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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.


Bell bronze

Bell bronze, also known as bell metal, is the traditional alloy used for fine cymbals, 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.

Tin bronzes used for cymbals are often named after the percentage of tin they contain, thus B20 is a 20% tin bronze, and B18 an 18% tin bronze.

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, the subject of patents in various countries. The U.S. Patent 4,809,581  reveals that it is phosphor bronze shaped in hot and cold state pretty much like other bell bronze cymbals.

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 and Marathon B18, Paiste Signature and Traditionals, Paiste 602 and some Exotic Percussion, Paiste Sound Creation and Formula 602, Sabian HH and HHX, Sabian AA and AAX, most Sabian Signature, Spizzichino, Stagg, 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. Being less sensitive than bell bronze, malleable bronze cymbals are easier for a beginner to play.

Cymbal bronzes containing 8% tin are most normally called B8 alloy. Paiste refer to their 8% tin bronze as 2002 alloy.

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% 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% by weight tin, but these results could never approach the results obtained with traditional cymbals having a tin content of 20% 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, 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, Zildjian ZXT and ZBT.


Some of the finest traditional gongs and china-type cymbals, and nearly all zils, are made from brass.

However, most brass cymbals are toy or beginners' cymbals.

Many of the "show" cymbals provided by some drum kit manufacturers for use in shop window displays are also made from brass. These are typically very poor in tone, some even being simple disks of untreated metal and unplayable despite the reputable brand name they may bear.

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 of brass cymbals 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 101 and some Exotic Percussion, Pearl, Royal, nearly all zils of all makes.

Nickel silver

Nickel silver as used in cymbal making is an alloy of copper and nickel, 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.

Some maintain that the term nickel silver should only be used for alloys containing an appreciable content of zinc, and would call this cymbal alloy nickel bronze instead, but the use of the term nickel silver for all cymbal bronzes with nickel as the main alloying metal is well established.

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, Sabian Solar, some Zilco, and Zildjian planet z.

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 69% copper, 15% manganese, 15% zinc and 1% 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, and was previously described by their sales literature as containing tin rather than zinc. 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.

See also

  • Bell
  • Gong
  • Cymbal making


  • The Cymbal Book, Hugo Pinksterboer - techniques and culture of current cymbal makers
  • The Cymbal Book, Hal Leonard, ISBN 9780793519200 - comprehensive history
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Cymbal_alloys". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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