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In days past, if you wanted a cymbal you would go to your local music store and you would be given a choice… "do you want a ride or a crash?"

Today, there are more types and varieties of cymbals than there are flavors at your local ice cream shop. Many various brands exist with different weights, hybrid materials, shapes, finishes and even colors. Cymbals are now designed for genres of music, dryness, darkness, projection, loudness and even lower dB. Today's drummers have more varied and defined sound choices than ever, providing limitless possibilities to express one's creative ideas. Drummers now tend to change cymbals continually, honing and refining their sound palette, and it can often take years of experimentation to find that perfect ride cymbal, or pair of hats.

A very important starting point in selecting cymbals is to know the basic types, manufacturing processes, materials and methods used in creating these exciting instruments.

Cymbal Manufacturing:

Cast Cymbals: Certainly the oldest and most recognizable cymbals on the market are cast cymbals. Zildjian, a cymbal maker since 1623, and offshoot family company Sabian, make their "professional" series cymbals with this process. This cymbal making process starts with molten metal, often with an age-old alloy formula passed down for generations. The most popular alloy consists of approximately 80% copper, 20% tin, and traces of silver. The flat round ingots are then thinned and flattened in rollers until they are the right thickness, put in presses to form the bells, and further formed to create the "bow," or arch of the surface. Then a center hole is punched in the middle. All through this process the cymbal is put through various heat treating techniques to create the perfect temper. Then the cymbal is hammered in circular patterns to further draw out tone and strength. Some hammering is done in computer controlled machines, and some are meticulously done by hand, another process that is often passed down from master to apprentice. Once this is completed, the cymbal goes through a lathing process to obtain the finished thickness. The different lathing grooves, whether fine of course, (or with no lathing whatsoever), will also determine the type of sound the cymbal maker is looking for.

Sheet Cymbals: Another way of making cymbals is by stamping and hammering instruments from sheet metal. Cymbals made by this process are sometimes perceived to be of lower quality due to the less refined and more rapid process of production. But often, as with the case of certain Paiste cymbals, most notably their 602, 2002 and Signature series, this is not the case. Many detailed refinements, including hand-crafted hammering techniques, can be used to enhance and perfect the sheet cymbal's sound. A variety of special alloys can also be used in the sheet metal process as well. The Meinl cymbal manufacturer uses both cast and sheet cymbals to make up their many different selections, as is the case with most of the major brands.

Cymbal Types:

Cymbal set-ups are comprised of several cymbals, each designed for a particular voice or function. The Ride Cymbal is customarily the largest cymbal in the set, usually between 18" and 22", and functions as a timekeeper, generally used for playing eighth or sixteenth notes in a pattern. It has a more solid, or steady sound and usually features a large bell. The ride pattern can be played alternately between the bell and "bow" for different sounds.

The Hi-Hat Cymbals are comprised of a pair of cymbals which are mounted dually-opposed on a stand. The stand has a pedal which, when stepped down, closes the cymbals together. Patterns can be played with the cymbals apart, closed together, or in-between for a "slushy" sound. Hi-Hats are also most typically used to keep a steady beat with the bass drum and snare. Hi-hats are generally 13" to 15" in diameter, with 14" being the most popular. It is common for the bottom cymbal of a hi-hat pair to have ridges around the diameter, to keep the cymbals from creating a vacuum, and disrupting the full sound of the two cymbals playing together. It is also common today to have additional "remote hats", either mounted in a fixed position and attached to a stand, or as an additional pair of functioning hats, mounted to a stand and played via a remote cable attached to a pedal. This way a drummer can have multiple hi-hat sounds in different positions around their kit.

The Crash Cymbal is typically used to accentuate the patterns of the ride cymbal or hi-hats, and can define the beginning or end of a phrase. The name pretty much says it all, the sound from a crash cymbal is explosive, with bright overtones and wash, and a shorter decay. This is because crash cymbals are as a rule, smaller in diameter and thinner then ride cymbals. Crashes can be any size between 12" to 22" or larger, but in most cases, they are 15" to 20", with the most popular sizes being 16" and 18". It is common to have 2, 3, or more crash cymbals in a typical set-up.

Two other cymbal voices that are frequently used for accenting beats and phrases are China Cymbals, and Splash Cymbals. The China Cymbal has a gong-like sound, but harsh and loud with an extremely fast decay, and a dark and trashy, explosive sound. The bell is usually conical, and about 3" or so of the outside diameter has an upturned edge. China cymbals, as a rule, are mounted on a cymbal stand upside down, and struck on the underside curve of the upturn. Wuhan Lion China cymbals are actually made in Wuhan, China and are a popular choice. Sizes range from 12" up to 22". The Splash Cymbal has a small, thin, quiet and delicate voice that is great for subtle accents and quiet passages. Splash cymbals have sizes ranging from 6" to 12", and can also have "China-style" variations.

There are also many types of "Effects Cymbals," ranging from bells, metallic wedges and "stacks," to metal strips and just about anything a drummer can improvise on. Cymbals are often stacked one on top of the other in different variations for fast, "white noise" effects. In recent years, holes have been drilled in cymbals to create a more dark and trashy sound. Metal rivets are also available to provide a lasting "sizzle" effect. Different Cymbal Finishes are available, in most cases, a drummer can choose between a traditional "standard" finish, and a polished "brilliant" finish. In other cases, certain manufacturer's cymbals might be available only in one finish or the other. Some cymbals are even available in black, blue and other colors as well.

Many adjectives are used to describe today's cymbals sounds. Words like dry, dark, rich, bright, flat, round, trashy and airy, are just a few. Any and all cymbals can be used for any genre of music, whether playing jazz, rock, blues, country or even polka.

Lastly, concerning cymbal set-ups, there are no longer any rules as to the placement of cymbals. Though the standard has been that for a right-handed player, the ride cymbal is on the right, the hi-hats are on the left, and the crash cymbals are up front left and right, in today's set-ups anything goes. Cymbal set-ups are as individual and unique as drummers themselves.

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