BY JIM BATCHO
It’s tough not to get haughty about cymbals like these. Playing them, you feel more than a little elitist, like a first-class citizen, the type who walks around in immaculately tailored suits and appreciates the finest in everything. The new line of K. Constantinople ride cymbals is one for the purists, the musicians, those who do the drumming equivalent of antique shopping. It isn’t just about the sound. The analogy toward antiquing is actually appropriate. These cymbals will not only sound better with age, given that the accumulation of wear and dirt mellows the timbre, but they will almost certainly increase in value and prestige over time. I couldn’t wait to uncork these babies and give them a taste.
Zildjian offers six new cymbals to add to the existing K. Constantinople line introduced in the spring of 1998. Whereas previous offerings are designated by familiar weight terminology (light, medium), these new Ks are branded by pitch and thinness. Although inconsistent with the existing Constantinople delineation, the references to pitch make sense once you play them. Zildjian offers three new types for each of two diameters, comprising six total: 20″ and 22″ Thin High, 20″ and 22″ Medium Thin High, and 20″ and 22″ Medium Thin Low.
For those unfamiliar with the genesis of the Constantinople line, here’s a bit of history. Constantinople was, of course, the ancient heart of the Byzantine Empire, what is now Istanbul, Turkey. It’s also the place where the Zildjian K. was created more than a century ago. The sound was rediscovered in the 1950s and ’60s by many of the legendary jazz drummers of the seminal be-bop era. Today’s Constantinople line is the latest effort by Zildjian to recreate the original recipe that became such a signature sound in jazz music.
The first welcome discovery of the K. Constantinoples is the outstanding stick response across the line. The washy character that characterizes some classic rides is a secondary attribute here. Stick patterns played in the middle area of the cymbal are clear and well defined. All six cymbals, in both the 20″ and 22″ diameters, exhibited a gorgeous, classic “taah, taah…” stick sound. They have the perfect blend of dry and bright attributes, without too much of either.
Overtones are, of course, the other key characteristic of a great ride cymbal. The key with the overtones of the K. Constantinoples is control. This is where the pitch designation makes so much sense. Take the Medium Thin High, for example. There is a defined pitch in the cymbal. But as you play harder and the overtones become more apparent, there isn’t a hint of variance in the note. Naturally, the spread of the frequencies creates tremendous depth and complexity of sound, but there is an evenness and balance without any ringing or tonality issues whatsoever. These cymbals go beyond shimmer; they actually glow. Another important consideration: There is variance in pitch from cymbal to cymbal of the same type. This is often typical of Zildjian cymbals, where each has its own uniqueness. It’s even more apparent in these new Ks, where, for example, one 22″ Thin High will sound different from another. Even if you like what you hear, try another of the same type and size to hone in on the exact sound you want.
We also can’t neglect another aspect of the K. Constantioples that makes them so perfect for jazz – their incredible dynamic range. Light taps make for a haunting, ethereal sound while loud, aggressive patterns roar to life. In essence, they respond to a player’s intention perfectly. Whether you want to be light and subtle or intense and loud, they reflect every emotion and do it with an even tone across the entire dynamic range. Not surprisingly, each K. Constantinople also works beautifully with mallet rolls. This type of playing is another example of their control from low to high volumes: Soft rolls display a gentile, velvety murmur. But as you increase the pressure of the roll, the controlled intensity comes through as they build tremendous volume. But again, from quiet to soft, there is a balance to the sound as it builds. The fundamental tonality to each cymbal builds and builds but also maintains consistency of character. Not only are these tailor made for jazz, they’re sure to be excellent orchestral instruments.
If there’s a fault to the new K. Constantinople line, it’s the bell. On the 20″ Thin High, it’s pretty much useless – flat, dead, and uninspiring. They don’t get much better as you move on down the line, although the bells on the larger Medium Thin High and Medium Thin Low at least provide some necessary tone and a marginal degree of projection. But again, these are jazz cymbals, where a bell is mostly used for accents. If you’re expecting to lay into it with hard eighth-notes or have it cut through a Marshall amp, you’re looking at the wrong cymbal.
Overall, all of the new K. Constantinoples are beautiful discs that will age well and likely become treasured friends over time. But obviously there are differences among them that should be noted. This is where personal taste comes into play, but I found the Low profile Ks the most pleasing to my ear. Not only is the stick definition a little drier, deeper, and more clear, they exhibit a very nice low-end ambient spread that builds just after the note is struck. With a single note, you get that great stick tone pretty much in isolation, followed by a broad, low, even spread. Simply gorgeous.
In general, I was less excited about the 20″ diameters than the 22″ ones. Whereas the larger cymbals produce marvelous depth in overtones and complexity, the smaller ones didn’t shine quite as much, particularly the smaller Thin High. At this point the thinness and smaller size begins to introduce more of the trashy, gong-like quality as a result of the loss of “body” in the overtones. In cymbals like these, chances are you want that depth of character to come through, so you might as well pony up the extra cash for the increase in bandwidth that comes with the 22s. Having said that, the 20″ Medium Thin Low and Medium Thin High strike a nice balance, while also displaying great crashing abilities. Between the two, the former provides more stick sound while the latter gives more high-end shimmer. If I were to go with two K. Constantinoples in my setup, I would be in heaven with the 22″ Medium Thin Low on my right and a 20″ Medium Thin High off to my left. The two complement each other beautifully and create a perfect stereo spread in recording sessions.
Which brings us inevitably to price. Since these rides are not only rich in sound but also in history, there is clearly a great deal of research and development behind their inception. Owning a piece of this history comes with a price – in this case, list prices of $550 for the 20″ models and $650 for the 22s. But like any valuable antique, they’re an investment in the future that are also meant to be thoroughly enjoyed in the present.
Model: Zildjian K. Constantinople Rides
Bronze: Secret Zildjian alloy
Hammering & Lathing: Machine and hand applied
Surface Finish: Traditional
Sizes & Prices:
20″ Thin High Ride $550
22″ Thin High Ride $650
20″ Medium Thin High $550
22″ Medium Thin High $650