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Thomann's Cool Online Guides: Cymbals

5. Materials

There are four main alloys used in cymbal manufacturing: bronze, ductile bronze, brass and nickel silver.

Bronze

Bronze is the traditional metal alloy used for fine cymbals. Usually one part of tin is mixed with four parts of copper. Although the exact composition of the formula varies between manufacturers, this is the approximate ratio of metals, though some vary the amount of tin or add small amounts of other elements such as silver, gold and phosphorus.

Bronze is a two-phase alloy: when poured, the two metals mix themselves, forming copper pellets encased by tin. Thus the metal is harder and more flexible than a single-phase alloy and this affects the way the material reacts to further treatment through hammering and lathing.

Ductile Bronze

In ductile bronze the amount of tin is no more than 8% of the alloy. It is a single-phase alloy, can be cold rolled into sheets and is available as commercial sheet metal in different formulas and strengths. It is less sensitive than bronze as a cymbal alloy is and is commonly used for beginner- and intermediate-level cymbals.

In the twentieth century, attempts were made to make high quality cymbals from ductile bronze, primarily for economic reasons, but the results have not been as good as with the traditional formula of 20% tin. Today, better manufacturing techniques have created higher quality cymbals made from ductile bronze, which tends to work well in louder styles of music. Some models approach the sound of 20% tin cymbals.

Brass

Brass is a less expensive form of sheet metal and is commonly used for entry-level cymbals. Cymbal brass is usually composed of 38% zinc and 62% copper. This sheet metal is easy to work with and has warm if slightly muted tone.

Nickel silver

Nickel silver, which is used during the production of cymbals, usually consists of a cupronickel alloy with a nickel content of approximately 12%. Cymbals made from nickel silver are primarily used for some beginners’ cymbals.

Very few cymbals are made from nickel silver, except for a few high-quality instruments that tend to have a modern and exotic sound. Nickel silver is a flexible material and comes as a form of sheet metal. The designation nickel silver is generally used for all cymbal bronze with nickel as the main alloy ingredient, and nickel bronze refers to cymbals made with a lower nickel content.

Nickel silver cymbals have a bright sound, but lack the sensitivity of tin bronzes. In the mid-twentirth century many cymbals were made with nickel alloys; this can be heard on many older recordings.

Other Alloys

Some cymbals are made of silicone and aluminum bronzes, but these alloys haven’t become popular.

Unlike cymbals, some bells and chimes are made from many different materials and alloys. Some traditional bells are even made from ferrous (iron-based) alloys.

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