DAVID E. LIBMAN
Having lived in the U.S. my entire life, I have generally been unfamiliar with UFiP. At best, I’ve been aware of UFiP as a mysterious Italian cymbal company that periodically seems to have excellent-sounding splash cymbals available at the music store. As it turns out, UFiP — an Italian acronym roughly translated as United Federation of Independent Cymbal Makers — has been around since the early 20th century with family origins that date back well before that. In recent years, UFiP has not been particularly visible in the U.S., but it now has an enthusiastic new distributor, Jamie Gale Music, that wants to change that.
As it turns out, UFiP makes a lot more than just splashes. Like most cymbal manufacturers, UFiP offers budget friendly semiprofessional and student models made from B8 sheet bronze and sheet brass. However, UFiP’s crème de la crème (or would it be gelato?) consists of a number of professional B20 bronze lines, including the Bionic, Brilliant, Natural, Rough, Class, and Extatic series. Individual UFiP artisans craft each cymbal from cast to finish. UFiP recently introduced the latest edition to its B20 professional lineup, the Blast series, which the company markets as being geared toward modern, techno, and drum ’n’ bass styles.
So far, the Blast series consists of larger hi-hats and crashes, but no rides. Therefore, the review set I received included 15″, 16″, 17″, 18″, 19″, and 20″ Blast crashes, 15″ and 16″ Blast hi-hats, and a smattering of rides: a 20″ Bionic ride, 21″ Class and Rough series rides, and a 21″ Bionic crash (which I took the liberty of deeming a crash/ride).
THE UFiP DIFFERENCE
Simply flip through the pages of DRUM! and you realize that now, probably more than ever, the market is saturated with manufacturers of professional B20 bronze cymbals. So why try UFiP? UFiP is the only cymbal company that makes its cymbals with a centrifugal-casting process, i.e., “Rotocasting.” “What’s that,” you ask? Well, actually, that’s what I asked. As Jamie Gale explained to me, cymbal makers traditionally maintain a great deal of secrecy about their manufacturing processes, but most acknowledge that they start with some sort of rolled bronze puck or bronze sheet into which the cymbal bell is pressed and shaped. Theoretically, this can make the bell less stable or prone to break (at the edge of the cup) because the bell shape is not part of the original cast.
With the Rotocasting process, a UFiP artisan pours liquid bronze into a spinning mold shaped like a cymbal so that the bell is part of the originally cast shape. The mold spins at approximately 1,000 revolutions per minute, all the while pushing impurities in the bronze to the cymbal’s edge and surface areas (much of which is then lathed off). The high-speed spinning process also reduces air pockets in the alloy. Consequently, the cymbal, when lathed and finished, has what UFiP claims is the purest B20 bronze on the market — with a thicker bell-to-bow ratio than any other cymbal. UFiP claims this makes for a more durable and pure-sounding cymbal. I can’t really opine on the durability issue because it’s been at least ten years since I’ve cracked any cymbal from any manufacturer. But as to purity in sound, UFiP seems to be onto something. Read on.
A BLAST FROM THE CRASH
The six Blast crashes I received — ranging from 15”–20” — are very thin cymbals (easily flexed with your hand) albeit with UFiP’s thicker bell. Each has micro lathing with very thin stripes that look more like they were applied with an artist’s paintbrush than a lathe. Cymbal surfaces have a lovely brilliant finish that comes from buffing, not any coating. UFiP’s outlined logo is expertly applied, top and bottom, and black “Blast crash” designations complete the text on the cymbal surfaces. The truly unique aspect of the Blast series’ aesthetic is their intensely deep hammer marks, which are achieved by using a pneumatic-hammering machine at a slow press speed. All in all, these cymbals are candy for the eyes with a stylishness that is not surprising given their Italian origins.
Sonically, the Blasts crash immediately on impact — almost like a splash cymbal — with no delay even in the larger models. They need very little prompting with a stick to flare into crash mode. A light touch goes a long way, but with a harder impact, their volume matches your force. Uniquely, these cymbals have a slight China-type aspect in the explosiveness of their crash, but it’s never trashy or cheap-sounding. Even with brashness and explosiveness, the Blasts retain a crystal-like tone quality. The bell sounds have good articulation and definition, although they generally include some crash sound as opposed to total sonic separation. When playing the bows with tips and a light touch, I get decent definition for ride patterns. Anything beyond a light touch, however, quickly morphs the sound into an explosive crash.
BIG BLAST HI-HATS
With the 15″ and 16″ Blast hats, the bottom cymbals lack the deep hammer marks of the other Blasts, yet the bottoms have the necessary heft to keep them from inverting on footchicks. Conversely, the top cymbals are relatively thin and include deep hammer marks. Most 15″ or 16″ hi-hats I’ve tried give foot chicks that sound too chunky for my taste, and feel too heavy for my foot. Not so with the Blast hats. The lightweight tops give these hats the lighter foot feel that I prefer in 13″ and 14″ hats. Plus, the larger diameter 15″ and 16″ surface areas make these hats easier to reach when playing with sticks.
Beyond feel, these hats sound excellent. Foot chicks are crisp, although lower in pitch than what comes from smaller hats. Every now and then I get an air pocket, but this is easily remedied by changing the angle of the bottom cymbal. The thin top cymbals give these hats a good deal of sizzle when played in various open foot positions. When closed, these hats produce a stick sound that is articulate with a somewhat modern, electronic aspect. Although both sets are excellent, I favored the 15″ hats because of their particular pitch range.
THE BIONIC 20″ AND 21″ CYMBALS
UFiP’s Bionic series have the same micro-lathing and brilliant finishes (on most surfaces) as the Blast series, but they’re not as thin. Also, the Bionics have a combination of wide and narrow hammer marks that are not nearly as intensely deep as the Blast models.
The 20″ Bionic ride is heavy and thick with a buffed, unlathed top and micro-lathing on the bottom. This ride’s thickness gives it excellent stick definition that speaks with a clear midrange tone. Add to the mix a few (but not many) extraneous overtones, and this ride has a quirky, pleasant personality. The bell sound that comes from this ride — as with all the other UFiP rides I received — is incredible. The bell sings with a rounded yet penetrating, full, pure tone that, despite its pronounced quality, is never abrasive. This ride is too thick to be crashed, and to my ear, it’s a rock cymbal through and through.
The 21″ Bionic I received is not labeled crash or ride; I’m told it’s a crash. It’s definitely thinner than the 20″ ride, so who am I to argue? It’s lathed and buffed on both sides with a lovely mirror-like brilliant finish. This cymbal produces a lush full crash, but then immediately afterward, I can ride it with stick tips and get ample articulation surrounded by shimmering glass-like overtones. The bell (again, incredible) has caused me to ponder, “How can I convince my wife that I need another 21″ cymbal?” This cymbal is at once unique and versatile. If I owned it, I’d take it to every gig.
21″ CLASS AND ROUGH RIDES
The 21″ Class and Rough rides I received are both heavy, thick rides with non-brilliant finishes. I understand UFiP offers its rides in lighter weights as well. The Class series is finished with regular lathing and hand hammering. The Rough series has micro-lathing and an interesting combination of different-size hammering marks. Again, each of these cymbals produces a bell tone that rivals and, in my view, surpasses most other B20 rides I’ve heard.
In the case of the heavy Class ride, the tone of the bow (when played with sticks) is too pitchy for my taste. The Rough ride, on the other hand, has less pitch and just enough woody stick definition to make it just right. I’d classify both cymbals as rock rides, although the Rough ride would also work well for modern jazz, country, Latin, and big band applications.
ON THE GIG
I took the UFiPs to a rock/classic blues gig I had at a local restaurant — in particular, the 15″ Blast hats, the 16” and 20″ Blast crashes, the 21″ Bionic crash/ride, and the 21″ Rough ride. Despite two electric guitar players, one electric bass player, four Marshall stacks — and no microphones on my drum kit — I had no problem matching the volume of a very loud band. These cymbals have tremendous dynamic range and they retain musicality from soft to loud. Three songs into the gig, the bass player (a very good musician) turned to me and said, “That’s the best-sounding set of cymbals I’ve ever heard.” Need I say more?
Models, Sizes & List Prices
16″ Hi-Hats $1,142
15″ Crash $507
16″ Crash $571
17″ Crash $654
18″ Crash $699
19″ Crash $744
20″ Crash $795
20″ Ride $722
21″ Crash/Ride $778
21″ Ride $690
21″ Ride $641
All Blast, Bionic, Class, and Rough series are professional handmade B20 cymbals cast using UFiP’s exclusive Rotocasting procedure. Blast series are very thin with deep hammering; Bionic series have wide hammering on both sides and micro-lathing; Class series are non-brilliant, completely handmade, and cross-hammered with regular hand lathing; and Rough series are non-brilliant with micro-lathing.
I found the UFiPs to be an absolute joy to play. They have a clarity and purity in their tone that’s unique and refreshing. The bell sounds are beyond impressive. The Blast series, although marketed as geared toward modern techno styles, could work well in any style. The UFiPs I received spoke with voices that I found particularly well suited for louder amplified music. The prices are comparable to other professional B20 bronze lines, so there’s absolutely no downside to giving the UFiPs a try.