to produce cymbals. The single phase maleable alloys are rolled into large sheets of bronze. A machine then stamps a " blank" sheet of bronze into a very near likeness of the final cymbal form. B20 or bell bronze cymbals cannot be manufactured this way because of its strenght and hardness it would crack. It can only be produced by casting.
So at this point the two methods of cymbal manufacturing have produced essential;ly two blank sheets of bronze. They were arrived at in very different manners. Now the refining of the cymbals takes place. The methods of shaping are universal but how there applied and done are not the same due to the metal types B8 vs B20 Cast vs sheet stamped.
There are 3 ways in cymbal manufacturing that are used to creat the sound and finish of each model. Hammering, this serves various purposes for the cymbal especially the cymbal. The bell is less formed in the casting process, the shape of the bell is formed litterally by blow anfter blow from a blunt hammer. In sheet bronze hammering has more to do with altering the attack and sustain. The sheet stamp cymbals shap was basically formed when it was stamped out early in the cymbal making process.
Hammering can be done by several different methods. The old fashioned way by hand or a more modern method by machine. machines today can be programmed for repeatable patterns or can be controlled by the cymbal smith. Hand hammered cymbals tend to have a darker lower and richer tones. Also each cymbal is a unique instrument because the hammer blows are applied at will of the cymbal smith. Cymbals hammered by Automated machines tend to sound much more uniformed since the machines are computer controlled and can replicate exactly each hammer blow. there is much less variation between cymbals of the same size in the same series. Machine Hammered cymbals that are controlled by a person naturally fall in the middle of the others when it comes to sound. Be aware that some companies claim their cymbals are " hand Hammered" when in fact they are hammered by a machine and controlled by a person !! That's pretty cheesy in my opinion.
Lathing is where the cymbal is spun on a machine and the metal surface is actualled peeled awayby a chisel. Like Hammering this can be done by the hand of a cymbal smith or machine. For Bell Bronze ( B20) Lathing is essential for creating the shape of a cymbal. Sheet bronze lathing is essential for sound developement.
Once a cymbal is hammered and lathed now comes the final step in cymbal making creating some type of finish. Some cymbals will be allowed to tarnish, The formation of an oxide on the outter layer of a cymbal it's surface tends to give the cymbal a more mellow sound This coating on a cymbal is also known as a patina. A recent development is what is known as a " Brilliant Finish" This is accomplished by using an abrasive polish adding metal plating a laquer or a combo of these to prevent oxidation from forming. Brilliant cymbals are by far my favorites. I hope this has shed some light on the creation of cymbals. T