Sunday, August 26, 2012

How to get real cymbals when you're poor

The sort of thing you're looking for.
2019 UPDATE: The economy has recovered substantially since I originally wrote this in 2012, so if you're ready to spend a little more money on some great cymbals, personally selected by me, head over to my other site,, and check out some of the wonderful Cymbal & Gong brand cymbals I have for sale.

The original 2012 article: This is really a good time to buy used cymbals-- thanks to the wonderful recession, and the proliferation of extremely high-end cymbals, prices for used merely-pro-quality cymbals are as low as they've ever been. Which is why it kills me to see young drummers spending way too much on new student-line junk, which will sound like crap for a few years, and then end up in a landfill. For about the same money they could have top of the line cymbals that will last a lifetime, sound good, and retain their value-- most of it, anyway.

So buy used. Really used.
The best bargains are moderately old, very grungy pro cymbals-- dirty, dull-looking bronze, painted-on logos only a rumor of a memory-- if they ever had them to begin with. You're a musician and you play the things for the sound anyway, right? Then get over this consumeristic, virginity-fetishizing thing of needing to unbox perfectly pristine new cymbals. That only leads you down the overpaying, crappy-but-shiny path.

About those student/economy/budget/semi-pro cymbals
Listen: those aren't actually cymbals. You might be able to use them as placeholders for cymbals until you can afford real ones, but consider their value to be basically zero-- the money you spend on them basically goes away forever. Buying them new is a big mistake; buying them used you should drive and extremely hard bargain-- I would never pay more than about $50 for a used semi-pro ride cymbal, for example. And do your homework so you know the difference between the almost-usable semi-pro cymbals and the true yellow-tinted sheet metal trash.

Buy online
Generally, serious drummers don't like buying cymbals without first playing them, and that tends to drive down used prices online. We're going to take advantage of that.

We're also going to take advantage of the fact that you may be a little inexperienced, and don't know enough to be real picky about your cymbals yet. If you get a reliable brand, in a normal weight for its category, you should end up with a usable cymbal. If you really hate what you get, you can always get your money back reselling them.

Learn how to work the eBay
You will get your extreme bargain cymbals through no-reserve auctions. We can generalize about the value of a type of used cymbal, but the actual final selling prices can vary widely from month to month, for all sorts of mysterious reasons. So get acquainted with the “completed listings” search, which will show you how much things are actually selling for lately. Buy It Now prices, and prices of auctions in progress are not reliable gauges for how much you should be paying right now.

Be familiar with the cymbal brands, lines and models.
Right now the cheapest pro-quality cymbals appear to be 70's and 80's A. Zildjians and 80's Sabian AAs. I've also been surprised to see a few very good deals on 70's Paiste 2002s. It's worth following some of Paiste's discontinued pro lines from the 80's and 90's as well-- the Sound Formula, 2000, 3000, and Dimensions series especially. Paiste's old semi-pro 505 line is also reasonably good, and can be found very cheaply.

You want to know the rough weight class behind the obscure, impressionistic labels companies slap on cymbals ("Stage", "Power", "Rock", "Bright", etc, etc). Getting a great deal only to have the cymbal arrive and turn out to be totally the wrong thing for what you wanted to use it for is the opposite of a bargain; that is, a costly problem. Even if it's no big deal to re-sell the thing, it's still a hassle and a time-waster, and you're paying a little tax on the transaction to those twin vampire squid eBay and PayPal.

Knowing a little bit about gram weights is also helpful; it has become the primary way for cymbal purchasers to know exactly what they're getting at least in terms of weight, since normal categories ("medium", "thin", etc) are tend to vary wildly. Here is a chart I pilfered from the Vintage Drum Forum, who in turn pilfered it from the Cymbalholics forum:

Weight Range Table for 22 Inch cymbals:
extra light ------- 1900-2100g
light ------------- 2100-2300g
medium light ---- 2300-2500g
medium --------- 2500-2800g
medium heavy -- 2800-3100g
heavy ----------- 3100-3500g
very heavy ------ 3500 and up

Weight Range Table for 20 Inch cymbals:
extra light ------- 1570-1735g
light ------------- 1735-1900g
medium light ---- 1900-2066g
medium --------- 2066-2314g
medium heavy -- 2314-2561g
heavy ----------- 2561-2892g
very heavy ------ 2892 and up

Weight Range Table for 18 Inch cymbals:
extra light ------- 1272-1405g
light ------------- 1405-1539g
medium light ---- 1539-1673g
medium --------- 1673-1874g
medium heavy -- 1874-2075g
heavy ----------- 2075-2342g
very heavy ------ 2342 and up 

Even if you're a rock player, please go to a local store and play a few "heavy", "rock" or "power" labeled cymbals before you start ordering them blind online.

Be adaptable
You may not be absolutely wild about every cymbal you purchase this way. That's life. Most of my career (until Cymbal & Gong came along) I haven't been wild about most of the cymbals I've owned, however I acquired them. You just have to play them and get the best sound you can out of them, until you find your dream cymbal. It takes some years of trying to get a sound from OK cymbals to develop the technique to really be able to use great cymbals anyway.

The classic all-purpose set-up
You can never go too far wrong with medium hihats and rides, and thin crashes. For any type of music. So if you don't know what to get, get these:

A. Zildjian or Sabian AA:
20" medium ride
16, 17, or 18" thin or medium-thin crash
13 or 14" New Beat (Zildjian) or medium/regular (Sabian) hihats

Usually the Paiste equivalent of any of these cymbals will be labeled simply "crash" or "ride" or "hihats."

Get lucky and hold out for the right price 
Improve your chances of getting lucky by following a lot of auctions, and don't be in a rush to buy. It way take a couple of months to get the right magic bargain. I would consider the hold-out number to be around $100 (maybe $115 with shipping) for any cymbal larger than 18", or for hihats. Maybe $60-80 for a 16" crash. That's very inexpensive. Stick to your bottom line and don't get too attached to any one auction; there will be many more coming. Be sure to find out what shipping will be; some sellers overcharge pretty egregiously.

Learn how to work the Craigslist
This will be your means for reselling any cymbals that don't work for you. It's free, and people aren't relying solely on a nice-looking ad to decide on a purchases-- they can actually come over and play the cymbal. Since you held out for a great deal on eBay, you will have a lot of flexibility to give them a great deal and move them along quickly-- maybe you can even turn a small profit. Just clean the cymbal up a little bit, take a decent picture.

Damaged cymbals
If you want really low prices, you can consider cymbals with very minor damage or wear to the metal-- significant keyholing, slight edge funkiness (like a very shallow bend, or significant scuffs, "flea bites" or whatever), or slight cracks (meaning < 1/2"). These will lower the price of the cymbal without necessarily harming its playability; I've owned and played a few cracked cymbals for years or decades without the condition or sound deteriorating further. Buying them online we're just hoping to get lucky that the thing still sounds OK; I can't really recommend buying damaged cymbals without playing them first, or at least hearing a decent recording. 

No comments: