These come in two basic types: Wound and cast.
Wound (or grooved) cymbals are made as a spiral from thin metal that is turned around the outer edge. Cast cymbals are made by molding metal and then hammering it to both temper and tune the finished product.
Wound or grooved cymbals have more of a sizzle and generally generate more over-tones with a longer decay rate. They are used most often for splash, crash and the so-called “China” or inverse cymbals.
Cast cymbals can be used for either heavy crash or ride cymbal use.
Cast cymbals were originally the primary mainstay of Paiste, while wound cymbals were the mainstay of Zyldian and Sabian. Today all of them make both types, plus there are some decent wound cymbals coming out of mainland China (not to be confused with the “China” type of cymbal) that are lower in cost and favored by starting drummers (mostly for the cost factor).
Zyldjian Hi-Hat (left) and Sabian Crash (right).
Cast cymbals, when hit to hard, can break at the rim or center. Wound cymbals tend to literally come apart at the seams, usually near the center.
Cymbals are not supposed to be angled to steeply if you intend to “stomp” on them. Some drummers like to get boom stands and make an almost vertical cymbal placement for easy hitting. This is ok if you just tap or ride the cymbal, but even then the center hole can deform far quicker than if you keep the cymbal even with the ground.
Splash cymbals are very small (5 to 9 inches across) and very thin (you can almost invert them with your hands by just pressing into the center) and are designed to give a quick, thin effect crash with almost no “ring out” or decay. A splash almost sounds like a hi-hat that is closed quickly, but with more high tones than any hi-hat.
Wound is usually the choice for most crash cymbals. These cymbals get the most use and abuse on a drum kit. While they come in sizes from 10” to 20” the 18” medium or thin crash is usually seen the most popular type. Medium weights have a longer “ring out” or decay rate, while thin crash cymbals die out more quickly in both tone and often life. A thin crash is easy to break if you slam it too hard! A medium crash can also be used as a ride cymbal.
Wound or cast will make for a good ride cymbal, which usually starts at 20 inches in diameter and goes wider from there. Medium to heavy weight is also preferred for the extra low ring-out (decay) time. The ride cymbal is not designed to be slammed, but instead tapped near the center hub or about 1” from the outer edge.
Wound cymbals are also used exclusively for the hi-hat sound, generally in a 14" size. Paiste made a very innovative studio hi-hat bottom designed primarily for recording. It used a grooved, jagged edge. While this doesn't give the air-tight sound of a smooth edge cymbal set, it did give a very high-end hi-hat sound that was distinctive when recording. This specialty cymbal is aimed at someone who does studio work and can afford both the traditional hi-hat set as well as this very expensive custom designed model.
Paiste, Zyldian and Sabian each used a different metal compound (a mixture of bronze, brass, copper and other metals), which makes the "sound" and "wear" of each type radically different. The Paiste wound cymbals seem much higher in tone than the Zyldian in the same size and weight.
One of the most common “effects” cymbals seen in recent times is the inverted or so-called “China” cymbal. Turned upside down (some have this cymbal inverted on the stand with the cone or dome area sticking upward), it looks almost light a huge cooking pot . As with the ride cymbal this was meant to be tapped or struck mildly to achieve a quick sound, not a loud crash.
"China" Cymbals: Zildjian (left) and Sabian (right)
Like ride cymbals China cymbals are generally 20 inches or more in width. When looking for one, it’s probably best to refer to it as the inverted cymbal just to prevent confusion with Chinese manufactured cymbals!
In the last few centuries cymbals were always made in Turkey or Persia, but now mainland China is making inroads into the production of cymbals and from what we saw they don’t sound all that bad for the price!
We pinged a few Chinese made cymbals in the $100 to $300 price range and were surprised how good the tone and ring sounded, plus we heard a very even decay. The cymbal seemed uniform around the entire bell.
When buying a cymbal you should probably bring any other good cymbals you own into the store and set them up on stands. Then pull out store cymbals and look for the best matches in sonic quality. The pings and rings of your cymbals need to be chromatically in tune. That is to say, each cymbal needs to be “odd” or “even” in value steps from each other. They don’t have to be close in tone, just musically harmonious.
Most drummers lightly tap the cymbal around the dome or “bell” area (which is that cap where the cymbal has the hole for your stand) and then about an inch from the outer edge all the way around the circumference. As with drum heads you are looking for a uniform sound and ring – something you can live and work with while playing gigs.
You should also look closely for cracks and weak spots (flaws in the metal), especially along the edge, between the bell (or dome or cap) and the rest of the cymbal and finally check the hole for wear. Get a good, hard, protective case to hold your cymbals when taking them place to place or get a trap case large enough to hold your cymbals.
-- Contributing to this was Rebeca Spencer, Kevin Slater, Eddie from Sound Pad Music, and Dr. D
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