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Cymbal modification is gaining more and more traction today with the rise of YouTube. DIY enthusiasts have more knowledge and information than ever before.
As the titles states, this article is all about cymbal modification — whether you want to fix an old, cracked cymbal or desire to create a DIY O-Zone crash with a drill press.
For any cymbal modification, I must stress, don’t try this on a cymbal you love. With your first attempts, I almost guarantee you’re going to mess up.
I can count on both my hands the numbers of cymbals I’ve cracked practicing cymbal modification. So grab some cheap, cracked cymbals from your local used music store and get to work!
Disclaimer — Anyone choosing to engage in cymbal modification does so at his/her/their own risk. Drumming Review assumes no liability for any personal and/or property damage or loss incurred by anyone attempting to use this information.
And also, I know there are many purists among us who wouldn’t even muster the courage to clean their cymbals. But alas, let’s talk modification.
Types of Cymbal Modifications
Let’s first talk about what you can do when modifying a cymbal. Here are a few off the top of my head:
- Fixing cracks
- Cutting down a cymbal
- Adding rivets
- Adding holes (Look at Sabian’s O-Zone cymbals)
- Adding Patina
With those out of the way, I’m sure there are more modifications you can do (leave me a comment with your ideas below).
Fixing cracks is arguably the most common form of cymbal modification. There are a few schools of thought, but ultimately, if a cymbal cracks, there isn’t much one can do about it.
Drilling A Hole
The collective knowledge to fix a cracked cymbal is to drill a tiny hole at the end of the crack to potentially stop the break from spreading.
While this may work temporarily, the crack usually returns in the same spot promptly after playing.
Drilling Out The Entire Crack
Another drilling technique (arguably one that works better) is drilling out the entire crack and sanding the cymbal smooth. If done correctly, a cymbal may have a few more years of playing in it.
Cutting Down a Cymbal
We now move to the next technique — cutting down cymbals. Cutting down a cymbal can extend its life, but also requires far more advanced tools and skills.
If done improperly, cymbals will have a jagged edge and sound terrible. Here’s what you’ll need:
- Sharp metal blades
- Drill press or custom made cymbal lathe
- Metal file
The first step is to place your cut cymbal on the lathe or drill press. You have two options. Either mark the cymbal with a sharpie or score it with your lathe bit. Remove the cymbal.
Draw lines at sharp angles from the circular mark just made (see image below). You should end up with something easy to cut into with the jigsaw.
Using the jigsaw, cut all the small triangles out until you have a new cymbal, with no cracks.
Because of a saw’s nature, the cymbal won’t be perfectly round. We need to put the freshly cut cymbal back on the lathe or press and grab our metal file.
With the lathe or press spinning the cymbal, use the file to smooth out the edges and imperfections. This process will take a bit of time, but you should see some decent results.
For the final step, use some sandpaper to apply the finishing touches to the cut-down cymbal. Hopefully, it sounds decent!
Jazz players love cymbals with rivets, and why not? They sound awesome. The sizzle is an inherent characteristic of lots of jazz from the last fifty years.
Adding rivets is a bit of a challenge (something I haven’t tried yet). While I am big into cymbal modification, this one is on my bucket list.
It’s gotten so popular that Sabian even sells branded cymbal sizzle rivets.
Adding rivets to a cymbal requires drilling, as well as a rivet tool.
Rdavidr has an incredible video demonstrating how he installed rivets on his $500 ride cymbal (I wouldn’t have the guts to try that).
I love Sabian’s O-Zone crash cymbals. They sound like a mix between a stacker, China, and a crash. Creating your own O-Zone cymbal is rather easy, as well.
If you have access to a drill press and some decent metal bits, you can make one yourself.
Draw out a pattern you wish to try before any drilling begins. Use rulers and sharpies to mark Xs on the cymbal where you’ll drill.
Larger cymbals are tougher to drill close to the bell. Your drill press will ultimately determine how far you can or cannot cut. Some cymbals may need to be done by hand with a hand drill.
With the holes cut, spend a little time with a file and some sandpaper to create a beautiful, finished look. Make sure you do, as the freshly drilled holes will be sharp.
Cymbal lathing is the process of removing excess material from a given cymbal. This process is either done by machine or hand with a sharp metal bit that cuts as the cymbal spins.
I got into lathing back in college. I recall watching videos of Lance Campbeau’s The Cymbal Project. I thought it was fascinating — he takes old, cracked cymbals and turns them into beautiful sounding new cymbals. I highly suggest watching some of his videos if this topic interests you.
Many years later, I told my grandfather about Lance and cymbal lathing in general.
My grandfather was a brilliant engineer during his career and spends his time now working on cool projects in his basement workshop.
To my surprise, he designed a built a cymbal lathe for me using a motor and pieces of an old treadmill. It’s one of the coolest gifts I’ve ever gotten.
Thus began my journey into amateur cymbal making. I’ve cut down, re-lathed, sanded, polished, you name it, on the lathe. It works fantastic.
We’ve all seen Sabian’s line of Hand-Hammered cymbals. Hammering is the process of creating imperfections in a cymbal that give it dark characteristics.
I like to say that non-hammered cymbals (or cymbals hammered with a machine) sound bright and pingy, whereas cymbals hammered by hand tend to be dark and explosive.
Hammering cymbals yourself can be tough. There are a few things you’ll need:
- Appropriately-sized piece of lumber
- Metal anvil
- Ball-peen hammers (3 of differing sizes)
- Your “test” cymbal
Let’s start with the anvil. The anvil sits atop a piece of lumber (in my case, a section of a tree). High carbon steaks from a steel round are ideal for an anvil, but these can be hard to come by.
I was able to find an old 20lb barbell that had somewhat of a round top, so I cut it in half and ground it round as possible.
Using a ball-peen hammer, strike the cymbal only when there is good contact between the anvil and cymbal. Don’t hammer too much in the same spot.
Let the cymbal rest a few days after each hammering. You may crack the bronze if you go overboard.
Whatever you do, don’t try hammering your favorite cymbal. You’ll ruin it. Pick one that’s old or junk to practice hammering.
Adding Patina to a Cymbal
Patina is defined as:
“a green or brown film on the surface of bronze or similar metals, produced by oxidation over a long period.”
Adding a patina to a cymbal only modifies its look — though some claim it alters the sound. I believe lathing and hammering have a much more significant impact on a cymbal’s sound than adding a patina does.
There used to be a company, Spinbal, that made a custom patina solution that I wanted to try, but never got around to it.
Unfortunately, I cannot for the life of me find that product for sale on their website. I’m assuming it didn’t sell well and they got rid of it.
Lance from The Cymbal Project, has an excellent video on how to patina cymbals.
So there’s my general rundown of cymbal modification. Have you tried any of these techniques before? Did I miss one? Please let me know down below in the comments. I’d love to hear from you. Thanks again for reading.