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Buyer's Guide for Drummers: How to Choose Your Cymbals

Published: Tue August 26, 2014  News Feed
Drummers looking for new cymbals are spoiled for choices in our day and age. Brands such as Zildjian and Sabian offer an incredible variety of choices. But this could make it harder for a drummer to make up his mind and buy the right ones for their needs.

How to Choose Cymbals


Of course, as is the case with anything to do with music, at the end of the day it's always a matter of musical styles and tastes: a jazz drummer will have different needs than a heavy metal drummer, and their choice of cymbals will necessarily be different. But there's always a few good pointers that should be useful for anyone:

1) Follow  The Steps of Your Favorite Drummers


A good starting point, is to try and find out what gear your favorite drummer has used. This could at least give you a general idea of what kind of sound you're looking for, in terms of types and sizes.

2) Experiment... A Lot!

Don't be afraid to experiment! Very few drummers have ever felt they "got it right" the first time... or the second... In fact, trying out new sounds is part of the fun and sometimes you might find that a cymbal that was bigger (or smaller!) than what you originally wanted, was in fact your favorite. The more cymbals you try, the more expertise you'll gain. And, you can always do with a few spare cymbals! And, of course, there's never a shortage of drummers looking to buy second-hand, so you can more often than not easily sell unwanted cymbals in the future.

3) Dark or Bright?
Thin or Heavy?

Generally speaking, darker-sounding, lighter cymbals are better suited for jazz, whereas brighter, louder, thicker ones are usually the 1st choice in rock music, as they can cut better through the mix. If you want to keep it versatile, you are advised to choose medium cymbals.

4) Ride and Hi-Hats Cymbals - The Most Important!


The Ride and Hi-Hat cymbals will be the most important you'll buy, as they should be the ones you'll be playing the most. So, as a rule - these are the one you *really* must make sure you get right. As is usually the case, you get what you pay for, so if you can buy a more expensive, pro-quality  model, you certainly should do so.

With Rides, you should consider the stick definition ("ping") and the wash overtones. Rides that have a large Bell have a louder ping sound and cut through the mix better. They're ideal for rock music. When the bell is smaller, the sound will get washy and sometimes can almost sound like a crash cymbal. They're recommended for mellower sounds. In fact, there are Rides with no bell at all, which are popular in Jazz.

It's important to note that Rides in particular always sound much different when played just on their own.

Hi-Hats are important as they're often played at the same time as the bass and snare drums. They produce the so-called "chick" sound when hit by a drum-stick or clashed together with the Hi-Hat pedal. John Bonham famously used 15" Hi-Hats, such as the Zildjian KR15PR Kerope pair, but the norm these days is 14", with smaller sizes more recommended for close-miking recording.

5) Get the right Crash Cymbals


Crash cymbals usually have thin edges, and they are used to create loud, well-defined "accent" sounds. Most modern kits have at least two of them, which can vary from 14" to 18" (though smaller and larger sizes are also available). Drummers can hit these cymbals in a variety of different ways, in order to get different sounds: with mallets, or even with their bare hands. However, they do tend to crack more easily if hit harder, and that's why heavy rock players prefer bigger, thicker crashes. If this is your case, avoid "thin" crashes (they are always clearly labelled).

6) The Rest Is Easier...

After you chose Ride, Hi-Hat and Crash cymbals, the rest should be a bit easier, as they're not as crucial (in most cases!) Splash cymbals are quite common now, but it's easy to forget that  for a long time, they were unpopular!  Commonly measuring between 6"-13", they were used in jazz during the 1920s and 1930s, but not so much after this era, and it wasn't until Stewart Copeland (The Police) reintroduced them that they began to be more used in the modern, rock context. They are basically a small crash cymbal, with the quickest decay of any cymbal.

A China Cymbal has it's name because it looks somewhat like a chinese gong. They are fast sounding, raw, "effect" cymbals. Sizes can range from 12" to 26" and they may not be "essential" but... they are certainly a great addition to your kit!

7) If In Doubt... Get A Pack!

Cymbal packs are an easy and affordable way to choose cymbals that should suit your style. Packs such as the Sabian AAX Stage Performance Cymbal Set Brilliant or the Sabian AA Metal-X Performance Set are great starting points!

Sabian cymbals


...And Remember: Learn to Listen!

Sometimes you may choose cymbals that are great but... when played with the rest of the drum-kit and the other cymbals, don't sound quite right. It happens - a lot! - and one of the most important skills in a drummer is to learn how to listen, comparing the different tones as they blend together.

Sabian app on iTunes

Sabian app on iTunes

The new Sabian app on iTunes sounds pretty cool and we recommend it, it's quite a fun, useful tool. Check it out!

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