Breaking in of cymbals is a concept that gets mentioned by many drummers. Some drummers think it’s all a fuss. While some drummers think it’s definitely a must to break in cymbals. Whatever the case, do cymbals need to be broken in?
If the cymbal sounds great and you enjoy its sound, it doesn’t need to be broken in. However, if it’s too bright and you prefer a dark and mellow cymbal sound, then it needs to be broken in. Breaking in a cymbal reduces its high frequencies and makes it sound a little less bright.
Breaking-in of cymbals is quite a fascinating topic that comes up every once in a while on drum forums. Some drummers think it’s a myth, and our ears get accustomed to a cymbal’s sound over time. While others strongly believe that breaking in cymbals is a real thing, and cymbals actually sound better after breaking in.
So, after hours of research, I’m going to lay down everything I learned about the breaking in of cymbals. Let’s get into it.
Do Cymbals Break In?
In short, yes. Cymbals break in over an extended period of usage. As you frequently play the cymbal, over time, they weaken and become softer. And this changes the sound of the cymbal.
For those who think breaking in of cymbals is a myth, let me explain why this is a real thing.
Cymbals are made of copper-based alloys like bronze, malleable bronze, nickel silver, and brass. One thing all these alloys have in common is that they undergo metal fatigue. But what exactly is metal fatigue?
Metal fatigue is when a metal weakens due to repeated stress. I think this is pretty self-explanatory. As you continue to hit the cymbals, over time, they become weak. For many cymbals, you won’t see any sign of weakness visibly. The cymbal may look as new as when you purchased them.
Microcracks will be formed on the part of the cymbal you usually hit, which is usually either the cymbal’s bow or edge. And the cymbals are gradually changing in form. Because metal fatigue is a slow and steady process, you may never notice this change happening. Not until you place the same cymbal side by side with it.
On thin cymbals and small cymbals, like a splash cymbal, or cymbals made with B20 Alloy, you may notice them bending over time. All of these are signs that the cymbals have undergone metal fatigue and has been broken in (or played in)
For the most part, you’ll not notice any physical change in the cymbal. However, they have undergone the break-in process.
You can think of breaking in of cymbals as a pair of shoes expanding as you wear them frequently. Initially, the pair of shoes may be tight on your feet, but as you wear them over time, they expand gradually to the point where it’s loose on your feet.
What happens when a cymbal breaks in?
When a cymbal breaks in, its pitch and loudness will reduce. And it will produce a dark and mellow sound compared to its original sound.
Many cymbals, when brand new, are bright, high-pitched, and loud. On some cymbals, especially cheaper cymbals, they can be quite harsh to the ear.
However, when they break in, the brightness and loudness reduce slightly, giving you a dark and mellow sound. Don’t expect a drastic change in your cymbal’s sound when they break in. The change is usually subtle. And some people may not notice this change unless they make an AB comparison of their aged broken-in cymbal and a brand new cymbal of the same model.
Something to know, however, is, a dark and mellow cymbal tone is not only achieved by breaking in a cymbal. They can also be achieved by dust and patina accumulated on the cymbal. I explained this in much detail in my article on how cymbals’ sound changes with age. You should definitely check it out.
Do all cymbals break in?
Cymbals made using the process of hammering, casting, and finishing breaks in really well over time. One of such cymbals is the Zildjian ZP20R Planet Z Ride Cymbal (on Amazon) and other cymbals in the Planet Z series. In fact, all Zildjian cymbals break in.
There are many other popular cymbal brands like Sabian and Paiste that use the same process in making their cymbals. So, in reality, most cymbals break in overtime.
But there are a few cymbals that don’t break in (or easily break in). These are cymbals made using the process of Rotocasting.
With rotocasting, molten alloy is poured into a high-speed rotating cymbal-shaped device. And this forms the cymbal’s shape without the need to hammer and cast it to its form. Cymbals made using this process barely changes in form regardless of how often you play them.
These cymbals maintain their original sound for years, and they won’t break in. The only thing that can reduce a rotocast cymbal’s brightness is patina and dust accumulated on them.
One Italian cymbal brand that uses rotocasting exclusively is UFIP. All of their cymbals are made using this process, including their very popular crash cymbal, the UFIP Natural Series 18-inch Cymbal (on Amazon)
Although UFIP cymbals are quite expensive compared to many other cymbal makers, their cymbals can last for decades without any damage, and their tone will remain unchanged. That’s because their process for making cymbals is quite different from any cymbal maker on the market.
Check out their factory demo video below, which shows you how UFIP cymbals are manufactured.
Do Cymbals Need to Break in?
Whether or not cymbals need to be broken in is a very subjective matter, to be honest. Some drummers like their cymbals broken in. They prefer the dark and mellow tone of a broken-in cymbal. And some prefer the sound of a brand new cymbal. It all comes down to taste and preference. So here is what I have to say.
If you like your cymbals bright and loud, they don’t have to be broken in. However, if you prefer a dark and mellow cymbal tone, then you need to break it in.
Some drummers buy very bright and loud cymbals with the intention of breaking them in and make them mellow. This is a very common practice, and I’ll give you some tips on how to break a cymbal in faster in the next section.
However, I’ll suggest that you buy cymbals for how it sounds now, and not how it will sound after it’s broken in. You might be disappointed if it doesn’t end up not sounding as good as you imagined.
As I mentioned earlier, there is not a drastic difference between a brand new cymbal and a broken-in cymbal. Usually, the change is subtle, and it may take many years to get your ideal sound.
So, if you go out shopping for a new cymbal, be sure you test it out to know how it sounds. And purchase it only when you like the sound it produces.
And another thing too is, you shouldn’t fret so much about breaking in a cymbal. That’s because they’ll eventually break in as you keep them. Whether you like a broken-in cymbal or not, your cymbal will eventually be broken in. So just keep that in mind.
How to Break In a Cymbal Faster
Here are some tips on how to break in a cymbal faster
1. Play it frequently
As we’ve already discussed, the more you play the cymbal, the weaker and softer it becomes. And that breaks in the cymbal.
So to break it in, simply play it frequently. Send the cymbal to every single gig and play them, practice with them, lend it to a friend to gig with them. Essentially, the more play time the cymbal gets, the faster it breaks in. So, yes. Play it as often as you can.
Be careful not to hit them extremely hard, beyond the impact the cymbal can absorb. You may have intentions of breaking in the cymbal. But you may end up breaking it instead. So that’s something to note.
2. Mallet cymbal rolls
While I was researching this topic, one way I found that many drummers used to break in their cymbals faster is to perform cymbal rolls (or cymbal swells) on the cymbal with a mallet.
Using an earplug, perform cymbal swells on the cymbal for about 20 minutes. Do this every day, for the next two or three days if possible. This will speed up the breaking-in process of the cymbal, and in no time, you’ll have a dark-sounding cymbal.
3. Buy used cymbals
If you want to save yourself the stress of breaking in the cymbal, just buy a used cymbal.
Used cymbals will already be broken in, and you can get them for a lower price. Just browse through some listings on eBay or Craigslist. And make sure you purchase cymbals that are in good condition.
If possible, meet the seller to test out the cymbal before you buy them. That will definitely reduce the risk of buying dead cymbals.
In summary, it’s not required to break in cymbals. Some drummers prefer the darker and mellow sound of cymbals, and for such drummers, they need to break in the cymbals. However, if you prefer your cymbal to sound bright like brand new cymbals, you don’t need to break your cymbals in.
Also, all cymbals break in except cymbals made using the rotocast technique like the UFIP Italian cymbals.
To break in cymbals, you have to play them frequently or buy used cymbals that are already broken in to save yourself some time.