Why So Many Cymbals? (And Why So Few Drums?)
Posted on November 6, 2022
So… I have a lot of cymbals. Counting the hi–hats as two, the grand total is 11, and I don’t have any plans of stopping. I think I could probably squeeze another crash in there and a few more splashes too. It’s also probably high time for me to get some sort of stack (or two, or four), and then the holy grail for me: a sizzle ride, which has become stupidly hard to find.
Here’s the fascinating part: I don’t have any plans to expand my number of drums, save for maybe another floor tom. The reality is that I’m much more inclined to cram as many cymbals on my kit as possible while holding off on the actual drums. Here’re a few reasons why:
Cymbals Are Easier to Get
First things first: cymbals are usually much cheaper than drums. A nice crash cymbal is around $200–300. A nice tom could be anywhere from $200–800+, depending on the size.
Moreover, if I do decide to get another floor tom, I have a bit of a problem: I need to get a new drum set! Pearl discontinued the MCX line at the start of 2016, and aftermarket MCX toms are long gone. Meanwhile, for cymbals, any Sabian AA or AAX will do it for me.
To be clear, there’s nothing inherently wrong with mixing cymbal brands — in fact, I rather like some contrast between my cymbals. But for drums? Well, it’s hard enough getting toms tuned up and sounding good, so I don’t need the added variable of a tom that’s totally different than the rest regarding material/construction/hardware. Some people can make a so–called “Frankenstein’s drum kit” work for themselves. Perhaps I could, but I don’t have any desire to.
I’m a Cymbal–Heavy Player
One of my favorite things to do as a drummer is what I call “catching a figure” — playing off of a rhythm that comes from another player in the band. And I think cymbals are the way to go here. I had a bassist explain that, as a non–percussionist, he’s always felt like cymbals have more character than drums. I agree; one of my biggest pet peeves is hearing another drummer use a dry, articulate ride bell/tom thing for big moments of a song that call for noisy drumming.
With Four or More Toms, I Often Wouldn’t Use Most of Them
Todd Bishop wrote a funny Buzzfeed parody article years ago, where he ordered the reader to stick with two toms and ditch the rest. In his words, “this isn't the 70s — nobody is leaving spaces in their arrangements for big melodic tom fills.”
He’s got a point. Not every drummer gets an opportunity to play big Neil Peart–style rolls down the toms. But it gets worse; most shell packs with two rack toms have a 10" and a 12". As Todd writes later on in the article, whatever tom is in front of your snare will likely get a lot of action… but a 10" tom just isn’t big enough for this kind of heavy lifting.
I think this is one of the reasons people like the “one up two down” getup so much. A 12" rack tom and a 14" floor tom sound nice together, but you have an extra 16" floor tom if you need it (and it’s relatively out of the way if you don’t need it).
It’s Easy to Record a Lot of Cymbals (and Not So Easy to Record a Lot of Drums)
No matter how many cymbals you have, the recording typically remains the same: most engineers would still stick with just two overheads, and maybe a close mic on the hats (I generally don’t think close mics are needed for cymbals, but I’m interested in trying it out).
Toms on the other hand usually call for one mic each, especially punchy toms, which is the tone I prefer. You can try to get away with miking the drums in pairs (or by just using overheads), but that’s not ideal. With four toms, that’s four mics, four preamps, and four inputs. As I wrote back in February, I’m eager to experiment with gates on my tom mics that are side–chained to trigger tracks. If had four toms, that’s eight inputs for the toms alone! Just getting the drums is expensive, let alone the mics, the triggers, the preamps, and a capable interface.
More Cymbals Give You More Sounds
One of the big trends in the drumming world is getting many unique sounds out of your kit and doing it as easily as possible. While cymbals do have a lot of character, you’re kind of stuck with whatever a cymbal’s particular sound is.
Yes, certain components of a drum’s sound are immutable, but drums overall are much more modular. Head selection, tuning, the dozens of wacky things people put on their drums like towels, cymbals, and those dampeners that have tambourines built into them… these are all valuable tools to shape the sound of a drum. They don’t really work for cymbals. So for more cymbal sounds, you need more cymbals!
Well, looks like a had more than just a few reasons to share!