November 2003

Masterwork Cymbals

As I began playing these beautiful Turkish cymbals, I couldn't help but think about the men whose names are on the underside of each of these handmade instruments. I wondered what motivated Behnan, Mustata and Yücel to enter the already crowded cymbal marketplace. I wondered about their families, where they live and how they learned the art of cymbal making. Surely cymbals of this quality are expressions of the lives of those who make them. Despite the dearth of information about these craftsmen, I felt a connection with them the more I played their Masterwork cymbals.

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Masterwork Cymbals

Masterwork sent two different product lines for review: the Custom Series and the Jazz Masters. The Customs have a more contemporary appearance, not unlike some of the other cymbals now being made in Turkey. The Jazz Masters' profile and lathing is reminiscent of the cymbals coming out of Turkey in the '50s and '60s.

First, the Custom Series. The 22-inch Jazz ride is a big cymbal with a large and lively sound, good stick definition and a controlled spread that does not wash out and overpower your time feel. Its tone is low and luxurious, while the stick sound is high and proportionately penetrating. The overtones between these tonal extremes are everything they should be, making for a balanced cymbal sound. Additionally, the 22-incher possesses one of the best bell sounds I've ever heard. This Jazz ride would be perfect for big bands or a group with amplified instruments. By contrast, the 20-inch Original Light ride possesses a tighter sound with not as much spread. The balance between high and low is even. When crashed with the shoulder of the stick, it comes alive just long enough to get your point across. It is perfect for combo work. And its bell is another one for the win column.

Both of these ride cymbals have a very complex and rich musical sound. However, they do not possess that dark, exotic, beautifully trashy sound so often associated with older Turkish cymbals. This makes them more practical for modern day applications.

The 14-inch Custom Series hi-hats are a perfect for these rides. There are a lot of hi-hat cymbals out there that have a good sound when played with the foot and not so good when play with a stick, or vice versa. This is not a problem with the Custom hi-hats. They have the same complex depth of tone as their companion rides do.

The Custom crashes are likewise most inviting. The 16- and 18-inch Paper Thins and the 17-inch Rock crash sound so good that I wanted to hit them. Both paper-thin crashes possess a rich, deep low shimmer that adds considerable body to the high end of their explosive crash. Everything is there tonally between these two extremes, making these cymbals sound complete and among some of the most musically useful I've ever played. The stick feel of the 17-inch Rock crash was not as pleasing as the others and, due to its added weight, lacked the same depth of tone of the Paper Thins. This model, however, would be perfect in an amplified setting requiring more volume from the drummer.

The issue of volume brings me to what I found to be one of the most impressive features of these Custom cymbals. I took a set to a gig where the drums were the only unamplified instrument. After a night of having the sound of my vintage Turkish cymbals swallowed up by the volume all around me, I put on the Masterwork Customs and they held their own. It was a liberating feeling to not have to bash to be heard.

Where the Customs excel at volume, the Jazz Masters are ideal for small-group, acoustic playing. Both the 13-inch and 14-inch hi-hats have a deep, rich vintage sound and feel. The basic pitch of the 13s is higher due to their smaller size. Lush overtones, beautiful spread and plenty of highs allow these cymbals their own space in the sonic landscape. Play them with your foot, ride or crash, open or closed; there is nothing that these cymbals won't do!

The Jazz Master 18-inch and 16-inch crashes are both commanding and subtle. They display all of the positive characteristics of Masterworks' other cymbals: complexity of tone, great feel, versatility. Despite their name, the Jazz Master cymbals are perfect for symphony percussionists as well.

There are two exceptions to the Jazz Masters' excellence, however. I found the tone of the 22-inch and 19-inch crash rides to be uneven and hollow. Each had a dominant overtone that would conflict with the other instruments. They lacked the versatile qualities of the other cymbals in their ability to blend and project regardless of the tonality, timbre or volume of the rest of the band.

The biggest surprise, however, came in the form of a 24-inch china. This is the mother of all chinas; its sound will turn heads on the bandstand because of its depth of expressive potential from a whisper to a roar. Listening to its kaleidoscopic tone and colors was like listening to the voice of a wise old sage. Sure you could drown out the rest of the band with this cymbal if you had a mind to, but you could also accompany a bass solo during a ballad.

Compared to other Turkish cymbals, Masterworks are very reasonably priced. That's the good news. The bad news is you may have a difficult time finding them at a local music store. Masterwork cymbals are distributed exclusively by Dunnett Classic Drums (604-643-9939). Believe me, your efforts will be rewarded!

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