Crash cymbals are a vital sound in any drum setup. They’re arguably one of the most recognizable cymbals, even for non-drummers. So, it’ll be fairly noticeable if you have a bad sounding set of crashes.
Certain crashes work better in different styles, meaning your choice of cymbal will affect how well you’re suiting the style you’re playing. I’m going to go through some of my favorite crashes and see just what makes them sound so good. Let’s jump in.
5 High-Quality Crash Cymbals
The Sabian 17” AAX Concept crash seems to be a cymbal that Sabian keeps refining and rereleasing every year. It’s gone through a few changes in its time, but it’s always been a crash cymbal that is bright with lots of attack.
While it’s quite bright, I love how it’s not too harsh, meaning it has more uses than a cymbal that is very bright. I can hear a growling gong undertone come out every time the cymbal is hit. However, you don’t really hear that when you bring other cymbals into the mix.
The cymbal has a fast decay that makes it get out of the way very quickly. This makes it great for crash/riding on as the sound doesn’t become overwhelming.
A fairly unique thing that I found about this crash is that it has a very pleasant bell sound. It’s not normal for most drummers to play the bell of a 17” crash, but I can see myself doing this regularly with this cymbal.
The bright sound that isn’t too aggressive is great for most styles of music. It’s always a good idea to have a brighter cymbal to play, even in styles that prefer darker ones. So, the Concept crash is a versatile option.
The only downside that some drummers may find is that the cymbal is incredibly thin. While I don’t mind that at all, I’m not a drummer who hits cymbals very hard. If you’re someone who whacks your cymbals with intense energy, you may not like how this cymbal feels.
The Zildjian A Custom is arguably one of the most popular crash cymbals that exists. I remember first seeing this cymbal show up everywhere when I watched music videos of bands in the early 2000s. The drummers in bands like Blink-182 and Green Day were all using A Customs.
It’s still as popular as ever today, and for good reason. It’s a solid crash cymbal that has bright and cutting tones. The sound it produces is generally what everyone hears in their head when they think of a crash cymbal.
I’ve noticed that it seems to be the cymbal that drummers always come back to. Even if they venture out to try different things, the A Custom normally finds its way back to their drum setup.
One of the best features of the crash is the way it easily cuts through mixes. It’s very powerful, making it a staple option for rock and metal drumming. I’ve seen drummers use it for other styles, but it thrives in the harder ones.
It’s a very durable crash. I know so many drummers who have used one for what seems like decades, and it’s held up very nicely.
While it’s a highly popular cymbal with a fair amount of versatility, I don’t think it’s the best option for absolutely everything. The bright cutting tone sounds quite out-of-place in jazz settings. I also played this cymbal in a church once and it was a bit overpowering.
Note that it was a Christian Contemporary setting. The A Custom is one of the go-to crashes for Gospel drummers.
The Meinl 18” Classics Custom is one of the more uniquely designed cymbals on this list. The first thing you’ll notice is that it’s black, giving you a completely different appearance to most cymbals on the market. I think the black finish is great, especially with the mixture of gold around the cymbal.
With regards to the sound, this cymbal is rich, dark, and fairly trashy. It’s also one of the loudest cymbals I’ve ever heard. The volume is what makes it so popular after the visual aspect. Since it’s a loud cymbal, it mainly works well for metal drumming.
The massive amount of projection means that metal drummers can play this cymbal and it will cut through any heavy mix of distorted guitars and screaming vocals. I first saw this cymbal being used by Anup Sastry and he’s an accomplished metal drummer.
Another noticeable quality of this cymbal is the price. The Classics Custom Dark cymbals are priced somewhere in between entry-level and professional cymbals, making them great options for anyone on a budget.
While the cymbal is very affordable, it’s also a bit one-dimensional. If you’re not a metal drummer, you’re probably not going to find many uses for it. It’s not dynamically responsive, meaning it only makes a great sound when you hit it at full force. And full force is very loud!
So, it’s a great option for drummers needing a cymbal that is loud and forceful. It’s not a great option for anyone needing something subtle and musical.
While the Zildjian A Custom is bright and cutting, the 18” K Custom Dark is the warmer and more musical counterpart. This crash has a dark sound that is boosted by plenty of washiness. I found that the sound decayed faster than I expected it to, meaning the cymbal gets out the way very quickly as well.
I love how dynamically intricate the K Custom Dark crash is. It has different tones and responses depending on how you hit it. It’s beautifully crafted to sound warm and round. Even if you hit it as hard as you can, it will still blend beautifully within a mix of instruments instead of cutting through it.
Another thing that I love about this crash is that it has no harsh overtones. Most crash cymbals have some sort of “clanky” tone when you hit them. Somehow, Zildjian has eliminated those tones, adding to the musicality of this crash.
It’s one of the top cymbals in Zildjian’s lineup, meaning it doesn’t come cheap. However, it’s the perfect option for styles of music that aren’t too aggressive. It’s a good cymbal option for jazz, worship, or indie. It also performs exceptionally well in studio environments.
The one downside of this crash is that it has almost no stick definition. You won’t be able to play ride cymbal patterns on it as you won’t hear the stick notes clearly.
I know many drummers who like to ride on their crash instead of the ride cymbal in order to get a smaller sound, but that won’t work with the K Custom Dark crash.
I used to play on a full set of K Custom Dark cymbals at a church, and the 18” crash was always my favorite cymbal to hit. I found that it gives back everything you put into it, making it an excellent choice when you’re looking for musicality.
At this point, I’ve been through cymbals from almost all major cymbal brands. The last major brand would be Paiste and they have a crash cymbal worthy enough to compete with every crash on the market.
The Signature Series Full crash is one of the highest-quality cymbals I’ve seen, and it’s the perfect option to end this list with.
It’s a very bright crash that has a full-bodied sound. It has a shimmering tone that makes it sound great when you hit it hard. I’m a big fan of Paiste’s Signature Series and this crash is one of the better cymbals that forms part of it.
It’s a great crash for styles that need volume such as rock and metal. It cuts through mixes with ease, and it has a punchiness to it that is highly effective.
It’s the most expensive crash that I’ve put on this list, but you undoubtedly get everything you pay for. The quality matches the price very well, which is why I’ve never heard anyone say that this crash isn’t worth the money.
I found that it has great stick definition, so you could use it as a second ride cymbal option if you wanted to, unlike the K Custom Dark crash I spoke about earlier.
I’ve seen several rock drummers use the Paiste Signature Series cymbals, and the 18” crash is always a prominent cymbal in the setup. If you’re looking for something big and bright, I think this crash is a great choice.
Choosing Cymbals for Different Styles
Size and weight are things that you should always think about when looking to get new cymbals. Those two qualities will determine how the cymbals sound and feel. They’ll also determine how well the cymbals fit into the contexts you put them in.
Smaller cymbals will have higher-pitched sounds while larger cymbals will have lower-pitched sounds. If a cymbal is thin, it’ll typically be darker. Thick cymbals will always sound bright.
So, when looking for a crash cymbal, you should choose a crash that will cater to the style of music that you mostly play. There are a few guidelines to follow that generally work quite well.
Heavy styles such as rock and metal will always need bright cymbals. Those styles are loud, and the cymbals need to be loud and present enough to be heard through the mix of heavy instruments. If you don’t use a bright crash cymbal for rock music, the tones will get lost in the mix.
When it comes to styles like worship and jazz, subtler sounding cymbals tend to work better. The Zildjian K Custom Dark is one of my favorite crashes for both those styles.
Crash Cymbal Sizes
Crash cymbals range from 14” to 20”. With such a wide range of sizes to choose from, it can be tricky to know exactly what you should get. The golden size for a crash cymbal tends to be 18”. Most drummers will have at least one crash that is this size as it’s arguably the most versatile size for a crash.
16” crashes aren’t as popular. Many drummers, including myself, think they sound too shrill most of the time. However, there are many situations where a 16” crash will work perfectly. They’re just not as versatile as larger crashes.
Crash cymbals that are 19” or bigger tend to mix in more with ride cymbals. They often sound very large and sit under a mix. I’ve mostly seen jazz and church drummers use crashes this big. A rock drummer would lose intensity if they played on a large crash that wasn’t cutt to ting.
How Many Crash Cymbals Should You Have?
The number of cymbals you need is a great debate amongst drummers. It honestly comes down to personal preference as well as the available space you have.
Metal drummers with large drum sets will have 3 or more crashes to play on. Drummers with a simple setup will typically only have 2 crash cymbals. I think it’s important to try out different combinations to see what you’re most happy with.
You might love playing with 3 crash cymbals. You also may love how it feels to only use 1. Just know that if you get more crash cymbals, you’ll need to get more cymbal stands to hold them!
There’s no rule as to how many crashes you should use. Whether you’re playing worship music, jazz, or rock, you can use as many crashes as you’d like.
I’d argue that the ride and hi-hats are the most important cymbals in any drummer’s setup. However, crash cymbals provide the platform to add intensity and dynamic contrast to the mix.
There’s no better feeling than laying into a crash during a loud chorus. If you get the right crash for the situation, that will feel even better. The wrong crash sound may just throw you and your bandmates off.
I played a jazz gig once with a bright crash on the kit. I ended up avoiding that cymbal like the plague the whole night as it just sounded so out-of-place. I learned a valuable lesson in choosing the most optimal cymbals for certain gigs.
Make sure you get a good crash or two to use. Every cymbal company has some killer options, especially the ones that we went through in the above list.