Capsule Review>Read and Go
- consider hand cymbals in the K Symphonic series instead of conventional rides;
- you gain extraordinary complexity compared to other heavy rides;
- these extra-heavy rides have a low pitch and trick the ear; they sound lighter than they register on the scales;
- you get articulation, projection, sensitivity at quiet stage levels;
- Symphonics, the heavy ones, work for any style, unlike other heavy rides, such as metal or various rides termed “rock rides”;
- Good crash qualities if hit with force; good bells for Latin, rock;
- Aesthetics are beyond compare;
- Expensive but a fraction of the price of Turkish cymbals after which they are modeled;
- Go in with a friend on a pair;
- One of the finest, most complex and exotic…yet usable day to day…cymbal I’ve ever seen, heard, or played.
In-Depth Review>K Zildjian Symphonic>Orchestral Hand Cymbals>Heavy
Searching for a ride cymbal? Everybody is looking for the perfect ride. Brother, I’ve been there. I’ve owned so many rides that didn’t seem to “do it all” that I’ve collected rides for jazz, rock, singer-songwriter, and so forth. Don’t even ask about studio and how many cymbals I’ve lugged to sessions, hoping to capture the perfect, most musically complementary ride on tape or Pro Tools.
Over the years, I’ve often wished I could find the optimum ride. For me, that means a ride cymbal that’s a little heavier than medium—lots heavier if I could find an unlikely combination of a weighty, more stable playing surface that could magically erupt into a usable crash as opposed to some icy blast underscored by a gongy shudder. Piercing through sequencers and old Hi Watt cabinets would be nice; so would the capacity to respond in a way that doesn’t drill a hole thereby obliterating an acoustic bass run through a 30-watt amp/12” driver combo. No extra-heavy ride could manage that, could it, or for that matter erupt into some usable crash?
With the exception of a fifty-year-old 21.5” Turkish K Zildjian in my collection, which is clearly a mutant, possessing both pingy attack, low pitch body, and unusual dynamic range, it would be difficult to find such a combination in any company’s offerings today, right? Experienced drummers know better than to demand anything close in a modern ride, lathed on both sides, and heavily hammered. Barring my decades-old aberrant Turkish ride, beautifully thick with greeny brown crud, I’d abandoned notions of obtaining anything remotely similar in any drum shop.
Until I happened upon the K Zildjian Symphonic heavy, offered in 17” through 20” diameter pairs. Who was it, Stewart Copeland, who suggested that drummers look in the wrong places for the right cymbal?
Although my Symphonics are a pair of heavy 22″, I’ve heard all of the others and I can vouch for the 20″ sounding great…extraordinarily unique. These are as quirky and strangely fascinating as post-World War I K Constantinoples and as desirable, in addition, as certain EAKs (the first repatriated K Zildjians; made in America), although the former does more justice than the latter when describing the new Symphonics. The 17″ pairs I heard were absolute killers, totally wicked.
Finding a Perfect Ride in the Last Place You’d Look
I love many styles of music. Examples include a range from ECM pianist Bobo Stenson to Scottish pop songwriter Paolo Nuttini to spartan rockers The Black Keys. Where on earth would I find a ride that would see me through that diverse lot?
Well, in the old days, my school band cymbals, a pair of 16” Zildjian heavy hand cymbals, did just that. They worked as rides, in a ptich; they had to work as rides; they were all we had. At home, most of us owned crap, branded appropriately Krut (spell it backwards and it’s more noble) and Raja Turko, some of which weren’t too bad. Maybe I could find those old cymbals and strike a bargain with the school board. They weren’t the diameter I need now but they certainly sounded bigger than their diameter suggested? Could a hand cymbal be the answer, or, perhaps, a marching band pair?
Maybe there were places I hadn’t looked. Unfortunately, although I did locate my school band Rogers 15×7.5″ snare drum (and bought it, despite a 2″ gaping hole in the shell), the cymbals were gone. Ah, but all was not lost.
Zildjian Symphonics: Heavy is Best
Introduced about three years ago at NAMM, Zildjian K Symphonic hand cymbals were heavy, although new versions are available in sensible medium and light weights. If you’ve ever tried to hold ultra-heavy hand cymbals aloft during a 64-bar tacet section, say in , awaiting your chance to smack them together, you’ll know that heavy is, above all, fatiguing.
Trust me on this. The moment you try one of these, you’ll be impressed by a palpable softness. Your arm will not react as if it’s whacked a hickory ball bat against a railroad track. Unfortunately, to obtain such a rare attribute, you pay dearly. Mind you, if you get a friend to go in on a pair, you’ll pay a fraction of what an old Turkish K ride costs on eBay. A 22” vintage ride starts at about $2000.
I can’t name drop as usual but at NAMM I brought two Famous Drummers, who endorse other brands, to the Zildjian booth to hear the Symphonic I was eying. Both agreed, in separate viewings, that the cymbals were exquisite. Not that you need a Famous drummer to verify what your ears will tell you in no time flat.
They’re so heavy that they break away from the usual depictions. That is, I used to believe that, with the exception of my 1940s Ks, heavy meant pingy, metallic, brittle, and stinging. Nothing wrong with those attributes but they don’t travel well from style to style. And how would you feel, to cite an anachronistic example, trying to introduce requisite sensitivity to your band’s cover of the Sinead (original) version of “Nothing Would Compare With You”, a lithe and sensitive rock ballad, on some plate as heavy as a rear axle? Or worse, “Nefertiti”, of which the ride tone is a defining feature?
Extra-Heavy Rides Feel Bad, Sound Bad…Right?
Don’t be hasty in your assessment of “heavy”. Zildian K Symphonic hand cymbals are, indeed, as heavy as the day is long. How heavy? It’s hard to pin it down exactly, unless you’ve access to a drug dealer’s scales or you work at the post office, but we’re looking at a mid-range point of approximately 3600 grams/8 lbs. Incredibly, these weighty cymbals eat up a stick like molten lava devours car keys. And they are almost devoid of the table top snap and shrill ping that we associate with modern heavy rides, not that any of that is bad…unless you’ve suffered hand trauma stemming from continuous striking of unyielding surfaces and have to wrap your sticks to avoid further injury. As regards tone, the only comparable cymbal that comes to mind without straining is, or rather was, the Paiste Formula 602 Dark Ride (later the Sound Creation Dark Ride)…but that’s stretching it a little.
Hundred Year Old Recipe
Zildjian wizard Paul Francis created K Symphonics following years of meticulously examining ancient orchestral cymbals that had settled-in, or, as they say, played-in and stabilized. Paul took his time and made prototypes, which he presented to symphony percussionists. You think you’re picky when it comes to rides? Symphonic guys are never happy. Paul toughed it oblivious to the clock. After all, when you’re studying ancient cymbals, whose age is measured not in years but in centuries, what’s the hurry? I own so many cymbals, I’m not easily thrilled by new creations but old ones hold my gaze. Case in point, when I visited Paul at work in Boston, circa 2003, chief among his objects of study were a pair of the oldest K Zildjian Turkish-made 20” cymbals I’d ever seen or touched—orchestral piatti that predated any jazz ride on the planet.
Although intended as hand cymbals for orchestra or marching, they beckoned to me. Paul allowed me to let loose with 5B sticks. I recall master cymbal tester Leon Chiappini keeping a quizzical eye on me; I vaguely recall him mentioning someone else, Bill Stewart, striking the cymbal as I was—shanking it with the thick of the stick, not butt or tip, against the bow, producing a caw like crow—and me explaining that this was not surprising as I’d studied Bill closely. And I’d fallen asleep for a year or more listening to Tony Williams do this on Live at the Plugged Nickel. If only I could get that sound in a modern cymbal, a heavier cymbal. And here I was laying into cymbals I’d never own, true antiques. What were the chances of me stumbling across such an instrument?
The answer became clearer when Zildjian released another difficult one, the K Custom Dry Complex. Soon I’d be able to hear heavy Symphonic hand cymbals, Paul assured me over the phone, which would excited me and elate the pickiest orchestral percussionist. He warned me that few would suffice as rides but later admitted that there were some he’d recommend for use outside orchestral circles.
Worth Buying a Pair?
Finding a heavy ride that delivers an array of overtones, including hidden gems across the surface, is no easy feat. Finding a pair of classical piatti would be near impossible and, were they to appear on eBay, would begin with a bid of $3500.
The new ones debuted at NAMM. I recall being surprised at the street price of around $800. I suspect they’ve gone way up; if not, at double they’d still be a bargain. I’m getting tired of paying inflated prices for Ks or any cymbals. I’d sold a 22” old K for $2000…one cymbal! Eight hundred dollar pairs, as expensive as that may be, is a pittance in that context.
That winter NAMM has long past and I still go these Symphonics, almost exclusively, alternating between lower and higher-pitched models, lower in smaller clubs. The project but they don’t bite; they blend, odd as it sounds. Drummers come up and remark on my “old Ks, real nasty and cool, like Tony”. In past, I never received this sort of feedback.
They’re not hard to look at. Call me superficial. Tell me I’m hearing with my eyes. You may be right but the visual component matters. Otherwise you’d see more square or octagonal cymbals. At any rate, the Symphonic Ks are spitting images of the 1930s K Zildjian Constantinople Turkish cymbals in my collection, cratered and replete with sweet spots.
Paul set out to stress metal in the manner of the ancient craftsmen: Emulate the diverse hand-hammered patterns; lathe them with the blunt blades of yore, thus assuring uneven surface rings and so on; I’ve said it. And that the bells are exact copies of the antiques.
Okay, so Zildjian doesn’t hand hammer their cymbals. You’d never know it with these. My point is that they seem more hand hammered than any modern cymbal has a right to; and the metal gets stretched, stressed, and strained brutally…not just generously dimpled with hammer marks.
Look Good, Feel Good, Sound Good
Old cymbals are extremely diverse in appearance, much more mottled/cratered/scored with irregular valleys and peaks than anything made today. Vintage cymbals didn’t acquire their mottled appearance from any direct attention to sound; shape was all that mattered. They bludgeoned flat disks of metal into the familiar profile and taper. They didn’t pause, tap with a 7A, then recommence until a benchmark tone emerged. They knew from experience that to get a particular shape they’d have to go heavy here, light there, precisely how Francis programmed his computerized hammers. The hammer blows and clusters assure desirable variation, cymbal to cymbal.
Symphonic for All Seasons
Tony Williams played heavier jazz rides than most; I know, I’ve played seven of them, all old Turkish K Zildjians—and I’m not counting the later model American K ride I played on his yellow kit (thanks to Wallace Roney). Yet jazz players gravitate to thin rides, almost exclusively. I suggest that they can go to this cymbal and experience the thrill of feeling a thin cymbal touch in a heavy cymbal.
To me, the K Constantinople Symphonic is, pardon the lapse, a freak. A good freak. It enables a jazz player to play a heavier cymbal that projects instead of hammering away at a slender disk and hoping for the best. When the other instruments join in, the ride sound will survive—it’s got “weight” to it, and yet it doesn’t exude the “linearity” of tone common to heavy weight rock cymbals.
My 22” is an early model that’s ceased production (possibly because it’s hard for an orchestral player to keep two heavy cymbals in the air for very long without fatiguing and losing grip!). It’s representative, however, of the line, even of the diminutive 17”, which I’ve eyed since the beginning.
Why review a Symphonic cymbal for stick playing? Because it’s a new cymbal that works in old ways. It embodies the promise that modern cymbals can behave like ancient ones. This is not about remembering “how it was” but capturing definitively an elusive process that will benefit artists.
I respect that you may not dig heavy rides. You’d think I own shares in Zildjian. I don’t and I don’t have a deal with them. I just want to make you aware that the company has the savvy to make heavy feel light, and to make a doorstop musical. That’s modern magic. Tbw.