BY AJ DONAHUE | FROM THE SPRING 2019 ISSUE OF DRUM!
Cymbal & Gong specializes in designing and importing Turkish cymbals handcrafted in the old tradition. The small, Seattle-based shop has mostly focused on the thinner, darker fare generally sought out by jazz musicians and bearded, craft beer–drinking, Drum magazine–contributing indie rockers, but in recent years, it has begun to expand its offerings.
First, 2017 saw the release of the Ringo-inspired Mersey Beat series, which featured a tight trio of classically styled Turkish cymbals with a little extra shimmer on top. After the Mercy Beats’ successful debut, founder Tim Ennis turned his eye toward the next great English icon in the pantheon of essential rock drummers: John Bonham.
In the Janavar line, Ennis set out to make a “killer rock cymbal that was musical and usable at any volume,” he says. That’s a pretty tall order on its own, and adding Bonham’s name to the mix makes things even trickier. So how do these Turkish plates inspired by the God of Thunder stack up? Let’s find out.
The Janavar series includes B20 bronze cymbals in 15″ and 16″ hi-hats, 18″ and 20″ crashes, and 22″ and 24″ rides. The jumbo dishes have a pale bronze hue that’s complimented by a natural finish without logos. (So pretty!) They have slim profiles, tight bells, and even, topside hammering to create some extra tension in the bow. Gram weights are written in marker on the underside of the cup.
The 18″ (1460g) and 20″ (1817g) crashes each have a silvery shimmer—separated from a deep, warm middle—with a hint of trash around the edge. They’re both just barely taut enough on the bow to offer decent ride options, but they’re best when crashed. Hard strokes showcase the punching shimmer, and gentle brushes on the edge open up that beautifully layered middle range. These crashes are extraordinarily sensitive, answering even the softest touch with a generous bwah.
The 15″ (1014/1271g) and 16″ (1167/1472g) hi-hats are the most assertive of the group. Even with their thin weights, they have fairly sharp, barking responses when played on the edge with the stick shoulder. Both pairs are ticking and tight when closed, and they open up with rich, broad, roaring wash. They’re reminiscent of a pair of paper-thin hats I have from the 1950s, but with more projection and presence in the upper range.
Neither model felt sluggish due to its size. In fact, all of the Janavars seemed to play down a size in certain ways. They offer the breath and body of thin, large diameter cymbals, but respond with unexpected control. This is where the Bonham spirit shows up most prominently. The Janavars can erupt with huge waves of warm wash, but they’re capable of maintaining articulation above the din.
To me, that’s best exemplified by the 22″ (2403g) and 24″ (2573g) rides. The Janavar rides are magical. I can’t get enough of these things. Like their smaller siblings, both speak broadly with huge beds of warm wash down low, offering incredible separation of stick sound. Playing on the bow brings out a note that’s half tick and half ping. With both sizes, that stick sound is present enough to hang in everything up to a medium volume setting, but it does struggle to cut when things get extra loud.
For everything below extra loud, the rides are outstanding. Bells are mellow in frequency response, but strong enough in the middle to use in a variety of situations. Both cymbals are crashable, and they pair perfectly as a double crash/ride combo for everything from singer-songwriter material to bop. Finally, the 22″ ride, to my ear, has a bit more shimmer in the balance, which I think makes it the most versatile of the whole bunch.
At first blush, the Janavars don’t really sync up with Cymbal & Gong’s stated Bonham inspiration. Bonzo is most often associated with medium-weight, B8 bronze cymbals; these are very thin with loads of edge-wobble. They feel more like jazz cymbals with a touch of brightness than something employed by one of the most powerful drummers in rock history. Ennis tells me that Janavar is a transliteration of the Turkish word “canavar,” which means “the beast.” To me, these cymbals sound more beautiful than beastly.
But after spending some time with them, I began to understand Ennis’ train of thought. These are meant to remain musical at all dynamic levels, and although they might not be best suited for the loudest settings, I think these come pretty close to the mark. When I used them on a metal gig, for example, they sounded very good from the throne, but afterward, people in the audience mentioned that they had struggled to hear definition in the ride.
In the Janavar series, Cymbal & Gong has created an extraordinary set of instruments. On their own, they’re gorgeously balanced and full of character, immensely musical and sensitive. Even the tangential attachment to Bonham’s legacy, however, means that many drummers will look at these cymbals with extra scrutiny. These aren’t replicas or full-bore tributes—I get that—but when my simple lizard brain hears “Bonham,” I immediately want that pressure and power. And while I absolutely loved the Janavars, I wouldn’t reach for them first on a hard-rock session. But there was more to Bonham’s drumming than simply pure power, and it seems that the large sizes and balanced attack I hear throughout the line are more in service of Bonzo’s overall ethos.