How to set up cymbals – Ultimate Guide

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When it comes to setting up drum kits, the perfect setup is the one that makes playing natural and easy for a drummer. 

The final step in assembling a drum kit is to set up the cymbals on previously arranged cymbal stands.

Many drummers, such as myself, were once in a lifetime uncertain about where to place drum set gear and how to set up cymbals – so that everything is at the optimal location. 

However, keep in mind that not every drummer will have the same preferences with cymbal placing.

Each of us will have slightly contrasting ways of placing cymbals, depending on our preferences or other factors. As long as your setup allows you efficiency and comfort in the working environment, you are good to go.

Drum set order

Before I get into the topic of this article, and that is how to set up cymbals, there is one thing I want to mention – and that is a drum set order. 

The order in which you will assemble your drum set is of great importance since some gear has priority over others. You should always have enough space for all essential parts of the drum set.

Along with preparing stands and pedals, bass drum pedal, and hi-hat pedal, the order of setting up your drum should be:

  • Bass Drum
  • Snare Drum
  • Hi-Hat
  • Toms
  • Ride
  • Crashes
  • Extra Cymbals
how to set up cymbals

Cymbal placement goals

When setting up cymbals on a drum kit, the two things we think about are efficiency and comfort. These should be the principal concern as everything – from angles, distances, and heights – is crucial.

You would be surprised how much one inch in the stand height can make a difference and give discomfort while playing, so one of the goals is to be able to play with your eyes closed, not worrying about anything.

Wherever you put your crash cymbal, for example, you would want to have it in a place where is easily reachable – and that is one of the goals, to be able to access everything you are going to hit. 

If you place your cymbals farther than you can reach, it can cause more fatigue than you would want to.

How to set up cymbals

As I already mentioned, setting up cymbals is the final step in setting up your drum. 

Once you set up the kick drum – in other words, bass drum – snare, toms, bass drum pedal, and all necessary stands, now it’s time for you to start setting up and positioning your cymbals. 

A great tip to know before you do all of these – use a drum rug if you are playing on the hard floor, such as concrete or wood.

Once you check everything is in its place, place the cymbals one by one and tighten them down. 

The moment you tighten them, adjust the angle and height so that playing would be the most comfortable for you. 

Double-check if the playing position is the fittest one and if the stand’s leg base is separated enough – so that the stand doesn’t fall.

how to set up hi hat

Hi-hat

Those who play rock or pop music already know that they can play tons of songs with just the bass drum, snare, and hi-hat. 

The hi-hat placement is usually on the left side, above the playing surface of the snare drum if a player is right-handed. On the opposite, for left-handed drummers, the hi-hat will be on the right side.

An indispensable part of the hi-hat is the foot pedal. You can play this cymbal in many ways, but you’d be using a pedal most of the time.

When setting up a hi-hat stand and pedal, make sure that it’s not too high or too low. The steps to go through the setting up hi-hat are:

  • The first step is to lay the bottom hi-hat cymbal on top of the felt of the hi-hat stand – the bell has to be facing down. Most hi-hats will have “top” and “bottom” marks. In case they don’t, use the thicker one as the bottom cymbal.
  • The next step is to remove the bottom clutch nit and one of the felts.
  • The third step is to place the clutch through the top hi-hat cymbal.
  • The fourth one is to place the bottom felt on and retighten the clutch nut.
  • The last part of setting up the hi-hat is to slide the clutch onto the pull rod and tighten the wing nut of the clutch.
how to set up ride

Ride

The ride is a cymbal with larger dimensions and has the same role as the hi-hat, except you can’t play the ride with the foot. It is mainly used to change the “atmosphere” in rhythm, where you would mostly use the bell for the accents. 

There are also models of ride cymbals without bells – the so-called “flat ride.”

The ride cymbal can have the role of a crash cymbal to get a distinctive sound, but my recommendation is to use the real crash cymbal for this part, as these cymbals exist for a reason.

The ride cymbal’s position is opposite from the hi-hat. If the hi-hat cymbal is on your left side, the ride will be on the right.

When setting up the ride cymbal, make sure that it’s not too high, as you would want to avoid getting discomfort and fatigue while playing. The steps to go through setting up the ride cymbal are:

  • Place the ride on the bottom felt of the stand on the right side of the bass drum in a position where you can easily reach it.
  • Place the other felt on top of the ride bell, tighten the wing nut to secure the ride.
  • Adjust the stand at the same height as your right shoulder and tilt the ride a little bit towards you.
how to set up crash cymbal

Crash cymbals

The crash’s position is usually on the left side, between the hi-hat and high tom – however, some drummers position their cymbal on the right side. All in all, you can place more than one crash on both sides.

The crash may slightly overlap with the hi-hat and the high tom – that’s why you should make sure this overlap does not interfere with your playing.

Setting up a crash is the same as with the ride. Place the cymbal on a cymbal stand that has felts. These felts can prevent possible cracks.

Adjust height and angle so that it’s equal to or right above the ride cymbal.

Effect cymbals

Effect cymbal is a cymbal in a drum kit that will give your sound those special effects and accents. The two main types of effect cymbals are splashes and china cymbals, but there are other types – like stack cymbals and others.

splash cymbals on the kit

Splashes

Splashes are the smallest effect cymbals in a drum kit that are great for making accents in a song. These cymbals may not be essential, but it’s a great thing to have.

The best way to set up a splash cymbal is to place it on a stand with a mini-boom attached to it – this creates enough space for both cymbals.

My recommendation is to place a splash cymbal between hi-hat and crash, it’s easily approachable, and you will be able to make those fabulous accents while you’re playing – a great way to add some flavor to a song.

how to set up cymbal

China cymbal

China is usually placed on the right side of the drum kit, right next to the ride. You can mount it with the bell facing upward, like all the other cymbals, or you can mount it downward – it’s all a preference.

Once you place it on a stand, adjust it in a way you can easily make those great accents with the right hand – or the left hand, depending on where you place it.

how to stack cymbals

Stack cymbal

You can open endless possibilities with stack cymbals. You can fit different types of cymbals, and as long as they fit well together, you are good to go. 

Whether they are manufactured or stacked by you, they will give great identity to your play.

When it comes to the sound, you can tailor it to your liking, and all of this depends on how tight these two cymbals are mounted. 

You’ll get longer sustain with the looser fit, while concise and punctuated sounds are the results of the tight cymbal stack.

preventing cymbals from crack

How to prevent cymbals from crack

Not only that cymbal care and maintenance can prevent your cymbals from cracking, but the way you set up them can also prevent damage.

Before you place the cymbals, you should always make sure that you have cymbal sleeves and felts on your cymbal stands. That way, you will prevent metal-on-metal contact and possible cracks around the bell.

Also, make sure that you angle them a little bit toward you and that the cymbals can move free once you place the wing nut on them. 

If you tighten down the cymbals too much, there is a big chance of tension that can cause stress fractures.

Unusual cymbal setup configurations

As many drummers would go for the traditional setup, there are various musicians whose setup is not by the rule book. They may look odd to some, but in truth, they just let the imagination run wild. 

Everyone chooses their setups to be unique for various reasons, as I already mentioned. So does Ray Luzier. He is well known for his china cymbal positioned in the middle of the drum kit.

best studio drummers

Vinnie Colaiuta has his china on the left side, although it’s usually on the right. 

largest drum set

Terry Bozzio is a drummer with the bulkiest setup worldwide.  

dave weckl cymbal setup

Dave Weckl holds the splashes upside down on crashes – this can be interesting, no matter how odd it sounds. 

chris coleman setup

Finally, there are drummers like Chris Coleman, who adjusts his cymbals under strange angles.

Conclusion

Finding your perfect setup will result in many trials and errors, but I hope this article will give you a great head start. 

Once you find your desirable cymbal setup, don’t forget to continue experimenting. The sound gets better only if we are open to finding new ways of using our instruments.

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.

1 Comment
  1. I didn’t realize that the cymbal tension from the stand was so important, thank you for that nugget!

    -Walter | https://www.sandiegorecordingstudio.net

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