Jazz Master and Valena Series Cymbals

by Michael Dawson

A tribute to the tradition and a creative push forward.


Masterwork, an Istanbul-based manufacturer founded in 2002, specializes in making cymbals using ancient Turkish traditions combined with contemporary tools and techniques. The company offers fourteen different series made from B25 bronze (75% copper and 25% tin). We were sent a slew of samples from half a dozen series, but we’re going to take a look at two lines that represent the wide range of sounds Masterwork offers: the dark, warm Jazz Master and the brighter and more aggressive—yet no less expressive—Valena.

Masterworks Jazz

Jazz Master
This is Masterwork’s traditional line designed as a tribute to the classic dark, warm tones that helped define the sound of jazz in the 1950s and ’60s. These cymbals have a subdued finish, wide lathing rings on top of a standard lathing pattern, asymmetrical hammering, and a modestly sized “M” logo. A full range of sizes and models is available, including 10″ and 12″ splashes, 13″–15″ hi-hats, 16″–18″ crashes, 19″–22″ crash-rides, and 14″–22″ Chinas. We were sent 15″ hi-hats, a 21″ crash-ride, and a 10″ splash.

The Jazz Master 10″ splash is paper-thin and super-light (210 grams). It opens up with a quick, flashy attack, and it has a clean, warm sustain and a fast but balanced decay. There’s no trace of gonginess, and there’s just enough complexity to prevent a clearly defined pitch. I don’t need to use a splash cymbal very often these days, but when I do, the 10″ Jazz Master gives me the exact sound that I hear in my head.

The 15″ Jazz Master hi-hats have a medium-thin top (1,084 grams) and a medium bottom (1,290 grams). The bells are small but pronounced, and the bow has a moderately gentle, even slope. They have a deep, low-pitched tone, but they are thick enough to provide crisp stick definition and a strong foot chick. The open sound has a dark, complex hiss that can be used to roar like Tony Williams, or it can be controlled easily with varying degrees of foot pressure and playing dynamics for more subtle textures. Just as the 10″ Jazz Master splash offers exactly what I look for in a quick accent cymbal, the 15″ Jazz Masters possess a great balance of the dark, expressive, and powerful characteristics that I want from a set of big hi-hats.

Masterwork’s 21″ Jazz Master crash-ride is medium-thin (2,310 grams), with a fairly flat and wide (6″) bell and a subtly sloped bow. It has a deep, warm tone with balanced and brilliant overtones, light yet clean attack, and a rich, musical, and partially integrated bell sound. The wash isn’t overrun by complex, trashy overtones, so the decay is very balanced and even. Full crashes on the shoulder draw out big, deep, and washy tones, while more delicate and expressive tones can be coaxed with ease with lighter strokes on the bell and bow. This is a rare multi-purpose cymbal that produces a full spectrum of sound at any dynamic, whether swinging 300 bpm at pianissimo or bashing Bonham-style beats at triple forte.

Masterworks Valena

The Valena series is a more contemporary looking and sounding line from Masterwork. These cymbals are brilliantly finished and have raw, unlathed bells. The bottoms are highly polished and traditionally lathed from edge to bell. The tops are lathed with a few different patterns to create a unique look comprising an inner circle of short, wide knife marks followed by a highly polished band, followed by a thin unlathed band and an outer band with a highly polished finish. There’s no discernable sonic difference between the different sections, but they do give the cymbals a strong, striking appearance from the player’s perspective.

The 13″ Valena hi-hats are medium-thin (800 gram top and 900 gram bottom) and have small, pronounced bells and a gradual but fairly steep bow. They have a crisp and articulate closed sound, a clean and somewhat pitchy open tone, and a sizzly, bright, and slightly complex half-open wash. The foot chick is fast and clean. I was able to articulate quick 8th notes with the foot very easily within a dense fusion-type groove, and the hi-hats respond very well to light double strokes and quick open/closed barks. They’re a little chunky-sounding for straight-ahead jazz, but are a great match for fusion, contemporary R&B, and electronica.

The 14″ Valena crash is medium-thin (760 grams), has a bright, flashy, fast tone, and opens up immediately with a full, spraying voice at any volume. It also has a hint of trashiness, which helps tame down a bit of its glassiness. Its sound is like a combination of the clean, bright attack of a large splash with the warmer and more complex sustain of a small hand-hammered crash.

The 17″ Dark Valena crash (1,163 grams) is just as fast and sensitive as the 14″ crash, but it has a significantly richer, warmer tone. It opens up very easily and has a big, explosive voice that decays slowly but evenly. This cymbal was a perfect choice for a low- to medium-volume gig where I wanted to be able to play full, washy crashes from a quick flick of the stick. You can also really lay into it for strong, impactful accents, and crash-riding it in a modern rock setting created a loud, seamless wash.

The medium-thin Valena crash-ride (1,874 grams) has a smooth, clean sustain that builds up nicely, but it lacks the articulation and control that it needs to be used as a primary ride cymbal. Conversely, the bell produces a clear, strong sound that sits nicely over the sustain. With that in mind, I’d tend to use this cymbal primarily for big, washy crashes and for an alterative bell sound. It’s not nearly as quick as the 14″ and 17″ crashes, but it has a similarly bright and expressive voice.

Origin: Istanbul, Turkey
Alloy: B25 bronze
Sizes: 10″ splash, 15″ hi-hats, and 21″ crash-ride (Jazz Master); 13″ hi-hats, 14″ crash, 17″ Dark crash, and 20″ crash-ride (Valena)