By simply adding the right cymbals, any drum kit will sound entirely unique compared to other kits, and that’s exactly why drummers spend quite a bit of time and effort finding the perfect set of cymbals. The fact is that at some point, just like us mortals, cymbals will one day reach the end of their life. In this crash course on cymbal maintenance, I’ll let you in on a few secrets and show you how you can delay the inevitable.
- First Things First
- Cymbal Choice
- Cymbal Technique
- See Also
First Things First
- Still looking for some new cymbals? See our Cymbal Buyer’s Guide if you need a little help!
- Play it long enough and any cymbal will break, crack, or wear out to a degree where you have no choice but to replace it. While there’s no way to prevent any of this, what you can do is put off the inevitable for as long as possible, so let’s dig in.
The lifespan of any cymbal depends on a number of factors, including size, thickness and the ability to ‘deal with’ the vibrations caused by playing the cymbal. These vibrations are what (ultimately) cause cymbals to break or show cracks. As such, my first tip would be to get cymbals that are built to withstand such vibrations.
The diameter is one of the biggest deciding factors when it comes to picking out cymbals. Next to the overall sound, the size largely determines the longevity since, the bigger a cymbal is, the more material there is to deal with vibrations and the longer it takes for it to break. Now, it’s perfectly fine to use a 14” or 16” crash, but make sure to use it for accents only. Using a crash cymbal as a rhythm cymbal means it will have to endure more vibrations, and these relatively small crashes just aren’t equipped to handle that as well as larger ones.
It’s a similar story in terms of thickness. Thicker cymbals have more ‘meat’ to counter vibrations than thinner-sliced models, but on the other hand, they’re also more rigid most of the time. As a result, a lot of vibrations aren’t turned into airwaves but absorbed by the cymbal itself, causing the material to deteriorate at a faster rate. That means that if you’re looking for a long-life cymbal, you’re basically looking for the right balance, which depends on the material used and the way a cymbal has been made. So, the next time you’re down at your local music shop for a fresh pack of cymbals, test their flexibility by grabbing a cymbal at opposite sides and bending it very carefully. It’s also worth trying it out with an actual pair of sticks, since you’ll immediately be able to tell if the cymbal feels like hitting a stick of butter, if it wobbles like an inflexible disc, or if you’ve struck a happy medium. Just bear in mind that any thicker cymbals will sound ‘thicker’ too, so only choose a thicker cymbal if its sound matches the kind of music that you make.
Hardware also plays a role in the potential lifespan of any cymbal, since the way it’s suspended actually matters. Using proper cymbal bushings (little plastic sleeves that slide over the metal pins of cymbal stands) and felt can significantly lengthen the lifespan of your cymbals as both help to keep the cymbal from coming into contact with the stand, preventing the ‘drilling’ of keyholes which affect the sound quality. Metal clashing on metal can also lead to pesky buzzing noises – something you can easily avoid by installing some purpose-made cymbal sleeves. Cymbal felt can also be used to prevent direct contact between a cymbal and the stand it’s mounted to.
The way you configure your cymbals is extremely important, particularly when it comes to crash cymbals. When setting up, always make sure that your cymbals are either low enough or positioned at an angle that allows you to hit them from above. This is because striking a cymbal from above ensures that there’s both more contact between the stick and the cymbal and that the force of the blow is distributed across a larger surface area. The more you strike the cymbal with the side of the stick, the smaller the area that any force is spread out across, increasing the risk of the cymbal cracking much sooner. It’s also worth noting that your cymbals should be able to wobble freely, so make sure not to overtighten the wing nuts that hold them in place. When cymbals aren’t offered enough freedom to move, any vibrations will be absorbed by the metal. That’s why it’s just as important to check that your cymbals can’t swing and hit any other pieces of your kit.
Out of all of the tips and tricks in this article, this next one is the hardest to execute. That said, it’s well worth putting enough time and effort into developing a solid cymbal playing technique. Poor technique is one of the top reasons why cymbals break, so here are a number of things you’ll definitely want to pay attention to:
It kind of goes without saying, but don’t pound your cymbals using excessive force. The harder you hit, the more intense the vibrations will be. While some makers offer special models for heavy hitters, most cymbals aren’t built to handle this and will wear out much faster if your playing style resembles that of a baseball batter. What’s also worth noting here is that the harder you hit, the firmer you’ll need to hold your stick. As a result of squeezing the stick a little harder, it won’t vibrate as much and pass more vibrations on to your wrists and cymbals, increasing the risk of physical injury as well as physical damage to the cymbal.
I’ve already talked about the optimal angle for the stick landing on the surface of the cymbal, but there’s another angle you need to consider: your aim. Instead of hitting and pointing straight towards the cup – the place where vibrations can’t be transferred to the other side – try to land the stick off-centre. This way, the cymbal has an easier time distributing the force of the blow, enhancing the vibrations with the ability to move more freely, creating more airwaves as a result. Also, try simply playing your cymbal instead of beating a hole in it. In other words, don’t lower your stick any further once you’ve hit your cymbal – it’ll only get in the way.
Do a little drum-based self-reflection and find out what you want to improve about your drum kit and playing technique. Seeing if your cymbals aren’t set up too flat, checking your ‘stick aim’ and adjusting accordingly can go a long way towards extending the life of your cymbals. If you have another great tip, let me know in a comment below!