The Genesis of Gen16's Acoustic Electric Cymbal.
One of the biggest stories at this year's NAMM Convention is the debut of Gen16, the new division of legendary cymbal manufacturer Avedis Zildjian Company. And one of the most impressive technologies being introduced by Gen16 is the AE (Acoustic Electric) Cymbal.
While electronic drums and percussion have been around for years, the AE Cymbal is a completely new twist that uses established technology to create essentially a completely new instrument. "The Acoustic Electric Cymbal is capable of creating a wide range of sounds, from that of a classic Zildjian cymbal to some very non-traditional sounds," explains Zildjian's VP of New Business & Product Development, John Roderick. "For drummers, it will have an inspirational impact akin to what the acoustic electric guitar has done for guitarists."
Unlike most existing electronic percussion systems, the AE Cymbal is not a sample trigger device. Instead, it's an actual cymbal, and plays like one, but at reduced volume levels, utilizing a unique dual microphone and DSP engine to amplify and model the cymbal's output.
"One of the most important things for us in creating the AE Cymbal was that it had to feel and play like a real cymbal," says Paul Francis, Zildjian's Director of R&D. "Most of what's currently available for drummers are rubberized, cymbal-shaped trigger pads, and they typically lack the feel and responsiveness of a real cymbal. For us at Zildjian, we've always been about the real feel."
As Francis explains, the original concept for a low-volume acoustic cymbal was proposed by Korg. "They came up with the basic perforation pattern and approached us to perfect the design. We did extensive testing to create a perforation pattern that would maintain the integrity of an actual cymbal. We also worked to develop the right alloy formula that could deliver the feel, sound and durability we needed, and could be manufactured in a wide range of sizes and shapes." Amplifying the cymbal was a challenge of a different magnitude. "We came up with a dual microphone system we liked, but there were other challenges," says Product Specialist Chris Ryan. "One of the biggest was to determine how to best implement signal processing into the mix, as well as how to make the microphone work with most cymbal setups and hardware."
The Gen16 team began a painstaking process of designing the pickup housing and refining the tone modeling and signal processing system that would ultimately become the AE Cymbal System. After many months of programming, the system was ready for the true "acid test."
Leon Chiappini, Chris Ryan and Paul Friancis
"Leon Chiappini, our master cymbal tester, and Paul Francis had to give their approvals of each of the sounds," says Ryan. "Leon has been at Zildjian since the early 1960s, and learned his craft under Avedis and Armand Zildjian. And Paul's been our head of R&D for years and has designed and tested more than his share of cymbals. Both of them are pretty much capable of identifying any type of cymbal blindfolded. When Leon and Paul gave their approval, we knew we'd done it. Then we knew we'd created something really special."