How To Choose Your Cymbals

March 6, 2022

This guide will teach you how to choose your cymbals for the music you’re playing, drum set, and budget.

Without a good set of cymbals, a drum kit is nothing more than a plate of fries without salt and ketchup. Cymbals can add flavor and tone to your drumming. 

What is the best combination of cymbals for you?

There is no quick answer. It would help if you considered the music you listen to and how much money you have available. Your ears are the most important factor. 

It would help if you chose cymbals that suit your musical preferences and sound well with your drum kit.

Jazz drummers will likely need a different set of cymbals to suit them than drummers in hard rock or metal bands. 

You can start by looking at the cymbal arrangements of your favorite drummers. While you may not be able to replicate all of their cymbal selections, you will get valuable clues about what works and what doesn’t in the context of the music.

After identifying the best cymbal sizes and types for your drum set, you can start shopping for models that fit your budget. Premium cymbals use more expensive materials and require more work. 

However, cymbals that are lower in price can still produce a satisfying sound. Budget cymbals offer some great bargains.

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How To Choose Your Cymbals

Anatomy of a Cymbal

Cymbals that are intended to be used with a drum set must be of the suspended type. They can either be attached to components like the bass drum or freestanding on stands. 

To mount the cymbal on a stand, a hole is made in the middle of the cymbal. The bell, cup, or dome is prominent on most cymbals. 

The bell produces a more pronounced “pinging” sound than the rest of your cymbal. 

A cymbal with a noticeable taper from the bell to its thin edge can be said to have crash and ride areas. 

  • The ride area is the thickest portion closest to the bell; 
  • The crash area is the outer, thinner portion.

Cymbal sizes can be described by their diameter in millimeters or inches. Larger cymbals have a longer sustain and are generally louder. 

Cymbals that are thinner tend to be lower in pitch and respond quicker. 

The volume of heavier, thicker cymbals is more significant due to their higher articulation when struck by a drumstick.

anatomy of a cymbal

How Cymbals are Made

Most cymbals can be cast or made of sheets of metal.

Cast cymbals can be made by pouring molten metal alloys and raw materials into circular molds. 

The castings are heated and rolled before being shaped, hammered, and lathed. The resulting cymbals have a rich, complex sound that many believe improves with age. Each cast cymbal is different in its sonic characteristics.

It is possible to misunderstand the term “hand-hammered.” Craftsmen who use a hammer to hammer the cymbals one at a time are most skilled. A worker may use a machine to expensive hammerless cymbals.

Hand-hammered Cymbals produce darker tones, richer and more varied tones than machines. Machine-hammered Cymbals tend to be brighter and produce higher tones which cut through the mix more clearly. 

They are also less likely to differ in sound between cymbals.

Some cymbals can be turned on a lathe to impart specific sonic characteristics. 

You can lathe either the top or bottom surfaces or both. In addition, many cymbals have lathed or unlathed bands. This allows for more tonal options, depending on which part is being played.

Sheet metal cymbals can be made from large steel sheets of uniform thickness and composition. 

They produce a uniform sound, so they are usually less expensive than cast cymbals. Some student cymbals are lower-cost and have hammering and lathe marks.

Cymbals can come with a variety of finishes or polish options. Fully lathed cymbals often have a clear lacquer coating to protect them from tarnishing. 

High-speed buffing can be used to achieve “brilliant” and “bright” finishes on some models. While the sound can be slightly dulled, the buffing process can add a beautiful sparkle to the drums.

Individual preferences can dictate the sound of a cymbal. Jazz players prefer darker sounds and more complex cymbal sounds. Rock drummers prefer a louder, clearer sound that cuts through the mix. 

There are many options, and while some cymbal-manufacturing companies dominate the market for traditional sounds, there is an increasing number of choices.

Each Role in the Drum Set: A Cymbal for Every Role

Drummers often use unusual cymbal combinations to create their own unique sounds. Likewise, you can create some unique sonic effects by experimenting with the cymbals of other drummers and your own placement.

how cymbals are made

Ride Cymbals

In most styles of drumming, the ride cymbal maintains a steady beat. It is usually placed to the drummer’s extreme right, assuming they are right-handed. Its name derives from its role to provide a consistent, overriding rhythm. 

Some drummers prefer using sizzle cymbals and chinas cymbals over the ride models that cymbal manufacturers produce. Cymbals can be used in a variety of ways.

Cymbals that provide a slow, sustained crash are also known as crash/rides. Sometimes they are used as the only suspended drum cymbal in small sets. 

Flat-ride cymbals are another variation that doesn’t have the bell. They are really popular among jazz drummers because they have a dry crash.

cymbal manufacturing

Hi-Hat Cymbals

In performance, the hi-hats are often used with the bass drum and snare drums. 

The hi-hat is composed of two cymbals mounted on a stand. A pedal opens and closes them, making what’s known as a “chick,” or sound. 

The hi-hats’ sound and sustain can be controlled by drummers using different pedal positions and foot pressure.

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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  1. […] and types. This option is ideal for drummers who prioritize personalizing their drum kit and have specific cymbal preferences. However, purchasing cymbals individually may require additional research and cost comparison to […]

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