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Cymbal alloys

Cymbals are made from four main alloys, all of them copper-based. These are: Bell Bronze, Malleable Bronze, Brass and Nickel silver.

See also bell, gong, cymbal making.

Table of contents
1 Bell Bronze
2 Malleable Bronze
3 Brass
4 Nickel-Silver
5 Other Metals
6 Secret Alloys

Bell Bronze

Bell bronze, also known as bell metal, is the traditional alloy used for fine cymbals, and also many gongs and, as the name suggests, bells. It is normally stated to be one part tin to four parts copper, that is 20% tin, and this is still the most common formula. But there has always been some variation. Larger and smaller bells are cast with differing amounts of tin, and some bell, gong and cymbal makers use small but significant amounts of other elements, notably silver, gold and phosphorus.

Bell bronze is a two-phase alloy, meaning that some of the tin is not dissolved in the copper grains but exists between them. This makes the metal harder and more brittle than a single-phase alloy, and also affects the way the metal responds to hardening by hammering and lathing, and greatly restricts the use of mechanised techniques of manufacture.

One notable alloy in this group is Paiste Signature Alloy, previously known as Sound Alloy and the subject of patents in various countries. The US patent is especially interesting as it discusses the relative merits of bell and malleable bronze (see below), and implies that Paiste possesses a secret process by which such cymbals can be made from sheet metal.

Major orchestras generally use bell bronze cymbals, which are capable of a greater dynamic range than any others.

Examples: Anatolian, Bosphorous, Istanbul, Masterwork, Meinl Byzance, Paiste Signature and Traditionals, Paiste 602 and some Exotic Percussion, Paiste Sound Creation and Sound Formula, Sabian HH and HHX, Sabian AA and AAX, most Sabian Signature, Saluda Mist, Saluda Voodoo and Saluda Voodoo EX, Spizzichino, Ufip, Wuhan, Zildjian A and A Custom, Zildjian K and K Custom, Zildjian Z Custom.

Malleable Bronze

Malleable bronze is an alloy of tin and copper containing no more than 8% tin. It is a single-phase alloy and can be cold rolled into sheets, unlike bell bronze. It is readily available as commercial sheet metal in many grades and thicknesses. Most student cymbals are made from a malleable bronze, which is a good choice. Good quality malleable bronze cymbals can be mass produced giving good value for money, and being less sensitive than bell bronze they are easier for a beginner to play.

From the mid 20th century there were attempts to make top quality cymbals from malleable bronze, originally for reasons of economy. As the Paiste patent referred to above says:

"Less than three decades ago experiments were carried out for economical considerations with a commercial common bronze sheet or plating containing 8 percent tin by weight. The result was that the old bronze rule was confirmed and proven to be correct. One had to realize that with careful working and processing of the cymbal it was possible to achieve considerable qualitative results with the bronze sheet or plating containing 8 percent by weight tin, but these results could never approach the results obtained with traditional cymbals having a tin content of 20 percent by weight."

Not everyone agrees with this unfavourable assessment, written well after the development of the very successful Paiste 2002 series. In particular, top-line malleable bronze cymbals proved exceptionally suitable for the louder music then developing. The best of them now approach and some claim equal the best bell bronze cymbals in quality.

Examples: Harpy H, Meinl One of a Kind, Meinl Custom and Amun, Meinl Lightning and Raker, Meinl Classics and some Generation X, Meinl Trooper and Cadet, Meinl Meteor and Marathon B18, Orion Solo Pro and Solo Pro Master, Orion Viziuss, Paiste 2002 and Giant Beat, Paiste 802 and Alpha, Paiste 502 and some Exotic Percussion, Pearl Pro, Sabian B8 and B8 Pro, Sabian Pro Sonix, Saluda Glory, Zildjian ZXT and ZBT.


Some of the finest traditional gongs and china-type cymbals are made from brass, but other than this it is used mainly for toy and beginners' cymbals, and notably for the "show" cymbals provided by some drum kit manufacturers for use in shop window displays. The normal brass for cymbals is about 38% zinc in copper, which is very easily worked, readily available as sheet metal, and is easily the cheapest metal stock normally used for cymbals. The tone tends to be warm but dull compared to any sort of tin bronze, and very few drummers exploit it.

Examples: Harpy B, Meinl Marathon M38, Orion Twister, Paiste 302 and some Exotic Percussion, Pearl, Royal.


Nickel silver is an alloy of copper and nickel (but normally no silver), and an alloy with about 12% nickel is used for some beginners' cymbals. A very few specialised high-quality cymbals are also made from nickel silver, as are some top-quality gongs tending to the more modern and exotic sounds.

Nickel silver is malleable and available as commercial sheet metal, and gives a bright tone but without the shimmer and sensitivity of tin bronzes. In the early to mid 20th century nickel alloy cymbals were far more widely produced and used, and so many older recordings were probably made using cymbals with a significant nickel content.

Examples: Some Foremost, Meinl Streamer and Marathon N12, Paiste 402 and some Exotic Percussion, Sabian Signature Glennies Garbage, Saluda SSX, some Zilco.

Other Metals

Cymbals have also been made from silicon and aluminium bronzes but these alloys have not become generally popular.

Meinl FX9 is an alloy of copper, manganese, tin and aluminium, and was used for the new Meinl Generation X line released in 2003. Previous Generation X models were made from malleable bronze. FX9 is described by Meinl as not being a bronze at all, which should mean that copper is not the base. Alternatively, there is a minority view that the word "bronze" should be reserved for two-phase alloys, which may be their usage here.

The Saluda GH alloys were a series of four different alloys, all copper-based and composed of eleven elements in all. They are now all out of production. Saluda describe them as "flex bronze".

Unlike cymbals, some gongs are made from several different metals fused together. Many different metals have been used. Parts of some traditional gongs, notably the bosses of some "nipple" gongs, are made from iron based alloys.

Secret Alloys

In past centuries the alloys used by some cymbal makers were closely guarded secrets. Modern chemical analysis has made this a thing of the past, but despite this some cymbal literature still makes such claims. There are still many secrets in cymbal making but the composition of the alloy is not one of them.