There are several cymbal brands that every drummer knows about. These include big names like Meinl, Zildjian, Paiste, and Sabian as the biggest names. Drummers also know about brands like Istanbul Agop, Dream, Bosphorus, and Wuhan.
Most countries in the world tend to have smaller cymbal brands as well that produce local cymbals. However, there will sometimes be a cymbal brand mentioned that many people have never heard of before. One of these is Zenjian.
While that sounds like Zildjian, the cymbals are a different entity, and we’re going to give a brief history of what they are and why they were made.
Zenjian cymbals are vintage cymbals that were being produced in the earlier part of the 20th century. They’re incredibly rare, but you can still find a few being sold. You’ll also find drummers who love vintage gear playing them.
These cymbals are quite unique in that they don’t have too much background history. A lot of vintage cymbal brands are well documented, but these cymbals often lead to heavy conversations between vintage drum gear lovers.
Their origin is a bit blurred, and it also isn’t too clear on when their production was stopped. The definite information we know is that they were cymbals created for drum kits.
From doing a bit of research and digging into what these cymbals are all about, we found two different origin stories.
Either one could be true, and they’re both equally as interesting, so we’ll just explain both of them.
It’s always great to read the histories of older drum gear. We’re very spoiled with information coming so freely to us these days, but in the 30s, these cymbals just popped up out of nowhere without drummers knowing their exact details.
Produced by Zildjian
The first origin story is that Zenjian cymbals were produced by Zildjian. That’s why they have such a similar name.
The story goes that Zildjian created these cymbals to be included with drum kits that were being sold by Leedy. Leedy was a drum company that eventually got taken over by Slingerland, and the name fizzled out over time.
The Zenjian cymbals also came included with several Ludwig drum sets, so people associated them with both drum kit brands.
This was mostly just an assumption at the time, and it’s largely due to the Zenjian name being so similar to the Zildjian name. This all happened in the 1930s.
Produced by Italian Cymbal Makers
The other story is that Zenjian cymbals were made by Italian cymbal makers. This one seems a bit more plausible, and people have stated that it’s a better alternative to drummers assuming that Zenjian cymbals were made by Zildjian.
The story is that Leeds, Slingerland, and Ludwig tried to make an agreement with Zildjian to produce stock cymbals for their drum sets, but Zildjian couldn’t do it due to contractual obligations with other drum kit brands.
So, these drum brands went to highly regarded smiths in Italy to make their stock cymbals.
The interesting thing about both these stories is that they explain that Zenjian was never its own cymbal brand, and that’s why there isn’t too much information on the products.
Since these are vintage cymbals, you’ll find that almost all Zenjian cymbals are 16” or smaller. Cymbals were never big back in those days, and drummers were even playing on ride cymbals that were only 14 or 16”.
The next thing to note is that all Zenjian cymbals are fairly bright. They aren’t as bright as something like a modern Zildjian A Custom cymbal, but they’re definitely brighter than all the dark cymbals that are popular in the modern drumming space.
The reason that these cymbals have been assumed to be Italian cymbals is that they have the same design as all the other Italian cymbals that were being produced between the 1930s and 1960s. This includes the samelathing and hammering styles.
Are Zenjian Cymbals Good?
With modern drum gear, stock cymbals that come with drum kits are never great. However, Zenjian cymbals sound fairly decent. They have the same tones as most vintage cymbals, and many drummers love those sounds.
They only work with vintage drum sets, though, as they’re all too small to sound good with modern drum kit tones. The only Zenjian cymbals that may sound decent in that instance are the hi-hats and splash cymbals. The rides and crash cymbals will sound a bit out of place.
If you’re someone who loves all the current high-end cymbals that are offered by major drum brands, chances are high that you won’t like the sound of any Zenjian cymbals.
Here are a few clips of Zenjian cymbals being played:
Where Can You Find Zenjian Cymbals?
Since Zenjian cymbals stopped being made sometime in the 20th century, they’re incredibly difficult to find. There are potentially only a few hundred of them floating around in the world.
If you’re looking to buy a few of them, the only place to find them will be on secondhand gear marketplaces.
The most likely platforms would be ones that specialize in selling vintage gear.
How Do You Clean Zenjian Cymbals?
If you get a few Zenjian cymbals, you may be wondering how to clean them. Our biggest piece of advice is to not do it. Cymbals have their sounds mature with age, and 70-year-old cymbals will have decades of sound improvement behind them.
If you clean the cymbals, you’ll need to wait another hundred years for them to get the same tones again. The beauty of having vintage cymbals is experiencing the sounds that were popular back in the day.
The most you should clean them is by just using a damp cloth to wipe the dust off.
Final Thoughts on Zenjian Cymbals
The whole idea behind Zenjian cymbals is very interesting, as these cymbals played a significant role in the production of popular drum kits. However, it’s also interesting that there are conflicting stories about how or why these were even made.
If you love vintage drum gear, you should try to get your hands on a few of them that are still around. They may not sound as good as modern cymbals, but they certainly fit the tonal requirements for vintage drum kits.