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How to Choose a Good Set of Cymbals

Author - Gene Markiewicz

Cymbals

Cymbal

This article will focus on the actual cymbals and what I recommend to choose good sounding drum set cymbals

I love cymbals! I love the way they look, sound, feel, move, smell, etc. I believe good jazz drummers are good cymbal players. This article will focus on the actual cymbals and what I recommend to choose good sounding drum set cymbals.

What is a good cymbal or set of cymbals? How can a non cymbal person choose good sounding cymbals? First, let me introduce you to a few words to consider when choosing drum set cymbals.

Pitch: Cymbals, especially the ride cymbal (or main cymbal), should be medium to low pitched. A high pitched cymbal will clash with the horns, or yellow instruments, in the band. I once had a sax player complain to me about another drummer’s ride cymbal, claiming it really bugged him. I just tilted my head and said, “Really?” I knew exactly what was bugging him. The cymbal clashed with the range of his horn.

Blend: Cymbals blend, not cut. If you are playing in an arena with a mega-band, with a mega-sound system, with a mega-super electric band, your cymbals will need to cut. For jazz, big band and other sensitive music, cymbals should blend. To give a comparison, I liken it to a great trumpet section. A great trumpet section melds together to sound good as a section. One player’s sound cutting through the section can spoil the music. A good cymbal should not stick out. A good cymbal blends! If it sticks out, it cuts!

Definition and Spread: Definition of the stick sound, wood tipped please. Spread is the wash of the cymbal. A good cymbal has a complement of both. What is the priority when choosing cymbals?

Hand Hammered cymbals.
Most cymbal manufacturers offer hand hammered cymbals. This is my preference. Hand hammered cymbals are usually hammered to perfection by a craftsman or artisan. These people are artists themselves making beautiful instruments. We are one of the few artists that use tools made by other artists.

A set of cymbals should be chosen to match the nucleus of the cymbals. First would be the ride cymbal. The ride cymbal should be THE cymbal. For me, a good ride cymbal is a statement. It is akin to a horn player finding the right reed and mouthpiece combination to suit their sound. It should be medium to low pitched. 20", 21", or 22" are the desired sizes.

Next choice should be a good set of hi-hat cymbals. Hi-hat cymbals, to repeat, do not have to cut. A good set of medium pitched hi-hats will do the job. 14" hi-hats are the size I recommend. The crash / ride would be the next choice. A crash ride, sometimes called a left side cymbal, should be a schizophrenic cymbal; it can crash as well as be a supplemental ride cymbal. This cymbal will be a little higher pitched than the ride cymbal. It should also complement the ride cymbal. 18", 19", or 20" would be recommended sizes.

Effects cymbals are supplemental cymbals to enhance a drummer’s sound. I personally use a china cymbal, as a supplemental ride. A good china cymbal is low pitched with great definition and spread. Mine has 5 rivets. Rivets are used to enhance the spread of the cymbal. WARNING: A bad sounding cymbal will not sound better with rivets installed! It will only be a bad sounding cymbal that sizzles. For a good china cymbal, I suggest 20", 21", or 22".

When considering these choices of cymbals, be aware that young drummers may not appreciate them at first. I would suggest listening to some of the great cymbal players. Here are a few.

* Jeff Hamilton
* Peter Erskine
* John Von Ohlen
* Elvin Jones
* Brian Blade
* Steve Jordan
* J.J Johnson
* Jimmy Cobb
* And of course...Mel Lewis

A great example, in my opinion, of a good set of cymbals is the recording of Mel Lewis with the Thad Jones / Mel Lewis Jazz Orchestra. The recording is titled Consummation and has recently been re-released on cd. Please listen to this recording and hear how Mel Lewis’ cymbals complement the music.
Cymbals


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