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Selecting your first cymbals – Guide for new drummers

If your just learning how to play drums, selecting your first cymbals can be a bit overwhelming. There’s literally thousands of options out there, and a lot of manufacturers making all different kinds of cymbals these days. To increase the complications, there’s many brand loyalists out there on the internet and YouTube who think their particular brand are ‘the best’.

I’ve been playing drums for 30 years now, and I’ve owned all types of cymbals, from dirt cheap to ridiculously expensive. And I can honestly tell you there is no ‘best‘ cymbal out there. There is simply what you like, and what you don’t like. However, this takes time to figure out. When you first start playing drums you haven’t really developed your own style yet, and like wine-tasting, you need some experience before you can really know what is good for you.

There’s also certain types of cymbals that lend themselves to certain types of music. But again, this is still a subjective subject, and just because most people agree on something, doesn’t make it a fact. When you’ve been playing as long as I have, I tend to judge a cymbal based on a particular application and how I can use it in regards to my own personal tastes and creativity. I may use a cymbal considered very bad by some in a way that fits my form of expression and it’ll work exactly as I want it to.

But when you’re first starting, there’s some information you should know BEFORE spending a dime on a single cymbal. There are a lot of falsehoods and myths out there about cymbals and I’ve decided to put together this little guide to help all the new drummers out there make up their minds.

  1. Cymbal Alloy – Alloy refers to the type of metal a cymbal is made out of. Most cymbals are made out of Bronze, but not all. Also, there’s several different types of bronze. These are usually identified by the letter B and a number, like : B8 B10 B20 etc…. There are also cymbals made out of brass, and more rarely, nickle-silver (sometimes called ns-12), and even more rarely, steel.
    THE MYTH: B20 bronze is the best alloy, B8 Bronze is cheap, All other alloys suck. This is just not true. It is true that there are entry level cymbals made out of B8 bronze, but there are also high end cymbals made from B8 by manufacturers like Paiste and Meinl. To my ears many of these cymbals sound better than some of the high end cymbals made out of B20 bronze by other manufactures. There are Brass cymbals out there today that make great special fx cymbals, and there are some vintage ns-12 cymbals that sound beautiful.
  2. Brands – There used to be something called The Big Three, referring to Zildjian, Paiste and Sabian. But now this is turning into The Big Four, because of the recent surge in Meinl’s popularity. Aside from those popular brands there is also some reputable Chinese cymbal makers like Wuhan and Kasza, as well as Turkish manufacturers like Istanbul and Bosphorus.
    THE MYTH: (BLANK) is the best brand. There is no best brand. Every manufacturer will makes some cymbals you’ll think sound great, and every manufacturer makes cymbals you’ll think sound bad.
  3. Price – cymbal prices range from moderate to insanely expensive.
    THE MYTH: More expensive means sounds better. Again just not true. Once again I need to remind you that all opinion of sound quality is subjective. If you like it, it’s good.
  4. Cymbal Types – Crash, ride, hi hats, splash, china, stackers, bells, fx etc…. The most commonly used cymbals you will want for a basic setup are hi hats, a ride and a crash. Hi hats are the two cymbals that are on top of each other with the bottom one inverted and there is a pedal to operate them to open and close. They are one of the most commonly used cymbals on the kit. The most common sizes are 14″ and 15″. A crash is a cymbal that is used to create an explosive sound to designate ends of fills or to add power to a part of a song. They’re size usually ranges from 14″ to 20″. A Ride is a cymbal that is used to keep constant patterns and rhythms on, much like the hi hat, but creates a more open and sustaining sound. Splashes, Chinas, Bells, stackers and other fx cymbals, are more popular now than ever and are used mostly for special accents and fills in drumming to create more color and fun.
    THE MYTH: Rides must be used as rides, crashes as crashes, hi hats as hi hats etc…. Not true, but usually is the case. However in the past there were no such names. Cymbals just came in weights like, heavy, medium, and light. At one point I used two 16″ crashes as hi hats and loved how they sounded. Many rides make awesome crashes. For example Wuhan’s Medium 20″ ride makes a completely powerful crash, though it’s not bad as a ride either.

So how do you select? Well…. listen!  Watch YouTube videos, but don’t base opinions on ones recorded with built-in camera microphones, this is not a good way to judge. Also, visit the websites of the major manufactures like Paiste, Zildjian, and Meinl. All of them have extensive sound rooms to listen to and compare their cymbals.

My personal recommendations are:

If you’re on a very tight budget and want to get a lot of cymbals in one big pack, Meinl offers this amazing cymbal pack at a very good price (pictured above) that give you a lot of sound choices for very little money. I prefer these to entry level cymbals by Zildjian or Sabian. The HCS Super Pack comes with a ride, two crashes, a china, hi hats, and a splash, and is only $299 total.

If you have slightly more to spend I highly recommend Paiste’s PST5 Line.In my opinion these are the nicest sounding cymbals at an entry level pricepoint. Some of them sound so good they can be used on a professional level. I have a PST5 Crash that I bought when the line was first introduced, and I’ve used it on countless recording sessions and gigs. In this pack you get two crashes, a ride, and hi hats for $399. 

If you want to move up from there, I would consider Zildjian’s A series. The Zildjian A line is their most classic sound in my opinion. They will work with all styles of music and record beautifully. This A pack will also give you two crashes, a ride and hi hats, but it’s a little more at $699.

I personally very much like Paiste and Meinl cymbals, remember though, these are my personal subjective opinions. I highly encourage you to just spend a week or two online researching and listening to samples by all manufactures. Trust your ears, not other’s opinions!