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Beginner’s Guide: Choosing The Perfect Drum Cymbals

Beginner’s Guide: Choosing The Perfect Drum Cymbals

Perfect your cymbal selection process

When scouting for your next cymbal investment on the drum market, it is clear there is an overwhelming amount of choice available. It’s important to take the time to carefully determine which cymbals are right for you, and will compliment your sound as a drummer.

A drummer’s cymbal selection helps to define his or hers unique musical voice, and the sounds of the cymbals are a standout feature within the musical groups and activities that one participates in.

Because cymbals play such an integral part of a drummer’s set up, it’s not something that should be overlooked. Cymbals project a distinctly recognisable sound, and they cannot be altered or tuned in the way that drums can.

With a cymbal purchase, you truly have to be 100% confident that its sound is right for you and your music. A cymbal’s sound can’t be modified, so it’s imperative to invest in cymbals that will work for all the styles of music you play.

In this guide I aim to provide as much information as I can about cymbals to help educate you on how to choose the perfect cymbals that are just right for you, and what you need to consider when looking to invest in new cymbals.

Where Should I Begin?

First things first, let’s recognise that every drummer is on a different musical journey. Whether you are a complete novice, a progressing intermediate level drummer, or a seasoned professional – every drummer will have different needs.

So how do you find the perfect cymbals that are right for you, whilst being within the realms of what you can afford to spend?

I briefly touched on the fact that a cymbal’s sound cannot be altered, and with this knowledge we understand that a cymbal’s inherent sound will remain the same whether in a recording studio, on a festival stage or in a club venue. In other words, regardless of what you spend, you will need to be confident that your cymbals can suit the styles of music you play, and sound great wherever you perform.

Cymbals are an exciting purchase, and whilst they make up a hugely important part of the drum set, there is an aspect of ‘one size fits all’. Unfortunately the average drummer can’t afford to buy twelve different sets of cymbals!

I recommend to anyone looking to upgrade their cymbals to invest in a quality cymbal pack that has enough versatility and sonic diversity to compliment a broad range of musical styles.

If you might require more information about individual types of cymbals before looking to buy, I would recommend checking out Dawson’s Beginner’s Guide to Cymbals Types.

Looking At The Price Tag

For all of the largest cymbal manufacturers, such as Sabian, Zildjian, Meinl and Paiste – the cymbal manufacturing process is extensive and thorough, with cymbal craftsmen having decades of experience guiding the process and ensuring each handmade cymbal is fit for purpose.

It takes years of experience to master the fine art of cymbal crafting, with specific processes such as hand hammering, cymbal lathing being specific art forms that are necessary to create beautiful sounding cymbals. Cymbals are all individually hand weighed and tested by experts to ensure they meet the stringent quality control regulations.

There is a vast array of cymbals available, and manufacturers around the globe all claim their cymbals are the best sounding, most durable, versatile and innovative. Price tags on premium quality cymbals might appear steep, but one very important piece of information I have to offer is as follows:

With cymbals, what you pay for is what you get. Good cymbals don’t come cheap, and cheap cymbals will eventually need replacing.

This isn’t to say beginner cymbals are strictly bad. There are ranges of entry-level cymbals that exceed the quality of other brands, and these are the suitable choice for beginners that are finding their feet behind the drums.

But as far as quality cymbals go, for drummers looking to upgrade and find their perfect cymbal sound, it is a necessary investment that is required in order to sound great on stage and in the studio.

Use Your Ears!

I’ll be able to explain more about factors such as alloy composition, weight and size that affect a cymbal’s sound shortly. But before I go onto these factors I would like to talk about the most important process to choosing the perfect cymbals. And that is to use your own ears to determine what sounds good to you!

Listen to clips of cymbals online, or better still, go into a Dawsons Music shop and try out cymbals to find the cymbals that best suit you. Many manufacturers, including Sabian, have curated some useful tips for trying out cymbals. Have a look at the following considerations to bear in mind when deciding for yourself.

  • Will the cymbals complement the styles of music you play?
  • Can you visualize the cymbals sounding good with your drums?
  • Do the cymbals create a diverse sonic palette that you will feel inspired to play?
  • Pay close attention to the tone of the cymbals. Are they dark or bright? Or washy or dry?

Cast vs. Sheet Cymbals

Drum Kit With Cymbals

Let us look more into the different factors that influence a cymbals sound, and how this reflects their price. Cymbal manufacturing is split up into two types. Because of this, virtually all cymbals can be split into two categories: affordable cymbals and professional level cymbals.

Sheet Cymbals (affordable)

Sheet cymbals are stamped out of a large piece of an existing piece of sheet metal, and are far easier and cheaper to manufacture when compared to cast cymbals. It is almost exclusively budget and beginner level cymbals that are manufactured from sheet metal, besides Paiste’s 2002 series being the only anomaly. If you are looking for affordable cymbals, you can expect them to be sheet cymbals.

Cast Cymbals (professional)

Every professional level cymbal begins its life as a molten bronze disc that will endure extensive rolling, pressing, hammering and lathing to become a predestined, completed product. The process is very labour-intensive and expensive. Because of this process, cast cymbals carry a high price tag. If you are looking for quality cymbals, you can guarantee they will be forged from cast bronze.

Cymbal Alloy Composition

It is widely regarded that the best cymbal alloy composition is a formula of bronze known as B20 bronze. B20 bronze is comprised of 80% copper and 20% tin, with traces of silver. Almost all cast cymbals are forged from B20 bronze.

Whether it’s Sabian’s AAX or HHX range or the legendary Zildjian A or K customs, all of these cymbal ranges are made with B20 bronze. This is because adding more tin to a bronze alloy is known to darken the tone and lead to a sonically richer sounding cymbal.

B8 bronze or brass cymbals will be made from sheet metal, and these are the affordable cymbals that make up entry level ranges such as Zildjian’s ZBT line or Sabian’s B8 Pro range of cymbals. These cymbals are great for beginners and are great tools that allow new drummers to develop and practice their playing.

Bright vs. Dark Cymbals

Cymbals can most often be split into two different types when it comes to sonics. These being bright and dark. Most cymbal manufacturers will promote different ranges as slotting into one of these categories. When looking at buying new cymbals you will need to consider whether its brighter or darker cymbals that will compliment the music you perform.

Bright Cymbals

These cymbals are easily recognised by their shiny, brilliant finish. These bright cymbals are higher in pitch and have increased cutting ability. They have a longer sustain and I find they are sharper and often louder.

The Zildjian A custom is a legendary range of cymbals that is the world’s most popular bright sounding cymbal. Bright cymbals are versatile and are best suited to pop, rock, metal and fusion music.

Dark Cymbals

These types of cymbals possess distinctive sounds and looks. Dark cymbals will have an unlathed, raw and earthy appearance that contributes to their deeper and less refined sound. Dark cymbals such as Meinl’s Byzance range have a complex and dry sound. They speak with a softer voice that makes them perfect for R&B, jazz, blues and funk music.

Cymbal Weight And Size

Now we know how the method of manufacture, alloy construction and type of finish can contribute to a cymbal’s sound. Let’s take a look at how a cymbals weight and size affect how a cymbal projects.

The weight of a cymbal directly impacts the cymbal’s volume, sound and power. For example, thinner crash cymbals speak faster and are more responsive. But the trade-off is that they are nowhere near as loud as thicker and heavier crash cymbals. Heavier crash cymbals can cut through with far greater volume and power.

If you are looking for the most versatile cymbals that can suit a wider range of musical styles and applications, the cymbals you might wish to go for will be medium weight cymbals. This means you are not limited to performing certain styles of music, and you have the optimal balance of sounds.

Larger cymbals have greater volume and a longer sustain than their smaller cymbal counterparts. Compare a 20” crash cymbal to a 6” splash cymbal. The splash cymbal will explode quicker, because the vibrations are able to travel through the metal faster, allowing for a shorter and energetic burst of sound. But a 20” crash cymbal will explode with far greater volume, resonance and sustain. But larger cymbals will require more energy and power from the drummer to activate them.

Final Thoughts

Drum Playing Behind Kit

No two cymbals are the same, and nor are any two drummers. Even two cymbals that may be very same cymbal make and model will have slightly contrasting pitches and nuances to their sonic identity. This is inevitable due to the painstaking handcrafting process that cymbals undergo for their manufacture.

This is why each drummer should take time, effort and care into selecting cymbals that reflect one’s own musical identity and will compliment all of his or hers musical endeavours.

There are lots of factors that contribute to a cymbal’s sound, but the most important decisive factor is whether or not a cymbal sounds good to you. Trust your ears and pay close attention to the unique sonic characteristics before committing to a purchase.

Buying a complete cymbal pack is often the best way to upgrade cymbals. This is because it works out to be far more cost effective to buy the cymbals in a bundle than buying each cymbal separately. Cymbals within a pre-made bundle are also sonically matched to ensure they compliment each other.

Finally, once you have decided on the cymbals you wish to purchase it is best practice to learn how you can increase the life expectancy of your cymbals through taking good care of them.

Get in touch

Head over to the Dawsons Music website to check out our full range of Drum Gear. Alternatively, head to your nearest Dawsons store where our in-store specialists are more than happy to help you out.

About The Author

Gideon Waxman

Gideon Waxman is a London-based drummer with over 13 years experience. Since completing a Music Degree at the University of Westminster, Gideon has been touring with metal act Familiar Spirit. You can find more of his advice at Drum Helper, a free online resource dedicated to helping drummers achieve more from their playing.