Cymbals are an extremely important part of your drum kit and having the right cymbal can make or break your sound. When choosing a cymbal, you need to find one that matches your playing style as well as your musical style. Sam Ash Direct drum specialist Kyle Redding shares some tips for buying the right cymbals to meet your needs.
Thick or Thin?
If you are a newer drummer, a heavy hitter or just playing loud music, you might find that a thinner cymbal will not last as long as a thicker cymbal, since you will be overplaying the thinner cymbal. Overplaying a cymbal can cause it to crack or even completely break it. Thinner cymbals are more sensitive to hits and produce sound more easily than thicker cymbals. And, thinner cymbals have a limit to how loud they will ring, no matter how hard you hit them. Thinner cymbals tend to match better with softer music or in recording situations where high volume is not required. Thinner cymbals also tend to have a lower pitch than thicker cymbals.
Thicker cymbals work better for heavier playing, as they require a harder strike to produce their proper sound. They also produce a higher volume compared with thinner cymbals. Like thinner cymbals, thicker cymbals have a limit to the volume of sound they will produce, but they are louder than thinner cymbals. Thicker cymbals typically work better for louder rock styles since they tend to be higher pitched and are loud enough to cut through the mix of other instruments and vocals.
Pre-packaged Cymbal sets are a good starting point for entry-level drummers as they include the basic setup needed to start playing. Cymbal packs are usually available in Rock and Pro sets, with the Rock set being thicker. A very basic cymbal pack will include three cymbals: a pair of hi-hats and a crash-ride cymbal (a crash cymbal that can also be used as a ride cymbal). More advanced sets have separate crash and ride cymbals and may even include more than one crash cymbal.
Hi-hat cymbals are two cymbals of equal size that are stacked on top of each other with the top cymbal being attached to the hi-hat stand’s center rod. The hi-hats can be worked with a foot pedal, opening and closing the cymbals to provide different types of sounds while playing stick patterns on the top cymbal. When playing the hi-hats closed, the pattern tends to sound tighter, more defined. When playing them open or loose, the sound decays (dissipates) more slowly and is not as tight. Using your foot to clap the hi-hats together will give you a tight “ chick” sound, which can also be used in conjunction with playing patterns.
The ride cymbal is also used for playing patterns, and usually gives a “ looser” feel to the music when being played. You can also play patterns between the bell and bow of the ride to add different sounds to your patterns. Most rides that have a large bell are good for rock styles since they will cut through the mix and provide a nice loud “ping” sound. Ride cymbals with smaller bells usually will get “washy” when played and may even start to sound almost crash-like. These types of ride cymbals can even be used as crash cymbals and are sometimes listed specifically as crash-ride cymbals.
Crash cymbals are used as accents during your playing and tend to be louder than the ride and hi-hats. Crashes come in many different sizes. A larger crash cymbal’s sound tends to decay slowly, making it good for bigger accents in the music, whereas a smaller crash or splash cymbal, which decays quickly, is good for quicker accents. Having a collection of cymbals in different sizes will give you more sound options to work with, making your playing more diverse.
Specialty Cymbals—China, Bell, and Splash Cymbals
Adding a variety of cymbals—such as a china, bell or splash cymbal—can give you even more sound options to work with. China cymbals are a fast, raw sounding type of crash and are usually played inverted, as the edge of the cymbal is usually turned upward away from the bow. These come in many sizes from smaller 10-inch to larger 20-inch styles. A bell cymbal is used when you want a loud ping that cuts through the mix. These are usually for accents and sound similar to the ride cymbal’s bell, but louder. Bells are typically available in 6-inch to 10-inch sizes. A splash cymbal is basically a smaller crash cymbal with the quickest decay of any cymbal. These are usually available in sizes from 6 to 12 inches.
There are two common ways to make a cymbal: Cast cymbals are made from individually cast cymbal blanks, whereas sheet cymbals are stamped or hammered from sheet metal. Sheet cymbals are cheaper to make and have a shorter decay than individually cast cymbals. Sheet cymbals are usually appropriate for entry-level drummers—or as a practice set for a professional drummer—and offer good sound for the price. They are available in packaged sets or individually.
Individually cast bronze cymbals begin as molten metal that is cast in a mold. The castings are sorted by weight and then heated, rolled, shaped, hammered and lathed into the specific type of cymbal. Cast cymbals tend to have a broader sound than sheet cymbals and their sound tends to improve with age, unlike sheet cymbals. Cast cymbals are also more durable and have better projection than sheet cymbals. Cast cymbals are commonly used by professional drummers as well as drummers that are looking to upgrade from sheet bronze cymbals into something with better sound quality. There are typically more options available for individually cast cymbals than sheet-style cymbals, and they come in pre-packaged sets as well.
Some drummers may want to purchase cymbals individually instead of in packaged sets to achieve a custom sound. You can mix individual cymbals from different brands and series to achieve the sound that you want—there are no rules to your personal setup. There are, however, different characteristics, including the profile, the bell and the taper, that will determine the sound a cymbal produces. Understanding these characteristics will help you choose the best cymbals for your own music.
The profile is essentially the curvature of the cymbal—also known as the bow. A cymbal with a high profile will tend to be higher pitched and have fewer overtones while a cymbal with a lower or flatter profile will have a lower pitch and more overtones to its sound. Again, there is not right or wrong here; it is a matter of preference.
The size of a cymbal’s bell—or cup—will determine the degree of overtones or ring it has. A larger bell will produce more overtones and a longer, fuller sound. A smaller bell will result in reduced sustain and ring, and provide a more pronounced stick sound when you are riding the cymbal.
A cymbal’s taper is a measure of its thickness from the bell to the edge. The taper is what determines how crash-like or ride-like a cymbal sounds. A ride cymbal designed for heavy rock will cut through the mix more easily. It will also have a more pronounced ping sound than a more thinly tapered ride, which will become more washy and can also be used to crash on.
The “ride area” of a cymbal is the middle section of the bow, about halfway between the bell and edge. This is the area you would “ride” on the cymbal with the tip of your drum stick. When hitting there, the cymbal tends to provide more of your stick tone and pattern.
The “crash area” of the cymbal is the outer edge. When hitting there, the cymbal responds with a more immediate crash sound.
Buy with your ears
Finding the right cymbals for your kit will ensure you get long-lasting value and provide a customized sound that suits the way you play and the style of music you are playing. Remember that it often comes down to personal taste, so buy with your ears and you won’t go wrong. Good luck in your search for the perfect set of cymbals, and feel free to contact one of our experts if you have any questions.