Japan’s premier cymbal maker fuses centuries-old techniques with modern-day processes.

Koide 703 and 10J Series Cymbals

Although relatively new to the international market for high-end cymbals, Japanese company Koide (pronounced “co-ee-day”) has a long history in metallurgy that dates back to 1947, when founder Toshio Koide’s father and two uncles opened a metal processing facility. For a short time in the 1960s, that factory produced entry-level cymbals, and then the company spent twenty-plus years fabricating orchestral timpani bowls. In 1998, Toshio returned to cymbal making, using readily available B8 bronze, and Koide’s first production line was introduced in 2003.

Shortly thereafter, Koide began importing B20 blanks from Turkey to explore traditional cymbal-making techniques, and then he began experimenting with developing new bronze alloys and production techniques to further expand the sounds of his cymbals. The results of those experiments are the patented B23ZT and B21ZFe alloys, which comprise zirconium, titanium, iron, and higher percentages of tin. Koide also developed its own recipe for timeless B20.

All of Koide’s blanks are now produced in Japan by a foundry that specializes in copper-based alloys. And each series is crafted using techniques that optimize the tonal qualities of the alloy being used. The 703 line is Koide’s homage to classic Turkish style cymbals. They’re made from B20 bronze and are formed using traditional hammering methods. The 10J series is also made from B20 but is fabricated using more modern methods to ensure more consistency from cymbal to cymbal, as well as more contemporary sounds. We received sets of both series to review, so let’s check them out.

The Process

Koide employs production methods that utilize machine-assisted and hand-hammering techniques. The powered hammer allows the craftsmen to make precise and consistent strokes during the early stages of fabrication, while later-stage hand hammering creates sonic variation and uniqueness for each cymbal. Each model in Koide’s catalog is produced in small batches to maintain quality control and consistency.

The 703 Series

These traditional B20 Turkish-style cymbals are shaped and tuned entirely through hammering. The bells are smaller and have a lower profile compared to other Koide lines. Because 703 models are formed from blanks via hammering, their shapes vary slightly from cymbal to cymbal. Therefore, no two 703 cymbals sound, look, or feel exactly alike. This series is ideal for styles of music that require sensitive and expressive cymbals that respond with an array of warm, complex tones that vary in accordance with your touch, playing dynamics, and stroke location.

We received a 19″ crash-ride, 20″, 21″, and 22″ rides, a 20″ trash crash-ride, a 20″ flat ride, and 14″ and 15″ hi-hats. All of our review cymbals, except the trash crash, are demarked as “S” models. Cymbals in this subset of the 703 series are treated with lighter hammering and have a softer feel when compared to regular 703s, which are more aggressively hammered for maximum complexity and explosiveness. All of the cymbals have a very clean, sparkling attack followed by a rich, balanced sustain and a quick, smooth decay. The bells have a clear chime with a musical and slightly integrated tone.

While all of the cymbals in our review batch complemented one another well, the 19″, 20″, and 22″ models worked very well as a set and had smoother and broader tones. The 20″ trash crash, which had the most complexity and a smoky, woody tone, was a standout for its tight and dry old-school jazz vibe, à la modern-jazz great Bill Stewart. And it paired perfectly with the complex yet washier character of the 21″ ride and the bone-dry “click” of the 20″ flat. For all-purpose applications, I would favor the 19″/20″/22″ setup. Those three cymbals produce beautifully rich, smooth, and silvery tones that would be fitting for a wide range of situations, from classic rock, R&B, and jazz to modern fusion and general studio applications. By contrast, the 20″ trash crash-ride, 21″ ride, and 20″ trio make a picture-perfect setup for more nuanced and dynamically controlled music, from piano trio jazz and bebop to acoustic-based singer-songwriter sessions.

The 14″ and 15″ 703 hi-hats are gorgeous-sounding instruments that can do no wrong in just about any style of music. They have a very clean, crisp attack that provides great articulation of delicate and intricate patterns, and the foot chick is tight and easily manipulated with foot pressure. The open sound has a rich, musical wash with a strong presence that doesn’t sound harsh. The 14″ hi-hats were my favorite in this series; they could easily become my everyday/every gig choice. The 15″ hi-hats were also super versatile, but they had a deeper pitch and slightly wider sustain. These would be my go-to when I needed darker, washier hi-hats that sit a bit lower in the mix without losing clarity or sparkle.

The 10J Series

Like the 703 series, 10J cymbals are made from Koide’s B20 alloy, but they are fabricated differently to produce more consistent and contemporary sounds. Instead of being hammered into form from blanks, 10J cymbals are spun into shape and then fine-tuned via hammering to the desired balance of warmth, complexity, and trashiness. They’re slightly heavier than comparable 703s, and the bells are a bit larger. These would be the cymbals of choice for drummers playing louder rock, funk, and blues gigs, as they offer more punch and projection.

The 10J models we received included 14″ and 15″ hi-hats, an 18″ crash-ride, and 20″ and 22″ rides. They each retained the warmth, smoothness, and vintage vibe of the 703 series, but the overtones weren’t quite as complex, and the sustain was more controlled. They also had a tighter feel. In a side-by-side comparison to the 703 models, the 10Js had a brighter, crispier attack and a dampened sustain, similar to the muted effect you get by sticking a small strip of tape to the underside of a thin, washy cymbal. I found myself able to articulate intricate stickings more clearly on the 10Js, and I could play with a more aggressive touch without having them wash out.

The 18″ had a breathy voice with a sizzling sustain that had me looking to see if a rivet or two was installed. The 20″ served very well as a powerful, punchy crash or a clean, articulate jazz ride. The 22″ had a great balance of warm and breathy sustain and clean, woody stick attack, and the bell was very musical. To my ears, this 10J echoed the smoother, higher tone of hard-bop legend Philly Joe Jones more than the dry, trashy vibe of Tony Williams circa Miles Davis’s Nefertiti.

Of the two sets of 10J hi-hats we received, I preferred the deeper tone and stronger personality of the 15″ over the 14″. The 14″ sounded very good, and would be great for general use, but the larger pair seemed to benefit more from the focused nature of the 10J series. The 15″ pair recalled the dry, deep hi-hat tone of post-bop visionary Jack DeJohnette, especially what was captured on his classic 1977 album Pictures, as well as late-’60s/early-’70s Tony Williams. They have a big, throaty, and powerful voice, but are also super crisp, articulate, and controllable.

By Michael Dawson