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Cymbals are one of the most important aspects of a drum kit. A good-quality set of cymbals can make even low-quality kits sound better.
With so much focus on the drum kit itself, cymbals can sometimes be one of the last pieces of equipment drummers consider upgrading. However, I would argue that they should be one of the first pieces of equipment to consider.
But with so many types of cymbals out there it can be difficult to know where to start. So, let’s start by finding out what is the difference between a crash and ride cymbal.
A crash cymbal is typically loud and has a fast attack. They’re often used at the end of a drum fill or to accent particular pieces of a song. On the other hand, Ride cymbals are typically used as an alternative to the hi-hat and are often used to keep the rhythm during a song.
For this article, I will focus on two of the most important and common cymbals on a kit, which is the crash and ride cymbals. I will also explain why good-quality crash-and-ride cymbals are essential for an overall quality sound. But let’s first take a more detailed look at the differences between these two vital pieces of a drummer’s ensemble.
Proper use of a crash cymbal(s) can bring together a song. They can add so much emphasis to critical parts of the song and accentuate what the other instruments in the band are doing. Using crashes at key moments can help deliver the emotional significance of a particular piece.
Regardless of the genre (with a few exceptions), crash cymbals are an intricate part of the musical ensemble.
Some drummers limit the number of cymbals they utilize on a kit, and some do not even play with crash cymbals. There are some venues I play in where I will only use a hi-hat and a ride cymbal. This is partially because the volume needs to be low and partly to challenge myself by restricting my options.
In most situations, however, I will have at least two regular crash cymbals along with other cymbals such as trashes, splashes, and a china cymbal. Check out this article for a more detailed look at the different types of cymbals available.
Crash cymbals will typically be constructed of a bronze alloy, with most (but not all) of the higher-end cymbals being made of a B20 alloy, which means it contains 20% tin.
Thousands of options from numerous brands will fit whatever type of music you play.
Sizes of Crash Cymbals
There are several sizes of crash cymbals, ranging from 10” (although these will typically be splash cymbals) up to 26” or larger. However, 14”, 16”, and 18” crashes are the most common size ranges.
Sizes, coupled with the weight and finish of the cymbal (discussed below), give you endless combinations of tones and characteristics, which enables you to find the perfect crash(es) for you and your playing style.
In most cases, the larger the crash cymbal, the louder and more sustain it will have. The crash cymbal I use the most on my kit is always my 18”, and it sits right above my hi-hat for easy access.
I play a lot of rock music, so the 18” inch medium-weight cymbal has the perfect amount of volume and sustain to cut through the guitars and bass.
Ride cymbals are crucial for almost every genre of music out there. They are fundamental in keeping the rhythm and timing of a song but allowing for a different feel as opposed to a hi-hat.
Take a listen to pretty much any song in rock, blues, metal, jazz, and many others, and you will clearly hear a switch between the hi-hat and the ride cymbal, typically done during a chorus or guitar solo.
Like crash cymbals, many higher-end ride cymbals are made of B20, but this isn’t always the case.
Ride cymbals are an incredibly important component of the drum kit and are not an area that should be overlooked. Investing in a good-quality ride cymbal is worth the money.
Sizes of Ride Cymbals
Like crashes, ride cymbals come in many different sizes, but the most common sizes are 20” or 22”. As with crashes, the larger the ride cymbal, the more volume and longer sustain duration you can expect.
Another important consideration with ride cymbals is the size of the bell (the top of the cymbal). While bell size can and will make a difference in tone on crash cymbals, it is a more important consideration with ride cymbals.
This is because there are many times you will be striking the bell on the ride, whereas that doesn’t happen nearly as much on crash cymbals.
Much like the overall size of the cymbal, the larger the bell, the more sustain, and overtones you can expect to have. The bell will generate a much higher pinging-type sound than the rest of the ride, and if your playing requires a lot of that, bell size should be a top consideration.
There are also Crash/Ride combination cymbals that bring together the best of both worlds.
Crash/Ride combo cymbals are exactly what the name states. These combo cymbals are great if you have a tight budget or are simply looking to add a unique cymbal to your kit that can open up many different playing possibilities.
There are three primary considerations when looking at crash cymbals to help determine what fits your needs. These are the weight, finish, and cymbals’ size/bell size. I have already discussed the size and bell size considerations separately above. Like size and bell size, weight and finish considerations are similar between crash and ride cymbals.
Weight of the Cymbal
Cymbal weight has a huge impact on the type of tones that you will get out of it. There are seven main weights that cymbals are categorized by: extra thin, thin, medium thin, medium, medium heavy, heavy, and extra heavy.
At first glance, this seems like an overwhelming amount of options, and you might be thinking you have no idea where to begin.
Luckily, there are a couple of easy tips to follow when determining what cymbal weight you want.
First, you should consider the type of genre(s) you play and what the cymbals sound like in some of your favorite artists’ songs. While you might not be able to exactly match this by selecting cymbals based on weight, it is a good starting point.
Of course, in a perfect world, you would have unlimited options and selections at your disposal, but if you are restricted to a couple of selections, knowing how the weight affects the tone is important.
As a general rule, much like the sizes of the cymbal, the heavier the cymbal, the louder it will be. Heavier cymbals also tend to have a much brighter sound, whereas the thinner you go, you tend to get a lower pitch, faster response, and shorter sustain.
You can hear the difference in this video crystal clear!
Differently weighted cymbals will add a world of options to your kit, and as such, the weight should be considered before you buy.
The bottom line, the finish of the cymbals is more for aesthetics than anything else. However, many drummers do think that finish can affect tonal quality.
I would argue that the weight and size have a much more significant influence than the finish, but it should also be something to consider. Further, there is a sound difference between dirty and clean cymbals, so one could assume the cymbal’s finish contributes to the overall tone.
There is a wide range of finishes to choose from, making the options almost endless. Some drummers like to keep everything looking the same, while others will put many different finishes (and brands) on their kit.
Traditional, Natural, and brilliant are the three most common types of finishes, with brilliant being one of the shiniest cymbal finishes.
Crash and Ride cymbals are important components of any drum kit. With so many different brands, sizes, weights, and finish options, it can be overwhelming to choose which is the right cymbal for you.
Hopefully, after reading this article, you have a better idea of the differences between the two and what to consider when determining which cymbals are right for you.
Hi everyone! I have been involved with music most of my life, beginning in grade school with the trumpet. I am a largely self-taught multi-instrumentalist (drums, guitar, bass, and starting the piano and violin). I currently play drums in two bands and write and produce many genres of music in my home recording studio. I am also an avid guitar and drum collector.