The Continuing Myths about Cymbal Alloys & Hammering - Part 2
It’s not enough to just make a bronze alloy, you have to hammer it into a usable shape. So now we move onto the Myth of hand hammering vs machine hammering. WARNING: their are fanatics on both sides of this argument.
Traditionally, going back hundreds of years, cymbals have been hammered out from a raw castings into a finished cymbal by hand. The reason it was done this way is because it was the only way available to cymbal makers! It was not until in the last century that various machines were designed that could hammer a bronze alloy. In both instances, the result is the same: hammering not only shapes the metal into a cymbal form, but it also compresses the metal and adds tension, which is important for musical purposes.
So the hand hammered companies and their fans often talk about tradition (which is really another word for nostalgia). “Our craftsmen have been making cymbals like this for hundreds of years, and this is how the best cymbals are made.” They often cite that this lineage of hammering techniques has been passed down from one generation to another, as further proof of their cymbal’s superior quality.
Now the machine hammered companies and their fans talk about how the machines never get tired, and how they can hammer with more pressure and precision, all the while (and this is important) being controlled by a human operator. Many of the pneumatic hammers use some sort of pedal, controlling the speed/force by the operator’s foot, while they move the cymbal under the hammer with their hands. These companies cite how modern methods can reproduce cymbals to extreme specifications and musicality.
There are also cymbals that are completely made by robotic, laser controlled machines. Basically, you put a blank cymbal disc in one end of the production line, and take a finished unlathed cymbal out of the other end, or a finished hammered cymbal, then send it on to be lathed. At no time does a human contribute to the hammering process.
And some companies say they do both hand & machine hammering, because it gives them the best of both worlds! So who to believe? Again I say, listen with your ears! What cymbal sounds best to you and fits the music you are playing? It does absolutely no good to buy a cymbal simply based on company propaganda because they say their method is better. It’s only better for them. If you buy a cymbal purely on that belief, it might not sound good in the context of the music you play. One more time: trust your ears!
In general, there are differences between hand hammered, machine hammered, and combination hammered cymbals. Each company will use these differences as selling points. In general, hand hammered cymbals will vary widely from one to the next. Get together 10 of the same size and type, and you may have 10 very different cymbals, with different pitches & response. Get together 10 of the same size & type of machine hammered cymbals and the tolerances will be much closer, producing cymbals that will be almost identical in pitch & response.
So the hand hammered people will say that no two cymbals are alike, thus you can have a very individual set, and that’s a selling point. The machine hammered people will say that they are almost all identical, so that’s great if you break one and need a replacement. So which one is better?
When I was working retail, or now with my students, I tell them to go play some cymbals in the store, but don’t pay attention to logos or what type/model it is. Just listen and see if you even like the sound. If you do, then look at what the fancy printing on the cymbals says, and determine if that cymbal will suit your needs. Personally, I much prefer the old days when cymbals were just stamped thin/medium/heavy. It was left up to the drummer to decide what to do with each one, whether it be as a ride, crash, or whatever. One of my favorite ride cymbals I have is actually stamped crash. If I let the label choose what the cymbal is good for, I’d be missing out on a great ride cymbal. So keep an open mind…
Next time in Part 3: Big Companies vs One Man Operations