Monday, April 30, 2018

Rehearsal cymbals

this type of situation
Everybody's always looking for excuses to spend money on gear, so here's a concept: rehearsal cymbals. We've all played rehearsals where the instrumentation and/or acoustics made it extremely difficult to play normally. Maybe there's an unmiked vocalist, acoustic guitar, strings, whatever. A clarinetist with a really weak sound. Playing our normal 20-24" cymbals at normal-quiet volume blows them away, so we end up playing the entire rehearsal with brushes on the snare drum and closed hihat, and it's nothing at all like what's going to happen on the gig. Complete waste of time.

A lot of these situations can't be salvaged, but in general it would be nice to have cymbals that sound good when played quietly in somebody's living room, with no audience, and when we only need to project to the other players standing a few feet away.

Here is generally what I would suggest: little, thin, dry cymbals.

  • 18" ride — light to medium, unlathed/partially lathed, small or no bell 
  • 15" crash — paper thin to medium thin
  • 13" hihats — light to medium

Some thoughts on makes and models:

Bosphorus cymbals
Their Turk series are nice cymbals, with great definition, and playing them you feel like Tony Williams on Nefertiti. They sound really nice from the playing position. I was into them for awhile, but eventually found them to be too soft for most real world playing with an audience. They don't project well unmiked, and they don't balance well with the rest of the drumset or with the ensemble. I've written about this before. But they're great for recording and they would be great for rehearsals.

Master Series are an option that are even quieter... I have actually found many of them to be so thin and delicate they virtually have no real world performance application. But a ride that is not too thin, or a 16-18" Master thin crash (check your gram weight— it should be comparable to any other brand of paper thin crash) could work very well for what we're talking about here. Beware: there are a lot of extremely thin examples floating around used that I think are completely useless.

Flat rides
I'm kind of done with flat rides. I find them to be one dimensional and not worth the real estate they take up in my set up. They can be good for rehearsals, though. And certain special situations. Try an 18"— or smaller, if you dare, and can find one.

Little rides
I got interested in sub-18" rides after reading T. Bruce Wittet's account of Connie Kay's 17" medium-heavy. I had a 17" 602 and a 16" Zildjian medium ride which were both intriguing— they really do handle like real ride cymbals, except they're small— but for whatever reason did not hang onto them.

Paper thin crashes
I find these to mostly be too delicate for the real world, but for this usage you can get a real crash sound without generating a lot of volume and sustain.

Dixieland hihats
Usually pre-60s A. Zildjian, smaller than 14". Revival Drum Shop, a great Portland vintage shop seems to find and carry a lot of them. They're extremely thin, tight, and splashy, without much of a foot sound.

Sabian Sound Control
I started thinking about softer cymbals when playing a boat gig with abysmal acoustics on stage, and these Sabians were some of the first things I looked at. They're supposed to be quieter than normal cymbals. I never found one to purchase before I got into Bosphorus cymbals, and the few I encountered never struck me as particularly quiet. But I've actually found many newer Sabian AAs and AAXs to have a minor case of Bosphorusitis— they have such a refined sound that they lose some body... which makes them excellent for this purpose. A 20" Raw Ride (18" if you can find one) would be good, or a small El Sabor crash.

Often the problem in these situations is the signal to noise ratio: when playing very soft, and in close quarters, the wash of the cymbal is amplified relative to the attack of the note. You can cut down on the wash by applying 1-4 pieces of masking tape on the underside of the cymbal, radiating out from the bell. It's not a very popular solution any more, and not as fun as buying more cymbals. Less is more, if you choose to do this.

What do I use? 
  • 13" Bosphorus Turk hihats — their normal light model. I've used mine on every recording I've made in the last 15 years. 
  • 17" Cymbal & Gong Holy Grail crash — a great cymbal I now never go anywhere without. Thin, rather dead, with great crash, ride, and bell sounds. I could do the whole rehearsal just on this cymbal.  
  • I don't have a great ride cymbal for this purpose yet. I usually use my 20" Cymbal & Gong “custom” (light medium, similar lathing to Bosphorus Antique), which is extremely flexible. I also may use my Sabian 22" AAX Raw Ride (unlathed, thin), or Sabian Jack Dejohnette Signature ride (medium heavy, but very dry). Cymbal & Gong should have some 18" rides in stock soon, one of which will hopefully be mine.  

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