Dark or bright? Light or heavy? These and other questions plague the budding drummer when shopping for cymbals. I have therefore attempted to collect the little smatterings that I have picked up in my quest for the cymbal sound I desired.
Cymbal sound varies by a combination of several criteria come that into play, each contributing to an aspect of the sound of that cymbal. While it is impossible to describe the sound of a cymbal by breaking it down into discrete components, one may approach the desired combination of factors by taking each into careful consideration. I might want a splash to be very defined, responding instantly to the shoulder of the stick, and decaying rapidly, producing a bright, high-pitched noise. However I may want my ride to sound dark and woody, floating on a cusion of air making a breath-like sound. I'll attempt to list some of the variables that affect cymbal sound here:
- Cymbal Diameter : Smaller cymbals impact with quicker responses and faster, more cutting sounds due to their innate ability to start vibrating more quickly. Larger cymbals have longer, louder response and decay rates, producing a longer cymbal sound. The smaller cymbal therefore gives more control thanks to its rapid decay, however the power in this size of cymbal is adversely affected.
- Cymbal Weight : Heavier cymbals have more volume, projection and definition. Thinner cymbals respond faster and with fuller sounds.
- Cymbal Profile : The "bow" or "profile" of the cymbal (the amount of curve from the cup to the edge) affects the pitch. A relatively flat cymbal has a lower pitch than one that has a large curve because it has less tension in the metal. Totally flat cymbals don't make much sense but dome-less cymbals, ie with a near total absence of a bell are useful to prefent buildup of repeated strikes. A drier sound results, giving a defined "ping" with little or no "wash"
- Bell Size : The size and depth of the "bell" or "dome" affect the overtones (the high ring heard after the initial crash). A small bell will reduce the sustain and make the sound of the cymbal tight or compact, a larger bell will make the cymbal respond quicker, produce more overtones, and make the cymbal capable of longer vibrations.
- Materials : The alloys employed in manufacturing cymbals have a noticeable effect on the acoustics of the cymbal. Most cymbals are made of bronze with varying proportions of copper and tin. A cymbal that has 80% copper and 20% tin (known as a B20 alloy) will have less overtones and subtle differences in sound than one with 92% copper and 8% tin (known as the B8 alloy). Addition of nickel and steel in a cheap attempt to bulk up cymbals dramatically reduces the sustain of the cymbal, and gives the percussive equivalent of a metal dust-bin lid.
- Production method : Cheaper cymbals are machine-pressed, while more expensive ones are hand-beaten. In the latter case, each stroke produces more tension in the metal & results in irregular vibration patterns. The machine-hammered variety contain more regular patterns with less nuance to the vibrations.
- Finishing : Grooves cut into the metal during the final process of lathing affect the evenness of projection - deep, uneven grooves can cause a shimmering sound, while shallow, even grooves can produce bright properties.
Due to the immense variety of cymbals available, and the individual
tastes of every drummer, ther is no one cymbal that is the best for all situations. When buying cymbals one must bear in mind that:
- Buying cheaper cymbals initially is very attractive. A complete cymbal set can cost less than a high-quality ride but you *will* be cursing the low quality of your cymbals after playing for a short while.
- Durability is another factor. Your starter set will crack within a short time, while buying a set of decent hi-hats and a good ride can last a lifetime.
- A compromise solution always exists. High-quality medium-weight cymbals, smack in the middle of the size range for that cymbal can provide you with an excellent multi-purpose cymbal. A medium-weight cymbal combines the projection of a large, heavy cymbal, with the definition of a lighter, smaller one. With some practice, you can get the cymbal to sound the way you want it to by varying drum sticks, tips and the way you strike the cymbal.