Ride cymbals are an integral part of any drummer’s kit, producing the percussive “ping” that defines the drum sound of a variety of different genres. It can be hard to decide which cymbal you need because cymbals aren’t very visually distinctive.
A drummer’s choice in cymbals is also a very personal matter. Cymbals are made out of different alloys, and the craftsmen who construct them use a variety of different techniques that have an impact on the tone. Just as importantly, cymbals also come in varying levels of quality based on the price tier that they occupy.
If you’re wondering how to choose the best ride cymbal for your needs, or if you’re just looking for a few stellar recommendations, you’ve come to the right place. This article will give you all the information that you need in order to make an informed decision as well as give you a handful of great recommendations!
- Ride Cymbals 101
- Top 5 Ride Cymbals
Ride Cymbals 101
A ride cymbal is generally the biggest cymbal in the average drummer’s kit. Similar to hi-hats, ride cymbals are used to play steady patterns. A ride cymbal has a shimmering tone with lots of sustain, whereas a crash cymbal has an explosive tone.
Crash cymbals and ride cymbals are often combined into one unit which merges the sound and response of both cymbal types. Generally, these cymbals don’t perform as well as a cymbal dedicated to one task but they do offer a greater degree of flexibility. Also, they offer a lot of value to a musician looking to get started on the drums as cheaply as possible.
A ride cymbal needs to have both a pleasing response (this is a subjective matter) when played on both the cymbal’s playing surface as well as the bell (the bulge in the middle of the cymbal). However, the factors that decide the tone of a cymbal are somewhat complicated. There’s four main terms to keep in mind: hand-hammered, alloy, cast/sheet and lathed/unlathed.
Hand-hammered is a somewhat deceptive term, because it can mean that the cymbal was literally hammered one blow at a time by a craftsman or it was hammered by a craftsman using a machine. Truly hand-hammered cymbals tend to produce a darker and harmonically richer tone, though they do vary more from cymbal to cymbal. Machine hammered cymbals are more consistent, though they’re generally considered to sound inferior to cymbals that are truly hand-hammered.
The alloy used in a cymbal is its metallurgical composition; the combination of metals it’s made from. Bronze is generally considered to be superior to brass, because bronze is considered to deliver a more musical tonality. With that being said, brass is also much brighter sounding than bronze. This means that in live applications it may actually cut through a mix better than bronze.
Cymbals are either case (molten metal poured into a mold) or cut from sheets of metal. The process of casting cymbals is very lengthy and involved, making cast cymbals more expensive than those cut from sheets. However, because a craftsman controls every step of the process when building cast cymbals they’re generally of a higher quality than those cut from sheets.
The distinction between lathed and unlathed cymbals is that a lathed cymbal will have a greater harmonic response at the loss of some definition, while unlathed cymbals have a more defined sound at the expense of some harmonic content. Of course, the effect the lathing process has is secondary to how the manufacturer designs the product and the alloys they use. So don’t necessarily assume that the lathing process of a cymbal defines the tone you’re going to get.
Top 5 Ride Cymbals
Below, we've selected our favorite ride cymbals. While they differ in price substantially, each offers value at the price points represented, and is a great choice for a ride cymbal.
Sabian SBR Series 20-Inch Ride Cymbal
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 about the company is that Sabian and Zildjian’s adversarial relationship is inspired not only be 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 assumed the leadership role. 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).
No exception to this trend, Sabian’s SBR Series 20-Inch Ride Cymbal is a great option for any percussionist looking for a competitively priced ride cymbal. The first thing to know about this cymbal is that, compared to other ride cymbals, it’s relatively diminutive. This means that it’s going to be very different tonally than many of its competitors (we’ll get into this in more detail later).
These cymbals are hammered and lathed. Because the company doesn’t state that they’re hand hammered, and because they’re an entry-level cymbal, we would assume that these cymbals are largely manufactured through the use of machines (though the manufacturer's description does say that the hammering process is hand-guided). This cymbal is protected by Sabian’s 1-year warranty covering faults in workmanship/materials.
This cymbal is both relatively small compared to other ride cymbals and made from brass. This is going to give it a very bright and focused tone. This makes it great for livelier genres of music, but at the same time it somewhat limits its utility for jazz or orchestral music. It’s also not going to have the volume of a larger cymbal, though because it’s such a brightly voiced piece of equipment it should still be able to be heard in small gigs or rehearsal situations.
For the price, the cymbal has a very pleasing response, though a commonly held complaint is that it can be difficult to get a good bell-tone due to the cymbal’s size. The cymbal is also very heavy for its size, so should you choose to purchase it make sure it’s used in conjunction with a good stand.
The SBR2012 is a great value for musicians looking to get a solid entry-level ride cymbal.
Meinl Cymbals 20” HCS Traditional Ride Cymbal
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 Meinl Cymbals HCS Traditional Ride Cymbal offers a great value to any percussionist. The main design philosophy behind the Meinl Cymbals HCS20R 20” HCS Traditional Ride Cymbal is producing an affordable and durably cymbal for beginners and students. The cymbal is intended to be the first (or an upgrade over cheap cymbals that come with amateur kits) cymbal used by a student musician.
The Meinl Cymbals HCS20R 20” HCS Traditional Ride Cymbal is made from Meinl’s brass alloy. While it may not be the most desirable alloy used in cymbals, brass is really good for making a cheap yet respectable sounding cymbal. It does sound different from bronze, but when played well it’s still capable of delivering a decent tone.
Because the product doesn’t list any specification, it’s safe to assume that this cymbal is largely manufactured with a machine. While this does mean that the cymbal won’t have the complex tone of a cymbal manufactured by a dedicated craftsman, it’s another component of the design that helps to keep the cymbal priced within a range that makes it affordable for a beginning musician. Meinl worked very hard to ensure that the tone of this cymbal isn’t going to hold a beginning musician back.
The tone of this cymbal can best be defined as tight and defined. The quality of tone this cymbal possesses is definitely pretty impressive for the price point that it occupies. In particular, the stick definition and clear bell tones are reminiscent of a cymbal costing significantly more.
Like other established brands, it does bear mentioning that while this cymbal may be aimed towards beginners it does benefit from the decades of experience that Meinl has in producing cymbals. Cymbals from a reputable brand, regardless of the price, tend to perform better than those who’ve only recently begun operations. The Meinl cymbals are no exception to this rule. It does offer a lot of value for the price point it occupies. The lively tone produced by the cymbal makes it surprisingly equipped to play a variety of different genres.
For all intents and purposes, HCS20R is arguably one of the best buy cymbals in this price range.
Zildjian A Custom 20” Ping Ride 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 accessories and cymbals available to musicians today.
The first thing to know about this cymbal is that it’s made from an 80/20 (80% copper and 20% tin) alloy. This is the metallurgical composition most percussionists look for in a cymbal because the commonly held wisdom is that it provides the greatest representation frequencies. Tin is significantly harder to work with than copper, which means that cymbals that feature a high tin content come at a higher price tag. Whether or not these cymbals are worth the price is a matter of debate. If you’re on a budget, don’t assume that the only way to get a good tone is to fork out for 80/20 cymbals.
This is a medium heavy weight cymbal. Generally, cymbal weight is an indicator of the response and overall volume of a cymbal. The heavier the cymbal the slower the response but the greater the volume, with the inverse being true for lighter cymbals.
This cymbal is geared towards players looking for a cymbal with a pronounced high-end response. It sports a very modern voicing, which makes it a good fit for genres where a cutting ride sound is required. The cymbal is also made to produce high quality “ping” tonalities, which helps to further enhance its brightness.
It’s a quality addition to the rig of any percussionist looking for a brightly voiced cymbal. It has more than enough volume on hand for just about any given situation, as well as having a definition that’s surprising for the price tier that it occupies.
The Zildjian A Custom 20” Ping Ride Cymbal offers a great value to the percussionist looking for a brightly voiced cymbal. Because it’s a medium-heavy weight cymbal it won’t be quite as responsive as a lighter cymbal, but it’s greater amount of volume makes it a better fit for live situations.
Paiste 2002 Classic Cymbal Ride 22-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 shouldn't come as any surprise that the Paiste 2002 Classic Cymbal Ride 22-inch offers a good value to musicians. The first thing to know about these cymbals is that they use Paiste’s 2002 bronze alloy (which is also where they get their name from!). These cymbals are similar to B8 bronze, being made from 92% copper and 8% tin.
As a general rule, cymbals with a greater amount of tin tend to be considered more desirable by musicians. Paiste cymbals are considered to be the exception to this rule. There’s not really a lot of specifics available on why Paiste cymbals tend to perform better than those with a similar composition, though many musicians believe that this is a result of an increased emphasis on craftsmanship when compared to other cymbals (which are generally made more cheaply than cymbals with a more desirable alloy) made from 80/20 bronze.
Another thing to know about these cymbals is this model has been widely used since 1971. It’s established the legacy it has by being one of the best sounding cymbals available for the sound it intends to provide. Paiste cymbals are subject to a limited warranty that protects against flaws in workmanship/ materials.
As a general rule, Paiste cymbals are considered to be very brightly voiced with loads of definition on hand. The combination of these two factors makes this cymbal a great voice for just about any genre with the exception of jazz. In particular, these cymbals are considered to be well suited to both playing and recording: classic rock, blues, punk, hard rock, heavy metal, rockabilly, funk, and punk.
Another selling point of these cymbals are their volume and projection. These cymbals are a professional-level piece of equipment, so they’re going to have plenty of volume and cut to be used in live applications.
The Paiste 2002 Classic Cymbal Ride 22-inch cymbal is definitely a solid option for any musician looking for a professional-quality cymbal. With that in mind, it should be noted that this cymbal is generally considered to be very brightly voiced. So while it is a flexible piece of equipment, it won’t be a good fit for anyone looking for a cymbal well-suited to jazz. These cymbals are of a surprisingly high-quality for their price point, with many reviewers stating that they feel that this cymbal is the best choice for this price range.
Zildjian K Custom Special Dry Ride 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 solely as 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.
Avedis was given the surname Zildjian by Sultan Osman II for his contribution to the Ottoman war effort. The brand continued working in the area until the 1930s, where members of the family split off and emigrated to America.
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 21” Special Dry Ride Cymbal offers a great value to musicians.
The feature that differentiates this cymbal from its competitors is that it’s a very specific type of cymbal. We wouldn’t really call it a one trick pony, but if you’re looking for a cutting rock tone odds are you’ll find something else is better suited to your needs. With that being said, the cymbal definitely does have a distinctive visual flair. It sports a very unique coloring, and by the traditional hammering techniques used on the K line gives the cymbal a vintage aesthetic that many may find appealing.
Contrary to what the vintage aesthetic may lead you to believe, this cymbal also benefits from the modern practices Zildjian has adopted. Though much of the cymbal is produced by hand by a dedicated craftsman, it’s finished via complex machinery. This helps to give it both the quality of tone you’d find in a hand-made cymbal as well as the consistency in machined cymbals. The cymbal is of a medium thin weight.
As we previously stated, this cymbal isn’t as versatile as many of its competitors. With that being said, for this price tier its arguably the best option if you’re looking for they type of tone its designed to produce.
This cymbal is a very dry sounding instrument. It doesn’t have a lot of volume when compared to other cymbals, but it has a very flat and mild response. This makes it a great fit for country and jazz, or any genre which benefits from a vintage voiced cymbal. However, if you’re looking to play rock you’re going to want to go with something else.
This cymbal is the best in its price tier if you’re looking for a vintage-voiced cymbal. There’s no concerns about quality, and its responsiveness is amazing. The Special Dry Ride Cymbal is a phenomenal value for the musician looking for a vintage voiced cymbal. Just keep in mind that this is a very uniquely voiced piece of equipment.