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The wide varieties of cymbals available could be quite confusing for beginners. Questions about the differences between cymbal types and their purpose are typical for someone who is just setting out. To help such people, this is a guide about the various types of cymbals that will help you make an informed choice when you want to add new pieces to your drum kit.
7 Types of Drum Cymbals
Below is a list of the five most essential drum kit cymbals you will need to know as a drummer. However, know that these are just the five most common cymbal types and that there are plenty of other cymbal types in the market.
1. Crash Cymbals
The crash cymbals make one of the most easily recognized sounds of a drum kit. The loud and explosive cymbal sounds used to accentuate sections of a song or rhythms are produced by these. Crash cymbals are typically played at the ending of drum fill and are used to indicate a transition while adding some extra flair. A crash cymbal will be able to cut through all the other sounds thanks to its loud and explosive nature.
Crash cymbals can range from 8″ to up to 24″ in diameter. However, they are typically between 14″ and 18″. They also come in a variety of different thicknesses, with thinner cymbals producing brighter tones. In most setups, the crash cymbals are placed closer to the weaker hand; for example, they will be placed towards the left of a right-handed drummer.
2. Ride Cymbals
Ride cymbals are typically the most used cymbals in a drum kit, especially in jazz. They are used to produce steady patterns to provide a rhythmic feeling. Unlike the crash cymbal, the ride cymbal sounds very defined and has a short sustain, giving them an articulate and clean sound. The sound of a ride also depends on where it is hit. While a strike on the bow (the bell-like structure in the center) produces sharp “ping” sounds, hitting on the bow produces a more subtle sound.
There is also a difference in the way a ride cymbal is played. Drummers usually use the drumstick’s tip to play the ride cymbal while using the drumstick’s shoulder to strike the crash cymbal.
While the ride cymbal shape might be like a crash cymbal, the ride is typically larger. A typical ride is usually 20″ in diameter, but rides of 26″ and bigger aren’t uncommon.
The similarity in the shape of the ride and crash has made hybrid ride/crash cymbal possible. This is a single cymbal that tries to do the job of both ride and crash. These are typically found in beginner kits as a cost-saving measure, and you will have to compromise on sound.
Hi-hats are the most unique cymbals as they are played by both the hand and the leg. They are also an extremely important cymbal as they tend to form the backbone of your rhythm along with the bass drum.
A hi-hat consists of two parts, the heavier bottom hi-hat and the thinner top hi-hat. The hi-hat can be played between two positions, closed and open. When open, the hi-hat will sound sizzling and can cut through to produce accents. When closed, it can produce anywhere from a muted metallic sound to a soft, crisp “chick” sound depending on the type of hi-hat.
Hi-hats are typically 14″ in diameter but can range between 12″ to 16″. They are mounted onto a hi-hat stand that includes a pedal, hi-hat rod, and hi-hat clutch. The position of the hi-hat is adjusted with the pedal.
4. Splash Cymbals
Splash cymbals are essentially small crash cymbals. They are used to provide accents ( just like crash cymbals) but can also be used to provide special drum effects. These cymbals have a sharp and short note that sounds like a splash, hence the name. These are also known as a crescent or multi-crash cymbals.
Splash cymbals typically range between 6″ and 13″ in diameter. They are also much thinner than crash cymbals. The smaller size of these cymbals makes it relatively easy to add them to any existing drum setup. You will also have more flexibility in mounting options.
5. China Cymbals
China cymbals are large explosive cymbals that have a trashy sound but in a positive way. They are also known as trash cymbals because of this. They can be easily recognized due to their cylindrical bell section and upturned edge. This design is similar to Chinese gongs, therefore the name. They have an inverted flange on the outer edge hence players mount them upside down on the cymbal stand.
China cymbals are typically between 16″ and 24″ in diameter but can range anywhere between 8″ to 27″. These cymbals are played similar to the crash cymbals and produce a strong accent, albeit one that sounds trashier than the crash.
Cymbal by Construction Type
Cymbals can be divided based on manufacturing techniques into cast cymbals and sheet cymbals.
Sheet cymbals are the more affordable cymbals in the market. The process of making these cymbals includes taking a large sheet of metal and stamping out the cymbals. This makes them cheaper and quicker to manufacture. They are usually made out of either B8 bronze or brass.
The entry lines of brands like Zildjian and Meinl are indeed sheet cymbals. However, being cheap isn’t a bad thing. While these cymbals have nowhere near the sound quality or the sustain of a cast cymbal, they will be perfect for novice drummers. These sheet cymbals allow beginners to learn and hone their techniques at an affordable price.
If you see a famous drummer’s drum set, it will definitely only have cast cymbals. These cymbals are manufactured by pouring molten bronze into a mold ( also known as a casting, hence the name). Once the metal solidifies, it is rolled, pressed, hammered, and lathered into perfection. The cast cymbals are usually made from B20 bronze. This is a metal alloy that consists of 20% tin and 80% copper and is generally considered the best alloy to produce sonically rich cymbals.
This makes making a cast cymbal an extremely labor-intensive process and, therefore, extremely expensive. The craftsmanship required to produce these cymbals is neither common nor cheap. A cymbal craftsman requires decades of training and experience to make quality cymbals. His work is nothing short of art.
These cymbals can produce more complex sound and have better sustain and projection when compared to sheet cymbals. They are also more durable. Premium cymbal lines like Zildjian A and Sabian’s AAX series are indeed B20 bronze cast cymbals.
Cymbals are an integral part of a drum set. A drummer must understand and know the different types of it. We have covered the most common types of cymbals with a different purpose and unique features, from large rides to small splashes and cheap sheet cymbals to expensive cast ones. I hope this has been informative and helpful for the brimming drummer in you. Even if you aren’t a drummer, I hope you will now better follow the drummer during a concert or a YouTube video.