Three Ways to Get More Out of Your Cymbals

When discussing drums we often forget to talk about a very important aspect: The Cymbal. To me, the cymbals are the most important component to a great sounding drum kit. Your cymbals are your color instruments; they’re what complete and express your personal style.

You can dampen, tune and manipulate your drums all day. But with the cymbal, what you hear is what you get.

Let’s look at three ways to get the best sounds out of your cymbals.

1. Cymbal Choice

Years ago my vehicle was broken into. I had a gig the night before and got home late. I planned on unloading my drums & cymbals in the morning. When I walked out to my vehicle the next day, I immediately saw my driver side window was bashed in.

My first thought: “MY CYMBALS!” I didn’t care about the radio, sunglasses, speakers, sub woofer or my CD’s (by the way, all gone). The only thing consuming me at that moment was: I hope my cymbals weren’t taken. Thank God they weren’t.

Drums can be replaced fairly easily but cymbals are more personal. It takes time to find the perfect pitch, feel, size, tone, etc. Each cymbal is different. When you find the ones that work, you don’t want to let them go.

Take your time when choosing your cymbals. Listen to the cymbals hanging over your drums. Do they complement each other? Do they blend nicely with the guitars? Are they sitting in the mix beautifully? Do they define your sound? Choosing cymbals is 100% personal. Don’t just copy what your favorite drummer is playing. Determine what sounds good to YOU!

2. Cymbal Height

The next time you’re setting up your drums & cymbals in the studio, pay attention to their height. I don’t care what position you like your cymbals to be at when you’re playing live. When you’re recording, get those cymbals higher. Here’s a couple of reasons engineers and producers love higher cymbals.

  • First, positioning the mics around the toms is simply a pain in the rear when the cymbals are almost touching the drums.
  • Second, when positioned too low, bleed from the cymbals begins moving into every other mic around the kit including the toms, snare and kick mics. This becomes a nightmare when trying to compress and EQ the drum kit later.

3. Cymbal Angles

One last tip to keep in mind when you’re using overheads: Angles. This is something a recording engineer in Nashville showed me years ago. Pay attention to the angles of your cymbals in relation to the angle of the overheads. You’ll want to keep the angle of the cymbals and the microphones on the same axis. What this does is help relieve some of the washy and abrasive overtones.

Additionally, your cymbal angles will also help produce a better sound out of the cymbal. If your cymbals are too flat, you run the risk of damaging your sticks AND cracking the cymbal. Position the cymbal slightly towards you so that you can still read the logo.

To recap: Take your time choosing your cymbals, raise those cymbal stands up in the studio and pay attention to your angles!