The Zildjian 20″ K ride cymbal is probably the best selling ride cymbal in history. It is almost mandatory to include it in any good collection of cymbals, for its versatility in all kinds of musical situations.
The story of the K Series is almost as fascinating and complex as the story of the Zildjian family themselves, which can be traced back to 1618. That year, alchemist Avedis Zildjian accidentally discovered a method to obtain a special alloy that could be used to make cymbals that have a great sound and are very resistant and reliable. It would take a very long text to explain the evolution of these cymbals, but the important thing is that this building process has persisted until the present day.
There is great confusion regarding an hypothetical “secret formula” to obtain this special alloy that the Zildjians would have kept under wraps. But it is likely not to be about the mixture or the ingredients but to the process itself, which is only known by very few people in the world.
However, the K Series inherit all the purity of this process, but also represents an important point in the history of cymbal manufacturing. Let’s recall those years when swing was about to reign. Zildjian’s chief Avedis III was very open to listen to his costumers. He would ask them about their needs and preferences. Jazz was becoming more and more popular, it was a revolution. And just imagine Mr. Avedis Zildjian discussing cymbals with Papa Jo Jones, Max Roach, Gene Krupa, Elvin Jones… A bunch of musicians that will change everything asking the cymbal craftsman to experiment with sizes, thicknesses, weights , clear or dark sounds… They even provide some names: ride, splash, hi-hat, sizzle… And on top of that, all of them are in love with the sound of the original K cymbals that came from Istanbul. When in 1968 Zildjian bought the K. Zildjian company and all European trademarks, the future of the K Series was secured.
Many years later, we have a wide range of ride cymbals and other products from the K Series, such as the K Constantinople. But one of the masterpieces in Zildjian’s brochure is the simple 20″ K ride. It is a medium-weight cymbal, medium volume, without a very large sustain, its bell is also medium sized and the pitch is low to mid as well. On paper, doesn’t seem to be a killer… until you play it. The first thing you’ll notice is a classic jazzy tone, dark and dry but not really that much. It’s also an articulate, defined sound. Then it’s easy to think that it will fit in other contexts. Yes, it could sound well on another style, such as soul or funk. ¿Rock, maybe? Well, we could ask Gavin Harrison about his favourite cymbal, which he uses in almost all the hard and also delicate songs of Porcupine Tree. I remember my first time with the Zildjian 20″ K. I was going to check out the Ping ride from Zildjian, thinking it would be the perfect combination of bell and body sound. And yes, the Ping ride is a great cymbal, but thinking of a “ping” sound… there’s nothing like the 20″ K’s bell. It’s a pure crystal sound, a very well matched bell sound that doesn’t last forever. Obviously I bought it immediately.
The Zildjian 20″ K ride is not a noisy cymbal nor the darkest of them all, it just seems to be designed to deliver the right measure on any of its features. Probably that is why it’s so easy to have under control and fits in every style that doesn’t demand high volume. Possibly the most direct competitors are in its same family, such as the K Custom or the K Constantinople. But that is a matter of taste. That being said, despite all the competition and innovation the 20″ K ride is still a best seller and the old cymbals are highly sough-after. There is even a certain level of customers demanding for these cymbals in brilliant finishes, but Zildjian has never released a single one, probably because the finish would affect the sound too much. So there is only a traditional finish available.
Again, don’t think that the Zildjian 20″ K is “a jazz ride cymbal”. Probably not the best choice for a very loud set of cymbals, but it can live very well alongside with several brilliant cymbals or any combination of different sounds. In my own case, I use it with some Fast crashes from the K and the Avedis Series, several different splashes and a Z/K (yes, Z on top) 13″ hi-hat and a 14″ New Beat hi-hat. Everything sounds terrific.
If we try to travel mentally to the age when the coolest music was jazz and swing, we will get it right: the most advanced and extreme musicians, the grandfathers of today’s music and the ones that made hips shake to dirty noises, enjoyed the quality of a sound that would last forever. That’s why it isn’t that hard to find a Zildjian 20″ K ride in today’s world, in any drumset ready for playing drum’n’bass, prog-rock or even the darkest Metal you may think of. And of course, in the coolest jazz/blues jam session on earth.
This post is also available in Versión en Español.