June 2008

Zildjian K Custom Hybrid Cymbals

There are new additions to the Avedis Zildjian Company’s K Custom Hybrid Series, the award-winning line designed with Japanese drummer Akira Jimbo. A fusion specialist, Jimbo said in a press release that “brilliance and darkness co-exist” in his 21st-century offshoot of the modern K Custom Series, which updated the historic K Zildjians.

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Zildjian K Custom Hybrid Series Cymbals
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Zildjian K Custom Hybrid Cymbals

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The K line was originally developed in Turkey by Kerope Zildjian in the 19th century, and became the company’s signature jazz item during the 20th century. Drummers like Art Blakey, Max Roach, Elvin Jones and Tony Williams simmered on K hi-hats, crashes and rides, helping to write jazz history while using the cymbals’ dark, expressive tones.

Jimbo’s initial hybrid design featured 13 1/4-inch hi-hats, nine- and 11-inch splashes, 17- and 19-inch crashes, a 19-inch China and a 20-inch ride. The series won a 2006 Musikmesse International Press Award, through voting by 80 different music magazines worldwide, as the best new cymbal series. Its brand-new additions are 14 1/4-inch hi-hats, 15-, 16- and 18-inch crashes, and a 17-inch China cymbal.

The hybrid design is an attempt to innovate and update the K line to achieve “maximum versatility.” Since the fusion Jimbo prefers is obviously much louder than acoustic jazz, his idea of a versatile meeting of bright and dark is unique. And the hybrids certainly look interesting, even if the results are mixed.

Each cymbal features a bright, brilliant finish on its unlathed inner half, as seen on the entirety of cymbals in the machine-hammered A Zildjian line, and on other customized cymbals like the K Custom Ride. The hybrids’ outer halves feature traditional lathing, and look more like classic K Zildjians.

But make no mistake—the K Custom Hybrids don’t sound anything like K Zildjians. That’s partly the point, but Jimbo only achieved the brilliance portion of the hybrid sound he was seeking, not the darkness. Any Zildjian cymbal with a “K” stamped on it also brings with it dark, warm, dry expectations, but only a few of Jimbo’s hybrids transcend both extremes.

The best of the initial bunch were his 13 1/4-inch hi-hats and 20-inch ride. The hi-hats combined the assertiveness of traditional 14-inch sets with the extra-crisp “chick” and “wash” sounds that the 13-inch hats produce when closed and opened by foot. The 20-inch ride most justified the hybrid series, which is advertised as having different timbres when played in different places. Ride cymbals, by nature, are the cymbals that most often produce such results. That ride’s unlathed bell made for ringing projection; its lathed outer half had the swinging dynamics of a K Zildjian, plus wash-like crash capabilities.

The new 14 1/4-inch hi-hats offer a loud “chick” sound when closed by foot, especially if they’re set apart by an inch or more on the hi-hat stand. Strike them as you open or close them, and the sound is slower and more syrupy than in the original series’ smaller model. The top cymbal in the pair is medium-thin. The medium bottom cymbal is advertised as having “Hybrid Hammering,” which equates to having uneven ridges on its outer edge. Swiss manufacturer Paiste (Zildjian’s oldest competitor) had a similar design in its Sound Edge hi-hats, which became popular 30 years ago.

All other new hybrid additions are thin. The crashes’ unlathed inner halves supposedly help to control wash and sustain, but the 15-inch has a little too much of both. Bright and loud when played with drumsticks, it actually sounds better with brushes, hybrids like Pro Mark Hot Rods, or even mallets.

The 18-inch crash (pictured) bears many of the same traits. Its sustain is understandably longer, although slightly warmer. Also decent as a light ride cymbal in quieter passages, the largest of the new crashes sounds tinny when played with brushes, but solid with hybrids or mallets.

Among the new line of crashes, the 16-inch stands out, sounding less bright than any of its siblings or Jimbo’s original 17- and 19-inch crashes. It produces deeper, warmer and darker tones than its counterparts when played with sticks, brushes, hybrids or mallets.

The new 17-inch China is also versatile, if more as a novelty cymbal. It projects loudly yet warmly, though it has a trashy sound when played with sticks. It’s even darker, if tinnier, with brushes or hybrids. But use mallets and you get an oceanic, gonglike tone.

It’s difficult for a company to consistently innovate, especially when it started in 1623 like Zildjian. The K Custom Hybrid Series won’t have the jazz impact of the distant relative it originated from. But combine the best of Jimbo’s initial creations (13 1/4-inch hi-hats, 11-inch splash, 20-inch ride) with his best new additions (16-inch crash, 17-inch China), and you’ll have a set of cymbals that will announce its presence, loudly and brightly, in any other musical setting.

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