What’s the right cymbal set up for you?  – drum lessons in Brookfield, MA

By Tim Kane

STURBRIDGE, MA – I have been experimenting with the location, angles and heights of my cymbals lately, so it naturally got me thinking about the larger drumming community’s approach.

And there are some interesting trends developing (or re-emerging) out there. I am seeing more splashes positioned together in a row on single boom stands; inverted cymbals atop large diameter sisters; dual hi-hats with the auxiliary positioned next to the right-hand ride; left-hand rides above standard-use left hi-hats; growing use of double Chinas; greater emphasis on bells; and yes, the sizzle cymbal is back – and not only for jazz this time.

Quick tip: Try using a long chain of metal beads wrapped around your bell pads with one side hanging down on the ride for instant sizzle effect – without any need for a specialty model or rivets.

As for predicting cymbal sounds and mastering their relationship to one another, I’ve found a cool exercise. If you have the time, go to any major cymbal dealer’s website and test drive your ideal set up using its online digital cymbal simulators. If you are in the market for additional metal, take your existing primary hi-hats and ride to the local music store’s cymbal room to ensure the used models jive with the new ones you considering.

Before positioning a cymbal on the boom stand, think about relationship to the drum closest to it. Do you want your splash(es) just off the edge of your snare? Is your 18-inch crash best-positioned right of your ride or above your second tom-tom? Is that china best suited far left or far right for accents? What feels most comfortable?

General industry agreement on cymbal arrangement centers on placing higher pitched cymbals to the left of center and darker or lower pitched cymbals exit stage right. The middle area is much more personalized.

My own cymbal arrangement, which employs Zildjian, Sabian and Paiste gear, recently underwent a set-up metamorphosis of its own.

I’ll take my giant 24-inch ride first. Yes, 24 inches of sheer Paiste, Alex Van Halen-endorsed, glory (not pictured below). The mega-ride used to rest over my floor tom, but I often found it difficult to “ride” the ride without feeling a bit strained.

I previously had two rack toms above the kick, so I took my second drum off the kick mount and clamped it to a heavy stand as a second floor tom. Those adjustments essentially freed up the former right tom kick area for my big ride.

In changing around the ride cymbal position, I also noted that my various crashes – including a splash, two Chinas, and 16- and 18-inch crashes – had no distinct order to them or placement hierarchy. They were just kind of sticking out wherever I could fit them in my space challenged shed-turned-drum studio.

After considerable studio thought in comparison to live gig stage parameters, I decided to group and layer my splash and crashes just above the kick drum – pretty much at a flat horizontal angle. The decision had an immediate impact on my approach and skill development. Center kit cymbal placement occupies the heaviest “strike zone” area of your kit, typically comprising a tom, snare, kick, and first floor tom. So why not have your primary crashes and ride out in front?

Beyond ease in finding and playing each cymbal with a tighter drum set grouping, it has created a welcomed side effect with rediscovery of crash bells and the nuances each cymbal offers when played against each other.

If you play out or move drums around a lot, it is best to work from a file photo of cymbal arrangement and use electric tape or markers to indicate where your boom stand maximum height settings should be. And if you employ a lot of hardware, you may want to mark upper and lower parts so you know what goes with each piece.

With so many different approaches to drum kit cymbal set up, I’m curious what fellow drummers out there are doing with their kits? Share your photos and thoughts here.

TIM KANE is a professional writer and drummer of 30-plus years residing in Massachusetts. http://www.kanedrums.com

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