The major element in most cymbal alloys is copper, combined with one of three second components: tin (for bronze), nickel (for nickel silver, which also tends to have zinc added), and zinc (for brass). Although there are very small amounts of other elements usually contained in cymbal alloys, the major components give the alloy its name. Raw copper naturally contains a small amount of silver, but this is not really a "secret ingredient". In these days of modern laboratory analysis there aren't really many ways for "secret ingredients" to stay secret. Secret process yes, secret ingredients, not really. The only element which seems to get above the 0.1% level is phosphorus, which is found in Paiste 602 material. Otherwise it's mainly copper, plus some tin, zinc, and nickel. One wouldn't expect trace elements (< 0.05%) of silver or gold to have an easily detectable impact on sound compared to the effects of casting, rolling, cupping, hammering, shaping, and lathing. However, research relating sonic properties to slight differences in alloy has not been done. If it has been done news has not reached the wiki yet. Meanwhile we will look at trace elements in some alloy samples after introducing the common alloys.
The shorthand way to refer to a bronze alloy is the amount of tin is mixed in with the main metal ingredient, copper. So B8 is 8% tin to 92% copper, and B20 is 20% tin to 80% copper. Note that the proportion of tin can vary up or down a bit (1% or 2%) from the ideal ratio and the alloy still meets the specification. So B19, B20 and B21 are all within the B20 spec. B23 is different enough to earn a different name. B22 is in between, and we will come back to that when we get to some specific lab results and look at the ingredients in detail. We might just be attaching names to a tin continuum from 18 to 25.
The Brass and Nickel-Silver alloys do not fit into this shorthand naming Bxx for bronze because they don't use tin.
The easiest way to determine the alloy of an unknown cymbal is visually. Yes different alloys vary in color, L to R Tin % 8, 8, 10, 20
However, the colour may be difficult to judge in photographs. This is especially true if it is just one cymbal and the photo is taken under unknown lighting conditions. It is recommended that when trying to identify a cymbal that it be done in person. Comparing to a cymbal of a known alloy is helpful if one is not familiar with the hues of the different alloys. Here are a few examples of the ways in which colours can present differently for cymbals made from the same alloy. Cleaning changes the color as well.
Results from laboratory tests are more reliable and informative then color, but harder to come by.
B20 (CuSn20) tends to have a silver or white colour hue. It is more pale than either the B15 and B8 alloys. The copper in the alloy will oxidize when exposed to excessive moisture.
Examples of B20 cymbals:
B23 (CuSn23) is an "enriched tin" alloy which is used in China, and in some Turkish brands.
Examples of B23 cymbals: the original Dream Contact cymbals, UFIP Firma (subject to further verification -- they were certainly said to be some enriched Tin).
B25 (CuSn25) is another "enriched tin" alloy which is used in Turkey. A true B25 may have much more beta phase present (or a larger proportion in beta rather than alpha) but that hasn't yet been established in laboratory analysis. There are a number of Turkish manufacturers who claim to use B25. It is possible that the recipe they follow starts with tin as 25% of the copper by weight, but by the time the material is fully cooked the proportions have shifted. Laboratory analysis has so far shown that the reputed B25 may be closer to 23% tin than 25%. This raises the question of whether it should really be seen as within the range B23±2.
Examples of B25 cymbals: Agean, Masterwork, V-Classic
B15 (Paiste Signature) Alloy
B15, or Proprietary Signature Bronze (PSB) alloy (it goes by a few names), can be identified by lusterous yellow colouration. Like all bronze, a blue/green oxide will be found when exposed to excessive moisture. This cupric oxide is what gives the Statue of Liberty it's characteristic colour. The patent for Paiste Signature Alloy (US patent number 4809581 filed: July 13, 1988 granted: March 7, 1989) actually covers B13 to B18, narrowing down to B15 as giving the best results.
Examples of B15 cymbals: Paiste Series Signature, Sound Formula, Signature Traditionals, Signature Dark Energy, and Visions (certain models). This alloy is now out of patent and Zildjian experimented with a series called Project 391 in B15 in 2014.
B8 bronze (CuSn8, aka 2002 alloy in Paiste terminology) has a noticeable orange hue to it. This is readily seen in clean cymbals, but is also present in cymbals that have developed a patina. B8 had been in wide industrial use for decades when in 1963 Paiste decided to make cymbals from it. The still lasting success of their 2002 series (and many other cymbal lines) justifies this decision. The sound character of B8 is less neutral and more focused than that of B20. This is why B8 cymbals feel louder and more cutting to some drummers.
Examples of B8 cymbals:
B12 bronze is an intermediate tin level between the more common B8 and B12.
Examples of B12 cymbals: Zildjian ZHT series (HT for High Tin)
Brass (MS63) cymbals have a colour similar to B15 although lacking the luster. They also feel lighter and warmer due to the density and thermal conductivity of the metal. Brass has a reputation for being a material which is not used for high quality cymbals, but there are some cymbalmakers like [Manabu Yamamoto] who create high quality hand hammered brass cymbals. So the material is not the sole determinant of sound. The material is just one factor in cymbal sound. How the material is worked is another, maybe even a more important factor. The host of different sounds found in B20 cymbals demonstrates how other factors can influence the how a cymbal sounds.
Examples of Brass cymbals: Budget cymbal lines like Paiste 302, Meinl Marathon, UFIP Kashian 2000, UFIP M8, some UFIP custom made cymbals
Cymbals made of nickel silver (NS12) have a steely silver colour. This colour tends to be more sterile looking then B20 alloy, resembling steel in many cases. Nickel silver is known for not corroding easily and may only have a light surface patina, rendering them more of a grey colour. If exposed to moisture, they will not develop the blue/green oxide indicative of cupric alloys.
Cymbals made from steel have been made by some of the smaller cymbal producers. They do not make up a large proportion of the cymbals made.
Examples of Steel cymbals: