Choosing the Right Cymbals for your Drum Kit!!

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Cymbals, What To Choose?

Buying a full kit is one thing, but buying the other parts for it is another, buying the wrong piece of equipment for your kit could make it all go wrong.

What is a standard cymbal setup?

A standard setup comprises a ride cymbal (typically 20 inch), a crash cymbal (typically 16 inch) and a hi-hat (typically 14 inch) - a pair of cymbals horizontally mounted which can be crash together with a hi-hat pedal, or played closed with a stick.
Many players choose to add crashes (14 inch - 19 inch), splash cymbals (6 inch - 12 inch) or china cymbals (10 inch - 18 inch) to enhance their sound.

How do I select cymbals?

The tonal quality of cymbals is the result of the careful selection of material used, methods of production, size, weight and finish.

Materials used...

The cheapest brass cymbals start at under £75 per set. The typically comprise of 16" or 18" crash-ride cymbal (a single cymbal serving as both crash and ride functions), and a pair of hi-hats. Such cymbals are often included as part of the package with kits in the under £300 - £500 range. Better quality brass sets, mirror the standard setup - 20" ride, 16" crash and 14" hi-hats. Machine hammering and lacquered finishes improve their tonal quality and appearance. Nevertheless, any brass cymbal is best thought of as an interim measure.

The next level of cymbals are made of B8 Bronze (92% copper, 8% tin) e.g. Zildjian ZBT, ZXT, Meinl MCS sets out of these cymbals - 20" ride, 16" crash, 14" hi-hats - tend to sell for between £160 - £220.

Finally, top model cymbals are made from B20 bronze (80% copper, 20% tin) mixed with traces of precious metals to a formulae jealously guarded by manufacturers over the centuries. Models such as Zildjian Avedis, A Custom, K, K Custom, Z Custom, Meinl Byzance, Paiste 2002 and Signatures all fall into this category.

Methods of production

Basic and intermediate cymbals tend to be pressed from sheets of metal or metal alloys. Top model cymbals are cast from molten alloy. The different sounds created for each range are the result of the particular lathing, hammering and finishing processes. Some top cymbals are hand hammered by skilled craftsmen who have learned a craft passed down over the centuries.

Tops quality cymbals are highly tampered instruments. They need to be played correctly and handled with care.

Even a top quality cymbal can crack or split if it is misused, e.g. through overtightening or being struck with a head on blow, rather than a glancing one.


Reference has been made already to the typical size of crash, ride, hi-hat, splash and china cymbals. To state what may be obvious, smaller cymbals produce smaller sounds and lower volumes. Larger cymbals produce bigger sounds and greater volumes. For example, some heavy rock players have moved to nineteen or twenty inch crash cymbals!


Thinner cymbals respond faster; heavy models tend to be louder with longer sustain (duration). Thin and medium thin crash cymbals are the preferred choice of many players selecting cymbals 14" - 16"; medium thin and medium for cymbals 16" - 18", with metal and rock players often favouring the heavy weights.


Some players prefer cymbals in their natural state. Such cymbals are sometimes described as having bite. Others prefer their cymbals to have a polished, glossy look, which tends to give a smoother response.


Much will depend on the type of music you play. Lower pitch cymbals are perhapsmore subtle, blending easily with the music and giving a big full sound. Higher pitch cymbals will tend to cut through the music.

Ultimatley, obey one simple rule: choose with your ears, not your eyes. Forget designer labels. There is no one definitive manufacturer or range. Mix and match as you wish. But when choosing cymbals, take your exisitng one with you and select others that will blend in totally.

Value for money...

Boxed sets save you money! Even when highly discounted, individual cymbals are not cheap. Buying boxed sets can save you 25% - 30% on the price of buying the same cymbals individually.

Caring for cymbals...

When cleaning cymbals (and many people don't!), use only a polish recommended by the manufacturer, otherwise you may remove the protective lacquer and damage both appearance and tone. A good carry-case (preferably one with dividers) will protect your instruments for the future. Properly cared for, your cymbals could last for life!

If you really are struggling to choose call us as all our staff play drums and can give their own opinion on the best sounding cybal for your desired application!!
Tel 0114 247 2200, Ask for Craig or Joe!!
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