For those if us drummers on Instagram, there was a point when Byrne Cymbals seemed to take the drumming world by storm. With Instagram being a visual medium, Byrne Cymbals jumped off the screen with their beauty, and once drummers paired those visuals with sound samples, they were hooked.
Made by Ray Bryne, an accomplished luthier educated at the Roberto-Venn School of Luthiery (look it up, I did!), Byrne cymbals go through a hand-hammered process that involves over a 1000 hammer blows on some cymbals as well as shaping and lathing techniques that take years to master. For a full blow to blow account of the process (yes, pun intended), check out this page on Byrne’s website: https://byrnecymbals.com/process/
To date, Ray Byrne’s cymbals are found in some of the country’s most revered drum shops, and we are proud to have them at Twin Cities Drum Collective. In short, Ray Byrne, who hails from Illinois, simply makes some of the most satisfying cymbals found anywhere in the world. He’s also an affable guy who’s quick with a smile and generous with his time. Accordingly, he was open to a quick interview that gives us a glimpse into his journey as cymbal smith.
How does a guy from IL get into cymbal manufacturing? How does one even start?
I don’t think it really matters where you’re from anymore. As we all know, the internet has shrunk the world. I have been in touch regularly with other cymbal smiths on 5 continents. Some of them asking me questions, some of them answering my questions. As far as starting out in cymbal making, it was self-taught coming at the expense of many wasted cymbal blanks. I had to be ok with being patient and making a large investment into not only materials, but developing and redeveloping tooling.
Tell us about the journey from making your first cymbal to being one of the premier cymbal makers in the US?
Patience and relationships. I couldn’t have continued without the people that supported me early on by purchasing a few pieces. The relationships and the support from both clients and friends has made that possible.
What was the toughest part of the learning curve?
Making cymbals is expensive. Especially when you are dealing with importing material from Turkey. A cymbal blank with shipping cost worked in is a big investment. I went through dozens of blanks before I was comfortable presenting something for sale. Even now I am learning and evolving. The toughest part of the learning curve is ultimately taking something you put so much time into and cutting it up for the scrap pile when it hasn’t worked out.
How long does the average ride cymbal take to make?
The much larger pieces take exponentially longer. If you use the formula to calculate the surface area of a circle, you’ll see how much bigger a cymbal really is when you go up a few inches! Hammering takes a minimum of a few hours paired with resting periods to lay it aside for a few days and coming back to it. Then the lathing which varies.
Do you play, what do you play, and how does being a player influence the cymbals you make?
I have played for 25 years. For a long time I played all the big brands and still have the drum set I saved for in high school. Right now I’m working with a friend to make a bop kit for myself from raw materials. The shells and lugs were machined in-shop from sheet metal and rod. Nothing for production. But just to have a homemade kit for any future video I will make. When that’s finished it will likely be the only kit I will have or keep. However I have several custom snares including A and F, Cherry Hill, and Woodland.
Being a player means that my umbrella vision is to make cymbals I like. If you like them too that makes me happy. If you don’t like them, that’s ok. There are a whole lot of cymbals out there. That’s why I don’t make certain things I don’t like. For example, I’m not interested in making a handmade cymbal and then cutting 50% of the material out to make an effects cymbal. I just say ‘no’ to cymbals with holes!
What has been the biggest triumph, and biggest failure, along your journey?
It has been meaningful to be able to bring something of value to the drum community and to have people enjoy something that I have made. I can’t say what my biggest failure has been, but I know that I just try my best.
What are a few of the biggest myths drummers have about cymbals?
That weight is everything. The Cymbal Builder App is essentially a cymbal weight calculator, but it also has a function to help dispel this assumption. It’s part of a cymbal’s anatomy. But not everything. I think another issue is that like food, people taste/listen with their eyes. I’ve had people ask for features on cymbals and then asked why they wanted them and the reason is usually “because it would look cool.” There is an expectation that a cymbal that looks like a certain line from one of the big four will immediately have those sound characteristics. But it won’t. Manufacturing techniques matter far more than what you see outwardly.
What were a few of the “validating moments” you have experienced as a cymbal smith.
Having the cell phone numbers of drummers I grew listening to in my phone? Just bizarre.
But when I see drummers who are far greater players than I, making good music, going to see them live and seeing my cymbals on their kit? That’s validating.
If you could capture Byrne Cymbals in three words, what would they be?
Work, relationships, unique.