Every instrument can be made from a huge variety of materials, utilize different construction techniques, and occupy different price points. Instruments for percussionists, cymbals included, are no exception to this rule. So if you’ve ever wondered how to find the best crash cymbal for your needs you’ve come to the right place. This article will give you all the information that you need in order to make an informed purchase, as well as give you a few solid recommendations to help aid you in your search.
- Crash Cymbal Fundamentals
- What To Look For In A Crash Cymbal
- Top 5 Crash Cymbals
Crash Cymbal Fundamentals
Crash cymbals are what people generally think of when they think of a cymbal. The sound produced by a crash cymbal is explosive and powerful. They’re also used to accent a beat, as opposed to a ride cymbal which is used more extensively in patterns.
Crash cymbals (for right handed drummers), are generally placed on the left of the kit behind (relative to the drummer) of the toms.
What To Look For In A Crash Cymbal
The factors that decide the tone of any cymbal are:
The interaction of these four variables is what makes up a cymbal’s tone, so while certain specifications can help to suggest the tone a cymbal may have don’t consider the presence or absence of certain features to define the tone a cymbal will have.
Composition is the metallurgical properties of a cymbal, so in layman’s terms what the cymbal is made of. Generally, cheaper cymbals are made from a combination of copper and zinc (brass). More expensive cymbals are made from bronze, a combination of copper and tin. The higher the tin content of a bronze cymbal the more desirable most must musicians find it, though some manufacturers (like Paiste) make great cymbals with a relatively low tin content.
Diameter and thickness go hand in hand. These two factors make up the overall dimension of a cymbal. As a general rule, the more metal used in a cymbal the less responsive it will be. However, cymbals with greater dimensions (longer and thicker) have a greater potential for volume overall.
The harmonic content of cymbals will also differ based on their dimensions. Thinner cymbals tend to be brighter, while thicker cymbals tend to be darker though more harmonically complex. This means that depending on the weight of a cymbal it may or may not be better suited to certain tasks.
The process used by a manufacturer to create a cymbal is arguably the most important factor. Cymbals can either be cast or made from sheet metal. Cast cymbals are made when molten metal is poured into a mold. Sheet cymbals are cymbals that are cut from metal that was formed into sheets. Cast cymbals are considered to offer a better tone, though cymbals made in this way are less consistent than sheet cymbals.
Cymbals can also be hand-hammered. Hand-hammered is a bit of a confusing term, because when some companies say “hand-hammered” they mean that a machine hammer was guided by an employee. Generally, truly hand-hammered cymbals (a craftsman wielding a hammer) tend to be more desirable. The benefit of hand-hammering a cymbal is that a craftsman is guiding the process the whole time. Unfortunately, because of the labor required hand-hammered cymbals are also much more expensive than cymbals primarily made with a machine.
Top 5 Crash Cymbals
Meinl Cymbals HCS14C 14” HCS Traditional Crash
Founded in 1951, Meinl Percussion is one of the premier manufacturers of percussion instruments currently in operation. While the company does have a long history of producing great percussion instruments, they actually got their start by producing wind instruments. The company was in operation for more than a year before they started producing their first percussion instruments, which were cymbals.
Like many companies that existed at the time, Roland Meinl (the founder of Meinl Percussion) took a hands-on approach to the products that were produced. In the early days of the company he actually cut, hammered, lathed, and drilled all of the cymbals by hand. He also took it upon himself to transport them. While the current incarnation of the company may not share the approach taken by Meinl, the HCS14C offers a great value to any percussionist.
The first thing to know about these cymbals is that they’re designed with two things in mind: affordability and durability. The HCS14C is made from a durable brass alloy, which will hold up to beginners who may not know how to control the force they use while playing. This does somewhat compromise the tone, though because the cymbals are more durable they’ll last longer for a beginner which will give them more time to save up for a nicer crash cymbal.
Another thing to know about this crash is that it has a 14” diameter. As stated earlier in the article, the smaller a cymbal is the brighter of a tone that it will possess. This cymbal is very brightly voiced. The combination of its relatively small diameter and the metal used in its construction (a brass alloy) means that it’s going to be a very present and cutting addition to a beginner’s rig. The tone provided by the cymbal would be a good fit for modern genres that require a bright crash sound. With that being said, odds are if you’re looking to play jazz you’d be better off going with something else.
Meinl cymbals come with an official two-year Meinl warranty. This warranty, like just about any other warranty for cymbals, protects against flaws in manufacturing or materials. So if you tear it up by playing it too hard you’ll be out of luck, but if you happen to receive a dud you can get a replacement at no extra cost.
The Meinl Cymbals HCS14C 14” HCS Traditional Crash offers a great value to any musician looking for a brightly voiced entry-level cymbal. For the price it’s a good investment, but if you want a cymbal that you can use to consistently gig or record with you’re going to have to fork out more cash.
Sabian 16 Inch SBR Crash
Founded in 1981 in Meductic, New Brunswick by Robert Zildjian, Sabian is one of the most important modern manufacturers of cymbals and accessories for drummers. A little-known fact is that Sabian and Zildjian’s adversarial relationship is inspired by not just being competitors in the same niche, but also by the fact that bad blood exists between the two branches of the Zildjian family.
Robert Zildjian believed that he was better suited to lead the company, though traditionally the eldest son was always put in the role of leadership. This resulted in a bitter law suit in 1979. Robert left the company following the lawsuit, though he was awarded the Canadian factory as a settlement. A condition of the settlement was that Robert Zildjian wouldn’t claim that his new cymbals were the same as any Zildjian products, and that he wouldn’t associate with or use the Zildjian name.
The name of the company comes from the first letters of the names of his three children (Sally, Bill, and Andy) and the surname “ian” to indicate the company’s Armenian roots. Though the Zildjian name remained with the original company, a great number of the artisans originally employed at Zildjian chose to leave for Robert to work with Sabian.
Though the company may have a troubled legacy, their products are undoubtedly on par with any other company’s offerings. Sabian is the cymbal of choice for a huge number of notable musicians, such as: Terry Bozzio (who has drummed for Frank Zappa and Jeff Beck), Ray Luzier, Rob Hammersmith, and occasionally Dave Grohl (from time to time he used 2oo2 Crashes while playing with Nirvana).
The first thing to know about this cymbal is that it’s made from brass. Like many other cymbals made from brass, Sabian’s choice in alloy for this cymbal does help to keep costs low even if the tone produced by brass isn’t quite as rich as what you’d find with bronze.
Another thing to keep in mind with this cymbal is that because it’s an entry-level piece of equipment it’s going to be made by a machine, as opposed to higher-end cymbals where the process is guided by a dedicated craftsman.
This cymbal also features a 16” diameter. This will definitely help to boost its utility for beginning musicians, because it’s large enough to produce enough volume to ensure you’ll be heard during practice sessions/rehearsals. The cymbal carries a one-year warranty from the manufacturer.
This crash is described as having a darker tone than many other beginner level cymbals. This makes it one of the few entry-level cymbals that would be a good starting point for musicians looking to get into playing jazz. While the voicing of the cymbal does make it pretty unique for the price point that it occupies, it should be noted that this cymbal isn’t going to be as well suited to rock/metal as many of its competitors in this price range.
The Sabian 16 Inch SBR Crash is a great investment for the beginning drummer looking for a darker voiced crash cymbal. Those of you looking for a brighter voiced piece of equipment may find that your money would be better spent on a different product.
Zildjian A Custom 18” Crash Cymbal
Though it’s undoubtedly a very modern company in every respect, Zildjian is actually one of the oldest manufacturers of instruments in the world. In fact, it’s one of the oldest companies in the world. The Avedis Zildjian Company (generally just called Zildjian) was founded in the 17th century by Avedis Zildjian during the Ottoman period.
To put the period that the company was established into perspective, Avedis Zildjian (the namesake and founder of the company) was actually an alchemist looking for a way to turn cheap metals into gold. The first cymbals were a result of his experimentation. The surname Zildjian was bestowed upon Avedis by Sultan Osman II, and comes as a combination of the Turkish words for bell and seller/maker. The original cymbals were actually a war device, intended to create sounds that would intimidate the enemies of the Ottoman empire.
The company actually split in the early 1930s. Members of the family left for America, and once they arrived they established The Avedis Zildjian Company. The newest incarnation of the company produced some of the finest cymbals of the time, and they were actually the first company to produce cymbals exclusively for drum kits. Once the company gained enough capital they purchased the original European trademarks to the Zildjian name.
Though it’s seen a bit of a departure from its roots, the company is still manufacturing some of the best cymbals available to musicians today.
The first thing to know about this cymbal is that it’s made from a 80/20 bronze alloy. This is commonly considered to be the most desirable metallurgical composition for a cymbal, due to its combination of warmth and high-end frequencies. While some musicians may prefer different alloys, many would be hard pressed to say that 80/20 isn’t one of the most versatile alloys available.
This cymbal is also classified as “thin weight”, which while every company defines this term differently generally means that the cymbal will be brighter than other cymbals manufactured by the company. This doesn’t mean that the cymbal will always be brighter than those from other companies, it’s a term used to compare cymbals from the same company against one another.
Something to note about these cymbals is that while they’re not hand-hammered they are considered to perform in a way similar to that of hand-hammered cymbals. The company analyzed the sonic qualities of hand-hammered cymbals and then programmed a hammer to replicate the process used to create these qualities. While many companies wouldn’t be able to do this accurately, the process used by Zildjian benefits from the experience the company has (several centuries worth).
As stated by Zildjian’s description for the product, relative to other cymbals produced by the company these cymbals have a short sustain and a voicing situated in between “bright” and “dark.” The user-reception of the product seems to state that these cymbals are voiced relatively brightly when compared to the darker cymbals used for jazz or classic genres (pre-rock and roll).
With that in mind, while these cymbals may not be the best choice for more antiquated genres they are lauded by musicians who play modern music. They’re considered to be equally at home in the studio as they are on stage, and there are few who would say that these cymbals aren’t a viable option for gigging musicians.
Zildjian’s A Custom 18” Crash Cymbal is a professional-level piece of equipment that, while expensive, justifies its price by producing a tone that few commercially manufactured cymbals can rival.
Paiste 2002 Classic Cymbal Crash 18-Inch
Paiste, the third largest manufacturer of cymbals in the world, is one of the oldest manufacturers of musical instruments currently in operation. The brand actually stretches all the way back to 1906, when it was incorporated by Michail Toomas Paiste in St. Petersburg, Russia.
The first cymbals made by Paiste were hand built in his instrument repair shop as custom orders for local musicians. Michail actually retired in 1901 to open a music publishing business and a music shop, though once the original founder left his son (who shares his name) took over the business. The business had to relocate several times due to WWI and WWII, eventually landing in Switzerland (its current base of operations).
Paiste, besides being a mainstay in the industry, has also been a driving force behind the innovation of percussion instruments. The company has a host of notable innovations under their belt, such as: The Flat Ride, The Sound Edge Hi-Hat, B8 Bronze Alloy, Colored Cymbals, and Unlathed Cymbals.
Given the company’s long standing reputation, it should come as any surprise that the Paiste 2002 Classic Cymbal Crash 18-Inch offers a good value to musicians. To learn more about the product, as well as how it stacks up against the competition, check out the specifications below.
The first thing to know about this cymbal is that it’s made from Paiste’s 2002 Bronze, which has a composition similar to that of 92/8 bronze. As a general rule, bronze alloys that have a lower composition of bronze (with 80/20 being the largest commonly found and 92/8 being the least) are less desirable than those made from an alloy with more tin. Paiste cymbals are the exception to this trend. While everyone may have their preferences, there’s nothing about these cymbals that make them objectively worse than others in this price point.
Paiste also has a dedication to producing hand-made pieces of equipment that many companies have moved away from. Unlike a lot of their competitors, Paiste has a dedicated craftsman present at every stage of a cymbal’s design. While this does result in an increase in cost, it also helps to ensure a high level of quality.
Every Paiste cymbal is guaranteed against flaws in workmanship or materials for a period of two years following the initial purchase, so long as you have a photocopy of the original receipt.
These cymbals are a modern voiced piece of equipment, providing the clarity and cut necessary to competently play genres like: Classic Rock, Blues, Funk, R&B, Gospel, Rock, and Ska. Because these are professional-level cymbals, they will also have the volume necessary to play these genres in live applications.
Another thing to note about these cymbals is that you can’t really compare them to entry-level cymbals, regardless of the words we use to describe them. Every time we describe the sound of an instrument it comes with the corollary “for the price.” So while we do have a favorable impression of many of the cheaper cymbals we describe, rest assured that these will perform better in virtually every other scenario.
The most commonly repeated phrase concerning this cymbal is one of the best cymbals commercially available. People all over the world cite its dynamic and explosive presence, both at home and in the studio, as well as the consistency in performance that Paiste has maintained with the series. This cymbal retains clarity at any volume, which will no doubt be an asset to those of you who plan on performing live.
The Paiste 2002 Classic Cymbal is considered to be one of the best options available in this price tier. It’s a great option for anyone looking for a professional-level cymbal with a bright modern voicing.
Zildjian K Custom 18” Dark Crash Cymbal
Something many people don’t know about Zildjian is that the company is one of the oldest commercial entities in the world. The brand’s legacy stretches all the way back to the 17th century, where it was founded by Avedis Zildjian during the Ottoman period.
During this period of time, cymbals actually weren’t produced with the intent of just being musical instruments. There was a time where cymbals were also weapons of war, being used to intimidate an opposing army with their raw volume.
Avedis was an alchemist. Though alchemy may have a fanciful reputation in the current day, at the time it was actually a really respectable trade. Avedis, like many alchemists, was looking for a way to turn cheap metals into gold. His cymbals were a result of this experimentation.
Zildjian is one of the most prolific producers of cymbals the world has ever seen, with a legacy that stretches not just through modern history but far back into antiquity as well. Given that the company has centuries worth of cymbal-making experience under their belts, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that the Zildjian K Custom 18” Dark Crash Cymbal offers a great value to musicians. To learn more about the product, as well as how it stacks up against the competition, check out the specifications below!
The first thing to know about this cymbal is, like other cymbals produced by Zildjian in this price range, that it’s made from an 80/20 bronze alloy. This alloy is commonly considered to be one of the more versatile compositions, offering a pleasing combination of both warmth and high-end frequencies.
As stated by Zildjian’s website, this cymbal is of a thin weight. With that being said, unlike other cymbals designated as “light weight” this cymbal still has a relatively dark voicing. We’ll get into the intricacies of the tone of this cymbal in the section “Sound and Overall Quality.”
Lastly, as with other Zildjian cymbal the Zildjian K Custom 18” Dark Crash Cymbal is made predominately by machine. Zildjian is unique in that they take an unparalleled amount of care with the process used to create their cymbals. Their process is designed from the ground up to replicate the impact hand-hammering has on the tone of a cymbal, and by all accounts they’ve done a great job.
These cymbals are one of the more uniquely designed pieces of equipment made by Zildjian, and have a response that isn’t commonly found in modern cymbals. The Zildjian K Custom 18” Dark Crash Cymbal is designed to have a loud initial response and a sharp decay. This, when paired with the dark voicing the cymbal boasts, makes it one of the best choices available for jazz or other antiquated genres. The cymbal is also remarkable full-bodied, which will no doubt make it a huge asset in any recording studio.
It has a uniquely full-bodied presence, and creates a great atmospheric tone. The cymbals are voiced perfectly for small to medium sized venues, though because of the voicing of these cymbals they may not have the cut to fill larger venues. Though of course, this is a completely subjective matter and your experience is going to vary.
Zildjian K Custom 18” Dark Crash offers a great value, and it has a unique tone well suited to jazz and vintage blues. With that being said, it’s not going to be as versatile as a cymbal with a brighter voicing. So if you’re dedicated to genres that benefit from a more vintage voicing odds are you’ll fall in love with this cymbal, though if you play more modern music you may be better off with another option.