The Art of Balance: Cymbal Maintenance and Care

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Introduction to Cymbal Maintenance and Care

As drummers, we constantly strive to achieve the perfect balance in our playing.

However, there’s one common mistake that many drummers make: over-tightening their cymbals. In this article, we’ll explore the importance of finding the right cymbal tension and the potential risks of over-tightening.

From understanding cymbal tension to preserving their sound and quality, we’ll uncover the secrets to achieving optimal performance without compromising sound quality and durability.

We will also uncover some myths about cymbal care, based on my own experience. Some of which others will disagree. But that’s fine.

Understanding Cymbal Tension:

A Key to Unlocking Sound

To truly unlock the potential of your cymbals, it’s crucial to understand the role of cymbal tension. Finding the sweet spot between too tight and too loose can greatly impact the overall sound and performance. By experimenting with different tension levels, you can discover the perfect balance that suits your style and preferences.

However, over-tightening cymbals can lead to a range of negative consequences. So cymbal maintenance and care should be added to a drummer’s toolkit.

The Dangers of Over-Tightening:

Cracks, Keyholes, and More – Over-tightening cymbals may seem like a way to achieve a cleaner, tighter sound, but it can have detrimental effects on their lifespan and performance.

When cymbals are excessively tight, they become more prone to cracks, keyholes, and other forms of damage. Both on the edge and center (hole) of the cymbal. It’s important to recognize the signs of over-tightening and take steps to prevent these issues.

So, how can we make the best use of our cymbal maintenance and care to find the optimal cymbal tension that maximizes both sound quality and longevity?

Finding the Sweet Spot:

Striking the Right Balance – Achieving the perfect balance between cymbal tension and playability requires a combination of technique and experimentation. By listening closely and adjusting the tension based on your desired sound, you can find the sweet spot that allows your cymbals to resonate and project optimally.

It’s a delicate process, but with practice and patience, you’ll develop an intuitive sense of what works best for you. With practice, you will be able to feel the stiffness of the cymbal tension as you strike the cymbal edge. Of course, if it feels stiff, then loosen it off a little, until it feels loose. But not so much that the wing nut spins and flies off during your performance.

Maintaining the sound and quality of your cymbals is equally important for long-term success.

Preserving Cymbal Sound and Quality:

Basic Cymbal Maintenance and Care – To ensure the longevity of your cymbals, it’s essential to prioritize their care and maintenance. Regular cleaning, using suitable products, and adopting proper storage and carrying practices can go a long way in preserving their brilliance and preventing unnecessary wear and tear.

By investing time and effort into their upkeep, you’ll extend the lifespan of your cymbals and maintain their optimal sound quality.

Now that we’ve covered the fundamentals of cymbal tension and maintenance, let’s address what I believe to be a myth before moving on to some common questions drummers may have.

Cymbal Cleaning Myth:

Some experts may disagree with me, but one piece of advice about cymbal care always seemed wrong. This was based on my own experience. They say you should never use abrasive materials on your cymbals such as Brasso or Duraglit.

Well, I have always used Brasso or Duraglit to clean my cymbals and they have always looked great. And the sound just seemed to get better and better. I am speaking of a regular (monthly or bi-monthly depending on their use), hard cleaning both on the underside and top side.

I used K Zildjians for many years and always kept them in tip-top condition. They never lost any sound quality and may have even started to sound better. Unless of course, my playing was getting better as I was putting more focus on striking the cymbals the correct way, in a finesse-focused manner due to their brilliance.

Also, the Zildjian logos never wore off due to my cleaning them. But of course, test your cleaning process as you go. But I used to press hard until the cloth became black, then began to shine them with a clean cloth (or two) to remove the brasso or Duraglit film on the cymbals.

Brasso and Duraglit were a positive addition to my own cymbal maintenance and care regime.

Now, let’s get to some common questions.


Question 1: How do I know if my cymbals are over-tightened?

A: Signs of over-tightening include a choked or unnatural sound, reduced resonance, and visible stress marks or cracks around the bell or edge of the cymbal. As suggested earlier, you should also be able to feel the cymbal not moving as freely as it should. Also, always remember you are playing the cymbals, not hitting them.

Question 2: Is it better to err on the side of tighter or looser cymbal tension?

A: It’s generally recommended to start with a looser tension and gradually tighten until you achieve the desired sound. However, finding the optimal tension is subjective and may vary based on personal preferences and musical style. Try moving the cymbal up and down with one hand as you tighten the nut with the other, you will then feel the cymbal become stiff. At that point, stop tightening the wing-nut.

Question 3: Are there specific cleaning products I should use for cymbals?

A: It’s best to use dedicated cymbal cleaning products or mild, non-abrasive cleaners specifically designed for cymbals. Avoid harsh chemicals or abrasive materials that can damage the cymbal’s surface. This is what is generally taught. But refer to the previous Myth about this.

Question 4: Can I still achieve a bright, cutting sound with looser cymbal tension?

A: Absolutely! By adjusting your playing technique, utilizing different strokes, a sideways swipe instead of a direct hit, and exploring cymbal selection, you can achieve a bright, cutting sound even with a looser tension.

Question 5: Can I adjust cymbal tension while performing live?

A: It’s generally not recommended to adjust cymbal tension during a live performance as it can disrupt the flow and timing. It’s best to make adjustments during practice or soundcheck and maintain consistency during the performance. However, if you haven’t purchased good quality cymbal felts, washers, and nuts, you may have to occasionally tighten the nuts. But this is only really the case where you have a lot of vibration coming through the cymbal stand.

Question 6: How often should I clean my cymbals?

A: The frequency of cleaning depends on factors such as usage, environment, and personal preference. As a general guideline, cleaning your cymbals every few months or whenever you notice significant dirt buildup is recommended.

As I suggested earlier, I cleaned mine using the products mentioned, about every couple of months or so, depending on the grease build-up from holding them.


Striking the Right Balance for Cymbal Success

Achieving the perfect balance in cymbal tension is a crucial aspect of drumming success. By avoiding the pitfalls of over-tightening and finding the optimal tension, you can enhance your cymbals’ sound and durability.

Additionally, preserving their brilliance through proper care and maintenance ensures their longevity. Remember, it’s a continuous process of experimentation and refinement, allowing you to create the ideal sound for your drumming style.

And of course, cymbal sound quality begins with choosing the right cymbals for you, within your budget.

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