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. 

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