Cymbals Buying Guide

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Cymbals Buying Guide

Cymbals are a component of acoustic drum kits and are used in various music genres to provide different effects. They are also found in orchestras, marching bands, and other musical groups. Cymbals vary in form and size, and also in the types of sound they produce. Research different types and read product descriptions and product reviews to find the most appropriate cymbals.

About Cymbals

Cymbals are a percussion instrument made from thin metal alloy plates. Often forming part of an acoustic drum kit, cymbals are also sometimes played individually and they are widely used in various musical groups.

Choosing Cymbals

There are various considerations when it comes to purchasing cymbals. These include the type of cymbal, process of manufacture, size and shape of cymbal, budget and type of sound required.

Types of Cymbal

Acoustic drum kits usually incorporate a hi-hat, ride cymbal, and at least one crash cymbal. There are various other types of cymbal, including clash cymbals, china cymbals, and sizzle cymbals.


Two cymbals that are mounted together on a stand. Played with a foot pedal that clashes the two cymbals together to produce a short, crisp sound and with drumsticks for stronger sounds. Often played to accent specific drum beats. The gap between cymbals can be adjusted to alter the sound.

Ride Cymbals

Single cymbals that produce a sustained sound used to maintain a steady rhythm. Mounted on a stand and played with a drumstick. Usually about 20 inches.

Crash Cymbals

Cymbals that produce a loud crash sound for infrequent accents. Typically mounted on a stand and played with a drumstick. Usually 14 to 18 inches in diameter with a thin edge, though rock and metal bands may use larger and thicker cymbals.

Splash Cymbals

Small accent cymbals used to provide thin splash sounds. Usually 6 to 14 inches in diameter, with 10 inches the most common diameter.

Clash Cymbals

Two cymbals held by hand and played by clashing them together. Often found in marching bands and also in orchestras.

China Cymbals

China cymbals are special effects cymbals used in acoustic drum kits for aggressive and explosive sounds. Other china cymbals are played like clash cymbals.

Sizzle Cymbals

Cymbals which have been modified by adding rattles such as rivets or chains. This produces a wash to the sound. Rivets and chains can be added by drilling holes in the cymbal or attaching them to the centre.

Manufacture, Quality, and Cost

The manufacturing process involves cutting or casting cymbals, followed by lathing and hammering.

Sheet and Cast Cymbals

Cymbals are manufactured in two basic ways. The first way involves cutting the cymbals out of sheet metal, usually made from malleable alloys such as bronze, a copper and tin alloy, or brass, a copper and zinc alloy. Brass alloys produce the cheapest cymbals which are often included in beginner drum kits, while bronze alloys are more expensive. Cymbals made from sheet metal are typically higher pitched with a brighter, tinnier sound than the second type of cymbal, and they are also cheaper.
The second way of manufacturing cymbals is by casting them individually from molten metal. These cymbals are sometimes referred to as bell bronze cymbals. They typically have a lower pitched sound with more body and depth than sheet metal cymbals, and are also more expensive.

Lathing and Hammering

Other factors during manufacture affect cymbal sound and quality. Cymbals are usually lathed to shape and thin them and then hammered. Finer lathing produces a cymbal with a more distinct or focused sound. Some budget cymbals are not lathed but simply pressed, which has an effect on the distinctness of sound.
Hammering alters the shape and tension of the cymbal. Cheaper cymbals are usually hammered by machine, whereas higher end cymbals are hand hammered. Advantages of hammering by machine include time, cost, and quality control when it comes to producing identically sounding instruments. Because machine hammering is more thorough and even it tends to result in a higher pitched and brighter sound. Hand hammered cymbals typically have lower and richer sounds. They also tend to have more variation in sound between instruments.

Cymbal Quality

Quality is especially important when it comes to cymbals, with many musicians maintaining that there is usually a large difference in sound quality between cheap cymbals and more expensive cymbals. This doesn’t always apply to musical instruments, but with cymbals the opinion is fairly strong. It doesn’t mean that budget cymbals aren’t fine for many uses, and certainly for beginners and for practicing with. If on a low budget, then cheaper cymbals are quite sufficient, and they can always be upgraded at a later date. Additionally, it depends on the kind of sound required.

Cymbal Shape and Sound

The sound that a cymbal will make is also affected by its weight, diameter and profile.


The weight of a cymbal corresponds to it thickness. Heavier cymbals are thicker, making them louder but slower to respond and needing more force. They are more rigid which causes faster vibrations and a higher pitched sound. Lighter, thinner cymbals are quicker to respond and lower pitched.


Cymbals with a larger diameter typically have a sound that is louder, lower pitched and more sustained.


Cymbals have a raised dome in their centre which is known as the bell. The flatter part of the cymbal is known as the bow. The profile is a measurement of the bow vertically from the cymbal’s edge to the base of the bell. Cymbals with higher profile are higher pitched.

Type of Sound and Special Effects

The type of sound, and, therefore, the type, size, and shape of cymbal required, will depend on various factors, including the kind of music it is to be used for. For example, rock and metal music often utilise cymbals that have a loud, heavy, sustained and high pitched sound that is often described as bright or polished. Cymbals played alongside other loud instruments will need to be able to be heard over them, so often the louder the better. Other types of music, for example jazz, often use cymbals with a softer, deeper and darker sound. These kinds of cymbals are lower pitched with less sustain, and they do not need to be as loud. In between the two extremes are various continuums when it comes to factors such as pitch, volume, and sustain.
Some cymbals are designed for specific special effects. These include china cymbals and sizzle cymbals, which have been previously mentioned. It is also possible to customise cymbals to create unique and interesting sounds, including stacking them in groups, hanging them in a spiral shape for shimmering sound or dampening the sound with electrical tape stuck to the underside. Any permanent alterations should be carried out with caution.

Find Cymbals on eBay

There are many listings for cymbals on eBay. Finding the most relevant listings can be easily done by navigating through the category menus. To do this, go to the eBay home page and, from the tabs to the left, scroll over All Categories. Select Musical Instruments. Scroll down to Percussion and select Cymbals. Under Sub-Type are a variety of options, including for crash, ride, hi-hats, splash and china cymbals. There are also options to choose stands and mounts. Other criteria that can be selected to refine listings include brand, condition, price range and size. Alternatively, to search directly for cymbals or a specific type of cymbal, go to the top of the page, type search terms into the search bar and press Search. Search terms can be general, for example “cymbals” or “crash cymbals”, or more specific, for example “20-inch ride cymbal”.


There are various types of cymbals, and some cymbals are used to maintain or emphasise a steady rhythm, while others are used for occasional accents. Hi-hats, ride cymbals, and crash cymbals are standard components of acoustic drum kits, with china cymbals and splash cymbals the two most used effects cymbals. Cymbals are typically played with drumsticks though some, such as hi-hats, are also operated by foot pedals. Clash cymbals are hand held cymbals played by clashing them together. The process of manufacture has an effect on cymbal sound quality, with more expensive cast cymbals having a lower pitched sound with more body while cheaper cymbals made of sheet metal have a higher, brighter sound. The other factors in the manufacturing process which affect sound quality are lathing and hammering. Cymbal size and profile also affects the type of sound a cymbal produces, especially the pitch, with heavier cymbals, smaller diameter cymbals and cymbals with a higher profile having higher pitched sounds. Researching the different types of cymbal and reading product descriptions and reviews are good ways to find the most suitable cymbal for the purpose and good quality products at the best value.

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