By JJ Jones
I first heard the Artisan Elite series at the 2017 NAMM show, demo’d by jazz phenom Mark Guiliana. I was impressed by their focused and complex sound, perfect for Mark’s playing style. Mark said afterward he loves the Elites for their quieter nuances, since so much of his playing is in low volume settings, and that they are “incredibly expressive” and “a joy to play.”
Sabian sent us the 22” Elite ride, a pair of 14” Elite hi-hats and a pair of 15” Artisan Light hi-hats to review, the hats shipping in their own embroidered sleeves. At $584 and $599 respectively for the ride and hats on Musician’s Friend, the Artisan Elites are Sabian’s top-of-the-line series. The manufacturing process starts with a B20 bronze alloy (80% copper, 20% tin), and employs three different hand-hammering processes that utilize extensive multi-peen and high-density hammering. Sections of surface on both the top and bottom are left un-lathed to show traces of tin oxide. The entire process makes for a for a sound, as well as a look, that is as Sabian says, “deeper, darker, and dirtier”.
22” Artisan Elite Ride
At 22 inches, the Elite ride sounds larger than it is. The metal is very flexible and soft in stick feel, with a controlled, dark sound that’s low-pitched and dry (lack of overtones). Because it’s so dry, there’s a ton of stick definition. One of my favorite sounds was hitting the edge with the shaft of my stick, which produced something akin to the low pitched sustain of a large gong after the initial hit. The bells on all the Elites are low and flat, and I found the bell on the 22” ride to have a similar character and volume to the rest of the cymbal. I tend to go for rides that have high contrast between bow and bell in order to get as many differing sounds as I can when I play. That said, the Elites would work really well in jazz settings where not only the consistency of both the character and tone of the bell with the rest of the cymbal might be more desirable than cutting through and contrasting, the Elite’s uniquely complex sound could be showcased.
14” Artisan Elite and 15” Artisan Light Hi-Hats
The 14″ Artisan Elite hats have a medium-light top and a medium-heavy bottom. They have nice articulation and controlled sustain. The pedaled “chick” is present and clean, and the stick sound is chunky and can even produce a slightly trashy sound when played loosely. The 15” Artisan Light hats are a lightweight top with a medium bottom. They’re lower in pitch, due in part to their larger size, but are also quieter due to their lightness, and therefore don’t cut through as well. They’re also softer in comparison to the 14” Elites in both sound and stick feel.
I compared both pairs of Artisans to my own main hi-hats, a pair of 14” Meinl Byzance Darks. The Meinls are heavier weight, and feel and sound that way, but were also louder and brighter than the Artisans — which says a lot about the sound of the Artisans: they are very dark and dry if a Meinl Dark sounds bright in comparison! At the time of playing, I preferred the 14” Elites to the 15” Light hats because I felt they had more substance — I really had to dig into the Lights to get the same “oomph”. But listening back to the recording I made, I like the Lights too. Again, I could see using either type in low volume settings like jazz, and especially in the studio when hi-hat bleed into the snare mic can be an issue.
Artisan Elite series cymbals are truly a special and top-of-the-line product from Sabian, made with old-world manufacturing techniques for a darkly complex look and sound.
For more information, check out: http://www.sabian.com/en/cymbals/artisan-elite
JJ Jones is an internationally touring, Berklee-trained drummer and educator. She has played with folk-pop darlings Girlyman, singer/songwriter Lucy Wainwright Roche, comedian Margaret Cho, and LA’s riot-pop band WASI, among many others. She is the founder of EmpowerDrumming.com.