Drummer’s Gear Guide: A Crash Course on Cymbals


As you’re learning drums you will acquire new gear like drum sticks, drum sets, and cymbals. It’s important to understand how drum equipment can influence your sound, and it’s helpful to have the appropriate information to make smart buying decisions. Here, Edmond, OK drum instructor Tracy D. gives you a crash course on cymbals…

Your cymbals make up a complex, beautiful mix of voices. As you develop, your ears will crave more nuance and depth from your instrument(s).

When it comes to cymbals, there are important things for you to consider like tonal color, size, finish, and application.

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I will explain these factors and introduce you to brands  to help you find the right cymbals to suit your needs.


  • The raised center of the cymbal is the bell, and the bow is the area between the bell and the edge; you will use all of these surfaces when you play.
  • Higher quality cymbals are made of bell bronze (an alloy of copper, tin, and silver) usually called B20.
  • Entry-level cymbals are typically made of a B8 (92 percent copper, eight percent tin) alloy.


  • Lathing produces the concentric circles on its body, and the width – or lack of, affects the sound.
  • Hammering also affects sound by adding depth, dryness, and complexity.
  • The finish (brilliant, natural, or raw/unlathed) will also affect the sound (brighter to darker) and tend to accentuate the following qualities: glassy or shimmering (brilliant), steamy or simmering (natural), or complex and dark (raw).
  • The size and weight of the cymbals will affect the sound in terms of decay (the duration of time before the sound terminates) and volume.
  • Smaller, thinner, and usually with a flatter bow = quick or fast-decaying. Larger, heavier, and usually with a pronounced bow = “washy” or long-decaying, and will produce higher volume. A cymbal that is very dry and quick may be described as “trashy”.

All of these variables influence the overall effect, and several different options make it possible to create a customized palette.

Cymbal Types and Applications

There are several different types of cymbals that make up an expressive set, and each has a different, sometimes overlapping use:

  • Hi hats: Usually 13- 14 inches, have bark and bite. Hi hats keep the clock ticking; they have attitude and are tremendously expressive.
  • Crashes: Anywhere from 14- 22 inches, they add drama, mark transitions, and act as the loud speakers. You will most likely want several of these.
    • Splashes: Usually six – 12 inches, these are great for quieter passages or quick punches.
    • Rides: Generally 20 to 22 inches, rides range from articulate to washy. They carry bridges and choruses. They are prominent voices in jazz, and the bell is used quite often.
    • Effects: These come in all sizes and they can be Chinas, stacks, perforated, cup chimes, etc. They are your color instruments.

Now, let’s look at a few well-known brands. Remember, a cymbal series is like a family that plays well together.


sabian b8 pro

Sabian B8 Pro – photo from Sabian

Sabian offers the B8 and B8 Pro series, among others. These are bright, entry-level cymbals.

Higher-quality cymbals in the brighter range include the AAX, AA, and Paragon series.

The darker series are the HH and HHX.


zildjian zbt

Zildjian ZBT – photo from Zildjian

Zildjian’s entry-level lines include the ZBT and ZHT (bright).

Higher-quality brights include the A Custom, or the K Custom in the dark range.


meinl brilliant

Meinl Byzance Brillaint – photo from Meinl

Meinl offers the MCS at the entry level (bright) and on the upper tier, the  bright Byzance Brilliant.

The Byzance Dark speaks for itself.



photo from Paiste

Paiste offers the PST (bright) and others, at the entry level, and the more refined Signature Precision on the brighter side.

The complex Signature Dark Energy rounds out the range.
While you can get a picture of a cymbal’s sound from online sources, nothing beats first-hand trials when making your selection. Consider how the cymbals will interact with your drum set, and know that the room will affect the sound, as well.

You may choose to stay within a specific series or mix it up a bit for a more customized sound. Either way, enjoy the process and have fun!

What type of cymbals have you tried? What did you like about them? Let us know in the comments below!

Get started with your drum lessons today, find a drum teacher near you! 

Photo by j_arlecchino

TracyDPost Author: Tracy D.
Tracy D. teaches percussion and drum lessons in Edmond, OK, as well as online. She has been playing the drums with various bands for more than 13 years. Tracy earned her Bachelor’s in Music Education from Oklahoma Christian University and has played with the OKC Community Orchestra since 2009.  Learn more about Tracy here!


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