Learning how to set cymbals up can be daunting after looking at every pro drummer’s setup. Much like setting up a drum kit, most drummers have specific preferences, so you’ll hardly ever see the exact same cymbal setup between two different drummers.
However, there is a general method to setting up cymbals, and then drummers move things slightly from there. In this guide, we’re going to look at that general method. We’ll explain how to set your cymbals up to have the most optimal playing experience, and this will also stop you from breaking them.
Main Setup Aspects
Positioning is the most important aspect of setting cymbals up. This refers to where you place the cymbal standsand how far you place the cymbals in relation to the drums.
If the cymbals are too close to the drums, they’ll end up blocking your motions to strike certain areas. If the cymbals are too far from the drums, you’ll need to reach too much with your arms to hit them.
You need to find the balance between those two extremes. You also need to position your cymbal stands cleverly so that they feel secure but don’t take up too much space around your kit.
The height of your cymbals will be controlled by the cymbal stands. Most cymbal stands have two rods that can be raised and lowered. If it’s a boom stand, it will have a third arm that can be angled.
It’s always better to raise the bottom rod as high as possible, as that one is the thickest. You can then use the second rod that is thinner to get the exact height that you want.
Boom arms come from an angle, but you can alter that angle to adjust the height even more.
The final step to setting up your cymbals is adjusting their angles. You do this by adjusting the tilter on top of every cymbal stand. When a cymbal is attached to a stand, the tilter will be just underneath it.
The angles of your cymbals are incredibly important, as having the cymbals at bad angles is the quickest way to crack them.
Ideally, the cymbals should be angled slightly toward you. You should still be able to crash on them easily, but they must never be completely flat.
You may see some drummers angle their cymbals away from them. We wouldn’t recommend doing this, as that also leads to the cymbals cracking when you strike straight at their shoulders. Those drummers just sit in a way that makes it viable.
How to Set Up Each Cymbal Type
Hi-hats are the one cymbal type that gets set up differently from all the others. You need a dedicated hi-hat standfor these, and it has a rod, pedal, and clutch to make the hi-hats work as they should.
The hi-hat stand should be placed next to your snare drum. You then need to place the bottom hi-hat cymbal on the stand and rest it on top of the large felt that comes with the stand.
After that, you need to attach the hi-hat clutch to the top hi-hat cymbal. That will allow you to place it on the stand and run the rod through it.
The clutch has a washer that will let you tighten the top hi-hat cymbal to the rod. There should be a small gap between the top and bottom hi-hat cymbals, allowing you to hit them together with the pedal.
In terms of spacing, you should try to have the edge of your hi-hats in line with the outside rim of the snare drum.
For height, the cymbals should be high enough so that you have room to lift your left arm to play the snare, but they shouldn’t be so high that you have to lift your right arm all the time.
A standard drum set will have two crash cymbals. The first one will be positioned between your hi-hats and first rack tom. The second one will be positioned to the right of your drum set, somewhere next to the ride cymbal.
Crash cymbals range from 16” to 20”, so the space between the stand and your drums will depend on what size your crashes are.
For height, you place them either at eye level or below. Forget about how all the drummers in the 70s and 80s placed their cymbals in the sky, as it’s been proven that playing with your cymbals like that can damage the rotator cuffs in your shoulders.
The ride cymbal will get played almost as much as the hi-hats, so it’s important that you place it very ergonomically. The best place to put your ride is between the first rack tom and the floor tom. If you have a middle rack tom, you can push it out a bit but still keep it in a similar place.
The height of your ride cymbal will depend on its crashability. If you can get a crash sound from playing on the edge of your ride cymbal, it should be placed high enough to do that comfortably.
If you’re just going to play the ride on the surface and bell, then you can position it a lot lower.
Just make sure that your arm feels comfortable when playing the ride for a long time.
Splash cymbals can be placed anywhere around the drum kit. They’re typically mounted using attachable cymbal arms rather than dedicated stands. They’re very small, so they’re easy to position.
Some drummers even place their splash cymbals on top of their crash cymbals, but they place them upside down.
Make sure to angle them slightly toward you so that you’re not striking them straight at the edges.
A china cymbal should be placed on whichever side your dominant hand is. It’s not a cymbal that gets played as often as most of the others, but it requires force to play it.
Forget what we just said if you’re a metal drummer. You’ll be playing that thing all the time for breakdowns and heavy choruses. It should still have the same positioning for that.
China cymbals have ridges that are meant to be struck, so you need to place a china at an angle where the ridge is easily playable.
Stacked cymbals are often the same size as splash cymbals, and they can be placed anywhere around your kit. The angle depends on whether you want to play the surface or the shoulder.
However, most drummers like their stacked cymbals to sit quite flat. They also prefer to have them sitting a lot lower than all their other cymbals.
Stacks are closer to hi-hats than anything else, so think of them in that way when you’re positioning them.
Final Thoughts on How to Set Up Cymbals
The two most important things to think about when setting cymbals up are creating a comfortable playing environment and not breaking them. If you’ve nailed those two aspects, you’ll be good to go, and you can make slight adjustments to suit your preferences.
It’s okay to take setup inspiration from famous drummers, but don’t follow anything that isn’t ergonomic. While what they do works for them, it may not work for you.