BY AJ DONAHUE
CYMBAL LUST TURNED UP TO 11
Every so often, you come across a musical instrument that is so inspiring it affects the way you play. Occasionally, these rare gems can even change the way you look at the instrument entirely. While this kind of experience has become increasingly elusive in an era defined by global accessibility, it’s far from extinct – as Paiste has proven in spades with its new Twenty Masters Collection.
I should preface the rest of this review by saying that I really wanted to offer a more balanced criticism of these cymbals. I’m very particular about rides, but after a few weeks with the Masters Collection, there just wasn’t much bad to say about them. Rarely have I been so impressed by one cymbal, let alone 11, and magnifying any minor negatives felt like a disservice to this exquisitely designed series of instruments.
Comprised of 11 handcrafted ride cymbals, the Twenty Masters Collection is an extension of Paiste’s widely successful Twenty series, through which the Swiss cymbal maker expanded its decidely shimmery standard palette with an alloy that incorporates those darker voices more commonly attributed to Turkish cymbals.
That alloy, called CuSn20, forms the familial glue that brings these very diverse units together under the same umbrella. Though each could be seen as a highly specialized instrument, the underlying similarities help create a group of rides that works well in almost any combination, while also blending nicely with virtually anything else I had on the stand.
THE EYES HAVE IT
Before we dig into the nitty-gritty, I have to mention the serious eye candy that came out of the big Paiste box. Simply put, the Masters Collection just looks awesome. From the clean and mellow Mediums to the scorched and spiraled Dark Drys to the stunningly hammered Dark Crisps, these cymbals have something for every eye. In every setting, their appearance elicited compliments from drummers and non-drummers alike. Fortunately, cymbals like these don’t get by on looks alone.
LIGHT AND DARK
With seven of eleven models in the Masters Collection sporting the “dark” tag in their names, it seems as if the line might be geared toward a pretty specific market. Not the case, however, as these cymbals proved time and again how versatile they could be. In particular, five of the similarly monikered set shared a few common traits that made them feel a little like a family within the family.
The Dark Crash Ride did an excellent job pulling double duty. Under a light stick with a small bead, it made an excellent, trashy second ride with a long, low spread perfectly suited to supporting acoustic guitar and piano. Surprisingly, those same qualities were even more apparent with brushes, where the wash was never in any danger of overtaking the attack.
At 20″, the Dark Crash Ride also hit all the high marks of an effective large crash, in my opinion. With a sharp attack and a lengthy decay that got bigger before it trailed off, this multifaceted little unit really shined in a loud rock setting.
Similar to their papery thin cousin, the 20″ and 22″ Dark Rides were smoky and warm with a big, cozy bed of low tones rounding out the spread. However, their meaty, clicking attack made them much more capable as centerpiece rides.
Because each of the Dark Rides has a mellow yet present bell and a comfortable crash, they worked very well together in low- to mid-volume settings. Paired with my favorite set of heavily patinaed 15″ hats, these cymbals gave me everything I needed for a guitar trio rehearsal that called for a lot of dynamic sensitivity.
Rounding out the dark, lightweight group are the 20″ and 22″ Dark Crisp Rides. Slightly heavier than the Dark Rides, these middleweight beauties were really exciting on their own, and each paired beautifully with every single cymbal I had access to.
Both models had a clear, cutting stick that didn’t betray their dark roots; a strong, smoky bell; and a wash that brought my ears back to my favorite Blue Note recordings. They never got out of control, even when crashed or spanked across the bow. Musical through and through, either size would find a welcome home in any genre, with the possible exception of super high-volume settings.
DARK AND DIRTY
Dry rides rarely pique my interest. Often burdened by a weird combination of over- and undertones, I usually find them impractical and unwieldy. That said, the Masters Collection Dark Dry Rides were not your prototypical drys.
At 20″ and 21″, these fairly similar cymbals didn’t spend much time on the stand together. I used each in a secondary position, and leaned a little more toward the 21″, because the tonal character was just a hair more subdued. That’s not to say that either fell victim to the wildness I’ve seen in other dry models. Each had a very pronounced stick supported by the earthy grit expected from a largely unlathed top. Very controllable and only mildly wild, these unique pies really won me over, finding an equally comfortable home in a folky indie rock rehearsal and a bluesy jam alike.
PLAYING THE MIDDLE NEVER FELT SO GOOD
At the beginning of this review, I mentioned the fact that sometimes a musical instrument can so thoroughly impress you that it upsets certain beliefs you’ve held for a very long time. For me, the 20″ and 21″ Medium Rides did just that.
For many years, I’ve used dark, trashy rides in every situation I could, and I assumed most cymbals with anything more than a medium-thin weight would be outside my wheelhouse. The Medium Rides completely changed my thinking about weight and profile, forcing me to re-evaluate what I really needed in a cymbal.
Clean and clear, but not without plenty of character, the Medium Rides had so much to offer. Each kind of split the difference between ping and click, producing a beautiful attack under every hit. Controllable, dynamic, and moderate enough to support any instrument, these rides were superb in every room and every setting.
To me, the Medium Rides exemplify the idea of the Masters Collection: simultaneously bright, modern, dark, and traditional. I found myself returning to each model again and again because they gave me literally everything I could have asked for. From their broad, roiling crash to their sparkling, crystalline sticking, these rides were the glue of the entire series.
If I had to pick one cymbal from the Masters Collection to keep in my bag for the rest of my life, it would undoubtedly be one of the Mediums (which of the two, however, I would be hard pressed to decide).
In a video interview about the inspiration behind his new Signature Groove Ride, John J.R. Robinson calls it his “dream that has come true,” going on to praise its range and extreme versatility. While I didn’t quite have the touch to make this 24″ beauty settle into a quiet combo, I didn’t doubt the possibility.
Bright, clear, and cutting, Robinson’s ride was great in a moderately loud rock setting. With a killer bell and just enough presence to cut through a wall of fuzzy guitars, every note was audible without being overwhelming. I’d be willing to bet a lot of that control could be attributed to the entirely unlathed, unfinished underside, which I’m sure also contributed to the cymbal’s satisfying mix of crystal clarity and subtle smokiness.
After spending a lot of time with J.R.’s Signature Groove Ride, the fruits of Robinson and Paiste’s lengthy collaboration were quite clear (the cymbal is the result of three years of R&D). In the right hands, this surprisingly rangy unit will do well on the bandstand and absolutely shine in the studio.
A RARE BIRD
While the Medium Rides stuck me as the most surprising and practical cymbals in the Masters Collection, it was Andre Ceccarelli’s Sweet Ride that really spoke to me on a different level. If you’re not familiar with Ceccarelli, the French drummer has long been considered one of the great luminaries of the European jazz community. His elegant touch, impeccable musicality, and incredible facility behind the drums have helped establish him as a favorite among musicians, fans, and critics the world over.
With Ceccarelli’s reputation in mind, I was extremely excited to get his signature ride up on the stand – and I can happily tell you, it didn’t disappoint. From the moment stick touched cymbal, I was playing through different hands. Simultaneously recalling the French master’s clean, striding patterns and the smooth yet urgent sound of Billy Higgins, the Sweet Ride struck me as the kind of cymbal that people spend years searching for.
Behind the unexpectedly bright, woody click, Ceccarelli’s ride produced a strong and rich but never uncontrollable spread that afforded an even, fluid progression from note to note. I think this cymbal did the best job among the Masters Collection of marrying the silvery signature tones of Paiste’s history with the darker Turkish aesthetic.
In a group of 11 almost uniformly stunning cymbals, picking a favorite was no easy task. But for me, the Sweet Ride took the ribbon. This was the cymbal that immediately changed my playing, and one I’ll remember for a very long time.
With the Masters Collection, Paiste has put together a group of cymbals that are more than worthy of their name. Encompassing a set of sounds that at once captures both modern and vintage sensibilities, it’s really astounding that not only are these 11 rides clearly all part of the same family, but that they can also work so well together. No matter what you’re looking for in a ride, the Masters Collection almost certainly has something that will appeal to you.
Models, Sizes & List Price
Dark Crash Ride
Dark Crisp Rides
Dark Dry Rides
Signature Groove Ride
The Masters Collection expands Paiste’s Twenty series to further incorporate the darker, Turkish sounds of the CuSn20 alloy into its selection of rides. The 11 ride cymbals range from very thin to medium heavy, creating a series that includes models suitable for many different genres.
Paiste America Inc.