As a percussionist, achieving good quality sound is the dream. Anything that hinders you from making that quality sound will be dealt with.
When it comes to cymbals, there is no science to it. Some people like their cymbals to look new and shiny and they will go out of their way to have them cleaned. Others, like it when their cymbals go uncleaned, because they say the dirt and grime build up somehow adds to the warmth of the sound.
Cymbal cleaning comes down to a matter of choice. If you prefer your cymbals to emit a crisp sound, then you can be one of those people who clean cymbals. On the flip side, if you are going for a more subdued sound, cleaning will not be a vocabulary in your cymbal dictionary.
Before we look at the best way to clean your cymbals, we first need to understand how they are made.
How Cymbals Are Made
Cymbals are made from an alloy (a unique blend of two or more metals). Copper is one of the metals used to make them, because copper is malleable and because of the sonic properties it possesses.
There are two most commonly used alloys when it comes to cymbal production. One of them is the B20 Bronze. Some people know it as Bell Bronze. This is basically eighty percent copper, and twenty percent tin. The other one goes by the name B8, which comprises of ninety two percent copper and eight percent tin.
These are not the only alloys used to make cymbals. Brass (which is a zinc and copper alloy) and nickel silver (which is a nickel, zinc and copper alloy) are used as well, but they were mostly used a long time ago.
Another aspect to be in the know about, is that almost all cymbals have a lacquer coating. This coating is meant to preserve’ the brass (or bronze) from the effects of oxidation, fingerprints and dirt.
Now that we know what goes into the making of the cymbals, we can get into how best to clean them and what materials to use in doing the same.
How to Clean Drum Cymbals
Ever wondered how drum cymbals are cleaned? There are varying ways and methods to get this done. First of all, you need to know that it is only the clear-coat on the cymbal that is gets dirty. So cleaning the coat is a piece of cake. Unless oxidation occurs, then you will really need to get in there and get rid of it.
Oxidation will mainly occur on the underside of the cymbal. You know, the side where your four fingers touch when you are trying to stop the cymbal from vibrating. For the percussion sets that are frequently used, you will find oxidation on the top side of the cymbal as well. This happens as a result of repetitive striking on one spot, then soon enough, the lacquer on that spot wears out to let air in.
Most cymbal manufacturing companies will make their own cymbal polish. While this is recommended, not all cymbals will have a specific polish (not the less pricey ones, that’ for sure). If your cymbal came with a cleaning polish, it is recommended that you use that one.
If your cymbal came just as it is, then you can clean it using a mild dish washing detergent and warm water. Once you have the hard dirt out, you can purchase a non-abrasive metal cleaner from a general hardware store, and wipe your cymbal with a soft cloth. Once you are done, rinse it thoroughly in warm water again, and wipe it completely so that you do not put it away while it is still dump. You want to make sure that it is completely dry.
What most people do not take into account, is the fact that most metal cleaners do not cater to the copper component of the cymbal. Experts say that using a copper cleaner will do a more thorough job at cleaning, than a general metal cleaner. But that very same copper cleaner will wear our your lacquer coating. So if you prefer to use the copper cleaner, once you are done cleaning, and rinsing and wiping dry your cymbal, remember to apply another coat of lacquer.
Wearing gloves while getting your cymbals clean will do you a whole lot of good. You do not want to get your fingerprints on them after polishing and or lacquering. Actually fingerprints stick out on cymbals and can be seen from a mile away.
I have hear so many drummers swear by the products they use to get their set cleaned up, but I always believe that information is key. They might be getting that shine on their cymbals, but that is not a guarantee that their cymbals will last.
If you want to get the most of your cymbal, don’t use tooth paste, lemons (or lemon pledge), vinegar, baking soda, nail polish remover, acetone, rust stain remover, silver cleaner or even furniture polish.
In a nut shell, in cleaning your cymbal, two things happen: you can clean your lacquer, or the metal itself, but not at the same time. As mentioned earlier, cleaning the lacquer and polishing it is an easy task. And once done properly, it can last for years. Once your lacquer is worn out, you can decide to keep your cymbal as it is and continue dealing with the tiresome work of cleaning the metal itself, or you can decide to apply a fresh coat of lacquer on it. The choice is yours.
How Long does Cymbals Last
Anything will outlive its life expectancy if well take care of, even our bodies. A typical cymbal that has been well taken care of can last up to a decade. Most percussionists will want to buy new cymbals after three or four years, but this should not be the case.
While cleaning is a vital part of the taking-care-of’ part, other things can be done to ensure you keep your cymbal for as long as you can, and in good condition.
For instance, you can make good use of cymbal cases. Not only do they make moving them around easier, they prevent the bell from bending and the cymbal from denting. The harder the case, the better protection it will offer.
That being said, just know that a little care does go a long way. Treat you cymbals well. Play them well. Small things like over tightening, or sliding your stick in a sweeping motion across the cymbals edge can cause damage in the long run. Do not strike a small cymbal harder just so that you can get a louder sound. Each cymbal is made for its purpose that is why you get them in a variety.
A set of cymbals that is well taken care of should be able to last you for over a decade.