Zildjian has cut a bold and wide swath with the new Z3 series of cymbals. Made from the “secret Zildjian alloy,” this is a large collection of rock cymbals designed to be a niche offering that combines the feel of A Customs with the muscularity of Z Customs. They are priced the same as classic A Zildjian cymbals, but don’t expect the classic versatility of the old A cymbals. This is a rock selection, fully effective in its narrow focus. The large Z3 collection is full of winners, but also includes a couple of flat-liners and (in my opinion) one clunker.
Did I mention rock? Don’t miss that detail, because as good as the Z3s are, they are not (with one exception) all-around musical cymbals for Broadway to Black Label Society. But on the Black Label front, these cymbals rock hard.
As you may have already heard from some other geezer, you can get multiple sounds from one cymbal. Different pitches too. But all this well-proven finesse goes out the window once the music is performed at a certain loud volume. Overtones get buried, subtlety is lost, clarity becomes harder to achieve, and sweet sibilant voices need to be traded in for a more blunt cymbal attack. Furthermore, when you are swatting a cymbal with miniature baseball bats, it’s hard to make two swats in a row. See, when you reel back for strike number two, your crash cymbal is still at the far end of its arc of punishment. You need more cymbals just to get the mechanics to line up.
Apparently, Zildjian understands these issues, and the Z3s are good evidence of the company’s intention to answer to the needs of the hard-rocking drummer. I understand these issues, so I played the new Z3s with a nylon-tipped Pro-Mark 5B as the small stick, and wood-tipped Zildjian Matt Sorum signature stick (between a 2B and a 2S) as the large stick. Rock on!
The Z3 crashes come in five sizes and two flavors: Rock crash and Medium crash — all in 16", 17", 18", and 19". There’s also a 20" Medium. The Medium crashes are slightly lower in pitch and a tad mellower. The Rock crashes give a slightly more blunt attack and higher pitch.
The 16", 17", and 18" exemplify the Z3 difference. The Z3 look is a crazy-good mirror-buffed finish over wide lathing and bulging hammer marks. The Z3 sound is glassy but thick, very robust, insensitive to polite nudging, and ripe with shimmering highs. The 16" is short but strong; the 18" full and with a bright spread. Consistently, the Rock crashes registered a higher pitch and a good bit more brashness. The Medium crashes sounded less specialized, and closer to “normal.” Crashes are a personal choice, and I stayed true to my own history and dug the 17" Medium the most. But it was a hard call — the 16"s and 18"s were also quite excellent. But at the 19", things shift a bit.
The 19" Medium crash has a low and sweet voice. I liked it better than the 19" Rock crash’s harsher, cutting tone. Quite mellow in its massiveness, the 19" Medium crash also does a great job as a crash/ride. I think pairing it with a higher and shorter crash, like a 17", would make for a great dynamic duo. I was sold. I moved on to the 20" Medium crash, which is also a sweet bruiser, but I didn’t like it quite as much as either 19". Though the 20" has good shimmer and a great speaking voice, I felt the 19" balanced under my stick just a little easier as I bashed it crash/ride style. And the 20" is darn big as a crash. I was still sold on a 19" and a 17" as a Combo Of Doom. But then I opened the next bag: the 19" Thrash ride.
Zildjian must have read my mind. I dug the 19" Z Custom Thrash ride the company introduced a couple of years back, but I secretly wished for a little more sophistication, a little more butter. Here it is! El Primo Basho.
The Z3 Thrash ride has round hammering that radiates straight out from the center, just like the widely spaced spokes of a street bike. It looks cool — it sounds even better. The 19" Thrash ride does indeed manage the pummeling better than the 19" Medium crash, giving slightly better distinction to the notes and keeping good position under the stick. The pitch is higher than the 19" Medium, but not as high as the 19" Rock crash. It has a slight bend at the lip of the bow, and feels really good to play. As a crash it felt pretty darn good, giving a sharp, short, slightly dirty bark that I liked. This is a cymbal I would have been happy to have on numerous bashing occasions. An absolute keeper.
The Z3 line includes both 18" and 20" China cymbals. They are good, but are a bit vanilla to my ear. See, back in the day, when Billy Cobham played with the Mahavishnu Orchestra, his insane and muscular drumming ensured that every single drummer in the world would run out and buy a “China-type” cymbal immediately after hearing him. What we lemmings went looking for in the early ’70s was a buttery, complex yet still exotically intrusive “Chinese” cymbal. Variously named China-type cymbals have come and gone, but the new, 21st century China cymbals, generally speaking, are just intrusive. They’re almost boring.
Sorry, but these Z3s fit into that category too. Crisp, raucous, and explosive, they are short on complexity. But I am happy to report that, in addition to the obvious move of spanking the bow for exclamation (with cymbal mounted upside down), both the 18" and 20" could also be played on the face. You can ride these a bit between punctuations. Okay, so it’s not fair to call them bad; c’mon, these are good, pricey cymbals. But they’re not a step forward to the glorious past, either.
Less forgivable than the Z3 Chinas is the very underwhelming 12" splash, which I do not like and would hesitate to recommend. But beware: Of the numerous splashes I’ve seen in the past decade, I’ve liked only three or four. I want a brief, whispy, clean note. Something like classic reggae, or classic Stewart Copeland. So maybe I’m just allergic to the sort of short, clunky punctuation that the Z3 12" splash produces. It might be perfect for your musical needs. It’s not so good for mine.
The hi-hats of the new Z3 line are excellent. Available in regular and Mastersound (rippled bottom) models, your choice is between 14" and 15" versions. This is some tough choosing. All four pairs of hats had me drooling.
The 14" “regular” hats are both buttery and ballsy. Great definition and macho body are there to substantiate your rocking beats. But the sophistication and sensitivity of these hats is tremendous, and if I was caught on a desert island with only them, I’d be okay. They play great on face, on shoulder, pinched tight, and wide open. They didn’t squeak; they didn’t honk; they didn’t choke when beaten. I said the Z3 was not a versatile line? I was wrong. The 14" Z3 hats are versatile. They are Da Bomb.
As expected, the Mastersound version of the 14" hats are a crisper pair, with pronounced hiss and a chick that won’t quit. They, too, are excellent in all the same ways. But since you’re rocking anyway, maybe it’s time to go large — and the 15" Z3 hats go large. The regular 15"s have a macho sonic footprint and plenty of testosterone. Because of this, they lose the tremendous versatility of the 14"s, but oh my goodness, they produce some authority. If the center of your kit is the hats, not the ride, check these out. They are their own Command Center. The Mastersound version of the 15"s is of course chippier, but the long tone of the Mastersound’s sibilance also makes it slightly less articulate. Apparently the darker voice of the regular hats makes for a quicker silence between notes. Either way, these are large guns loaded with power and articulation. Recommended.
There are six Z3 rides: The aforementioned 19" Thrash ride, The 21" Mega Bell ride, the Medium Heavy ride (in 20" and 22"), and the Rock ride (also in 20" and 22"). The 22" Medium Heavy ride is thick and heavy, and produces a round, wet, shimmering rock ping. There are some subtle, harsh overtones, but they are very slight and won’t be audible in any rock situations. Pleasant overtones are also here, in a cushion of modest wash. The bell is short and crisp and good. This is a winner for rock drummers. By contrast, the 22" Rock ride is much higher pitched, has a bit more wash, and has a bell with more braggadocio and spread. It’s a case of tomato/tomahto, but personally I like the more masculine, less frantic voice of the 22" Medium Heavy ride.
Stepping down 2" we find the 20" Medium Heavy ride. It has a lot more wash under a wet, monasterial ping that is higher pitched than the 22", with a bell that gives a thin-shelled, old-school sound like something from 1960s Latin jazz. Like an old jazz cymbal, this one has lots of wash, but I couldn’t hear that wash at all while jamming along. If your band dips into really quiet volumes, you’ll have to see if you like that particular wash for your particular musical needs. The 20" Rock ride is a single-voiced ping, and a bit high-pitched at that. But that’s about normal for a 20". However, it has a fantastically clear, strong, and cutting bell, so if most of your ride time is on the bell, check this one out.
If the bell is all you’re about, try the 21" Mega Bell ride. This cymbal is darn near split 60/40 between bell and bow. Seriously. From the center hole there’s 4" of bell and 6.75" of bow! That brief expanse of bow produces a raucous, clear, and authoritative ping that is more of a dinner bell and less of a glassy ping. And, as promised, the “Mega” bell is straight off a world-class destroyer vessel. And if your bandmates can’t hear it, their ears have already gone to Davey Jones’ Locker!
Z3 cymbals fill a loud niche in between A Custom and Z Custom; brilliant finish is a showstopper; glossy, muscular, cutting tone is well suited to rock.
Zildjian has successfully engineered a shimmering, powerful class of cymbal in between A Custom and Z Custom. They sound as beautiful as they do loud. If you’re a hard-rocking, big-stick sort of player, check them out. They are really good.