This post is “Part Two” of our educational series on cymbals. In the previous installment, our drums specialist Paul Spencer dug into the differences between cast and sheet metal cymbals. This time, he discusses the alloys that go into making cymbals. Buckle up for a bit of a high-school chemistry class!
Alloys are different mixtures of metals that affect your sound. Cymbals are all composed of some sort of copper alloy. The most popular and most sonorous are bronze alloys. Bronze alloys are composed of copper and tin, and different copper-to-tin ratios have a major impact on the tone of a cymbal. Generally speaking, adding more tin to a bronze alloy darkens the tone, and leads to a sonically richer-sounding cymbal. The most popular ratio that cymbal makers use is 80% bronze and 20% tin. This is where the designation “B20” bronze comes from. A B20 bronze cymbal offers the greatest range of frequencies available in cymbals and can be manipulated in a variety of ways to sound darker or brighter, depending on the desired product. But B20 bronze cymbals are also brittle and difficult to work with, which is why they tend to be more expensive.
The other commonly used bronze alloy is comprised of 92% copper and 8% tin, and is called “B8” bronze. Cymbals made of B8 bronze tend to be brighter and more focused, with a less varied frequency response. B8 bronze is typically used in beginner- and intermediate-level cymbals, but this isn’t always the case. Paiste’s professional-level 2002 series cymbals are made of B8 bronze and are coveted for their bright, focused sound.
Recently, cymbal manufacturers like Zildjian and Meinl have also begun experimenting with other bronze alloys, lying somewhere between B8 and B20. B10, B12, and B15 are some of the other variants of bronze used by these manufacturers. Each of them will give you a more complex frequency response.
Check out the next part of the series on how the anatomy of a cymbal affects its sound, and stay tuned for future posts discussing hammering and lathing patterns, and finishes!