9 Best Cymbals for Rock That Great Rock Drummers Play

December 3, 2023
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In this article, I have reviewed the best cymbals for rock music. They come from the world’s greatest cymbal manufacturers; Paiste, Sabian, and Zildjian. 

Why I picked these series?

I decided to pick the rock cymbals from the biggest cymbals manufacturers in the world

Some of these series are used more than 20 years in the rock music both in studio and live. A lot of rock drummers use these series so they are well established. 

 I am 15 years in drumming so I had the opportunity to play or at least try all these cymbals. Let me tell you some main characters that these companies offer so you can narrow your choices.

  • If you are looking for old school rock sound with low pitch and strong attack go with Paiste
  • If you are looking for modern cymbals with a high pitch that opens up and sing beautifully go with Sabian
  • If you are looking for versatile cymbals, well made with a great number of choices in terms of sound go with Zildjian
  • If you are looking for heavy cymbals with intermediate pitch, dry sound and very strong almost unpleasant attack go with Meinl

This is just a short synopsis when it comes to rock cymbals that these companies offer, but of course there’s more to it.

The fact that every rock drummer in the world plays one of these series says enough about the purpose behind them and their character.

What they have in common?

They are all loud and mostly with higher pitch of course some series pitch stay in the middle and for some goes into deep.

Mostly they all have brilliant finish in order to get a better attack. Regarding sustain is long except with Paiste rude where idea is “hit and run” strong punch and after that it disappears, the same goes for Meinl Byzance Dual.

What are the differences?

The most important component of premium cymbals is B20 bronze. All these companies use it. Sometimes in clear for sometimes they add some other components so they can make a magic sauce like Paiste and Zildjian.

Find out more about cymbal materials.

I already mention that pitch can differentiate as well as the versatility. Some series like Zildjian A custom are very versatile while series like Paiste Rude has only one purpose.

The main difference is in character and the sound. From Paiste 2002 which has that old school sound, over Rude which has a deep sound with a strong attack up to AAX totally modern cymbal with a bright sound and not too much “in your face”.

You see every cymbal from the list has its own sound character.

Regarding the series level, Paiste 2002 is the top-level with Paiste same goes for Meinl Byzance while Zildjian and Sabian have higher series than these.

Paiste and Meinl cymbals are more expensive due to that fact but in comparison to two other companies they do not offer a better sound but totally different, not worse either. 

Also, they do not offer a better quality in a matter a fact I have a better experience in the durability with Zildjian and Sabian cymbals.

Things to know before buy

Hi-Hats – if you are into rock music try to find Hi-Hats that are super beefy, have a lot of body with a lot of stick definition. They should also be relatively low in pitch, very crisp, and durable.

Thin Crash – they should explode as soon as you hit them, aka very responsive. The pitch should be super low but yet smooth with a lot of body.

Ride Cymbals – very, very crashable with a good, defined bell – perfect for rock! With rides, you should be able to get a ton of different sounds out which means they should be amazingly versatile.

China Cymbals – those ones should have some meat to it and bite to it. You would want to look for a thinner side, so it should feel very smooth yet to have a lot of body.

Old school rock
paiste cymbals best

Paiste 2002


Pure metal
elloy casagrande cymbals

Paiste Rude


Editor's choice
best cymbals for rock

Zildjian A Custom


Most versatile
rock cymbals

Zildjian A


Most modern
sabian aax series

Sabian AAX


High pitch
sabian paragon

Sabian Paragon


Hard Rock
best cymbal for rock and roll

Meinl Byzance Brilliant


Experimental sound
meinl cymbal for rock

Meinl Byzance Dual


Limited series
nicko mcbrain treasure set

Nicko McBrain Treasure set


paiste cymbals best

Paiste 2002

Paiste 2002 series are found in 1971 and is the oldest of all three. They made a name in rock and roll music a long time ago. It is the most successful Paiste cymbal series. It is the fusion of Paiste Formula 602 and the Paiste Giant Beat series

Specifically designed for rock; it has the best of both worlds. Nowadays rockers play more modern cymbals with a brilliant finish. In that cruel world, Paiste maintained it’s position on the market of the old school, vintage rock cymbals. 

The sound is truly unique. Every cymbal company produces some series with the intention of recreating that sound but out of the question, Paiste is the only one who succeeds.

Who plays Paiste 2002?

Many rock legends played or still play this series such as John Bonham, Carl Palmer, Ian Paice, Dave Lombardo, Dave Silveria, Charlie Benante, Joey Jordison, Tommy Aldrich, Phil Rudd.

Why 2002?

They are raw and loud, with a strong highlighted attack. Not too bright, not too dark, somewhere in the middle with the tone. You should pass them if you are looking for a modern sound. 

The essence of the sound is “John Bohnam” old school cymbal sound. They are a match made in heaven for drummers who like a strong, vintage sound. They fit perfectly to a gig of alternative or old school rock bands like ACDC. 

They show a great example of where the 2002 series should fall into the rock world. Band with that kind of sound playing old school rock just fits perfectly with these cymbals.

elloy casagrande cymbals

Paiste Rude

This is a very unique series in terms of sound. There is no similar sound among all the other companies.

Only the hard hitters like Eloy Casagrande from Sepultura play this series. It is very hard to find the Rude on versatile drum setups since the sound of it goes in just one direction.

It’s just useless to play these cymbals soft or for soft music. They are made so that they produce the best sound when they hit hard. The sound is so dark and it is hard to stay neutral you can love it or hate it.

Who plays Paiste Rude?

Eloy Casagrande from Sepultura has the whole set of Rude, same as Dave Lombardo with exceptions of few cymbals from 2002 series. They all mix cymbals but like I sad only the heaviest guys in the business play rude, the versatility is out of the questions just pure rage with a lower pitch.

Why Rude?

They almost can be described as strange. The attack is enormous, the pitch is low and the sustain is short.

They are not versatile but made for heavy music in particular this makes them one of the best cymbals for extreme music. Their cut through guitar distortion is like Mike Tayson hits, quick, strong and you remember it.

These are neither modern-sounding cymbals nor old school soundings but just extreme sounding on every level. Pay attention to the guys that play them and you’ll see what I am talking about.

best cymbals for rock

Zildjian A Custom

The true fact is that these series are not only the best cymbals for rock but one of the best selling and most versatile series from Zildjian, one of the oldest cymbal companies in the world. 

Known for “The Brilliant” sound, this series is not specifically designed for rock & roll as Paiste 2002 but seems like rock drummers worship A Custom. Quite the opposite from the 2002 series the A Custom comes with the brilliant finish only. 

A great example of how the A custom fits in heavy music is Metallica. Lars Urlich uses this series on almost the entire kit. He used the Zildjian Z series in the past and after they stop producing he moved on to A custom. The A custom is the true inheritor of the Z series from Zildjian.

Who plays Zildjian A Custom?

From modern drummers in the rock to old school jazz drummers the line of A custom players is almost endless. Let’s name a few who played them over the years: Vinnie Colaiuta, Lars Urlich, Jay Weinberg, Joey Kramer, Mike Mangini.

Why A Custom?

The sound is bright and modern plus the brilliant finish adds more punch. With this kind of sound, they manage to break through guitar distortion while staying out of the way at the same time. 

Some cymbals can cause a mess due to loudness and awful frequency they produce. That is not the case with Zildjian A Custom. It doesn’t matter how hard you hit them, they always produce a pleasant sound.

rock cymbals

Zildjian A

The A-series is so versatile and probably one of the most versatile series from this list. They are used in studios all over the world just because of their versatility. If your genre is rock and not hard rock or metal this cymbals would find it’s place.

I don’t want to generalize but a lot of pop and alternative rock drummers use these beauties. Zildjian produces this series for a long time so it is well established and stands the test of time.

Their current offer is A Series Rock Pack consisted out of

– 14″ Mastersound HiHats

– 17″ Medium Thin Crash

– 19″ Medium Thin Crash

– 20″ Ping Ride

Classic rock cymbal sizes can do a great job in a funk, pop, fusion, and many different genres.

Who plays Zildjian A?

Many guys use at least one of the cymbals from A series. Let’s take a couple of guys as an example.

Thomas Pridgen, who played with Mars Volta some crazy experimental rock and now plays rap music, Gavin Harison who plays currently with The Pineapple Thief and Kenny Aronoff, famous studio drummer currently playing with Jerry Lee Lewis.

You see they all play different music but with the same cymbals, due to versatility, I mention.

Why A series?

I like cymbals that save money because they are versatile even headlines on the Zildjian website for this cymbals is “Versatile and bright”.

The whole series consists out of 27 cymbals so there is a variety of choices. With few exceptions, almost the entire series is made in a natural finish. This reduces attack but gives more freedom to flow between genres.

For all hard hitters who love the attack, that brilliant finish provides Zildjian left few allies like 13-inch Dyno beat, 21-inch mega bell ride, 19 and 21-inch ultra hammered china, 21-inch Sweet ride, and Heavy crashes.

Multiple finishes, all kinds of cymbals within the series, and a wide range of different sizes make this Zildjian series one of their most popular.

sabian aax series

Sabian AAX

This series is quite cheaper than HHX or Artisan. It is close to the top on Sabian’s best to worst cymbal lineup. The sound it offers is not far behind the HHX Series although the price is. 

Don’t let this fool you, some of the world’s best and most successful drummers use the AAX series. Most of these guys play rock music. They are very similar to A custom; bright, modern and versatile. 

A great example of how they fit in heavy rock music is Korn or Dream Theater. Mike Portnoy and Ray Luzier have a lot of AAX’s behind the set. In spite of all those heavy riffs, both bands play these cymbals manage to breakthrough with their crisp and bright sound.

Who plays AAX?

Although the AAX series are very versatile there is something in them that draws the attention of rock and metal drummers such as Mike Portnoy, Ray Luzier, Todd Sucherman, Chad Smith, Gene Hoglan, George Kollias.

Why AAX?

The main factor that distinguishes AAX from A custom and 2002 is the finish. It comes in both natural and brilliant variation. That being said the series itself offers a lot more for the same price. The true fact is that rock drummers use less cymbals with a natural finish. 

Why? Because of the sound. With the loss of the brilliant finish, cymbals lose the punch. It becomes better for playing more on the body like in jazz versus bell playing in rock.

Also, it loses that modern sound in return for a dry, vintage sound. There are some AAX cymbals who are somewhere in between, like the OMNI ride that Jojo Mayer uses. It is dry with enough attack to cut through distortion, especially on the first hit.

sabian paragon

Sabian Paragon

Paragon series is developed with the help of Neil Peart. Their main character is high pitch. I would place this series somewhere in between HHX and AAX but with a higher pitch.

The attack is not that strong so they can be used in other genres too. In comparison to other series by Sabian, this one is not that big, it consists out of 21 cymbals. Nothing too crazy except 20” Paragon Diamondback Chinese that is Perforated with jingles and sizzle rivets.

The sound achieved is more than cool you should check it out here.

This series is made for lovers of Sabian’s natural finish. You would be amazed at how strong attack this natural finish cymbals produce.

Who plays Paragon?

I am not sure why but I didn’t find a lot of guys who play Paragon. The first guy who played this series is its developer Neil Peart. One more guy which almost entire set consists of Paragon cymbals is Roy Mayorga from Stone sour. They play different music but are both heavy hitters.

Why Paragon?

Sabian is one of the best cymbal manufactures in the world and the Paragon is one of their premium series. It is made out of B20 Bronze the same as our top series by Sabian.

This series is a bit warmer than AAX but slightly less modern. These cymbals are bright and pitched very high so every little hit counts. Articulation is basically simplified but you need to pay attention to mistakes. It is very easy for your bandmates to hear them on these cymbals.

Every little mistake in the metric will be noticed. Paragon is probably the highest pitch series from this list. If you are into clear, bright, and warm cymbals Paragon is a perfect choice.

best cymbal for rock and roll

Meinl Byzance Brilliant

If you played Meinl MB20 than you are familiar with this kind of sound. This is basically the inheritor of the MB20 series.

It doesn’t get more rock and roll than this if you decide to go with Meinl. They dedicated their sound too dry cymbals over the last few years so this is one of the rare series that kept this kind of sound.

This are heavy cymbals with very bright sound but with pitch somewhere in the middle. Meinl takes this series very seriously, the proof of that is the size of the series. It contains 38 cymbals which makes it one of the largest Meinl series.

The series is huge so you are not limited to sizes and different variations. There’s a variety of choices on your plate.

 I must admit I am not a fan of Meinl pricing for the last couple of years. They increase pricing at least a Byzance series in comparison to Sabian and Zildjian.

You can find Zildjian K ride for $100 less and sincerely I don’t see Meinl offers anything better for the higher price.

Who plays Brilliant?

This series contains a signature ride by Chris Adler. This is a 24-inch Pure Metal ride. Thomas Lang uses cymbals from this series in some of his videos along with JP Bouvet the 2011 Guitar Center Drum-Off champion.

Why Brilliant?

Every main cymbal company has this big rock series to represent them. In Meinl, this is Byzance Brilliant. The sound is not as modern as A custom or AAX but can still fit nicely in every new age metal/rock band.

They would do a fine job if you play old school rock but I would pick Paiste over Meinl for that kind of gig. Bright rock cymbals are not new to Meinl they already prove themselves as a company that understands the needs of rock and metal drummers.

I comparison to A custom and AAX they are thicker so they produce the sound heavier and with more attack.

Forget about versatility with this series. You can play heavy music and all kind of it but pop, funk or something softer, forget about it.

meinl cymbal for rock

Meinl Byzance Dual

Byzance is one of the largest series premium cymbal series in the world. It consists of 8 sub-series and the Dual is one of them. I wanted to step outside the box with these series and move from both old school cymbals sound like Paiste 2002 and modern sound like Sabian AAX.

All these cymbals were used for many years but this kind of series will be used in the future more. Music, sound, drumming, and drummer evolve, and sound that Byzance Dual has is part of that evolution.

It’s a different sound than rock drummers expect but the new guys in rock business already made a switch to these cymbals.

Who plays Dual?

Dual already made a name not just in the rock world but among all world known drummers desiring new sound. I noticed Thomas Lang and Anika Nilles incorporated Dual on their set.

Why Dual?

Sound can be described as “trashy” and dry. The raw surface gives the dry character while the brilliant surface gives the bright sound and more attack.  It is just that “trashy” sound that makes them perfect for heavy music.

All cymbals tat can cut through guitar and bass distortion can find a way to rock drummers. These cymbals can do that. One thing that you will have to adapt is to sustain. It is a lot shorter than all the cymbals from this list.

They produce strong attacks but with different characters than Nicko Mcbrain cymbals or Meinl Brilliant. They will cut through distortion and move aside.

With this bright character, short sustain, strong attack, and half dry half trashy sound they are ready to become new-age rock cymbals.

Limited series

nicko mcbrain treasure set

Nicko Mcbrain series

This sound is more than familiar to all Iron Maiden fans out there. Nicko has the specific bell sound on the ride. This is the first thing you notice when you listen to him.

Paiste made a 12 set cymbal set like a tribute to Nicko and Iron Maiden. This set contains all cymbals from hi-hat, crashes, ride, china, etc. It is hard to get and probably won’t be too long on a market. As an alternative maybe you can find his signature ride from the previous series.

It is a big disadvantage the fact that these cymbals sell in a set. I hope Paiste will chang this decision so we can buy them separately in the future.

Why Nicko Mcbrain signature series?

This is a very specific offer by Paiste. It is not for everybody especially if you already have some cymbals and just want to buy one or a couple of them but not the whole set.

Not very smart idea if you ask me, Nicko can afford 112 cymbals or just get them as an endorsement but the rest of us usually have 4-piece set so now buying a 12 piece set is out of the questions.

Their targeted market is Iron Maiden fans. The true fan will know to appreciate this whole set where you get a cd, sticks, and custom box. It is very cool I have to admit.

In terms of sound, these cymbals are very bright and loud. Most of them are pretty big like all rock cymbals and all in brilliant finish except hi-hat.


I made this guide for young rock drummers so they can understand how the sound evolved through the years.

We started with old school sound and end up with hybrid cymbals currently evolving. It depends on what are you looking for out of cymbals sound but these are all premium cymbal series.

With companies like Zildjian, Paiste, Sabian, and Meinl you can get wrong especially with cymbals at this level.

I hope I clarify the sound, the purpose, and the character of each cymbal. This list can be longer that’s for sure there are many more cymbals and many more companies.

I believe I choose the best cymbals for hard and heavy music.

Denis Loncaric
Denis Loncaric

My name is Denis. I am a drummer, percussionist, music enthusiast, and blogger. Drums have been my passion for 15 years now. My idea is to write about the things I like and I am interested in. I want to share my drum passion with fellow musicians who walk, talk, and breathe drums.

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