Cymbal Selection and "Gigging Years"

Old Drummer

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While there's a lot of discussion about selecting cymbals by musical genre and subjective tastes, it occurred to me that for those of us who are less than pros there may be an overlapping factor. I'm calling this overlapping factor "gigging years."

By "gigging years" I mean the years that the songs drummers have played or are mostly playing were released, not necessarily the years when they played them.

In my case, I gigged between 1968 and 1988, but these don't appear to be my "gigging years." Out of curiosity and covid boredom, I looked at Wikipedia's list of the top songs between 1954 and 1984. (After 1958, Wikipedia lists 100 songs a year, though in 1958 the list is only 50 songs and drops to only 30 songs in 1954.) From 1954 through 1975, there was always at least one song on Wikipedia's list that I remember playing in bands. But after 1975, I usually couldn't identify a single song that I'd played (1978 was a lonely exception). It was so sparse that I stopped looking after 1984. Probably had I gone back before 1954, I would have continued to find songs I'd played, but since the song lists had dropped to only 30 songs the data would be skewed.

Interestingly, my peak "gigging year" is 1964--I remember playing 9 of that year's top 100 songs--even though I didn't even have sticks and a pad yet. Close seconds with 8 songs each are 1966, 1968, and 1973. Also interesting is that my "gigging years" include years before I was born, while they exclude about the last 10 years that I gigged. Obviously I wasn't playing contemporary popular music in those later years. In fact, I know I was mostly playing old rock and country then.

Of course, I didn't only play songs in the top 100, so Wikipedia's lists are only a rough proxy. However, using them as a rough proxy, I'd say that my "gigging years" probably begin in the 1920s (I know I've played songs from then), start to take off in 1959, stay reasonably steady until 1973, and then darn near end by the late 1970s. Naturally I'd explain the end of my "gigging years" by saying that popular music started to suck then, but that's my irrelevant subjective opinion. The fact is that "gigging years" ended then, regardless of the reason.

Turning to my current cymbal selection, I discovered after mulling on another thread and consulting Steve Black's data that my current New Beat hat weights are typical of hats during the 1970s, not far from the average of hats during the 1960s, but significantly lighter than the hats of the 1980s and afterward. Curiosity propelled me to check out where my current ride cymbal fits in Steve Black's data. It's an A from the 1960s that's been re-lathed and hammered by a smith. The smith's modifications make me think that it has K characteristics while remaining basically an A. Sure enough, its weight is exactly average for the 1960s, within the standard weight range of the 1950s, but a tad heavier than is typical for Ks of the era and significantly lighter than similar cymbals of the 1970s and afterward. My left side cymbal actually isn't a Zildjian (it's a Mehmet) and is more difficult to place chronologically (using data from Zildjians). It is typical of the weights of similar size cymbals during the 1950s, 1970s, and 1980s, but strangely a little heavier than was common during the 1960s and 1990s. My guess is that the weight data for cymbals this size (18") are thrown off by whether the cymbals was played as a ride, a crash/ride, or a crash. My guess is that over time this size cymbal was increasingly used as a crash rather than a ride, and the typical weights reflect this changing usage. If so, my guess is that my left side cymbal is typical of a crash/ride during the 1950s, which is how I use it.

Complicating any cymbal chronology is that while I believe Steve's data are based on the year a cymbal was manufactured, the use of that cymbal on recordings and the like probably followed by a few years. Cymbals manufactured during the 1950s, for example, were probably still widely used well into the 1960s, although then again there are early adopters and celebrity drummers with a lot of money who may buy new cymbals soon after manufacture. Then there are the kids buying new cymbals in the shops and playing whatever music is fashionable. These kids don't make many records, but you hear them and their cymbals in clubs.

Anyway, when I look at my cymbal selection and compare it to my "gigging years," I almost wonder why I put so much effort into listening to and trying out so many different cymbals. Like arranged marriages, a salesperson could have simply asked me what my "gigging years" are, predicted what cymbals would suit me from them, and I would have been happy with those cymbals. All my shopping has really only resulted in a cymbal setup suited to the popular music between the 1950s and 1970s. An outsider could have simply looked at the data and outfitted me with those cymbals.

Of course, there is still a role for genre and subjective taste. Although I think my cymbal setup is fine for country, I have another ride that I suspect is better suited to it. If I ever started playing a style of music outside my most common experience, I might look for different cymbals for that too. Regarding tastes, well, I have a plain A Zildjian ride from the 1960s that based upon my "gigging years" should be fine, and is, but I don't like it as much as the one the smith reworked. Then again, usually those who have their marriages arranged have some choice in the matter. The family may recommend two or three prospective spouses, while the bride and groom have says in which one.

There's also the issue of the pro drummers, the niche drummers, and the kids. The pro's make a career out of it usually play multiple genres over many decades, which makes it difficult to narrow down their "gigging years." The niche drummers are off doing their things, sometimes oblivious to popular music, so their "gigging years" aren't a good way to pinpoint their cymbal type. The kids don't yet have "gigging years," so their cymbal selection has to be guided by the "gigging years" they aspire to.

So I don't want to drag everybody onto my amateur and antiquated boat. However, I suspect that for some of us, our "gigging years" are a good guide to our cymbal preferences. If you identify the years of the songs you play, all you have to do is identify the cymbals common to those years and buy them (or more recent copies of them).
 

cruddola

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While there's a lot of discussion about selecting cymbals by musical genre and subjective tastes, it occurred to me that for those of us who are less than pros there may be an overlapping factor. I'm calling this overlapping factor "gigging years."

By "gigging years" I mean the years that the songs drummers have played or are mostly playing were released, not necessarily the years when they played them.

In my case, I gigged between 1968 and 1988, but these don't appear to be my "gigging years." Out of curiosity and covid boredom, I looked at Wikipedia's list of the top songs between 1954 and 1984. (After 1958, Wikipedia lists 100 songs a year, though in 1958 the list is only 50 songs and drops to only 30 songs in 1954.) From 1954 through 1975, there was always at least one song on Wikipedia's list that I remember playing in bands. But after 1975, I usually couldn't identify a single song that I'd played (1978 was a lonely exception). It was so sparse that I stopped looking after 1984. Probably had I gone back before 1954, I would have continued to find songs I'd played, but since the song lists had dropped to only 30 songs the data would be skewed.

Interestingly, my peak "gigging year" is 1964--I remember playing 9 of that year's top 100 songs--even though I didn't even have sticks and a pad yet. Close seconds with 8 songs each are 1966, 1968, and 1973. Also interesting is that my "gigging years" include years before I was born, while they exclude about the last 10 years that I gigged. Obviously I wasn't playing contemporary popular music in those later years. In fact, I know I was mostly playing old rock and country then.

Of course, I didn't only play songs in the top 100, so Wikipedia's lists are only a rough proxy. However, using them as a rough proxy, I'd say that my "gigging years" probably begin in the 1920s (I know I've played songs from then), start to take off in 1959, stay reasonably steady until 1973, and then darn near end by the late 1970s. Naturally I'd explain the end of my "gigging years" by saying that popular music started to suck then, but that's my irrelevant subjective opinion. The fact is that "gigging years" ended then, regardless of the reason.

Turning to my current cymbal selection, I discovered after mulling on another thread and consulting Steve Black's data that my current New Beat hat weights are typical of hats during the 1970s, not far from the average of hats during the 1960s, but significantly lighter than the hats of the 1980s and afterward. Curiosity propelled me to check out where my current ride cymbal fits in Steve Black's data. It's an A from the 1960s that's been re-lathed and hammered by a smith. The smith's modifications make me think that it has K characteristics while remaining basically an A. Sure enough, its weight is exactly average for the 1960s, within the standard weight range of the 1950s, but a tad heavier than is typical for Ks of the era and significantly lighter than similar cymbals of the 1970s and afterward. My left side cymbal actually isn't a Zildjian (it's a Mehmet) and is more difficult to place chronologically (using data from Zildjians). It is typical of the weights of similar size cymbals during the 1950s, 1970s, and 1980s, but strangely a little heavier than was common during the 1960s and 1990s. My guess is that the weight data for cymbals this size (18") are thrown off by whether the cymbals was played as a ride, a crash/ride, or a crash. My guess is that over time this size cymbal was increasingly used as a crash rather than a ride, and the typical weights reflect this changing usage. If so, my guess is that my left side cymbal is typical of a crash/ride during the 1950s, which is how I use it.

Complicating any cymbal chronology is that while I believe Steve's data are based on the year a cymbal was manufactured, the use of that cymbal on recordings and the like probably followed by a few years. Cymbals manufactured during the 1950s, for example, were probably still widely used well into the 1960s, although then again there are early adopters and celebrity drummers with a lot of money who may buy new cymbals soon after manufacture. Then there are the kids buying new cymbals in the shops and playing whatever music is fashionable. These kids don't make many records, but you hear them and their cymbals in clubs.

Anyway, when I look at my cymbal selection and compare it to my "gigging years," I almost wonder why I put so much effort into listening to and trying out so many different cymbals. Like arranged marriages, a salesperson could have simply asked me what my "gigging years" are, predicted what cymbals would suit me from them, and I would have been happy with those cymbals. All my shopping has really only resulted in a cymbal setup suited to the popular music between the 1950s and 1970s. An outsider could have simply looked at the data and outfitted me with those cymbals.

Of course, there is still a role for genre and subjective taste. Although I think my cymbal setup is fine for country, I have another ride that I suspect is better suited to it. If I ever started playing a style of music outside my most common experience, I might look for different cymbals for that too. Regarding tastes, well, I have a plain A Zildjian ride from the 1960s that based upon my "gigging years" should be fine, and is, but I don't like it as much as the one the smith reworked. Then again, usually those who have their marriages arranged have some choice in the matter. The family may recommend two or three prospective spouses, while the bride and groom have says in which one.

There's also the issue of the pro drummers, the niche drummers, and the kids. The pro's make a career out of it usually play multiple genres over many decades, which makes it difficult to narrow down their "gigging years." The niche drummers are off doing their things, sometimes oblivious to popular music, so their "gigging years" aren't a good way to pinpoint their cymbal type. The kids don't yet have "gigging years," so their cymbal selection has to be guided by the "gigging years" they aspire to.

So I don't want to drag everybody onto my amateur and antiquated boat. However, I suspect that for some of us, our "gigging years" are a good guide to our cymbal preferences. If you identify the years of the songs you play, all you have to do is identify the cymbals common to those years and buy them (or more recent copies of them).
How true. I bought my first cymbals in 1962. A pair of 14.5 inch Zildjian K Istanbul's. Light and bright- sounds are my only needs. Followed by a pair of 21.5inch Medium Rides. I've got at least 2 dozen Istanbul's from the early 50 to about 1966. Also have a couple of 1973 Earth-Rides that are mighty brutal. I also bought Paiste's in 1973 through 1980 2002-series. Altogether 96 cymbals in my inventory. All in mint condition as I am the original owner.
 

WaggoRecords

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I like this idea. I think we treat taste in sounds like it’s a mysterious black box, when there are seminal recordings or experiences that steer our preferences, like the gigging years.
 

Rock Salad

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I thought maybe we were going to talk about hearing loss. Lot of guys I know who have significant hearing damage are super sensitive to pitchy high pitched sounds. It hurts them- so darker less pitchy cymbals.

So, we are all original band. I guess I need all brand new cymbals!
 

Michael M.

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How true. I bought my first cymbals in 1962. A pair of 14.5 inch Zildjian K Istanbul's. Light and bright- sounds are my only needs. Followed by a pair of 21.5inch Medium Rides. I've got at least 2 dozen Istanbul's from the early 50 to about 1966. Also have a couple of 1973 Earth-Rides that are mighty brutal. I also bought Paiste's in 1973 through 1980 2002-series. Altogether 96 cymbals in my inventory. All in mint condition as I am the original owner.
96 cymbals?!? I thought I was bad with 14, and 2 hi- hats. That means I can get more cymbals! Thanks I feel much better.
How true. I bought my first cymbals in 1962. A pair of 14.5 inch Zildjian K Istanbul's. Light and bright- sounds are my only needs. Followed by a pair of 21.5inch Medium Rides. I've got at least 2 dozen Istanbul's from the early 50 to about 1966. Also have a couple of 1973 Earth-Rides that are mighty brutal. I also bought Paiste's in 1973 through 1980 2002-series. Altogether 96 cymbals in my inventory. All in mint condition as I am the original owner.
 

Michael M.

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I thought maybe we were going to talk about hearing loss. Lot of guys I know who have significant hearing damage are super sensitive to pitchy high pitched sounds. It hurts them- so darker less pitchy cymbals.

So, we are all original band. I guess I need all brand new cymbals!
Yeah, hearing loss. Neil Peart called it " drum deafness" . I'm 62 , and I definitely have it.
 

cruddola

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Yeah, hearing loss. Neil Peart called it " drum deafness" . I'm 62 , and I definitely have it.
I have two sisters who gradually went non-light perceptive over the years. Black is their favorite color now. Lucy (Lulu) was my roadie for five years and Martina (Marty) for three. Didn't take long for both to become the band's keyboardists either! Both were great session pianists and vocalists. They see with their hands and ears. Headphones are taboo for them. So it has always been about protecting my ears. I could be next! My brother was a phenomenal flutist, saxophonist and composer who left the sax because he played off-pitch due to hearing loss over the years. He'd give SNL's Lenny Pickett a run for his money! Gary's 'B' became an 'A', a 'C' was a 'B' to his ears, and so on. His ears failed. He picked up on my drums while I was in Uniform overseas. He managed three great decades as a great rock drummer. Bill Cobham, Carl Palmer and John Bonham were his drumming influences. I can't stress how much hearing must be protected as drummers. Had my own session closed monitor headphones plugged into my own right and left Channel Strip, always. The Beyer Dynamic 32 and 80 ohm DT 770 fit the bill perfectly. Got at least a dozen scattered around the house. I wanted to be in charge of my hearing. PROTECT YOUR HEARING!!
 
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5 Style

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Though I've played a variety of things, mostly jazz standards and various flavors of original rock bases stuff, I mostly use the same cymbal setup. Lately I haven'e owned a real "rock" type ride but that hasn't been much of an issue; I play on the hats normally when I do rock kinds of stuff and I play an 18" Sabain crash close to, or on the bell for a louder more rocking sound and then when there's a more quiet movement I use my drier, jazzier, lighter Sabian mini cup (20") ride. it might not be the traditional way of doing things, but I feel like it works. If I really thought that it was not working I'd get something like an old Zildjain A ride and use that... For jazz I use all of the same cymbals that I do for rock expect I saw out a 16" Zildjain crash for a funky/jazzy Istanbul 19" crash/ride that I use as a second "left hand" ride cymbal...

I guess that if I were a pro and doing music on the extremes, like some kind of super heavy music one day and then a gig that needed to be quiet enough to talk over, I might require a couple of totally different sets of cymbals, but I find that with a well chosen selection that I'm really not wanting for much when I play all different styles. A lot of it probably has to do with one's approach and some has to do with having some really nice, really versatile cymbals... like my 14" K hats, which seem to be the right vibe for everything that I do.
 
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Seb77

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...when I look at my cymbal selection and compare it to my "gigging years," I almost wonder why I put so much effort into listening to and trying out so many different cymbals. Like arranged marriages, a salesperson could have simply asked me what my "gigging years" are, predicted what cymbals would suit me from them, and I would have been happy with those cymbals. All my shopping has really only resulted in a cymbal setup suited to the popular music between the 1950s and 1970s. An outsider could have simply looked at the data and outfitted me with those cymbals.

Of course, there is still a role for genre and subjective taste.
...
i'd say the very cymbals you choose are still subject to your ears, taste, preference. You could get away just fine with a pre-configured set, but maybe those cymbals wouldn't be as good as the ones you've gathered. I've played some seriously good pre-configured sets, notably Paiste 2002, which immediately put me in the stylistic context of the times they were most popular. It's a bit more difficult with Turksih/American style cymbals as they vary more.
 


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