Cymbals are a massive part of the sound of a drum kit. Missing out on the variation of tones offered by the cymbals will leave any band’s rhythm section sounding weak and lifeless.
Looking through all the different options for cymbals can be tricky, as there are a few exclusive-use cymbals. For instance, knowing when you’d want a splash cymbal over a ride cymbal isn’t exactly apparent to the uninitiated. After all, a cymbal is a cymbal, right?
With our Beginner’s Guide to Cymbals, you’ll be able to tell the difference between your crashes and splashes, chinas and stacks.
Picking Good Cymbals
First, let’s consider the brands that offer some of the best cymbals - Zildjian, Meinl, Sabian, and Paiste are all fantastic manufacturers with a wide range of offerings for every drummer. These companies use excellent alloys which resonate well. Each company has a different fusion, and you may prefer one over the other. Don't hesitate to try them out before purchase.
When looking for cymbals, you’ll find that these companies offer the best bang for your buck, a decent guarantee and years of proven excellence in creating cymbals. While there are manufacturers out there that charge less for a cymbal, or set of cymbals, you run the risk of buying an inferior product, made of materials that can negatively impact sound, playing experience, and durability. Stick to cymbals with proper alloys rather than plain bronze or other simple metals.
How Do Different Cymbals Sound?
The creation process, materials used, and shape of a cymbal all change how a cymbal might sound. The same alloy applied to different shapes or sizes of the cymbal will make different sounds, even though it is the same material used for the creation of the instrument.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the ways the form of the cymbal can differ.
Most cymbals are measured by their diameter. The thicker and larger cymbals are louder, with longer sustained resonance after being hit. In addition to that, the thick cymbals have a higher pitch and cut through the mix easier than thinner cymbals.
Thin cymbals, however, have a full sound, a lower pitch and react to being hit a lot quicker so sound ‘snappier’, which is vital when playing styles like jazz and funk.
The cymbal has two areas where you can strike, the main body and the bell of the cymbal. The bell of the cymbal is also of great interest to a drummer. This bell creates a much higher-pitched, less crashy tone, which is often used as a replacement for the hi-hat in modern drumming styles. It’s a sound associated with jazz and easy listening because it defines many of the patterns used in those genres.
Types of Cymbals
Crash Cymbals are the stereotypical sound you think of when a cymbal is mentioned. These drums are often used for accented hits and as signposts for the other musicians when the music is about to change. Most drum kits will have two Crash Cymbals of differing sizes (although that number depends on the drummer). The main types you’ll come across for kit based drums are:
Crash cymbals - have thin edges that are used to get that cutting sound. If you like heavy metal or old orchestral pieces, you’ll have heard the choked cymbal sound, which the crash cymbal creates when dampened by the hand.
Ride Cymbals - are designed to sustain the sound of the hit for much longer than the more accented sound of the crash cymbal. Often, drummers will alternate between the ride and the hi-hat to create interest and differences in the rhythms played. There are a few different types of ride cymbal, such as the crash/ride, flat ride and sizzles cymbals, all of which are used in the same manner. Rides come in the widest variety of sizes and should be tried before purchasing to make sure they suit your playing and other drums.
Hi Hats - are a standard piece of the drum kit, which is used in pretty much every style of music to create a rhythm that rides with the music. Hi-hats can be played open or closed and are adjusted using a piece of hardware and a foot pedal. Different sizes of hi-hat give you different sounds, and they range from 10-15 inches.
Splash and China Cymbals
Splash cymbals - are a little rarer than the three cymbal types above, and they won’t always be used in a drum kit. Splash cymbals are usually smaller than the other cymbals and are primarily used as an effect cymbal, for a small piece of the music. They are small, ranging from six to 13 inches and have quite thick rims for their size.
China type cymbals - are similar to splashes but are often inverted in shape to a regular cymbal. They are often heavy and used as an exotic-sounding ride cymbal mostly. These are used heavily in metal music as they have good resonance for that style of music.
Stacked cymbal - isn’t really a different type of cymbal, but a method of arranging them. These cymbals are stacked, on top of each other with multiple cymbals on one stand. These vary wildly in their use and sound, as you can tailor a stack using different cymbals to get different sounds.
Don't hesitate to contact us for more information about cymbals. We have in-house experts who can help you paid your drum kits with the appropriate cymbals and ensure maximum playability and sound.
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