Italian handcrafts: Pistoia Cymbals
- WTI Magazine #122 Dec 14, 2019
Cymbals are very ancient in origin: the prehistoric pair of cymbals on the mummy of an Egyptian religious musician displayed in the British Museum in London shows that they were in existence as early as 2000 BC.
The manufacture of cymbals was concentrated in China and in Turkey, where methods were discovered to make this instrument more durable and more musical. Clash cymbals used to be simply placed on felt pads or hung from rudimentary supports, but in around the 1920s, when cymbals began to be produced for drum kits, the sounds produced by the new instrument began to become defined and balanced.
Turkish immigrants to USA contributed greatly to the development of clash cymbals. They applied their great skill and expertise in the forging and hammering of copper and brass to the development of cymbals of ever greater diameters, heaviness and tonal accuracy.
The Zildjian family (whose Turkish/Armenian surname means “cymbals makers’ son”), immigrated to the United States and established the most important dynasty of cymbal makers on the international scene.
The Zildjians were descendants of Avedis, a 17th-century alchemist specialised in the casting of metal alloys particularly suitable for the production of cymbals.Also in Italy there are various families dedicated to business in this sector, including the Tronci, owners of the UFIP brand, who have been making organ pipes since 1732 and, since the mid-1800s, have focussed on bronze-working and the manufacture of tubular bells, gongs, sistrums and symphonic cymbals, collaborating with Puccini, Verdi and Mascagni.
Legend has it that a 17th-century merchant from Pistoia bartered his cargo of spices in Turkey for the secret of alloying the metals. This secret formula is reputed to be the same one still used by the UFIP cymbal makers today.
The origins of UFIP date back to the beginning of the 20th century; the company was initially a commission-based organisation performing an essentially commercial role, marketing the musical instruments produced by the small family companies operating in the area between Pistoia and Florence.
In 1931, the Tronci, along with other families from Pistoia and Tuscany (the Zanchi, Biasiei and others), formed a cooperative for the manufacture of cymbals and musical instruments. This became UFIP srl (“Unione Fabbricanti Italiani Piatti” - Union of Italian Cymbal Makers) in 1968, with the production of cymbals as its main activity.
Over the years the company has acquired an important global role in the production of Bronze B20 professional cymbals. The uniqueness of their B20 alloy is ensured primarily by an exclusive casting method used, known as Rotocasting®, a process that makes UFIP cymbals different from all others.
Cymbals are musical percussion instruments consisting of a concave metal plate fixed at a central hole and free to vibrate around its circumference. Is part of the family of idiophone instruments of indefinite pitch. Cymbals are used in all kinds of music, from traditional symphony orchestras to modern blues, jazz and rock drumming.
UFIP cymbals are unique and incomparable instruments: from casting to tempering and hammering to finishing, every process is completed by hand, with machinery only used to support the skills of the dedicated craftsmen.
UFIP cymbals are not mass produced, but crafted individually using only the finest B20 bell bronze. No other alloy offers the same purity of sound quality or wide dynamic range.
B20 bronze is an alloy composed of 80% copper and 20% tin, plus silver, which is present as an impurity in the tin. It is mixed in a crucible and the casting process is supervised by expert craftsmen, who carefully assess the temperature and liquidity of the alloy.
The bronze obtained by rotocasting has a more compact molecular structure, without the micro-cavities left by traditional gravity casting.
This gives the instrument greater durability over time and a natural tendency to gradually improve in tonal quality the more it is played.
Today, the UFIP artisans use the Turkish casting and hammering method, but with an exclusive patent for rotocasting. This method involves rapid rotation of the mould during the casting process to ensure a uniform density over the entire surface of the cymbal.
While all the other cymbals on the market are produced by laminating, followed by moulding, Rotocasting® ensures the elimination of impurities from the bronze alloy, while also providing greater thickness on the bell than in cymbals produced by ordinary moulding. This allows optimal propagation of the sound waves along the surface of the cymbal, producing a sound that cannot be matched.
Once the moulds are opened, the cymbals are cooled and tempered in a naked flame at a temperature of 700 degrees, so that the newly cast metal loses its fragility, after which they are turned for the first time, with incredible skill and accuracy. This process reduces the cymbal to a predetermined weight and thickness.
After this initial lathing process, the cymbal is then hammered. This is when the cymbal acquires the characteristics of durability, brightness and uniformity of sound typical of the finished product. This work was once done entirely by hand, but now a powerful hydraulic hammer is used, for this stage alone, while the cymbal is slowly turned by the careful hand of the craftsman.
Nevertheless, manual hammering is also used at the end, in order to finely balance the substantial work done by the power hammer. A finer turning operation then gives the cymbal its final appearance.
With Hi-Hat cymbals, the edges between the upper and lower plates are also finely calibrated, to ensure an absolutely precise contact around the entire circumference.
At this stage, the cymbals are placed in a special store room for at least two months, after which the sound of each individual instrument is checked. Those that “pass” are sent to be screen printed and are selected by weight (heavy, medium, light), while those that are rejected return to the foundry.
By Camera di Commercio di Pistoia with Unioncamere