A Guide to Buying Affordable Cymbals

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A Guide to Buying Affordable Cymbals

A cymbal is a common percussion instrument suited to many styles of music. Cymbals are versatile instruments often played in a wide range of musical groups, including orchestras, jazz bands, and rock metal bands among many others. Different types of cymbals are used to create different auditory effects; most drum kits feature at least a crash or ride cymbal as well as a pair of hi-hat cymbals. Cymbals of the same type can also vary in volume, pitch, and sustain to produce different sounds. The quality of sound will depend on the make, material, and condition of the cymbal. Investigate types and brands to find the right cymbal for optimum sound.

About Cymbals

Cymbals are musical instruments belonging to the percussion family, used either to create ostinato - a repetitive beat - or to produce an occasional emphatic element. The unique timbre of cymbals enables exceptional versatility as they can be played at a barely audible volume or sufficiently loud to be heard over every other instrument and throughout a crowded audience.
A range of terms are used to describe the different features of sounds made when a cymbal is struck.

Cymbal Sounds


Volume refers to loudness; a low volume cymbal will create a quieter sound, whereas a high volume cymbal can produce a very loud sound.


Pitch refers to the frequency of the sound wave produced. A high pitch produces high notes, and a low pitch produces low notes.



The sustain is the length of time for which a sound can be heard. A cymbal with long sustain means that a single note produced will be heard for a relatively long period of time, whereas a note played on a cymbal with a short sustain will become inaudible more quickly.

Cymbal Anatomy

Cymbals are most commonly constructed of sheet metal malleable alloys, or more rarely, cast from bell bronze. Each cymbal is a wide disc, and its size corresponds to its diameter, measured in either inches or centimeters, i.e., a 14″ cymbal has a diameter of 14 inches. A hole in the centre of each disc enables the cymbal to be mounted or fixed to a strap or handle. The raised area immediately surrounding this hole is referred to as the bell, dome, or cup and produces a higher pitched sound than the flat section of the cymbal, known as the bow. The bow is sometimes further segregated as the ride area, which is closer to the bell, and the crash area, which is thinner metal tapered towards the edge or rim of the circumference of the cymbal.

There are features within the anatomy of a cymbal that contribute to its sound. Identifying how each of these features alters the audio effect can make it easier to compare cymbals.


Larger cymbals tend to have higher volume and longer sustain.


Heavier cymbals have greater thickness and produce louder volumes. Heavier cymbals are more responsive than light cymbals when being played with a drumstick.


The profile is the distance from the top of the bell to the rim of the cymbal and affects the pitch. Higher profile cymbals produce sounds with a higher pitch.

Choosing Cymbals

With so many cymbals available, it can be difficult to narrow down the search to find the right instrument to produce the desired sound. In addition to anatomical features, other factors to consider include cymbal type and method of manufacture.

Type of Cymbal

The rich variety of sounds that can be heard across all genres can be contributed, at least in part, to the number of different types of cymbals now used in modern music.


Held by straps attached through the centre of each bell, a pair of clash cymbals are struck against each other in a variety of ways to create a multitude of different sounds.


A standard feature of a typical drum set, a hi-hat is comprised of two cymbals mounted on a stand, which are operated by a foot pedal. Noise is produced as the two cymbals collide with each other.


Crash cymbals can either be played by hand in pairs or mounted and played with a drumstick. They produce a loud, crashing sound, suited more to occasional accents than a regular beat. Rock and metal bands tend to use heavy crash cymbals.


Ride cymbals are used to create the rhythmic beat, or ride pattern, of a composition. Ride cymbals have a very long sustain.


Designed to fulfill the requirements of two cymbals in one, a crash/ride cymbal is medium weight and lightly tapered to enable players to select the crash or ride function as required. This type of cymbal can also be used to produce longer crashes than a crash cymbal.


Effects or accent cymbals are used to create particular auditory effects and to bring colour and variety to a drum kit. Effect cymbals include splash cymbals, which commonly have a diameter of 10″ and are traditionally used by jazz musicians, and China cymbals, which have an inverted outer rim to produce a more exotic sound, among many others.

Cymbal Material and Manufacture

In early manufacture, cymbals were historically hot-forged from individual cast blanks, then cold-hammered to harden the metal, and then lathed to reduce the thickness. Modern cymbals are most commonly stamped from sheet metal, enabling relatively cheap and fast manufacture. However, there are other alternative materials and manufacturing processes used.

Sheet Metal

Malleable metal alloys are stamped or hammered from sheet metal as opposed to being forged from bell bronze. Sheet metal cymbals tend to be more affordable.


Metal is spun into a mold to create the final shape without hot forging. This is an expensive process, only used by top manufacturers to produce bell bronze cymbals of high quality.

Bell Bronze Forging

Modern production enables traditional bell bronze cymbals to be produced faster and more cheaply with little or no reduction in sound quality.


Authentic hand hammered cymbals are each unique, with richer tones. Cymbals hammered by a proprietary machine, operated by an individual craftsman, are sometimes marketed as being hand hammered. Cymbals hammered symmetrically by machine produce a brighter sound that is higher in pitch, resulting in less variation between finished products.


Automated cymbal lathes reduce cost of production and offer part-turned or unturned cymbals, resulting in a variety of new sounds, particularly at the top end of the market.

Cymbal Stands and Suspension

Cymbals can be suspended on stands or mounts to be played when struck with an object. Stands might be integrated as part of a drum kit or purchased separately. There are a variety of different stands, and some may be specific to a particular cymbal; for example, hi-hat stands will have a pedal or clutch.

Cymbal Mallets, Sticks and Brushes

The sound produced by any given cymbal will depend largely on how that sound is produced. Mallets that are wrapped in felt, sponge, or other fabrics elicit clear, ringing notes when a cymbal is struck sharply or softer sounds when played lightly. Brushes drawn across the bow produce an interesting metallic sound, whereas using a drumstick creates a sudden crashing effect.

Traditional Cymbals

Traditional or ancient cymbals are tuned to one specific note. They are much smaller than most popular cymbals and are not common in mainstream musical composition. The modern equivalents of ancient cymbals are the crotales.

Maintaining Cymbals

Through repeated use, cymbals are likely to sustain some surface damage, including light denting and scratching. If this damage is purely cosmetic, it will make no alteration to the sound. However, any bending, chips or cracks evident in the cymbal will change the sound quality and limit the life of the instrument. Cymbals should therefore be handled with care, stored vertically with a layer of protection between each cymbal, e.g. rubber sheets, and carried in a suitable cymbal case. Keep cymbals clean to maintain a crisp, clear sound. Dirt or oxidation can dull or impair the sound. Clean cymbals gently with a damp cloth and mild detergent.

Buying Affordable Cymbals

The market is so varied that it can be bewildering to buy affordable, good quality cymbals. Without compromising on sound, modern manufacturing processes are usually more cost effective so produce more affordable cymbals. Similarly, modern metal alloy cymbals are often more affordable than traditional bell bronze cymbals. Compare assorted brands and several sellers to get the best deal, and consider purchasing a kit or collection, which can be more cost effective overall than gradually building a kit piece by piece. Providing they are in good condition, used cymbals can be an affordable alternative to purchasing new products.

How to Find Cymbals on eBay

To purchase affordable cymbals on eBay, load the eBay homepage and begin by selecting the All Categories tab. Under the category Musical Instruments, click the link for Percussion. When the page loads, locate the menu on the left side of the screen, and select Cymbals from the list. Browse listings, or further narrow search by using sub-category options. Alternatively, enter specific words or phrases into the search bar at the top of any eBay page. For example, type 'crash cymbal new' to search for unused crash cymbals.


A cymbal is a versatile percussion instrument. Cymbals are available in many types, sizes, and materials, each creating a different sound. Affordable cymbals can be purchased by considering manufacturing processes, brands, and pre-used items. Research sellers and compare individual items to be confident in an affordable, good quality purchase. Proper storage, transport, and maintenance of cymbals will provide better sound quality and prolong the life of the instrument.

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