As well as having a variety of drums in a drum kit, the other essential instruments are cymbals. There are many different kinds of cymbals which can be incorporated, each having their own unique function and sound quality. Some drum kits, especially starter kits, are likely to come with a starter pack of cymbals included, and a basic pack will probably have two hi-hat cymbals, a crash cymbal, and a ride cymbal, although sometimes a crash/ride cymbal replaces the separate crash and ride cymbals. However, other cymbals can be used to add 'effects', and many players like to build their own set of cymbals to create their own preferred sound range, so it is worth getting to know about the different cymbals available, their function, and the individual sound they add to the overall effect.
Because of the very wide range of cymbals available, there is a certain amount of cross-over when defining individual cymbal types, and some may be considered as belonging to more than one category.
Every drum kit needs a hi-hat, which is usually constructed from two opposing cymbals mounted on a pedal stand, and can be moved together using the foot pedal. The hi-hat is versatile because it can be played in several different ways to create various sounds. When the cymbals are open, i.e. not touching, the top cymbal can be played in a way similar to a single cymbal, being struck with a beater and creating a more sustained sound. The cymbals can be kept closed and struck, which results in a shorter, quieter sound, or the player can use the foot pedal to open and close the cymbals, making yet another sound. The hi-hat is often used to keep the beat of the music, along with the bass drum, and the sound can be varied even further by using different beaters such as wooden sticks or wire brushes.
There are a number of variations on the way hi-hats are mounted, including mounting them closed or using a drop clutch to enable the cymbals to be opened and closed without the need for a foot pedal. This is useful if the kit has two bass drums as the player needs both feet to play them.
A ride cymbal is an important basic element of a cymbal set. It keeps a steady beat, often alternating with the high hat to provide contrast between sections of the music, e.g. verse and chorus. The name ride is thought to have originated with the concept 'to ride with the music', used to describe the regular nature of the rhythm. A ride cymbal is a single cymbal, which can range in diameter between 16” and 24”, although 20” is considered the most common, and it is mounted on a stand. It is generally a heavy, standard cymbal with a 'bell' or dome in the middle, surrounded by a flatter 'bow' or ring of metal. However, some players prefer to use a specialist 'effect' cymbal as a ride.
A ride cymbal has a sustained ringing sound, which tends to oscillate and resonate for a time, although variation can be achieved by striking the cymbal in different places, e.g. the bell has a different sound from the bow. As with all cymbals, further variations can be created by using different beaters.
Flat Ride Cymbal
The flat ride cymbal, as the name suggests, is a ride cymbal without a bell. Created by the Paiste company, this version has a more subdued and damped effect than a standard ride cymbal, and it is popular with jazz drummers.
Crash cymbals work in tandem with the ride cymbal, providing emphasis at important points in the music, such as moving to a bridge section or where the music builds to a climax, often being used to make a 'crash' at these moments. Because of this, the sound is louder and sharper than a ride and dies away more quickly.
Dual Purpose Cymbals
Cymbals are available which combine the dual functions of the crash and the ride, and these are often popular for beginners, or for use in a small drum kit where it may be the only mounted cymbal in ensemble.
A crash/ride cymbal favours the crash function, but can be used as a ride. The diameter ranges from 16”-18”, and it is usually a medium weight cymbal.
Conversely, the ride/crash cymbal is less commonly used, but favours the ride effect. It's also possible to use other cymbals, such as the hi-hat, to provide a limited crash or ride function in a small kit.
As well as the standard cymbals, most players like to add further cymbals to their range to give more flexibility to their sound. These cymbals are known as 'effects' cymbals and are used to add tonal colour and variety to the sound palette
Most manufacturers provide effects packs as an extension to the standard range, but many players prefer to buy their own individual cymbals, depending on the characteristics of their playing and their genre.
Most players and effects packs have a splash cymbal and a china, but there is a massive variety of effects cymbals to be found.
A splash cymbal is a small cymbal which is used in a way similar to a crash cymbal, creating a splash of sound for emphasis. The very smallest splash cymbals may only be 4” in diameter, but generally they range from 6” to 13”, with 10” being the most popular. They are medium-weighted with little taper towards the edge – this is because they need to be hit quite hard to achieve an effective sound and so need to be resilient, although the 'rock splash' cymbal, used in rock music, has a slight taper. There are several different variations on the splash cymbal, each with its own unique sound and purpose. For example:
Cymbals less than 14” in diameter are generally designated as china splash cymbals, and their shape can vary widely although chinas are usually designed with a distinctive upturned rim.
A splash cymbal usually played in conjunction with timbales (small drums).
Thin, delicate cymbals, with a quiet sound.
Bell cymbal: Bell cymbals are sturdy cymbals which have a ringing tone, and are usually between 4” and 8” in diameter.
These are deliberately designed as delicate cymbals to be mounted in a stack so that they resonate against each other. Sometimes a china will be used as the top cymbal in the stack.
Swish and Pang Cymbal
Swish and pang cymbals are used as to give variety to the ride cymbal effect although they can function as a crash cymbal as well. They can be mounted either way up on the stand, depending on the intended sound quality.
Adding rattles, chains, or rivets to a cymbal creates a sizzle cymbal in which the rattle has its own 'sizzling' resonance and also acts as a slight damper on the overall sound of the cymbal. Sizzle cymbals have occasionally been popular when used as ride cymbals in rock bands.
Cymbals are usually mounted on their own stand although they are occasionally fixed to the bass drum in smaller kits. The hi-hat has its own unique stand with foot pedal, but there are several options for mounting other cymbals to enable the drummer to access them easily when playing. A simple stand holds the cymbal up straight, whereas a boom stand allows the angle and length of the stand to be adjusted, and the counter-weighted version allows the cymbal to be hung some distance from the stand without compromising stability. Cymbals can also be stacked or 'piggy-backed' so that two or more can be played simultaneously.
There are several well-known makers of cymbals; the original manufacturers Zildjian have been making cymbals since the 17th century, but others include Sabian, Paiste and Meinl. Opinions vary widely as to which company produces the best cymbals as sound preference is largely a matter of personal taste, so taking time to get to know the different nuances of the individual companies before purchasing is an important step in ensuring a cymbal that creates the perfect sound.
Finding Drum Kit Cymbals on eBay
To find drum kit cymbals on eBay, start by accessing the home page, hover over the All Categories tab, and navigate to Musical Instruments. Under the Percussion section, select Cymbals. The search can be further refined by sub-type (e.g. crash, ride, splash etc.), by brand, condition (e.g. new, used etc.), and by other criteria.
eBay has a wide range of cymbals on offer to complement an existing drum kit or to build one from scratch. Taking time to research the options available will help to ensure that any cymbal purchased will provide exactly the function and tone quality desired to help create a drum kit of which any player would be proud.