The Nostalgia of Hand Hammering

So, it's come up again on a drum forum, the debate of hand hammered vs machine hammered cymbals. And of course being the person that I am, with a very strong opinion, I couldn't leave well enough alone, so I jumped into the debate. I keep asking myself, "Why does it matter?" But apparently in my mind, it does.

So here's my thoughts/theories/impressions for the 593rd time.

On the surface, hand hammering is all about nostalgia and the warm, fuzzy feelings it brings us. This is the same sort of thing we get in the LP vs CD debate. Nostalgia. The human being is very complex, and a big part of that complexity is memory and the emotions associated with those memories. Let's face it, when you think of some old guy swinging a hammer at a piece of bronze, pounding it into shape, that's a very nostalgic, even romantic, thought. I'm sure it triggers some sort of emotional response and you feel happy. Add to this the related memories we have of great drummers and great music that was played on these nostalgic hand hammered cymbals, and you are probably close to some sort of mental orgasm.

Now, I'm as nostalgic as anyone. And I do like to think that some wonderful old guy swung a hammer hundreds of times at a circular piece of bronze to create the wonderful cymbal I am now playing. I get a warm, fuzzy feeling. But that's just a romantic notion. The fact is, I've played on a lot of hand hammered cymbals that did absolutely nothing for me! I would never say that they were "bad," because the idea of good or bad is purely in the ears of the beholder. What I don't like, someone else may totally love. But just because a cymbal is hand hammered does not guarantee that it will be something you will want to play.

On the flip side of things, I have played machine hammered (or combination machine & human) cymbals that gave me goose bumps and inspired my music. But the idea (and mental image/memory) of a machine hammering out a blank bronze disc is hardly nostalgic or romantic! So we don't get those warm, fuzzy feelings in our minds (and probably no endorphin release either). And our brain plays the nostalgia card and we feel that the hand hammered cymbal is much better.

A Cymbal is Just A Tool

As much as I love Cymbals, or Gongs for that matter, they are just tools to allow me to hopefully create pleasing vibrations. I love hand hammered cymbals & Gongs, but I also love ones made by hand & machine, or just by machine. What's always been most important to me is the sound. Everything I do is centered around the sound. No matter how something is made, it's sound needs to be usable to me. What good is a hand hammered cymbal that doesn't fit my music, or the vision I have of the sounds I'm playing? 

While we're at it, the same thing goes for labels, like ride & crash. I tend to think of a cymbal as just a cymbal, and don't limit it with a label. I ride crashes and crash rides—it's just a sound, and either works or it doesn't. I once had a 20" Medium Ride that was an amazing crash cymbal. I tell this to my students: shop with your ears, not your eyes. 

Trust your ears to find the sounds you want, not the nostalgic memories in your brain.

~ MB


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