Sunday, July 31, 2022

The state of the cheap real cymbal market

No, no, no
True to my whiplash self-contradiction form, I'm following up my “THERE'S TOO MUCH PRODUCT INFORMATION ON THE INTERNET” rant with a dense informational post about shopping for cheap cymbals on the internet. Not really, though. My advice is, if you need cheap cymbals, get a 20, an 18, and 14" hihats and stop worrying about it. This is just to help you find them.   

Ten years ago I wrote a post “how to get real cymbals when you're poor”, in which I suggested looking for dirty 70's A. Zildjians, or early Sabian AAs, or pre-serial Paiste 602s. Dirty and funky, but no cracks or damage. In 2012 it was easy to find those types of cymbals in desirable models (medium rides, crash/rides, thin crashes, New Beat or medium hihats) in the $80-100 range. It looks like that market may be thinning out a bit, and shifting— and prices increasing, dramatically with some items/brands. 

Here are some impressions from looking for those kinds of cymbals on Reverb, eBay, and Craigslist: 

Prices generally

You should be able to find ample good regular cymbals in the $100-150 range, with some occasional 16" crashes or heavier 20" rides below $100. With the following caveats, by brand name:  

A. Zildjian: Below $100, forget it. Around $120 we start seeing a few real cymbals you might want, around $140 they start becoming plentiful. Which, frankly, is about where they should have been all along. It's still a good deal for ordinary professional cymbals. Most of the cymbals we want are found in the $140-175 range. Around $175 we start seeing a lot more ink on cymbals— meaning 80s and newer— and collectible things, or things being passed as collectible. 

Sabian AA/AAX: Many more good options below $100, a couple below $80. And quite plentiful through the same range as the Zildjians. These are generally 10-20 years newer than the A. Zildjians, so they're mostly squarely in that heavier 80s mode. 

Paiste 602: When I wrote that first post in 2012 it was possible to find bargains on beat-up old “pre-serial” 602s (with no silk screening and no stamped serial number), but that's sure ancient history.


Virtually all old 602s are priced to the tune of $100-300 above even a premium A. Zildjian of the same vintage. They're very consistent and reliably good, but they're also basically simplified, cleaner-sounding A. Zildjians. Same category of cymbal, with less character, but also fewer bad cymbals.  

Paiste 2002: I don't really recommend buying these any more. It's a badly dated sound to me. They should be in the same category as the above cymbals, or cheaper, but they're more expensive. They don't become plentiful below ~$175. Same is true of the comparable 2000 and 3000 lines— or Sound Formula or Signature, for that matter.

Other brands: Turkish cymbal manufacturing has really exploded in the last 20 years, but I'm not seeing many of them used in our price range. Dream cymbals, from China, have been around for a long time, and some of them are priced well, but so many of them are weird and bad, that there's no reason to mess with them if you can't play them in person. 

This broad increase in prices on ordinary bargain pro cymbals is enough to make us raise our standard, and it'll be harder to take a risk buying something you're not sure about. You'll want to know the weight in grams, and hopefully get a recording of it. You may find you can get the same price or better at your local drum shop or pawn shop. 

The fundamentals remain the same
A. Zildjians from the 60s-present are still the ordinary, modern, cutting, very bright cymbals we all know and are used to, and few/none of them are collectible, premium items. Nothing has changed now that the cymbals are ten years older. 60s-70s, maybe 80s vintage are the most desirable of them to me. My feeling is that in the 90s the quality begins getting worse, and most of them I play are hard on my ears. Newer Sabian AA/AAX cymbals are often quite good— they're my preferred "current" (90s-present) cymbal for a modern "A" sound. 

Cymbal orphanage

Looking at the lower end of the price spectrum really makes you grieve for the state of the world. It's looking very flaky. I guess it always did, but I was struck by it this time. Lots of orphaned hihat bottoms, damaged cymbals, single marching/band cymbals, tons of budget grade cymbals of all kinds— 40 years worth now, since Zildjian and then Sabian began producing them by the cubic mile. Cracks and "repairs" are much more commonplace and accepted than I ever remember them being— previously cymbals like that were considered virtually DOA, now they seem to be half-expected. 

Stamp mania
Cymbal geeks use cold stamp design to judge the age of older K. and A. Zildjian cymbals— I'm skeptical of the accuracy of that, but there it is— some people are now trying to sell ordinary modern cymbals as somehow a vintage collectible by describing their stamp. Beware of that— once again, no A. Zildjian from the 1960s or later is collectible, in my opinion. 

Know your gram weights 
You need to know how much a cymbal weighs in grams, and what that means. Many of these cymbals are unlabeled, and actual weight often varied widely even when you know the model name. People

Get this. 
selling an unlabeled cymbal may be guessing what category of cymbal they're selling, or deliberately using the non-labeling to sell you an undesirable orphaned marching cymbal as a "crash cymbal." If you can't get a gram weight from the seller, you're taking your chances. 

Here's a pretty good guideline for ride cymbal weights, for 19-22" rides. This cymbal weight calculator seems pretty accurate for >20" cymbals (likely to be rides), and quite misleading for <20" cymbals (likely to be crashes). Enter the size and gram weight, and it tells you the weight category of the cymbal. I think it's "calibrated" for ride cymbals. Anything you want to perform as a crash cymbal should come back as "extremely light" or "very light." Merely "light" will get you a what is normally considered a medium crash, which you do not want, trust me.    

Those new better cheap cymbals
There have been a couple of newer lines of better-than-usual cheaper B20 cast cymbals— XS20 by Sabian and Xist by Agop— they're almost real cymbals, and they've been around long enough to start finding their way onto the used market. Normally used cheap cymbals are virtually worthless, but these hold their value pretty well— so well, in fact, that there's no point in buying them. For the XS20 there's a small price break, but not enough to justify buying them over an AA. There are a few reasonable Xists you can get for the same price as the cheapest AAs, but they're still worse cymbals. The fancy looking Xist "dry dark" series aren't really bargain cymbals; they're priced about the same as very new used A.s and AAs. Instead of being great bargain cymbals, they decided to price them as crappy premium cymbals. 

Right now there are not any non-professional series cymbals I would recommend buying for more than $50 per cymbal. I'll write another post soon rounding up some of these attractive sub-professional lines. 

What to do about “jazz cymbals”
You can use any of these type of cymbals we're talking about as jazz cymbals, provided your ride isn't ridiculously heavy. You could look for a crash/ride or light right for your main cymbal. "Hand-hammered" type cymbals, Sabian HH cymbals start appearing in the $120-150 range. American made K. Zildjians with the big 80s-looking "K" printed on them are generally $50-100 more. There are a lot of mediocre ride cymbals by either brand. That's another topic for another day, in fact. 

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Groove o' the day: Idris Muhammad - Last Train to Clarkesville

Idris Muhammad plays a hip train beat on George Benson's cover of a Monkees hit, Last Train To Clarkesville, from his 1968 album Shape Of Things To Come. He's playing rim clicks with a stick in a bossa rhythm with his left hand, and filling in with a brush with his right:

Both hands work together to build this groove— he accents the last note of those doubles; the RH accent right before the rim click gives the rhythm some structure. He plays the straight groove all the way through, with a few stops. No bass drum at all except on the breaks. 

Listening to someone play a composed beat like this, I'm always listening for how (and if) they vary it, and develop it, and how they make ensemble accents, and get away from it to do a fill— and get back to it afterwards. All those little ordinary things you do without thinking when playing a stock groove, create a special problem when doing a specific worked-out groove. Usually people have to scale way back on the other stuff, and mostly just play the groove, and that's basically what's happening here.  

Friday, July 29, 2022

Sidebar: Shopping in the YouTube age

Continuing a particular aspect of that why I hate videos post: information paralysis. It hits me whenever I have to buy camera equipment, or electronics, or computer related products. It's always a manic descent into the hell of comparisons of irrelevant minutiae. 

It's a peculiar thing of this digital age: the endless gathering of more data than you will ever be able to use in the whole remainder of your now-miserable life. Doing something and living with it is intolerable, we need to get everything right in advance, before risking anything. 

Except by doing that we're not avoiding risk, we're committing to something worse: a whole lot of time wasted on frustrating, largely hypothetical, partially-informed data analysis. And never getting around to the thing we said we wanted to do. 

All you really want to know is: is it a good value, is it going to do what I want, is it going to work for a long time. Will I like it, will it be enough of an improvement on what I have to be worth the purchase.

What to do is:

Just buy some things, live with them awhile, find out how well they suit your needs. Learn their shortcomings with respect to same, find something better next time. Get stuff, use stuff, get better stuff based on that experience.

Stop trying to cover your ass for every possible hypothetical situation they just told you about, put the focus on what you're doing, not the consumer item you're using to do it. Do the thing. 

Usually, what you get will be good enough, and if not, your actual loss is minimal... if you didn't approach it like a jackass, spending way too much money buying a new item because you have a fetish for shiny things and unwrapping virgin packages untainted by human hands.  

It helps to find out what's normal, what everybody uses— not the rabble, the smaller number of people who are serious about an activity. Low budget professionals, who buy infrequently, and use it a lot. Like a lot of problems created by the internet, it's solved by talking to people.   

Finally, about how product lines are designed:

A lot of very new, very expensive, rapidly depreciating items are intended for moneyed bleeding-edgers. They'll have some awesome wonder-features that create the illusion of “changing the game”— they do not, “the game” is always about fundamentals— and may be designed to render some previous reasonably priced workhorse item obsolete.

What pros use is usually a level below that— “pros” being people who use the thing as their main business, or use it in the course of doing another kind of business. But professionals spend their money wisely*, and can often do their work with years-old equipment. Which is where the best value is generally found in used gear— moderately priced moderately old used pro stuff. This type of thing tends to hold its resale value after its a few years old.  

*- There are certainly some big money, high volume pros who constantly
update to the newest thing, but that's definitely not me, probably not you. 

There's a large middle grade “pro-sumer” area for more or less normal people who are into the hobby, who like new stuff, but don't have unlimited money to spend. These are mostly perfectly functional for most people, even some pros/professional situations, but does not hold its value over time. Neither a good nor terrible value. 

And there's the cheap junk, for broke or permanently poor people. Maybe it's very cheap, but still overpriced for what it is. The economics are designed to bleed poor people dry. Instead of spending $1500 once in ten years (that you can recover at the end), you spend $3000 spread out over ten years, ending up with a lot of valueless junk. The products are designed to be semi-usable for a time, and virtual waste when you're done with them. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

Art Blakey - The Core

Here's something great that deserves much better than the cursory treatment I'm about to give it: The Core, from Art Blakey's record Free For All. Blakey's doing a little bit of an Elvin Jones thing on this record— like it says, it's very hard core. 

On a forum someone asked what he's doing on this tune. On a big part of it he's playing off of this piano figure from the intro, that recurs for extended passages throughout:

He does a sort of rubadub treatment— these are two two-measure examples from the intro: 

It gets pretty raggedy, so the transcription hardly does it justice. The occasional triplets are hardly calculated; when playing at the edge of your abilities things can weird— things emerge that are not in your control. A lot of other stuff happens. There's a section with some horn hits. Part of the solos swing. Sometimes he deviates from that basic figure during those sections— he'll extend playing in 3 over 4/4 time a la Elvin. It's hot as hell in my office right now (101° in Portland today) and I have neither the patience nor the focus to listen through and figure out the form.  

Tuesday, July 26, 2022

Funky Primer p. 22 converted to sixtuplet funk

In a lesson the other day I realized I don't really like any of the sixtuplet funk materials in my regular books. Joel Rothman's are pretty good, Funky Primer are pretty not good, Jim Payne's and Roy Burns/Joe Farris's are focused on a shuffle rhythm in the hihat which is its own different particular thing. 

So I rewrote p. 22 from Funky Primer, which is pretty good, and converted the 16th notes to 16th triplets. In the lesson we tried to do this on the fly as an interpretation, but that was a little too weird. The rules are not totally consistent, it needed to be written out. So here: 

Play the accents at normal backbeat volume, play the other snare drum notes very softly. Those sixtuplet filler notes sound bad played too loud. 

Get the pdf

Sunday, July 24, 2022

Paradiddle inversion control - 01

A sketchpad for my own practicing— a set of velocity studies using one paradiddle inversion in particular, the massively fun and useful RLLR-LRRL form. In case you're listening to all that Antonio Sanchez and thinking I need to get my FAST CRAP together.  

Do massive repetitions of all of these, then combine them— every measure combined with every other measure, with each measure played once or twice. For normal life be thinking in the quarter note = 115-150 range. You can certainly do them faster that. 

You see what we're doing here— accenting any single notes in the sticking RLLR-LRRL, or putting them on a cymbal, maybe with bass drum added; moving the whole mess around the drums. At faster speeds you'll accent less. Find your own variations that work for you   

Get the pdf

Friday, July 22, 2022

Alejian cymbals

I made an interesting purchase at that Chehalis, Washington drummer swap meet— an 18" Alejian brand cymbal. At 1368 grams, it would be categorized as approximately a medium thin crash, maybe a crash-ride— it acts like a general purpose cymbal. The sound is like a complex vintage A. Zildjian— with good reason, because it is a Zildjian product. 

What caught my attention is its physical similarity to “A-type” Holy Grails by Cymbal & Gong, with the squarish 50s bell, and the similar complex sound. Played together with my 20" A-type Holy Grail, they're clearly the same kind of thing— though the HGs sound nicer, and a little softer.

Here it is played along with my 20" and 22" Holy Grails, both A-type:  


I never heard of Alejian, but it was a Zildjian-manufactured product sold by the Slingerland company from the mid 1940s to the mid 70s. By its appearance, I guess this cymbal dates from the late 50s-early 60s. 

Robert Zildjian said this about the brand in an It's Questionable response in Modern Drummer magazine, in October '93— I don't know why he spells it Alegian: 

“Alegian was a brand name given to second-line Zildjian cymbals— cymbals that 'didn't make it' into the Zildjian product line. We used to sell them as 'Zilcos' to Ludwig and as 'Alejians' to Slingerland. Bud Slingerland always insisted on that name, because it ended with 'ian', which made it look like a real Armenian deal. Prior to 1968 the cymbals were made at the Zildjian plant in Norwell, Massachusetts. From 1968 until they were discontinued in 1975, they were made at what was then the Canadian Zildjian plant and is now the Sabian factory. 

So what you have is a second-line Zildjian cymbal, which, due to its age, is probably sounding much better. On a lot of the Zilco/Alegian cymbals, what one person thought was a bad sound probably would be good for another person. So you probably have a good deal there: a Zildjian cymbal that was rejected not of any manufacturing defect, but only becasue it didn't meet the acoustic 'trends' of its day.”

Remembering that Mel Lewis described his famous A. Zildjian as a bad Zildjian, today it would be a terrible Zildjian, the right second-line Zildjian could work out really well. So, bargain hunters, look out for these— and for Zilcos. There are a lot of them floating around the online market, on eBay and Reverb, but those people are mostly hip to them, so they're not necessarily cheaper than similar vintage A. Zildjians (which happen to be rather overpriced right now). I imagine there are enough actually bad ones that buying a lot of them blind wouldn't make a lot of sense. The bargain opportunities are probably to be found in person in independent stores, pawn shops, garage sales, and Craigslist. 

Thursday, July 21, 2022

SOME NEW(ISH) MUSIC: Antonio Sanchez - Three Times Three

Hey, I should make some kind of effort to hear some new music. I'm in danger of being a total dinosaur, only listening to decades-old music, and not knowing anything happening this century, let alone decade. Let's make this a new regular feature— I'll listen to something new, and give some thoughts on it. There's no excuse not to, with Spotify generously enriching themselves by forcibly demonetizing all the music in the world so it's free to everyone. 

I put on Antonio Sanchez's Spotify channel, looking for something to be annoyed by— that's my attitude going into any new record, my peculiar attitude problem. Three Times Three, released in 2015, features three different trios: Sanchez plus Brad Mehldau and Matt Brewer, Joe Lovano and John Patitucci, John Scofield and Christian McBride.

It's great. Of course it's great. The tunes are all great, the performances are great. It's almost a throwback— other than Sanchez and Brewer, these players all came into prominence in the 80s/early 90s, and you can hear the depth, they're in a comfortable modern bag, that's very heavy. Everybody's playing with a lot of power. 

Watching Sanchez can feel like watching drum corps, but I can't argue with what he's actually doing— this is all foundationally solid. What I'm hearing is, he is an incredibly skilled performer who has taken a lot of cool things I like and ruthlessly perfected them. It's just a taste thing of mine that I don't like listening to ruthless perfection— when I sense that, it puts me at a distance.  

There are some percussive things happening that read like special effects— which I'm not sure how to process. With any instrument you've got the primary thing it does, the normal sounds it makes while doing its role; when you get into a lot of things that are anomalous that, without developing them... I don't know what it is. We could be expanding the sonic possibilities of the drum set, or we could just be getting into vaudeville, with the bulb horns, Acme sirens and whatnot, I'm not sure.     

I like this record a lot. There are some times when I would like a break from the finer subdivisions and total obvious mastery. I start feeling twitchy, like I've been hitting a practice pad for a couple of hours. I can't enjoy the few spaces there are, because I've been set up to read them as further expressions of somebody's genius.  

Saturday, July 16, 2022

Percussion swap meet in Chehalis, WA tomorrow

If any of you are in... whatever you call that part of Washington state— the I-5 corridor between Olympia and Longview... there's going to be a drummer swap meet/gathering tomorrow, Sunday, July 17th, at Alexander Park in Chehalis. Shelter #1. 

The first maniacs will be there at 8am, and it's supposed to go until evening. I'll be there from maybe 1-5 pm, with a bunch of Cymbal & Gong cymbals— including a few things I can make deals on— and a few items from my own collection. Go to and check out what I have available— let me know ASAP if there's anything in particular you want me to bring. 

The idea was hatched on the Drum Forum— here's the thread discussing it, if you want to know what others are bringing to it. 

Come on down, say hello, and play some cymbals! 

Friday, July 15, 2022

Germany/Istanbul tour wrap up

I returned from Germany a few days ago, and am still quite loopy with jet lag. I took as many Cymbal & Gong cymbals as my wife and I could carry, and had a couple of meets in Berlin and Dresden, where I met a lot of old and new drummer friends. We hung out and played the cymbals, and people bought some, and then I flew to Istanbul to visit Cymbal & Gong's foundry. And I had some spare time to hang out and enjoy Berlin and Istanbul. 

It was really great to travel again, and as always with these cymbals, to have so many discriminating drummers be so into them— in the picture on the left we have many of the best drummers in Berlin, who care the most about how their cymbals sound. Many or most have college level teaching gigs. The hardest people to please. And these are Germans, who broadly, I've noticed, tend to state their opinions and criticisms directly. It's always the same experience showing C&G cymbals to players of this caliber— everyone loves them, and is stunned at how consistently good they are.  

I was extremely pleased that people brought in their cymbals they bought from me in 2018-19, which have all matured beautifully— especially one 18" that developed a lovely buttery sound, and a 21" settled into a nice funky sound. I don't know how to account for the change except that some of the stray harmonics got played out of them. The sound just settled and focused a bit, and now they sound like career cymbals that you play for 40 years. The 21 also developed a lovely delicate green patina after the owner spilled a beer in his cymbal bag.  

The star cymbals of the tour were the Special Janavar— Janavar series with a heavy patina added, sometimes rivets. I try to select lighter-than-usual cymbals for that treatment. I sold three of those: a 19" with rivets, a 20", and a 22" with rivets. The 22 especially was THE ONE everyone wanted. I'll definitely be carrying more of these, in addition to my new Extra Special Janavars, which we'll see in a moment... 

Here are the some of the guys hitting cymbals in Berlin and Dresden: 

In Istanbul I got to play the Extra Special Janavars, which I special ordered before the trip, and will be my new signature item. The regular Janavar series are B20 Giant Beat clones, with fine lathing and light hammering. I described the Special Janavars above; the Extra Special Janavars have heavier K-type hammering and irregular lathing, plus the patina.

They waited to finish them until we got to the shop— they asked me how heavy I wanted them (~1800g, I said), and then they lathed them on the spot:  

They heat up when being lathed, so I had to wait about 30 minutes for them to cool before I could play them. Needless to say, I've never had that kind of immediate experience with cymbals before. This is shot on an iPhone:

I ordered three of those cymbals— the one on the left is the same through the whole video, I swap the one on the right part way through. 

Regular Janavars are light, bright, and full, with a little bit of an edge to them. These Extra Special Janavars seem a little more full and rounded in sound, possibly more complex, not particularly darker, or more trashy— as I was half-expecting. It will be interesting to see what happens to them when the patina is added. 

I'll receive these with the next shipment, so hopefully I'll have them in my possession and they'll be available for sale in the next 4-6 weeks.  

I did shop around Istanbul for cymbals, to see what else was out there— there are several shops in the Kabataş neighborhood. There weren't a lot of cymbals around for me to play generally— the foundries apparently don't keep any stock around, and the shops are pretty small. As on my last visit in 2019, there wasn't much that was very good. The only cymbals I would have considered buying were a few Agops— everything else I played was a little strange. People say the good cymbals get shipped overseas, but I'm not convinced everyone in the cymbal manufacturing business knows what good cymbals are, from an American drummer's point of view. 

And once again, it was clear that Cymbal & Gong are not run of the mill Turkish product at all. The foundry that produces them generally does exceptional work with all of its cymbals, and Cymbal & Gong are the only things we saw deliberately emulating a traditional 20th century cymbal sound. 

We did find one shop in the Grand Bazaar that had two old normal-size K. Zildjians, an 18" crash and a 20" medium. Apparently a rarity; Cymbal & Gong's owner has been traveling to Istanbul for 20 years, and has seen only a few of them. Either one would have been interesting to own and play, but they were priced approximately the same as they would be in the US, and... I already have easy access to some to the best cymbals in the world, so what's the point?  

Finally, I want to thank everyone that helped this happen— my wife Casey Scott, Michael Griener, Tim Ennis, Thomas Rönnefarth Percussion / Berlin, Hochschule für Musik Carl Maria von Weber / Dresden, and friends Jakob Greiner, Andre Schubert, Sebastian Merk, Moritz Baumgärtner, Joshua Reinfeld, Heinrich Koebberling, and all my new friends— I have to dig my list out to remember everyone! And Aziz and Ali, and everyone at the Cymbal & Gong foundry, who must remain anonymous for business reasons. 

There were a few notable things about this trip that made it go really well just logistically— I'll do another travel post in a day or so, and then we'll be back to our regular content.