Our conversation with Ray Byrne of Byrne Cymbals and A&F Oddities got us thinking… among drummers, we tend to focus on larger cymbal makers. We’re all familiar with The Big Four: Zildjian, Sabian, Paiste, and Meinl. But did you know that there is a small and growing cohort of handmade cymbalsmiths?
We talk often about the craftsmen and women behind our drums, but for the most part, the artists that spend their days hammering bronze–rather than lacquering maple–get far less attention. Let’s take a trip to the past so we can better appreciate the present.
Nearly 400 years ago, a Turkish alchemist named Avedis was practicing his trade of attempting to create gold out of other metals, and stumbled upon a recipe composed of approximately 80% brass, 20% tin, and traces of silver and copper. The result was not gold, but instead an alloy with super-resonant qualities that lead him to use it to make cymbals. When Avedis took his proprietary-blend cymbals to the Sultan, they were so well received that he was given the new last name, Zilcian, or “cymbal maker” in Turkish.
The Zilcian (which became Zildjian over time) family, as you are likely aware, continues to make fine cymbals today in its plant outside Boston, MA. In the last mid-century, following the A Zildjian-driven sounds of the swing era, jazz drummers began to gravitate toward the traditional, darker, trashier sound of Turkish-made K (Kerope) Zildian cymbals. For many jazz drummers, even today, these unique, individual instruments set the benchmark for cymbal excellence despite their wide variation. Get some insider info on a more modern period of Zildjian in our chat with the company’s former VP Artist Relations, John DeChristopher.
At the turn of the 20th century, first in Russia, and later in other countries throughout Eastern Europe, another cymbal maker was building a very different approach to the instrument. Michail Toomas Paiste founded his eponymous company, which also still operates today with headquarters in Switzerland. While Paiste cymbals are primarily revered for their surgical precision and consistency, you might not know that all Paiste professional cymbals are hand hammered. Paiste has continuously advanced the art of hand-manufactured cymbals.
Roberto Spizzichino was an Italian jazz drummer and is given credit for being the father of the handmade cymbal movement. Spizzichino lathed and hand-hammered cymbals in his workshop in San Quirico, Tuscany based on the K Zildjian tradition. After working for Italian cymbal company UFIP, and Chinese cymbal company Wuhan, he struck out on his own in 1986. Spizzichino sought to bring out the depth of character and complexity of tone that he felt lacking in machine-made cymbals. Spizzichino allowed just three students to learn from him: Matt Nolan, Matt Bettis, and Murat Diril. Each of these artists today creates their own sought-after cymbals.
Murat Diril was instrumental in the year-2000 development of Meinl Byzance and MB20 cymbals. Employing what he had learned under Spizzichino, he helped elevate the formerly low-end-focused German cymbal company’s offerings. In 2006, Diril collaborated with Paiste on their highly regarded Twenty Series, and after 22 years of cymbal-making experience, he finally launched his own brand.
Matt Bettis’ handmade cymbals are created in the Rocky Mountains of Idaho, one at a time. After years working with other suppliers, Bettis established a relationship with Sabian as his supplier of cymbal blanks. This enabled him to take advantage of Sabian’s foundry and material consistency. He transforms each blank into an individual instrument by paying attention to the feedback he gets as it develops its personality.
Craig Lauritzen is the self-taught cymbalsmith from down under, crafting his plates in Adelaide Hills, South Australia. He has learned and honed his practice over more than a decade, and was referenced in our recent episode with Ray Byrne as being very patient, inspirational, and giving of his knowledge and time. Lauritzen employs cymbal blanks made in Turkey, which he shapes and finishes into one-of-a-kind pangs and other instruments.
Heather Stine is a cymbalsmith in Los Angeles, working under the name, 37 Cymbals. Stine got into cymbal making by volunteering at a food drive, where she met Matt Bettis. Bettis taught Stine how to sculpt her masterpieces, as he learned it from Spizzichino himself.
Ray Byrne handcrafts his cymbals in the suburbs of Chicago. In his episode of Drum Showroom Ray told the story of his journey through luthiery school and working as a guitar maker and tech. Watching a mini-documentary about Roberto Spizzichino inspired Byrne to research cymbalmaking. He cites Craig Lauritzen as being extremely influential in his self-education. That academic approach learned in luthiery school and mindset to creating instruments–and the tools with which they are made–served him well as he transitioned his craft from guitar luthiery to cymbalsmithing. Today, Byrne produces cymbals under his own Byrne Cymbals brand, as well as collaborating with A&F Drum Company to produce its Oddities cymbal line.