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K Custom Special Dry Series

The orginal dark, dry cymbals return with an expanded palette.

Zildjian originally released a limited range of Special Dry series cymbals in 2003, and many drummers flocked to them for their unique mix of quick attack, dark tone, and short sustain. This year, Zildjian revived and redesigned the series to provide a complete range of thinner, trashier, and funkier tones for contemporary applications that require a more “processed” sound.


The new Special Dry series includes a 10″ splash, three sizes of hi-hats (13″, 14″, and 15″), a perforated 14″ FX hi-hat top, five crashes (16″, 18″, 19″, 20″, and 22″), three perforated Trash crashes (17″, 19″, and 21″), a perforated 18″ Trash China, and two rides (21″ and 23″). All of the models have a raw, patina-finish top with wide lathing across the bow and extensive clustered hammer marks to increase trashiness. The bottoms have a traditional finish. Compared to the original Special Dry hi-hats, crashes, and rides, the new versions are thinner, which gives them a faster attack, a more complex tone, and a shorter and more controlled sustain.


The 13″ Special Dry hi-hats, which were my favorite of the series, feature a thin top cymbal and a heavy bottom. The heavy bottom gives them a very solid foot chick, while the thin top offers a lot of expressivity at soft and loud dynamics. These hi-hats speak very quickly and have incredible articulation. They sound a bit deeper and darker than standard 13″ K hi-hats, and they have a very short, dry sustain. If you like to play a lot of diddles and fast figures on the hi-hats, these 13″s are the way to go—not too dark, not too bright, and with a crisp response.

The 14″ Special Dry hi-hats also feature a thin top and heavy bottom. The foot chick is crisp and deep, and the stick sound is low-pitched and woody with a nice touch of grit. The open sound is breathy and has a dry, short sustain, which attenuates the sizzle when played half-open while improving the response of quick open/closed barks. These are a great option for situations where you want dark-sounding hi-hats that get out of the way quickly and blend in the midrange frequencies of the mix.

The 15″ Special Dry hi-hats are drier and chunkier-sounding than the other two pairs, and they have more emphasis on the woody stick “click.” The foot chick and stick sound is deep yet crisp, and the half-open tone has a cool, guttural quality that doesn’t get too overpowering or washy. These are the hi-hats that I would choose when going for a dark, “dead” drum sound; they paired very well with a large, deeply tuned, and heavily muffled kit.

The 14″ FX Hat top is a thin cymbal with .5″ holes throughout the bow. It can be coupled with any hi-hat bottom cymbal to emulate a heavily effected tone that sounds like it’s been filtered, distorted, and processed via various studio effects. When used with the Special Dry 14″ bottom, the FX Hat gave the pair a very trashy, fast attack with super-short sustain and a tight, compressed tone. Experimental rock, hip-hop, and electronica drummers should check this one out, for sure.


For the revamped Special Dry line, Zildjian added a couple new sizes of crashes and reworked the design to make them thinner, faster, and more controlled. The 16″ crash is very thin and has a super-quick, papery attack and a trashy, very short sustain. This cymbal hits and gets out of the way immediately, which makes it great for fast accents, but its volume and cutting power are fairly limited; it’ll disappear in a loud, dense mix. On the flipside, this is a perfect crash for low-volume jazz and acoustic gigs. The 16″ Special Dry crash was also an excellent option for use as a hi-hat top when paired with a medium or heavy 16″ crash on gigs or sessions requiring a hefty Steve Jordan–type sound.

The 18″ and 19″ Special Dry crashes also have a quick, breathy attack that shuts down very quickly, but they have bigger, trashier voices that punch through with a bit more gusto. The 18″ had a slightly flashier attack, but the 18″ and 19″ crashes were fairly similar, with the 19″ having a lower pitch.

The 20″ and 22″ Special Dry crashes weren’t as washy as I expected. The sustain is marginally longer than that of the smaller crashes, and the attack is a touch slower as well, which helped give them a broader and more dramatic character. Similar to the 16″ Special Dry crash, the 20″ and 22″ versions seem to be ideal for situations where controlled cymbal sounds are required. They deliver a big, dark, complex crash sound in a tighter and more focused package.

Trash Crashes, China, and Splash

To up the quickness and grit factor even further, Zildjian added 17″, 19″, and 21″ Trash crashes, which feature rows of different sized round holes from the bell to the edge. These cymbals are paper-thin and have an ultra-fast, trashy attack that hits like a China with a short but smooth sustain. The 17″ was my favorite for punctuating short accents, while the 21″ sounded great when hit at more dramatic moments, like at the end of long phrases or fills. All three Trash crashes dissipate very quickly, so you can hit them hard and not have to worry about the sustain lingering into subsequent phrases.

The 18″ Trash China has a similar hole pattern as the Trash crashes except that the holes don’t extend onto the flanged edge. This is the most aggressive-sounding cymbal in the series, but it doesn’t sound out of place with the crashes and Trash crashes. The attack is very quick, the sustain has a lot of hiss and white noise, and the decay is fairly fast but smooth. The holes add to the trashiness of this China, but they also contribute to its more controlled sound when compared to standard Chinese cymbals. The 18″ Trash China is also a great choice for use in stacks. It pairs well with the 16″ crash, the 14″ FX Hat, and the 10″ splash for different textures.

The 10″ Special Dry splash is a fun little cymbal that has an excellent mix of quick, glassy attack, dark overtones, and a fast decay. It doesn’t sound hollow or gongy, and it’s not overly bright. Other than the obvious volume limitations of a paper-thin cymbal of this size, I found the 10″ Special Dry splash to be practically flawless.


The 21″ Special Dry ride was the centerpiece of the original launch of the series in 2003 and remains a highly coveted model among drummers who favor dark, dry, and articulate tones. (The 21″ Organic ride is actually an adaptation of the Special Dry designed in collaboration with Zildjian endorsing artist Pat Petrillo.) The new version of the 21″ Special Dry ride is a bit thinner than the original and is hammered a bit more to provide additional crash potential and to increase complexity. This is my favorite cymbal of the entire Special Dry series, as it perfectly meets my musical needs, which require a ride cymbal that can cover a wide variety of dynamics and musical genres, from acoustic jazz and light singer-songwriter sessions to more aggressive indie rock and experimental styles. The 21″ Special Dry ride has a solid woody stick sound, a dark, controlled, and breathy wash, and a well-integrated bell tone. You can also accent it on the edge for subtle, puffy crashes.

The 23″ Special Dry ride is more articulate than the 21″, and its crash sound is a little more low-key. The bell sounds stronger and deeper, and the wash is lower in pitch and less pronounced. The 23″ ride provides a bit more ping than the 21″ while still serving the deep, dark, earthy flavor that permeates the entire series. Though not appropriate for every playing style, the K Custom Special Dry series is a much-welcomed revival in the Zildjian catalog, providing a full palette of fast, funky tones desired by many contemporary drummers.

Michael Dawson