Cymbal Care

Nemesis SeriesCymbals are a very unique instrument. Unlike any other musical instrument, their structure is beaten on daily with hard objects. Unfortunately, when it comes to cymbal care, we are not discussing wiping dust off with a soft cloth, like the normal instrument. Cymbal care goes much deeper. All information gathered in our care section has been thought out in great detail and researched for years. This section is to help understand what is going on when hitting a cymbal and deeper reasoning on why a cymbal may crack. This section is also for anyone who uses any cymbal by any cymbal company. It is our goal to expand the life expectancy of all cymbals.

The durability of some companies' cymbals has been questioned, especially through the transition of the 80's into the late 90's. One thing that hasn't changed is a cymbal's structure, alloy composition and how a cymbal is made. If anything, cymbals are more durable today than they were years ago since a cymbal is made to finer tolerances. A question to ponder is how hard most music was before the 1980s.

Pop music dominated the early 80s, then hard rock entered in the late 80s, dominated through the 90s and music is getting harder and harder. Harder Rock n' Roll demands heaviness, hard hitting, and drummers think they have to hit hard, harder, hardest. How many have broken drum heads, bent rims, stuck their bass drum beaters through their bass drum heads, cracked a bass drum kick pedal, caused lugs to strip out and shattered cymbals? Cymbals aren't getting less durable. Drummers are hitting harder and harder, as mainstream music gets heavier and heavier.

So if the cymbal wasn't getting less durable, can it get more durable? We probably don't want to hear it, but NO. A cymbal must be played within its limits. Striking a cymbal too hard and striking a cymbal improperly can cause microcracks, cracks or shattering on the first few shots. So what are the finer details on why and how a cymbal can crack?

First – a short summary about a cymbal's weight: The thinner the cymbal, the less sound potential. This means the cymbal will have a shorter volume range. Thinner cymbals are more responsive, have more mellowness (smoothness), and have a darker tone. Thinner cymbals will flex more. Heavier cymbals have more sound potential, meaning the cymbal will have a wider volume range. Heavier cymbals have a much higher volume that leads to more cutting power and more projection. Heavier cymbals are brighter, but they have less response and less flexibility. Heavy cymbals can only be hit a little harder than a thin cymbal. All you are trying to do is get the cymbal to reach full volume potential, which only takes a moderate hit; hitting it harder will cause distortion and will greatly increase the possibility of a crack to form anywhere on the cymbal.

Countless hours of research, reviewing many cracked cymbals from all cymbal brands and testing cracking by intentionally trying to crack cymbals, has led to the following: In general, cymbal cracks tend to follow these simple rules:

  1. Edge Cracks: If a cymbal forms small cracks on its edge, the cymbal was probably too thin (not heavy enough) for its intended purpose. A big factor here is stick speed times mass into the edge (which will be discussed at another time). There are other factors that cause edge cracks, as you will read later.
  2. Structure Cracks and Shattering: Heavy cymbals tend to crack within the structure of the cymbal due to over hitting which pushes the cymbal down too far and creates stress at some flex point (remember they don’t flex well). Too much flexing can cause tiny cracks to occur within the lathing as you are stretching the metal when pushing the cymbal down. Never hit a cymbal directly on, as this is considered pushing down a cymbal.
    Heavier cymbals are hit harder because the drummer thinks they are more durable. Yes they can be hit a little harder since there is more mass, but only a little harder. Heavier cymbals only offer a brighter tone, more volume and more projection – again not always more durability. Some people like to use rides as crashes and many have tried to argue that rides make good crashes. There are some rides that will make a nice crash. However, heavier rides are more densely designed to hold a pingier tone, rather than a washier tone. So, when one tries to crash on a heavier ride, it doesn’t open up properly. Then, you have to hit it harder and harder for the ride to release enough crashing properties. This harder and harder hitting can quickly form stress cracks, metal fatique and structural cracks. Some companies make crash rides that have the edges thinned to help the cymbal open up easier and its makes for better flexing. These are better for crashing than a ride. Rides also don’t really have more volume than crashes since they can’t open up as easy. Have you ever asked yourself why do you hit hard? Do you hit hard for more volume or for show? From interviewing numerous drummers, 90% say they do it for show or they think they need to hit hard to keep up with the band. Ask your guitar player to slam his guitar into the stage for some cool sound effect and then see if the guitar company will replace it. Fact is, almost all cymbals crack due to neglect, bad technique or simply hitting too hard. Hitting too hard also creates sound/cymbal distortion, which actually cancels out noise! Hitting too hard can actually reduce volume. Then, when you hear the cymbal’s reduced volume, you are just going to hit it harder, which greatly increases cracking or shattering. Later you will read more information about Structure Cracks.
  3. Keyhole Cracks: Cymbals crack at the keyhole, because they are held too tightly to the stand. Normally only your thinner and smallest cymbals develop keyhole cracks. If a cymbal is held too tightly to a cymbal stand, this can put a lot of stress/press at the top of the cymbal (called the keyhole). This area can get metal fatigued quickly and small tension cracks will occur. The metal in this region is thin so if a smaller cymbal is constantly struck too hard, all the pressure and flexing will eventually fatigue the metal to the point of stretching and cracking. It could take 30 years for a heavy ride to develop enough stress to start cracking at the keyhole. Allow cymbals to very freely move on the cymbal stand. This allows the cymbal to release its sound more effectively and it reduces the risks of cracks. The more a cymbal can move, the less energy gets trapped in the cymbal (this topic is explained in more detail in later sections below).
  4. Base of Bell Cracks: Cymbals crack at the base of a bell because they were struck too hard and pushed too far down (this will be explained more later on and is a major factor in why cymbals crack). Base of bell cracks normally form on smaller cymbals but can form on larger cymbals after enough time. Smaller cymbals, like splashes have little flex distance so the base of the bell picks up a lot of tension and forms micro cracks. The stress continues until the microcracks will eventually pop into a full crack. Larger/thicker cymbals, if struck too hard long enough, can develop microcracks too around the bass of the bell but these microcracks may take months to years to develop into a full base of bell crack.
  5. Structure Cracks II: Let's discuss more about the 'Structure Cracks' since these have become the most common over the past 20 years, especially with larger cymbals that are improperly used too heavily as crashes. Again structure cracks develop when they are overplayed and struck too hard. But there is another factor that can speed the cracking process! This is pushing the cymbal directly down. If you strike a cymbal in a direct downward motion, you will push it directly downward until it jams into its lowest position that the cymbal stand will allow. Now, the cymbal is stuck here for a brief moment. And, a lot of energy is also stuck here. The energy has to go somewhere. Where does the energy go and what happens? There are a few different paths this energy can take: 1: the stick is released just in time before the cymbal starts to actually bend downward so the energy is released and most energy goes into the stick and cause a few light dings in the wood. For those that use nonwood sticks, it is not recommended to use on cymbals as this may put more energy into the cymbal edge, since the cymbal now has to absorbs the extra energy instead of the drumstick. Metal drum sticks should never be used. Ahead drumsticks were recently tested and it seems that these are safe to use, like maple drumsticks. We will discuss drumstick composition shortly in another section. 2: The stick is not released and it pushes the cymbal down further until it bends the cymbal in an awkward position. Energy is now stuck into the cymbal, as the energy wants to snap the cymbal back into place. So, this energy now will have to release and go someplace: a. the energy is absorbed into the stick and the stick gets heavy marks in it or it snaps. Most energy is then released. b. the energy is absorbed back into your wrists which can cause tingling or permanent damage. This damage may take months to years to develop. Most energy is then released. c. Too much energy and the cymbal will cause a sudden bend in the cymbal, which will send a shockwave through the cymbal, possibly causing it to crack or shatter. This shockwave starts at the stick's impact and travels directly up to the bell. The energy is then released but along its path it can cause microcracks, tension cracks, more visible cracks, edge cracks (at stick's impact) or shattering. In two rare cases, we witnessed the shockwave to shatter the side of the bell).

So as you can tell, pushing a cymbal downward locks energy and can be very damaging to your drumsticks, to your cymbal and even to yourself!

Another factor in pushing a cymbal downward is the cymbal gets muted/muffled. Sound can't release properly since the cymbal can't vibrate. This is one of the biggest keys to understanding why cymbals crack! If you push the cymbal down, lock it in place, lose volume, what are you going to think in your head? You may think you now have to hit it harder because it isn't releasing as much volume. Then, when you hit it harder, you are multiplying the chances of a cymbal crack.

One method cymbal companies have been trying to preach for years is to strike your cymbal at an angle, which some call a Glancing Blow. This glancing blow is where you strike the cymbal with a motion that you hit the cymbal and the stick slides off to the side. Now the cymbal doesn't get jammed and the cymbal can now shimmer more and release more volume. The energy flows off the side of the cymbal. There is no energy build up and the longevity of everything is extended, including your sticks, wrists and cymbals. Unfortunately, there are more factors into why cymbals crack.

  1. Raised Edge Cracks: This is another factor that causes cymbal cracking. This one starts with crash riding. There is nothing wrong with striking your cymbal with the beat of music: half notes, quarter notes, eight notes, etc. However when you crash ride on any sized cymbal, the typical motion is striking it directly downward (pushing down). Crash riding is safe as long as the cymbal is not pushed down and NEVER struck when the cymbal has swayed upward so that the edges up ABOVE PARALLEL to the ground. This is the same idea why you don't strike the raised side of chinas. If you strike the cymbal when the cymbal has risen up past parallel, you put an enormous amount of force through the cymbal's edge. This also bends the cymbal in a very awkward position. The force shooting in at the edges can crack the cymbal anywhere within the structure (see 'Structure Cracking' above).
  2. Drop Dings: Drop dings is the 'hidden' cause behind so many crack cymbals that we see. Drop dings obviously occur when the cymbal is dropped on its edge. The damage is more devastating than the above 'raised edge crack' discussion. Dropping a cymbal in its edge shoots a shocking amount of energy through a small part of the edge that is enough to put dings and even small tension cracks at the impact site. However, the energy continues to shoot up to the bell that can very easily form microcracks along its path to the bell and then around the (roughly) 135-degree angle from the impact location. Again microcracks may take weeks/months/years to develop into larger cracks that will affect the cymbal's sound and performance. There is no telling how many or the size of these microcracks. You may one day be playing the cymbal softly and all of a sudden it cracks. You think to yourself, I don't even play hard – how can I crack a cymbal? You didn't crack it, but dropping it did (weeks/months/years back).
  3. Whip Effect: Here is one that is rarely considered and could play one of the biggest factors into why a cymbal breaks or shatters. The whip effect is mainly a power performance sports issue. Some of the best players in sports have mastered the whip effect. This explains why some baseball players can hit the ball farther, why some quarterbacks can throw the ball farther, why some baseball pitchers can throw the ball faster and why some golfers can hit so much farther than others. My grandfather taught this to me when I was a little kid and it dawned on me on day that whipping the stick into the cymbals can create an enormous amount of speed. The more speed into the cymbal, the more force exerted into the cymbal. Any martial artists will tell you “with speed comes power”! (We will get into speed and power later). What is the whip effect? The whip effect comes from the motion a whip (a real whip) makes when you snap it. The snap takes little effort with the wrist but the power behind the whip is incredible. The whip effect is also best utilized for max power (again mostly in sports) with a smooth, follow through that travels the biggest arc (or arch) that can be created. In golf if you want to hit the ball farther, you need a long wind up (which can be a slow windup), then a big release though the widest, most extended path possible, then whip the ball at the last second, and follow though. If you don’t follow through, your muscles will tense up somewhere along arced path. How does all of this relate with cymbals and how is a stick whipped into a cymbal? For all of this to get started, the stick has to be taken back to a certain point, which the wrist will cock back pointing the drumstick behind the drummer. This is loading the whip effect. Then the shoulder and elbow will drop just slightly and move forward, which moves the wrist and drum stick back even further. Then the wrist snaps forward and releases all energy that was built-up through the whipping motion and into the edge of the cymbal. Again this can be a lot of energy and normally an excessive amount of force into the cymbal. So who tends to use this whipping motion? From reviewing tons of drummers from many music genres, it seems that those who play music that is heavy, yet slow (think Disturbed, Staind, Tool, etc.) tend to use this motion much more than others. This music is heavy and powerful, but where this is a build up in the music and a big sound is needed, we will often see the drummers holding both sticks way above and/or behind their heads and whipping or driving the sticks down into the cymbals. So timing of the music tends to play a key factor since the body has so much time to bring the stick back, coil up, and release the stick. All this coiled up power, releasing into a cymbal, multiplies the odds of a cymbal cracking. Those who play real fast music tend to not crack as many cymbals. The music tends to be too fast, so these drummers don't have the time to get the whip effect started back far enough so they can't hit their cymbals as fast/hard.
  4. Power Zone: Let’s face it, most of us have a strong hand and a weak hand (which most people are right handed), but there is more to your personal power zone! We are finding there is a power zone, around the body, in which cymbals are more likely to crack. This zone or area is on the strong side of the body at about a 45 degree angle from the body's normal center. So if you look straight ahead, this is 0 degrees. Then hold your arm straight out by your side, this is 90 degrees. The 45 degree angle is the area in between, which tends to be your power zone and this is where drummers are the most powerful and the key area where cymbals tend to be hit the hardest. However, as your right hand goes to the left of the 45 degree angle, you will lose power since the body will have to stretch a little more. Then as you hit farther to the right of the 45 degree angle, you will start to lose a lot of power, since the shoulders will start to bind. But remember as you turn your torso, you are also turning your power zone. Don’t forget the more you move your torso around, the slower you become (which is another topic). The whole body, except for the head and limbs, should stay locked in forward to maximize the speed of the limbs. The head has to move to focus on hitting targets since the head has to be ahead of the arms (again another topic for another day).
    In the power zone, your shoulders seem most flexible (less binding) and your shoulder, arm and wrist can pick up the most speed. Your shoulder tends to start the whole motion process so the more flexible your shoulders, the more speed and power you can generate. Again, all of this is relating back to the whip effect.
    All of the above tries to explain why cymbals develop cracks. Be careful with your cymbals and play them within their boundaries. A cymbal only has so much volume and it can only take so much before it has to crack. Abusing your cymbals will quickly lead to cracks that we will not replace. A cymbal very rarely cracks due to a cymbal manufacturing error. Cymbals have been developed for thousands of years and mainstreamed for hundreds of years. If cymbals can withstand pneumatic and hand hammering, it can withstand the normal usage from playing. We would like to see all cymbals last longer.