By Tim Kane
There is nothing better than playing in front of fans and fellow musicians with a brilliant, flashy array of sparkling clean cymbals, and there’s nothing worse than having to clean the grease, grime and gruff off of them. Countless theories exist about the best and safest ways to get that brand new look back on your alloys and bell bronze varieties, and no single method is the ultimate solution.
I for one believe consistently clean cymbals sound better, or at least sound more like how they were intended to sizzle when they first came off of the manufacturing floor. That said, I know a few drummers who like their select cymbals to have that distinction of age appearance. For the majority of avid cymbal cleaners like you out there, however, it is important to understand why your crashes, splashes, chinas, hi-hats and rides become tarnished in the first place.
When our fingertips (and others) touch the cymbal surface, acid transmitted through fingertips interacts with the alloys. They are amino acids to be all-scientific on you, and they can source approximately 100 times the concentration of amino acid found in a New Zealand fossil shell. That’s a lot of acid, dude, but the molecule also is the cleaning solution to your problem. Cymbals can easily tarnish from the dust produced by human skin, airborne grime emitted from nearby appliances such as boilers, and even wooden chafe from your stick strikes. There are a thousand ways to make cymbals dirty, but thankfully only a few methods actually work to get most of that shine back.
Most drum and cymbal manufacturers sell relatively mild and effective acid-based cleaners, and there are a few specialty products on the market that contain even stronger ingredients. “Groove Juice” is a hot one right now, for example. Most of these cleaners will over time take your logos off of your cymbals, however. So unless you want to eventually remove your logos, then you must clean around them or wash that area immediately if it comes into contact with your chosen cleaner.
Ultimately, the effectiveness of every cleaner depends upon how thick your cymbal’s outer protective lacquer coating finish is. The thicker your cymbal’s finish is, the more difficult it will be for you to reach the actual metal. If you want to retain that heavy protective finish, then you must abide by that company’s exact cleaning recommendations. Otherwise, the outer protective coating will be diminished over time.
Then there are homegrown cymbal cleaning approaches to consider. I’ve tried a few of these myself, but by no means endorse their usage. Lemon juice was once recommended to me and it did do the trick on some of my cymbal products and not others. I have also dabbled with mild dish soap, and the so-called deep clean method using a retail cooper cleaner. Cooper cleaner is really intended for badly tarnished or rusted cymbals when nothing else will work.
Some of the more alternative approaches I have read about, but have not attempted, involve using ketchup, metal polish, glass cleaner, and even human silva.
Many drummers forget the final step of cymbal cleaning, which involves waxing. Just like your car, a very thin layer of car wax can keep a cymbal all shinny and nice for up to six months.
The key with any new approach to cymbal cleaning is to test it out on a less popular cymbal of yours. If your array are all preferred cymbals, try using the inside bottom hi-hat as a test area to make sure it produces the results you want. Preventative cleaning is really the best way to avoid having to scrub and rub those grooves like crazy every two months in your bathtub. Carry some rubbing alcohol and cotton cloth with you and use it sparingly. The best advice of all is to use cotton gloves or cotton clothing to pack your cymbals away and set them up again. That way, you leave the fingerprinting to the police.
– Tim Kane is a freelance drummer, instructor and writer living in Central Massachusetts. http://www.kanedrums.com