Ride vs Crash Cymbals – Are They the Same?

Author: Joseph Scarpino | Updated: | This post may contain affiliate links.

If you’re new to the world of drumming you’re probably very eager to get yourself your first set of cymbals, right? Cymbals are some of the absolute most fun pieces you can toy around with on your kit.

So you want to get started but, you aren’t familiar with what makes a ride cymbal a ride or a crash cymbal, a crash. They can look pretty similar at times, so why are they different?

These two types of cymbals do have specific functions that are at times very specific and at other times they can cross over.

As someone who's been drumming for over 20 years, I'm going to try my best to explain what makes a Ride cymbal different from a Crash and vice versa.

Ride Cymbals

Your average ride cymbal will usually be about 20” to 22” inches in diameter. Although you can find smaller sizes depending on the manufacturer.

The average ride cymbal will also have a well pronounced bell section in the middle that can be played. Rides are usually the heaviest, thickest cymbal you’ll find on a drum kit.

You’ll find players commonly place their ride hovering over the left or ride side of their bass drum depending if they’re right or left handed. The ride may be laid flat or have a tilt toward the drummer. The purpose of the tilt is to help with stick articulation and provide an easier angle of play.

Ride cymbals can sound wildly different!  Rides come in a wide variety of styles and mixes of metals, now so more than ever. Even though they will have variations in sound or appearance, a Ride cymbal will largely serve the same purpose.

A Ride is played in tight or open sticking patterns that are used to keep the rhythm of a song. Rides will produce short, usually brighter sharper tones with a quick decay. They are typically played in the bow area or bell area for a different tonal quality.

Crash Cymbals

Crash cymbals can come in sizes ranging from 14” to 22”. Anything below a 14” is usually considered a Splash cymbal.

Crashes also come in a plethora of metals, sizes, patterns, thicknesses, you name it. The different sizes and metals create Crashes that serve different functions.

The average crash cymbal will have a very loud, sharp, crash sound when hit!

Thinner Crashes sometimes even with holes in them will be super responsive and have an extra fast decay. These are often referred to as fast crashes. Thicker crashes will be lower in tone and have longer sustain.

Most drummers will have two crash cymbals on the left and ride side of their kit that usually vary in size by an inch or two. The most common sizes you’ll see are 16” and 18” crashes.

Crashes are designed to be thinner with more flex in the body than a ride cymbal. The flex allows the cymbal to absorb the energy and move it around the cymbal so it can avoid breaking.

Crashes are  usually played in tandem with a snare hit for a sharper, quicker, explosive sound or simultaneously with a kick drum for that contrasting low end hit.

Crashes also will have a bell but the bell is not often played. Although some crashes have a great sounding bell.

A Crash cymbal can be continuously played or “crashed” but, most of the time they are used for accents.

Wait, What's a Crash/Ride?

Just when you thought you'd reached the end of the crash vs ride cymbal debate, there appears to be even more elements to add to the complication.

Yes, there is a popular make of cymbal called a crash/ride. As you can probably guess, this kind of cymbal is a sort of hybrid of a ride and crash cymbal.

Crash/rides are thicker than a crash but thinner than a ride.

A crash/ride can be played like a Ride but the tone is not as clean and well defined. Playing tight rhythmic patterns on a Crash/Ride takes a little more effort as you have to really be conscious of how hard you hit it. If you hit it too hard you’ll start to build some overtones.

A Crash/Ride crashes beautifully. It’s great for those big build up moments in a song or if you need more sustain with a control sound than a traditional Crash cymbal can provide.

I actually have had one of these on my kit for years and I love the power and flexibility it provides when performing.

Can’t I Just Crash a Ride Cymbal?

Sure you could crash your ride cymbal. It’s an effective way to add some emphasis to your performance and you could get some really great sound out of it.

Where you might find issue here is that not all ride cymbals sound great when crashed. Sometimes the sound is just too unruly and it ends up taking away from the performance.

Ride cymbals are also more rigid with less flex than a crash cymbal. Crashing on your ride too hard and too often can lead to cracking or irreparable damage.

I’d recommend using your cymbals for the purposes they were intended to increase their longevity as much as possible.

What Kind of Crash Cymbal or Ride Cymbal Should I Get?

This will take some time on your part. I’d recommend watching and listening to some videos about crash cymbals that may interest you. Even if you just like the way they look initially.

Start listening to all the crash cymbals you can to see if they have the qualities you are looking for in a crash cymbal.

The same overall advice goes for ride cymbals but, with a bit more. In my personal experience with rides, I’ve found that actually testing one out yourself is very important.

You will spend a lot of time playing between your ride and your hi-hat. You should make sure that your ride cymbal is as responsive to your playing style as you need it to be. Just listening to one without playing it could be a mistake.

Eventually you will get a sense of what a crash sounds like just by looking at the metal texture and size of the cymbal.

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About Joseph Scarpino

Joseph is a drummer and lyricist from Asbury Park, New Jersey. When he is not on stage, on tour, or in the studio, you can find him behind a camera, directing, or in front of that camera, acting. Joseph enjoys many genres of music but he most frequently listens to Heavy Metal, Punk, and Hard Rock.

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