The Ultimate Guide to Cymbals: Hi-hats, Rides, Crashes, and Effects

Whether you’ve been playing for years, Or you’ve just recently started to outgrow your first kit, time eventually comes…When you get just a little too familiar with the cymbals you’ve been playing…And you want something new, either as an upgrade, or possibly just a change of flavor.But unless you’ve got a lot of drummer friends, or you work at the local music store…Chances are you’ve been exposed to WAY LESS cymbals than you really should be…In order to make a well-informed decision on this next addition to your kit. Correct?And so for today’s article, I’ve created an in-depth tutorial to show you the very best of what’s out there…So that buy the end of this post, you’ll know with certainty that the next cymbal you buy will be the right one.

The 4 Categories of Cymbals

If you’re looking for cymbals, chances are you’ve already got 1 of the following categories in mind:

Hi-Hats
Rides/Crashes
Effects

And in that case, you can skip straight ahead to the one you want using the links above.

The Fine Art of Cymbal Making

To make a great cymbal, there are 3 KEY stages that ultimately determine the final result.

Metal Selection
Shaping Options
Manufacturing Methods

And up next, we’ll examine each of these in more detail.

1. Metal Selection

The 3 most popular metal alloys for cymbals are:

Brass – (copper/zinc)
B8 Bronze – (92% copper/8% zinc)
B20 Bronze – (80% copper/20% zinc)

Brass is typically used for beginner cymbals, since the metal itself is the least expensive…also produces the worst sound.B8 Bronze is generally used with mid-priced cymbals as they are more expensive than brass, but less expensive than B20 bronze.B20 Bronze is both the most expensive, and most popular alloy, as it is generally considered to have the best sound.On occasion, you can also find cymbals made with custom blends of B8 and B20, which results in both high-end sounds, and high-end prices as well.

2. Shaping Options

Depending on the type of cymbal you’re building…Whether it be rides, crashes, hi-hats, or something else…

There are 5 specific shape metrics you can adjust…in order to predictably influence the sound:

Diameter – larger diameter equals longer sustain, and greater volume.
Thickness – more thickness equals higher pitch, greater potential volume, more “ping”, added durability, but a slower build-up of overtones.
Bell Size – a larger bell equals more overtones and longer sustain, but less attack.
Profile – a greater curvature along radius of the cymbal equals higher pitch and fewer overtones.
Taper – the more the thickness tapers off from the bell to the edge, the more the middle will sound “ride-like”, and the edge will sound “crash-like”.

So by mixing and matching each of these dimensions in various combinations, you can create virtually any cymbal, and any sound imaginable.

3. Manufacturing Methods

Once it’s known exactly what type of cymbal will be created, and how it should be shaped…The next step is turning that vision into reality by actually making it.
To do that, there are two common manufacturing methods to choose from:

the cheap method
the expensive method

The cheap method is performed by cutting out the cymbal shape from large metal sheets.The advantage of this method is that it’s cheap to produce, with a more uniform sound between one cymbal and another.The downside is that cymbals made by this method simply don’t sound as good as cast cymbals, which typically offer:
a richer, more complex sound that improves with age
a character that is uniquely distinct with each individual cymbal.

They also offer more durability and volume as well.So here’s how the casting process works:It all starts by pouring molten metal into a “cast” and allowing it to set.
The rough cymbal shape is then re-heated and re-shaped using a combination of rolling and hammering, either by hand or by machine.Hand-hammered cymbals are usually the most expensive, as they are done individually by a master craftsman. This typically results in a richer, more complex sound, that can vary considerably from one cymbal to another.With machine-hammered cymbals, you typically get a brighter tone, with more uniformity between each cymbal. So it’s not necessarily worse…just different.Once the hammering is complete, a process known as lathing may be done…if desired.Lathing is performed using rotating machine to cut a uniform spiral pattern across all or part of the cymbal to create a brilliant, shiny outer surface.
NOTE: A similar process known as “pressing” may also be used, which uses a machine press to accomplish a similar result.
After lathing is complete, the cymbal is finished with a layer of clear lacquer or high-speed buffing to protect it from oxidation.
The downside of finishing is that it can dull the sound of the cymbal somewhat, although the compromise is often worthwhile for the added beauty and durability.
But not always.Because the sharp edges created by the lathing process, and the oxidation on the unprotected surface can often add complexity and richness to the sound.Which is why many high-end cymbals are un-lathed and un-finished over all or part of the outer surface.