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Do you find yourself getting a bit carried away on a gig and are worried that you’ll turn your prized instruments into something akin to iron filings and sawdust? Come into a bit of money and want to invest in some nice cymbals but are concerned that you play hard? Well, I play hard, and through some careful choice of cymbals, and very importantly, ensuring a proper technique is used, I’ve only ever cracked two cymbals in my whole life (both were 2nd hand: one was already cracked when I got it, and the other was really, really old!). In my collection, my crashes range from very thin, to medium-heavy, and I will use different ones for different purposes, but I will mix and match in various situations, and I’m not afraid to lay in to the thinner cymbals!
Fortunately now, many manufacturers are wising up to the way drumming styles are evolving, and are evolving their products to match. The common style among hard rock players is to play repeated notes (or “ride patterns”) on the crash cymbals, so these are often the first to go. The other style is to “crash” the ride cymbal, in order to fill out the sound, while playing ride patterns, and I’m hearing more instances of people cracking their ride cymbals, which was unheard of a couple of years ago!
The common misconception about cymbals is that if you feel you are prone to cracking your cymbals, a heavier cymbal is more suitable. Not necessarily so! I’m not saying that it is wrong to buy these cymbals (after all, that particular cymbal may be the sound you’re looking for), but the weight determines the way a cymbal behaves when struck. A thicker, heavier cymbal is less likely to absorb the impact as well, especially if struck in repeated succession. A lighter or thinner cymbal will absorb the impact, and even flex when struck, therefore dissipating the tension in the metal that is caused by the impact.
Paiste have come up with an innovative new design, which they have released in their Rude and 2002 ranges, the Wild Crashes. These are Medium-Heavy cymbals designed especially for heavy players, which deliver strength, not through excessive weight, but by a greater curvature over the bow of the cymbal, which helps absorb repeated heavy impacts.
Other cymbals suitable for heavy playing are the Zildjian Z Custom Medium Crashes, A Custom Projection Crashes, Sabian AA Metal-X and AAX Metal Crashes. This isn’t to say that you have to use these particular cymbals. For example, Thomas Haake of Meshuggah, a very heavy band, plays Sabian HHX cymbals, which are generally advertised as more traditional cymbals suited to jazz. And celebrated prog-rock drummer Bill Bruford plays a set-up mostly comprised of Paiste Traditionals Series cymbals, again designed more with the jazz player in mind.
The ultimate advice is to watch your technique! It is possible to hit hard and not damage cymbals. Ensure that when you strike the cymbal, the stick is not upright against the cymbal’s edge, as that is its most vulnerable point. Ideally, the stick should strike the cymbal at roughly a 45-degree angle. Another crucial point is to look constantly at the state of the felts and sleeves on your cymbal stands, which if faulty, often cause damage to the middle of your cymbals. I was once chatting with Nicko McBrain’s drum tech, who told me he changes the sleeves every two shows on tour! Always carry spares of these, you don’t want to get to a gig and then have to worry all the way through that your cymbal is grinding against the stand!
You can often listen to sound clips of cymbals on the various manufacturer’s websites, which is a good starting point for finding the cymbals that sound right for you. Then consider their suitability for what you do: do you want cymbals that are aggressive enough to cut through noise, or do you mike up anyway? Giving yourself a checklist of the different elements of cymbals which are essential to you, as well as following some of the advice here, should help you on the path to success. Good luck!