Perhaps you just purchased a new cymbal, and it doesn’t sound as great as your old worn-out cymbals. Is it just your ears? Or cymbals actually sound better with age?
In short, yes. Cymbals sound better with age. As cymbals age, they produce a dark and mellow sound, compared to the bright and loud sound on newer cymbals. And many drummers prefer the dark and mellow sound of an aged cymbal.
Let’s first talk about all of the things that cause cymbals’ sound to change as they age. And I’ll follow that up with how you should expect your cymbal to sound as they age if they sound better than brand new cymbals.
If you are also looking to speed up your cymbal’s aging process, I’ll give you some tips on how to achieve that. If all of this sounds interesting, let’s get into it.
How Does a Cymbal’s Sound Change with Age?
There are several factors that affect how cymbals sound as they age. To make it simpler to understand, I’ll put all of these factors under three main points — metal fatigue, patina, and dirty cymbals. Let me explain
1. Metal Fatigue
Cymbals, when they are purchased brand new, are more robust and rigid. Unless you buy cheap cymbals, cymbals made by well-known manufacturers are more robust because they want them to last for years and still be in great condition.
However, as you play the cymbals over the years, they begin to loosen up. The cymbals become softer and softer as you practice or play gigs with them.
This is quite common with every alloy metal, not just cymbals. As you hit them continuously over an extended period, they loosen up and possibly change in form. Similarly, your cymbals will loosen up as you hit them over an extended period. The cymbals may also change in form and lose their perfect roundness on the edges.
The sound of the cymbal gradually changes as it loosens up and changes form. The softer it becomes, the more the sound changes. And all of these changes don’t happen overnight. It comes as a result of using the cymbals for a long time — usually after a couple of years. I explained this in detail in my article on breaking in cymbals. Feel free to check it out.
Another thing that causes cymbals sound to change is patina. But what exactly is patina?
Patina refers to the brown and green film that forms on metallic surfaces, usually copper, brass or bronze metal surfaces, due to oxidation. And as you may already know, most cymbals are made from copper-based alloys like brass, nickel silver, and bronze. This means patina can form on most cymbals. But how does it form on cymbals?
As cymbals age, sweats and oil from your hands when you touch them, smoke, and drumstick marks on the cymbals oxidises on the cymbal’s surface and turns into a patina. This doesn’t happen overnight. It takes many years for cymbals to oxidise.
The more the sweats and oil from greasy hands and other things accumulate on the cymbals, the more the patina that forms on the cymbal’s surface. And the more the patina on the cymbal’s surface, the more the cymbal’s sound changes.
3. Dirty Cymbals
As you may already know, cymbals surfaces are mostly not smooth. Manufacturers usually make pores (or what some drummers call dimples) on the cymbal’s surface by hammering. This is in an effort to change how the cymbals sound. The size and spacing of the pores can affect the cymbal’s pitch, loudness or change the cymbal’s decay.
As dirt and dust accumulate on the cymbals over the years, it fills the pores up, and over time, this changes the cymbal’s sound.
The dirt on the cymbals will also dry and harden on the cymbal’s surface over time, forming a film of dirt on the cymbal. This will also change the cymbal’s sound with age.
So, to answer the question: Do dirty cymbals sound different?
Yes, dirty cymbals sound different. When dirt and dust accumulates and fills the pores (or dimples) of cymbals, it changes the cymbal’s sound.
However, keep in mind that this will only happen if you don’t clean your cymbals. Some drummers prefer to clean their cymbals every once in a while. In contrast, some prefer keeping it dirty to change the sound.
How Does Cymbals Sound with Age?
As we’ve already discussed, the sound of cymbal’s changes with age. But how will a cymbal sound after using it for a couple of years?
With continuous usage of a cymbal, a cymbal’s sound will be darker and mellow with age. It will lose some of its brightness and loudness with age.
As you continue to hit on a cymbal, the cymbal will become softer with time, which produces a darker cymbal sound. The softer it becomes, the darker the cymbal sounds.
Similarly, patina and dirt also make the cymbal sound dark and mellow. As patina forms on the cymbal’s surface and dust accumulate, they reduce the cymbal’s vibration. This reduces the cymbal’s loudness and pitch. So they sound darker instead of bright, or in some instances, harsh. And their volume reduces as well.
Do Cymbals Sound Better with Age?
Cymbals sound changes from bright and loud to dark and mellow as it ages. But does that mean dark and mellow sounding cymbals are better?
Many drummers prefer the dark and mellow sound they get from their cymbals as it ages. While researching this topic, I found that many drummers don’t like the sound of new cymbals because they’re overly bright and sometimes too harsh to the ears. Many drummers also don’t like the sound of new cymbals because they can be very loud.
However, when they continuously use their cymbals, they soften up and get a dark sound over time. And that’s when they begin to appreciate their cymbals.
This is why some drummers prefer buying used and aged cymbals instead of brand new cymbals. Firstly, they will save a few bucks buying used cymbals, and the cymbals would have already developed their dark character by then.
However, something to note is that although many drummers prefer dark and mellow cymbals, some drummers still prefer the bright and loud sound that new cymbals provide.
Rock drummers usually replace and clean their cymbals more often because they want to keep the cymbal’s sound as bright as possible. The music requires it.
Does Every Cymbal Change with Age?
Not every cymbal is made the same way. There are different techniques and materials for making cymbals. And this varies from one manufacturer to the other. This means different cymbals made using different techniques age differently.
Most cymbals will get soft with use and then obtain a dark and mellow sound. But there are some cymbals that have the same bright sound through
Istanbul, Turkey, has established itself as one of the cities where many well-known manufacturers make their cymbals.
The metal used for making most Turkish cymbals is the B20 Alloy, which is 80% copper and 20% tin. And the process used in making most Turkish cymbals involves casting, hammering, and finishing. Joe of Thomann.de wrote a detailed guide on how Turkish cymbals are made.
The downside of Turkish cymbals is that they sound very harsh and loud when they are brand new. However, the type of material and the process used for making these cymbals makes them age really well. They get softer as you play them over time. And also, it’s easier for the patina to form on a B20 alloy surface.
This means, after a couple of months of years of using Turkish cymbals, they’ll start to produce that mellow and dark cymbal sound that many drummers want.
On the other hand, Swiss-made cymbals sound excellent when they are brand new. The material used for making cymbals in Switzerland is B8 alloy, also known as malleable bronze. Malleable bronze is already a soft metal, so it sounds mellow and dark naturally.
Switzerland is where Paiste, a very popular cymbal brand, makes their cymbals, and they sound great even when brand new.
So, for many swiss-made cymbals, you want to use them moderately to keep their original sound, rather than playing it often to make it mellow and soft. And also, playing it too often and too hard will easily crack these cymbals.
Italian cymbals, however, is made using a process called rotocast. Cymbals made using the rotocast process retain their sound for a lifetime. They will sound nearly the same throughout their lifespan.
This means aging won’t have any effect on these cymbals. No matter how hard you play them or how often you use them, their sound will barely change. So that’s something worth noting.
How to Speed Up Aging of Cymbals
If you recently purchased a new cymbal and you don’t like its bright sound, here are some tips on how to speed up the aging of your cymbals.
1. Play it often
As we have already talked about, metal fatigue is the number one way to age your cymbals. The more you play your cymbals, the softer it becomes, which in turn produces a dark and mellow sound.
So all you have to do is to play your cymbals often if you want them to age faster. The more you play them, the faster it ages.
Use the cymbals in all of your gigs, practice with them, lend it to a friend to gig with them. Initially, you may not like the sound, but after a while, as they age, you’ll get a much better sound out of your cymbals.
2. Don’t clean the cymbals
If you want that dark cymbal sound, I highly recommend not to clean your cymbals, ever. Dust and dirt that accumulates on the cymbal over the years will dry, forming a layer on it. And this will, in a way, mute the cymbals and reduce their brightness.
Not cleaning the cymbals will also allow a patina to form naturally on the cymbals as it ages.
3. Bury the cymbals
Another way to age your cymbals faster is to bury them. The soil will age your cymbals.
Find a place in your backyard or lawn where you can dig up without causing any issue. Dig a hole a little bigger than your cymbal and about half a feet deep.
Put your cymbal in the hole and cover it. Find a way to mark the place so that you can identify where you buried your cymbals.
Now, wait for a couple of months. Three months is great if you are patient enough. After a couple of months, you can dig it up, wash it and start using it.
There are many tests, and comparison videos of cymbals before and after it was buried. Check one of them below.
4. Patina the Cymbals
Although patina will naturally form on your cymbals after many years, there is a way to speed up the process.
Follow the steps in this video on how it’s done.
As cymbals age, it loses some of its brightness and become a bit mellow and dark. This is a result of dirt accumulating on the cymbal, patina, and metal fatigue.
If you prefer the dark sound that comes with old and aged cymbals, play your cymbals often, never clean them, and you can also manually patina it to speed up the aging process.