A great jazz ride cymbal

A few thoughts and guidelines for selecting a great jazz ride cymbal— the same standards we apply in selecting every cymbal we sell.

20, 21, 22″ are normal, full-voiced ride cymbals. 18, 19, 24″ are semi-normal, but a little more limited— 18/19 are simpler, 24 is grandiose. Not every situation calls for the Gustav Mahler of ride cymbals.

<18″ ride cymbals are specialty items— for Dixieland, or Bossa Nova, or rehearsals; >24″ cymbals… consider seeking professional help!

A jazz cymbal should be multi purpose. It needs to handle well and sound great when riding, crashing, playing accents with the shoulder of the stick, and playing the bell.

It should be well suited to your touch, so you can play in a way that is comfortable to you, and have it be the right volume— not louder or softer than you intend. It should be controllable and sound good played soft or loud, through the usual range of styles/settings you play. It should sound good with a variety of normal sticks for the music— it shouldn’t demand special sticks.

It should have a fairly complex sound— sought-after sounds are either warm/dark (like our Holy Grail or Kervan series, or vintage K Zildjian) or bright/airy/musical (like the Leon Collection, or Paiste 602), or moderately bright/complex (like the Merseybeat or American Artist series, or 1960s and earlier A. Zildjian). The ride cymbal is your main voice, so it shouldn’t be overly ear-catching or unusual by itself— just like any other normal instrument, an acoustic bass, piano, tenor sax. For their main voice, musicians typically seek sounds that are classically excellent. It’s an instrument, not the main show by itself.

It should make you want to play it— its sound on all the basic functions should be pleasing and exciting. It shouldn’t be annoying, or cause you to flinch because it did something you didn’t expect. It should sound like a record that defined a great cymbal sound for you. You could sacrifice playability a bit if it leads you to play more thoughtfully, without being a distraction.

“Left side” ride cymbal
The second ride cymbal is usually about forming an ensemble, complementing the main cymbal. You can make moderate compromises on the above criteria. Most often the second ride will be in the area of a crash/ride— a little lighter and airier than you might use for your main cymbal. It should contrast the main ride, and have a nice melodic interval with it. Usually smaller and lighter, sometimes heavier, it could also be a brighter or darker sound, too. Possibly with rivets, if the main cymbal doesn’t have them.

Describing cymbal sounds

Here is a glossary of words I use to describe cymbal sound and performance.

Generally, these are for describing a ride sound, crash sound (strong accent on the edge of the cymbal), accent sound (shoulder of the stick on the ride area) bell sound, and harmonic profile. Also for describing definition and response, which are qualities of riding, accenting, and crashing.

Higher harmonics are emphasized generally.

Lower Harmonics are emphasized generally. An over-used word; I may use it to describe a very broad category of cymbal, or to mean, with specific individual cymbals, very dark, compared to warm or smoky.

Mid and lower harmonics subtly emphasized, generally harmonious profile.

Lower harmonics moderately emphasized. Many Holy Grail cymbals fall in this category.

The cymbal crashes with a bwah sound; in my mind suggesting a low sound. Can be a pleasing quality, or it can be a flaw.

Suggests an unusual Chinese cymbal or gong like sound or pitch bend.

Suggests a cymbal that is very responsive to crashing, possibly with a high sound.

Focused, harmonious profile.

Harmonics de-emphasized relative to the direct stick sound.

Excessively dry or muffled, lacking in expected overtones. Not always a negative quality.

Full harmonic profile, big wash, easily crashable.

Responds quickly to the touch of the stick. When crashing and rolling, builds to a peak and fades quickly.

Long crash sound that peaks well after the cymbal is struck. Could also describe a cymbal that requires a lot of force to get an explosive crash sound.

A mysterious combination of dark, dry, trashy, and exotic.

Pronounced random harmonics. Could be used interchangeably with trashy, but noisy has a more negative implication.

Harmonic profile tending towards a white-noise like sound; random harmonics dominating the sound.

Strong, focused attack, tending to be higher-pitched, to cut through a large ensemble or electric band.

Unbalanced high harmonics present. I would never use this word as a positive adjective.

A persistent, obnoxious metal sound.

A forceful metal sound. Generally negative, but moderate clanginess can be desirable; it can give raw energy.

Bright, light, non-metallic sound. I use airy to describe many of our Leon Collection cymbals.

Lacking in body; almost an empty sound. Airy and glassy could be used interchangeably by different people, but for me, airy is positive, glassy is more negative.

Not referring to the actual thickness of the metal— suggests an insubstantial, tinny sound.

Other words:
I have never thought to describe a cymbal as hot, but it is used. Sweet is a commonly used word the meaning of which I am unclear on, other than “sounds pretty”, or a pleasantly bright sound. I have played a few cymbals with a distinctly tubby sound. Cymbals are essentially springs, and I have encountered a few very strange cymbals with a springy, slinky-like tone. Some people say sticky to refer to a cymbal with a pronounced stick sound. Some have described sounds as actual colors: blue, red, green, yellow. I have no idea what is meant by that.