BY AJ “BIG SIZZLE” DONAHUE
We’ve been talking about Crescent Cymbals a good bit lately. Last year, we ran a print review of the company’s recently updated Element series, and not long after, we posted a breezy, eminently readable look at the Stanton Moore signature set. And now we’re back to wrap up our acclaimed trilogy of in-depth Crescent coverage pieces with a full run down on the Jeff Hamilton–created Hammertone line.
Hamilton, one of the most celebrated living players still carrying the torch for traditional small combo and big band jazz, was one of the original Crescent Cymbals owner/artists (alongside Stanton Moore). With that, his signature cymbal set has been through several iterations during the company’s evolution. The most current editions, subject to only a few Sabian-inspired mods over previous incarnations, represent nearly a decade of refining under Hamilton’s direction.
The resulting quartet of instruments feels like an extension of Hamilton’s playing and they’ve certainly benefited from his incredibly particular ear for musicality in cymbals. Let’s dig in.
WHAT GOES IN
The Hammertone set comprises only four models: 14” hi-hats, 20” and 22” rides, and a 22” Chinese. All cymbals are made of B20 bronze alloy, feature a combination of tight lathing and hand hammering, and weigh in around the medium-light range. They’ve got a mellow brown-ish bronze finish with only a hint of brassy yellow and a modest sheen. It’s a classic look well suited to the line’s intended sound.
But before we dive into that sound, I’d like to point out a couple of neat design elements utilized by the Hammertones. The hats and rides all feature higher than normal profiles to provide more open responses. Additionally, the rides are treated with special lathing techniques that taper the edges for added stick control. Finally, the Chinese sports a rougher lathe to allow for a little more trash in the spread, a flat-ish cup, and flatter flange than what you’d find on most China-type cymbals.
WHAT COMES OUT
Hamilton is such a giving and supportive player, and I assumed his signature set would be designed to blend and disappear rather than speak up. Boy was I wrong.
The Hammertones are warm and woody, but elevated by bit of the brighter timbre common to the early American cymbals used by jazz drummers in the ’60s and ’70s. It doesn’t take much effort to bring a washy roar out of any of them, but they’re expertly controlled and ticking when played softly.
Expectedly, they sound beautiful in jazz and singer-songwriter contexts, but they’re surprisingly capable of handling louder rock settings as well. I thought they would wash out when leaned on, but there is just enough stick separation to maintain some definition at higher volumes.
Individually, each Hammertone is a joy. The hats are smooth and full, with a big sizzle that honestly sounds like it would taste good. I’m not sure if that makes sense, but that’s what I’m hearing and I’m sticking with it. (Also, if anyone in my day-to-day life is reading this, please start calling me Big Sizzle.)
Anyway, back to the review. I think these hats would work well in almost any situation, but they really made in an impression when I used them for hip-hop and modern pop. They’re light and agile, but with just enough chunk on the edge to poke through louder music. The foot chick is the only aspect of their sound that hints at their jazz-intended design, with a mellow and warm sound similar to what you might expect from a thinner pair of vintage hats.
The 20″ and 22″ rides sound beautiful in their assigned roles, work well as large crashes, and, as mentioned, offer enough stick separation to handle much louder settings than I would have thought cymbals this thin could manage. The 22” looks like it’s treated with more top-side hammering, although the 20” plays with a slightly tighter feel. They’ve both got great stick separation when played on the bow, but open up tremendously when crashed. I hear a subtle bed of complex tones in the wash. These are just exquisite jazz rides that would also do very well as multi-purpose crash/rides in other settings.
Last but certainly not least, the 22” Chinese is a thunderstorm on a leash. That low bell and flattened flange builds in a rideable quality that recalls the pang cymbals Mel Lewis used for years, but its looser lathing leaves room for some boiling trash below the stick. It’s got a longer sustain than most 22” China-types, which adds some nice versatility. With a gentle touch, the Hammertone Chinese is a beautifully complex alternative ride, but digging in just a little bit can release a tornado. This is a really dynamic instrument with insane range.
Crescent’s Hammertone cymbals are an absolute home run. They capture the dark, smoky breath and ticking attack embedded in our ears from decades of bop and big band music, but add just a touch of Sabian’s characteristic clarity to make them excel in a wider variety of settings. The Hammertones fit into a rare space where they have color and character, but enough range to sound great in almost any context. They would excel in most rock, folk, and even funk settings, and they record beautifully. I really enjoyed everything I recently checked out from Crescent, but these won the day for me.
- B20 bronze
- Fine lathing
- Rides have tapered edges and deep profiles
- Hats have a deep profile
- Chinese has low bell, flatter flange, and less-fine lathing
- 14″ Hi-hats $525
- 20″ Ride $425
- 22″ Ride $509
- 22″ Chinese $519