If you are new to drumming, or simply thinking of investing in a new kit of cymbal, you might wonder if your cymbals need to be broken in. Cymbals can produce a variety of different sounds, some of them depending on the age of the cymbal and how much it has been played.
Therefore, it is no surprise that some drummers may prefer the sound a cymbal makes after it has aged a little, while others prefer its sound when it is brand new and gleaming.
With that in mind, lets look at if your cymbals so need to be broken in and what effect age has on the sound they will produce!
Do Cymbals Need to be Broken in?
Cymbals do not need to be broken in, however their sound will naturally change slightly after they have been used more. Brand-new cymbals will sound more crisp and brighter compared to cymbals which have been used for an extended period of time.
You might now be wondering what we actually mean by terms like ‘crisper’ and ‘darker’ sounds, and what can accelerate cymbal ageing and how you can delay some of the effects of cymbal aging too. So, if you want to know more about cymbals over time, keep reading for our ultimate guide!
Some Useful Terms
First, it is very handy to know what we actually mean when we use certain terms to describe the sounds a cymbal can produce. This can help you to picture more clearly what these changes to your cymbal will actually sound like, as well as to help to be able to describe what sound you would like to achieve.
Dark/light notes- light cymbals and sounds are ones that sounds bright and crisp. They usually have higher frequencies and many people associate these with brand new or clean cymbals. However, some cymbals can be created to produce darker sounds. Unlike lighter cymbals and sounds, dark sounds are usually lower in frequency and can have more complex sounds with less sustain.
Sustain- this refers to the time it takes for the cymbal to stop producing sound after it has been struck by the stick. Newer cymbals can have a longer sustain which may be preferable to certain drummers.
Attack (stick sound)- this refers to the sound that the stick itself makes when in contact with the cymbal. This can be distinctive from the following cymbal sound, or these can merge together and not be distinguishable from one another.
What Happens to Cymbals with Age?
Over time, cymbals may change slightly as a result of oxidation, dirt build up and through general wear and tear from playing and handling the cymbals.
Firstly, unless you decide to frequently clean and polish your cymbals so that they stay closer to their original sound, dirt may build up over time on the surface of the cymbal and in dents.
How frequently you play your drum kit as well as your drumming style will also affect how quickly and in what way your cymbals may change in sound. For example, if you tend to play very frequently and hit your cymbals with a lot of force, they may be more likely to alter in sound sooner.
Cleaning and Polishing
Cleaning and polishing cymbals can also have a large effect on their sound. Not all drummers choose to clean their cymbals however, and this is largely down to personal choice of how you want them to sound.
Cleaner cymbals tend to produce lighter, crisper sounds, compared to cymbals that are not cleaned and may have a build-up of dirt. These will produce darker sounds and be duller in appearance.
This is because there tends to be an increase in dirt on the surface and within the dimples on the surface of the cymbal. This inevitably creates subtle changes in sound over time unless this is removed.
Therefore, depending on which sound and look you want your cymbal to have, you can choose to clean or not clean your cymbals to achieve it!
Cymbal Sound with Age
In general, brand new cymbals will be brighter in sound and sharper with a longer sustain. They will also be visibly shinier (unless you are purposefully buying one with a duller colour), compared to when it ages.
Older cymbals tend to be darker in sound with more character, as no two cymbals are likely to age in the exact same way.
Preference for different sounds as well as the look of your cymbal is usually just down to personal choice. This could depend on the specific sound you want to accompany your playing, as well as the other cymbals in your collection.
There is no right or wrong answer, as long as you look after your cymbals with age to try to prevent cracking!
Which Sound is Best for You?
Now you know how the age of a cymbal, along with the type and how regularly it is cleaned and polished can affect the sound, you need to know what sound is right for you. You might already have an idea of whether you want a lighter or darker tone for example.
If not however, here are a few times when brighter or darker cymbals could be better suited:
Lighter cymbals: these can provide high energy, clear sounds well suited to rock music. These cymbals are great at cutting through the heavy sound of the rest of your music to provide a distinctive and noticeable sound. Light cymbals have been used again and again in rock tracks over the years.
Darker cymbals: these more mellow sounds can be well suited to recording environments, but their versatility also means that they are frequently used in jazz, metal and gospel music.
It is important to remember that aging alone may not allow your cymbal to achieve a really dark sound. Dark cymbals are generally larger, with different techniques in the hammering process giving them their distinctive sound. These cymbals can also be more expensive for this reason too!
Now that we have looked at what happens to cymbals over time and how this can affect their sound, we can see that there is no need to strictly ‘break in’ your cymbals.
However, due to their sound changing over time, some drummers find that they prefer the sound of a newer or older cymbal. Therefore, you may need to wait a little while before your new cymbal has the sound you would like if you prefer older cymbal sounds.
If you prefer newer sounding cymbals, regularly cleaning and polishing them can help to maintain their light and crisp sound for longer.
If you found this post helpful and would like to read more about getting the most out of your drum kit, as well as how to choose the best one, be sure to check out our other blogs for all things about drumming!