Picking the right cymbals for your drum set

If you’ve just started your journey into drumming, you might not have realised how important your cymbals are. 


At first glance, picking out your first set of cymbals may seem like a simple choice, right? 


Your cymbals are actually really important in defining your overall sound, and after purchasing your cymbals, there’s little you can do to manipulate their sound.  


There is a common drummer phrase; ‘you can tune a drum but you can’t tune a cymbal’. 


Meaning, you can tune a cheap drum kit to sound great, or at least good, but you can’t tune your cymbals, which is why it’s incredibly important you choose the right ones for you. 


If you’re a beginner drummer looking to find the right cymbals for your drum kit, we’ve put together this guide to help you with your cymbal purchase. 

Cymbal Types

There are few different types of cymbals that you should consider essential for your drum kit, and a few that can just add extra flavour to your sound. 


While cymbals are categorised into different types, cymbals of the same time can largely vary in tone depending on how they are made. 


We may start to sound like a broken record, but like with any other instrument, it’s all about figuring out what sound works for you and your preferred styles of music. 

Crash Cymbals

Crash cymbals typically range from 14” to 18”, but can get as large as 20”. They have a nice explosive sound, and are often used for a fast attack. 


In general, a thicker cymbal has a higher pitch, and can withstand loud crashes more. A thick crash cymbal is excellent for rock music, whereas a thinner crash cymbal has a low and slow vibration, which creates a low pitch that pairs perfectly with jazz. 

Ride Cymbals

Your ride cymbals are often used to play out patterns. They give out a distinct, ping-like sound when played on the bow of the cymbal. They range from 18” up to 22” inches, with 20” being a good starting point for beginners.


They’re a very important cymbal, especially for jazz musicians. Depending on the size of the cymbal, and the bell, you can have completely different tones, so it’s important you pick out a cymbal that complements your sound.

Hi hats

Hi-hats are typically sold in pairs, consisting of 2 same sized cymbals that are played together. The bottom hi hat is usually thicker than the top hi hat, and standard sizes range from 13” to 15”. 


Hi hats are a standard addition for many styles of music, including rock, pop, jazz, and blues.

Splash Cymbals

Splash cymbals are small cymbals that are often used in the same way as crash cymbals, to provide accents, and add a quick, high-frequency sound to your drumming. They can also be used for special drumming effects


Their sizes typically range from 6” to 12”, and work well behind low-volume segments of music.

China Cymbals

China cymbals are an effect cymbal that has a harsh ‘trash can lid’ sound, often used in heavy metal and thrash music. They can range largely in size, coming in splash or crash sizes. 

What Cymbals Do You Need?

Many drum sets may come with cymbals included, and with others you will need to buy your own. 


The bare minimum you will want is a set of hi hats, and a crash/ride cymbal. For a more standard set up, you will want hi-hats, a ride, a crash or 2 and a splash.


Depending on the type of music you play, you may want to invest in certain effects cymbals to get the most tone out of your kit. 


Because each cymbal can be so unique in it’s sound, many drummers will have multiple of the same type of cymbal, just with different thicknesses, sizes, metals and other modifications. 


The sound is literally hammered into each cymbal, which means each one can be unique and have a life of their own. 


There’s something quite special about the fact that two new cymbals from the same brand can have their own personal sound, which is why many drummers cherish and collect cymbals.

Cymbal Sonics

There are quite a few factors that will change the sound of your cymbals, from the way they were hammered, the finish, the lathing and the rivets. As a beginner, you don’t have to be worried about understanding what this all means right away. 


You have time to experiment and learn which cymbals work best for your sound. Whether you like dry or washy, or bright or dark cymbals. 

Bright Cymbals

Bright cymbals have a shiny finish and typically have a higher pitch and a sharper, more cutting sound. They have a longer sustain, and can be quite versatile, often used in pop and rock. 


Dark Cymbals

Dark cymbals have an unlathed appearance, and are sometimes referred to as being more unrefined. They have a brooding sound, with a lower pitch that works well in jazz, R&B, blues and funk. 

Choosing Your Cymbals

Due to the nature of cymbals, if you are able to afford it right away, you are best going for high quality cymbals. If you are on a bit of a budget, you may want to consider a cymbal pack, which can be a more affordable option for you. 


It’s important to remember that you don’t have to get all your cymbals right away. Your cymbals also don’t have to match each other, or be the same brand. 


Many musicians spend their whole lives collecting different cymbals, so you have time to build up to your perfect drum kit. 


As each individual cymbal can sound completely different, it’s a good idea to try the cymbal before you buy it. 


You can visit the Shake It Up Music store in Nambour, Sunshine Coast. We have a wide range of cymbals, and we have staff members with an expertise in drums.


This guide is only a drop in the well when it comes to the complexities of cymbals, but it should be enough to help you make a start. 


If you have any questions, or you’re still confused, you can always give us a call, or visit the shop, and we’ll be happy to help and guide you.