The Best Jazz Cymbals [2023 Buyers Guide]

Often the most-used part of the drum kit, a drummers’ choice of cymbals for jazz can make a massive impact on their sound and performance.

In this article we’ve pulled together the key considerations when buying jazz cymbals, and reviewed five favourites from our resident drum specialist.

#1 Recommended
Paiste Formula 602 20

Paiste Formula 602 20" Thin Crash

Replica of the cymbal Chick Corea was gifted by Roy Haynes

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Sabian Crash Cymbal (H22R)

Sabian Crash Cymbal (H22R)

Developed with modern jazz drummer Jeff Hamilton

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Best Value
Zildjian 13

Zildjian 13" A Zildjian New Beat HiHats - Pair

Original design from Louis Bellson

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Jazz is a genre of music characterised by the expression of the individual.

Everyone has a unique musical approach and sound, and this extends to a person’s choice of equipment. This especially applies to a drummer’s cymbals.

Not only are they are often the most used part of the drum kit, they’re also highest sound in the ensemble, and the primary means of playing time – arguably a drummer’s principle role!

So when it comes to choosing jazz cymbals, how should you go about it?

How do you know what the cymbal will sound like in different playing contexts and acoustics, when you’ve only heard it in the back of a shop?

In this article we’re going to look at the key considerations when buying cymbals for jazz, as well as review five of our favourites covering the jazz ride cymbal, hi-hat and china.

Considerations when choosing cymbals for jazz

When it comes to researching and buying new jazz cymbals, there are plenty of choices to be made!

We’ve outlined some of the many things to consider; asking yourself these questions early n in the process will help you focus in on the right piece of equipment for you.

Cymbal Flexibility

  • Can you get a wide dynamic range from each part of the cymbal from bell to edge?
  • Will it respond equally well to different types of beaters, such as sticks (with differently sized and shaped tips), brushes and mallets?
  • Does it come with holes for rivets, which you can put in for a different timbre and more sustain?

The effect of size, weight and shape on a jazz cymbal

  • Larger cymbals tend to be louder and resonate for longer.
  • Heavy cymbals tend to have more stick articulation and ‘cut’ through a band more easily.
  • Lighter cymbals will give more of a spread of overtones.
  • The more the cymbal is bowed, the higher the overtones and therefore the higher the pitch.

What’s the purpose of this particular cymbal?

  • Has it been made for playing time on (ride cymbals, hi-hats)
  • Will it be used to punctuate the music (crashes)
  • Are you looking for an idiosyncratic effect (splashes, china cymbals),
  • …or a mixture?

How useful will this cymbal be for you right now?

  • How will the cymbal fit with the instruments you already have?
  • Will it complement or contrast against your drums and cymbals?
  • Will it fit with the music you play at the moment?

Is this a high pedigree jazz cymbal?

  • Does the cymbal come from a reputable and established company (such as Zildjian, Sabian, Paiste or Istanbul) or is it a budget-line product?
  • Is it endorsed by our heroes, or made in a similar way to those used by heroes of old?

Final decisions for buying a new jazz cymbal

Of course, if you’re attracted to a sound of a certain cymbal, it may be best to go with your gut-reaction.

You shouldn’t buy a piece of gear purely on the grounds that someone you respect has it, because what suits them might not be the best fit for you.

That being said, you should be aware of the options and use all the information you can find to avoid a costly addition to the dusty part of your cymbal bag!

Read on for our list of five cymbals suited to jazz as a starting point…

5 Best cymbals for jazz drums

Zildjian K Constantinople 20”/22” Renaissance Ride

Developed with Adam Nussbaum

Cymbals played by modern Western musicians are predominantly of Turkish origin.

The most famous cymbal company – and the oldest instrument manufacturer – in the world was founded in Constantinople in the early seventeenth century by Avedis Zildjian, and his descendants in the twentieth century were responsible for furnishing some of the most famous names in jazz with cymbals.

Today, the surviving cymbals of that era are rare and often sold for four-figure sums, rendering them out of reach for most of us.

Fortunately, Zildjian has attempted to recreate these cymbals in their Constantinople series.

Adam Nussbaum has been involved in giving a musician’s perspective to the process, and these cymbals have a great stick response and wide dynamic range.

If you want something which looks, feels and (almost) sounds like the instruments of the past, these are easily available and work well in many jazz contexts.

Zildjian 20

Zildjian 20" K Constantinople Renaissance Ride

  • Wide dynamic range
  • Great for sticks, brushes and mallets 
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Sabian Crescent 20”/22” Hammertone Ride

Developed with Jeff Hamilton

Crescent Cymbals was originally an independent cymbal company set up by drummers, one of which was the great Jeff Hamilton.

It has since been acquired by Sabian, and thankfully Hamilton is still at the heart of the brand.

His own Hammertone series aims to give equal importance to stick definition and overtones, with a decay that lasts just long enough before disappearing gradually to blend with the band.

The cymbals also aspire to give you different pitches depending on how far from the bell you play in order to complement the instrument you’re accompanying, and the bell is hammered more heavily than most cymbals to be warm and bell-like without being too piercing.

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Zildjian Avedis 13”/14” New Beat Hi-Hats

Original design from Louis Bellson

A jazz hi-hat needs to be equally adept at being played with the stick and with the foot. The warm ‘swoosh’ of an open hi-hat is often made brittle in favour of a well-defined ‘chick’ sound for the 2s and 4s.

These New Beat Hi-Hats won’t win any awards for a silky-smooth Papa Jo Jones swing pattern, but they are very versatile and will be appropriate for everything from big bands to small groups.

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Sabian Limited Edition 18” Chick Corea Royalty Ride

Copied from Roy Haynes’ Paiste 602 Flat Ride (pre-serial) as played on ‘Now He Sings, Now He Sobs’ (1967)

Chick Corea was gifted a flat ride cymbal by Roy Haynes in the late ’60s which he owns to this day.

Corea apparently liked the way it complemented the piano so much that it appeared on many of his subsequent albums with other drummers, including Return To Forever (1972) with Airto Moreira.

The replica is not an exact copy of the cymbal today, but an approximation of how it would have sounded at the time that Roy Haynes was playing it.

Unfortunately this is a limited run and so may be hard to come by; therefore, we recommend a Paiste Formula 602 Medium Flatride (20”) if they are unavailable at the time of reading this article.

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Paiste Formula 602 20

Paiste Formula 602 20" Thin Crash

  • Bright and Silvery Tone
  • Full, Warm Sound
  • Traditional Finish
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Zildjian Avedis 22” Swish Knocker

Based on Mel Lewis’ China Cymbal

Mel Lewis was introduced to Swish cymbals by Dizzy Gillespie, who owned one and required his drummers to play it behind his solos.

A Swish cymbal (often categorised as a Chinese cymbal on account of its curved edge) was originally used as an effect cymbal in the Swing Era, and was later made famous by Lewis in his big band work.

Played as a ride, this huge cymbal needs to be played with a light touch or it will overpower the band – its size makes it difficult to control, and the rivets add to the all-encompassing nature of its sound.

Traditionally used behind the strongest soloist in the band, it can provide a comfortable carpet for the group to play on which a drier cymbal would not be able to achieve.

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Thanks for checking out this guide to five of the best drum cymbals for playing jazz.

Hopefully it has flagged up some key considerations and given you some ideas on what might be most appropriate for you right now.

As we mentioned, a great way to research further is to find out what set up your favourite drummers played! You might be interested to check this round up of some of the most legendary jazz drummers of all time, or this round up of ten modern jazz drum greats.

Lastly, if you’re a beginner, don’t miss this guide on how to set up a drum kit correctly.

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