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Meet the Master Cymbal Makers of Istanbul

Bosphorus Cymbals, Istanbul
Bosphorus Cymbals, Istanbul | © Bradley Secker / Culture Trip
Before they crash their way into your favourite song, the world’s best cymbals are handcrafted by talented cymbal makers (or cymbal smiths, as they are known). Though many factories employ machines to do the work, Bosphorus Cymbals in Istanbul, Turkey, creates everything by hand in a fiery technique of dancing flames and molten bronze dating back eight centuries.

Established by master cymbal smiths Hasan Seker, Ibrahim Yakici and Hasan Ozdemir in 1996, Bosphorus has been handcrafting its sought-after cymbals for 22 years. The history of cymbals in Turkey, however, dates back far further than that.

Bosphorus Cymbals, Istanbul © Bradley Secker

“Turkey is the homeland of cymbals,” explains Emrah Sipahi, international sales director at Bosphorus. “Cymbals as we know them today were developed here in the 14th century for the Ottoman army marching band. Before that there were Ancient Greek cymbals, but they were much thicker and smaller. The Mehter (Ottoman army) needed a bigger sound, so they made a new design, shaped like the shields of their soldiers, and this remains the basis of modern cymbals.”

Bosphorus Cymbals, Istanbul © Bradley Secker

The cymbals produced at Bosphorus are truly one of a kind. The company has 18 different product lines, with more added each year. The 25-man crew can make 30 cymbals a day, and each one is smithed in a style that is “strictly loyal to the traditions of Turkish cymbal history”, according to Sipahi. The only difference is that electric power is now used to roll the bronze and turn the lathe – a modern convenience that ancient cymbal smiths would have jumped at. The percussive instruments are available to buy in 80 countries.

Bradley Secker / @ Culture Trip
Bosphorus Cymbals, Istanbul © Bradley Secker / Culture Trip
Bosphorus Cymbals, Istanbul © Bradley Secker / Culture Trip

In order to become qualified as one of Bosphorus’s cymbal smiths, apprentices must undergo rigorous training before they can even hold the hammer. According to Sipahi, this can take months. To call yourself a master cymbal smith, of which there are only a few around the world, you must be able “to understand any drummer’s request of how they want the cymbal to sound and be able to create the cymbal according to those specifications”, says Sipahi.

Bosphorus Cymbals, Istanbul © Bradley Secker

Bosphorus tries to foster creativity among its cymbal smiths: “Workers are always encouraged to try new ideas with their cymbal designs. It never becomes a boring routine,” says Sipahi.

Bosphorus Cymbals, Istanbul © Bradley Secker
Bosphorus Cymbals, Istanbul © Bradley Secker / Culture Trip
Bosphorus Cymbals, Istanbul © Bradley Secker

A job at Bosphorus Cymbals is more than a job – it’s like being part of a family. “The company’s owners were the first masters and most of their pupils are still working at the factory as today’s masters,” says Sipahi. “Now, some of their pupils are about to be masters. This succession generates a respectful relationship and hierarchy among the workers. Everybody enjoys the peaceful workplace atmosphere and feels secure with their future.”

Bradley Secker / @ Culture Trip
Bradley Secker / @ Culture Trip
Bosphorus Cymbals, Istanbul © Bradley Secker / Culture Trip

Speaking of Bosphorus’s clientele, Sipahi says: “It’s a lot of fun to work in the music industry. We have many exceptional days at the office where we meet with good drummers and even some stars.

“Also, this company pumps up your creativity and your only limit is the expanse of our own imaginations,” he says. “Who can ask for more?”

Bradley Secker / @ Culture Trip