Cymbals play 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.
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.
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.
Look at the price tag
There is a vast array of cymbals available, and whilst price tags on premium quality cymbals might appear steep, what you pay for is generally what you get.
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!
The most important process to choosing the perfect cymbals 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 music shop and try out cymbals to find the cymbals that best suit you. 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?
Cymbals can most often be split into two different types when it comes to sonics. These being bright and dark. 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.
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. Bright cymbals are versatile and are best suited to pop, rock, metal and fusion music. They will cut through sharper and brighter in a mix.
Dark cymbals will have an unlathed 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.
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.
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 sounds.
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 commiting 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’s best practice to learn how you can increase the life expectancy of your cymbals through taking good care of them. Zildjian have produced this excellent cymbal care guide that teaches you how to best look after your cymbals so that they will last you for years.
Gideon Waxman is a London based drummer with over 14 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 over at Drum Helper, a free online resource dedicated to helping drummers achieve more from their playing.