Cymbals play an incredibly important role in shaping the overall sound of a drum kit and are as important as the drums themselves. A good quality, well tuned drum kit can be made to sound terrible with poor quality cymbals. Unlike drums, cymbals can't be tuned to fit different musical applications. Once you have a cymbal, there's very little you can do to manipulate its sound. Therefore, shop wisely and choose cymbals that you are confident will work with your drum kit and compliment the music you want to play. This article will explain what you are looking for when shopping for cymbals.
Here's a guide to what cymbals you'll need and the size of each.
- Ride - the most important cymbal for jazz music. A large cymbal that ranges from 19 to 24 inches in diameter.
- Hi hats - 2 cymbals of the same size that are played together. The bottom hi hat is usually thicker and heavier than the top one. Common sizes range from 13 to 15 inches in diameter.
- Crash - large cymbals with a fast attack used for accents. Sizes range from 14 to 20 inches.
- Splash - small cymbals used in a similar way to crash cymbals. Sizes range from 6 to 12 inches
- China - harsh trashy sounding cymbals with a curved bow. They can come in both splash or crash sizes.
A basic cymbal set consists of a ride, a pair of hi hats, and one crash. Later on you may wish to bolster your musical palette with more crashes, splashes, or effects cymbals such a China cymbals.
A lot of very good cymbal brands make a wide range of cymbals at a variety of prices. However, there are also brands that don't meet the same stringent quality control standards.
Here is a list of cymbal brands that I have played and would recommend:
- Istanbul Agop
- Istanbul Mehmet
Zildjian, Paiste, Sabian and Meinl are commercially available all over the world and are successful in part due to their roster of endorsed drummers from well known bands around the world. Istanbul and Bosphorus are slightly less commercial but offer brilliant quality, often at a slightly more competitive price.
Cymbal prices vary wildly. You can get a cheap set (hi hats, ride, and crash) of reasonable quality cymbals from a good manufacturer for around 250-300 USD. At the other end of the scale you can buy individual cymbals for around 500-600 USD. It's important that you decide how much money you're willing to spend, and stick to your budget.
If your budget is towards the bottom end of the spectrum, definitely go for a cymbal pack. Most brands offer an entry level cymbal pack at a competitive price:
- Zildjian ZBT
- Sabian B8 or XS20
- Istanbul Mehmet Samatya
- Istanbul Agop Xist (slightly more expensive)
- Meinl HCS, MCS or Classics (better quality/higher price)
- Paiste 101, PST5 or PST8
If you can afford it, definitely go for quality early on. A large initial investment will save you lots of money in the long run. Spending money on lower quality cymbals will cost you more money later on, when you need to upgrade them. Most brands also offer intermediate/professional quality cymbal packs which cost around 600-800 USD:
- Zildjian A, A Custom, K, K Custom, Z3
- Sabian AA, AAX, HH, HHX
- Meinl Byzance/Soundcaster
- Paiste Rude, Giant Beat, 2002
The main problem with buying a cymbal pack is the lack of choice. You might prefer Zildjian A hi hats, but a Zildjian K ride, for example.
Cymbals can generally be characterised by either a bright or a dark sound.
- Bright cymbals tend to have a higher fundamental pitch and a less trashy sound than dark cymbals. They are generally used in pop or rock music.
- Dark cymbals have a lower fundamental pitch and have a more brooding sound. These cymbals are more common in jazz or fusion music.
Some cymbals are neither bright nor dark, and have a more balanced tone.
While Istanbul Agop, Istanbul Mehmet and Bosphorus tend to make darker cymbals, Zildjian, Paiste, Meinl and Sabian offer a variety of different ranges to accommodate all tastes. If you're looking for a brighter sound the following ranges might be best:
- Zildjian A or A Custom
- Sabian AA or AAX
- Paiste Giant Beat, Rude or 2002
- Meinl Classics or Classics Custom
For darker cymbals the following ranges will be best:
- Zildjian K or K Custom
- Sabian HH (hand hammered) or HHX
- Paiste Twenty or Formula 602
- Meinl Byzance Dark, Traditional, Vintage, Extra Dry, Jazz
These brands are a good place to start if you are looking for a cymbal set. The most important thing is that you go and try these cymbals out. If you can, do go and play them before you buy. No two cymbals are the same, and it's important that you know what you're buying. If you decide to buy second hand (which I would recommend if you're looking for higher end cymbals), make sure that you check for damage such as:
- Keyholing (around the cymbal hole)
- Warped edges
Another guide will follow this one for those of you who want to invest in the best quality but don't know for sure what you're looking for. Do check out our article on picking the right drum kit for yourself: Guide on Buying A Drum Kit.
See you next time!