The Drummer’s Guide to Stack Cymbals: Unlocking New Sounds

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Last updatedLast updated: December 24, 2023
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In the dynamic world of drumming, cymbal stacking is a crucial strategy to uncover unprecedented auditory dimensions. In this sonic exploration, cymbal stacking cuts across genre boundaries, bringing a riveting dynamism to metal music while adding a unique depth to rock, jazz, and gospel.

Whether you’re exploring the boundaries of sound for a particular studio setup or keen on experimenting with stage mixes, cymbal stacking opens the gateway to a wide array of enticing sonic possibilities. There are no set formulas or rigid rules, as the art of stacking cymbals lies in your creativity and ability to orchestrate a sound that resonates with your musical vision.

From the resonance of rides to the accents of crashes and the elements of trashes to the unique character of mini splashes, there are many ways to explore cymbal stacking. Harness the potential of your existing, even old, and cracked cymbals, and dive into the thrilling world of stacking.

Essential Guidelines for Effective Cymbal Stacking

Before we delve into the nuanced configurations of stackable sounds, let’s establish some key guidelines for effective cymbal stacking.

Size Matters

Typically, smaller cymbals are stacked on larger ones. This setup promotes an extended interaction between the cymbals, which allows maximum volume and a complex array of sounds.

Loosen the Wing Nut

Allow your cymbals the freedom to interact by keeping your wing nut loose. A tighter setup can lead to a stiff sound devoid of the captivating character that cymbal stacking offers.

Angle Your Cymbals

Treat your cymbal stack just like any other cymbal across your kit. Ensure the cymbals are angled toward you for maximum stick contact and to unleash the full potential of your stack.

Delve Into the Diverse World of Cymbal Stacks

The Splash Stack

Splash stacking is a favorite among drummers, combining two or more small-diameter splash cymbals to create a bright, quickly decaying effect with layers of tonal variance. Each splash cymbal within the stack can retain its unique tonality, contributing to an overall blend of sounds, especially when combining cymbals of different series.

The Trash/China Stack

The intricate sounds from trash and China cymbals provide a unique, trashier resonance. Trash cymbals, typically perforated with holes or slots, offer a brilliant tone with low sustain. On the other hand, China cymbals, with their inverted bow design, create a distinctive presence.

The Hi-Hat Stack

While hi-hat cymbals are known for their reverse mounting, exploring different sizes, compositions, and thicknesses can lead to unprecedented hi-hat creations. The options are limitless, from mounting two cymbals of the same diameter in reverse directions to adding a cymbal.

The Ride/Crash Stack

Adding a ride or crash cymbal to your stack can be challenging but rewarding. While it adds dryness to your tone, you can achieve open explosiveness with crashes and a breathier wash with rides. This approach is excellent for setting the mood in jazz compositions.

The Special Effects Stack

Push the boundaries with special effects cymbal stacks. Some come in pre-picked bundles, while others, like the 10-inch Zildjian fx Spiral Stacker and the 14-inch Dream Re-FX Crop Circle, venture into the sonic unknown, creating unique sounds like electronic samples.

Unleashing the Sonic Potential of Your Cymbals with the Correct Angles

Angles play a significant role in optimizing the sonic potential of your cymbals. Orienting the cymbals towards you ensures that your sticks make contact over a wider area, thus extracting the full range of the cymbal’s tonal possibilities. The role of compatible bell sizes and bows tapers for closely nested cymbal stacks is worth considering. Matching cymbals with similar profiles maximizes contact and, therefore, the potential to bring out the best sounds from both cymbals.

Splash Stack: An Explosion of Unique Tonalities

The Splash Stack is a popular choice among the various stack types, offering an array of distinct tonalities. This approach involves stacking two or more small-diameter splash cymbals, ranging from six to 14 inches. Each cymbal in the Splash Stack offers a short but distinct tone, resulting in a symphony of tonal variance.

The Trash/China Stack: Embrace the Chaotic Harmony

Complexity and unique sounds rule regarding the Trash/China Stack. Trash cymbals, characterized by their brilliant and breathy tone with low sustain, are typically perforated with holes or slots. In pairs, trash cymbals deliver a harsh attack and rattly response, perfect for genres such as metal and thrash. On the other hand, China cymbals provide a similar effect but with more presence, thanks to their inverted bow design. The unique profile of China cymbals allows for incorporating smaller cymbals like splashes and mini trashes, resulting in versatile and unforgettable sonic effects.

Hi-hat Stack: Traditional Yet Versatile

The Hi-hat Stack is a staple in most drum setups. Even though they are typically not referred to as ‘stacks’ due to their reverse mounting, hi-hat cymbals can be transformed into versatile stacks using pairs of different diameters, compositions, surfaces, and thicknesses. The potential of the Hi-hat Stack is only limited by your imagination.

Ride/Crash Stack: Experiment with Dryness

The Ride/Crash Stack is for those who seek to add a new dimension to their sound. Stacking with a ride or crash cymbal may be challenging, but it’s not impossible. The Ride/Crash Stack provides more open explosiveness in crashes, while rides get a hollower, breathier wash. This type of subtlety is perfect for setting moods, especially in jazz arrangements.

Special Effects Stack: Pushing Sonic Boundaries

Defying conventions and pushing sonic boundaries is the raison d’etre of the Special Effects Stack. The limitless possibilities this stack provides are a result of the variety of effects cymbals available, from prepicked bundles of splashes, Chinas, and trashes to unique pieces like the Zildjian fx Spiral Stacker and the Dream Re-FX Crop Circle.

The Broken Stack: The Beauty in Imperfection

Finally, let us delve into the Broken Stack concept, which might initially seem counterintuitive. By incorporating them into your stacks, the idea is to breathe new life into your old, cracked, and warped cymbals. This saves you money and allows you to create a completely personalized sound that’s yours.

Honing Your Craft with Cymbal Stacking

Cymbal stacking is not just about producing new sounds; it’s also about honing your craft. It’s about understanding the anatomy of your cymbal, listening intently to the different sounds it can create, and then manipulating that sound to your preference. The stacking process allows you to delve into the deeper aspects of sound generation and opens up a new realm of creative possibilities. The deeper you dig, the more you understand your playing style and the sounds you want to project.

The art of cymbal stacking is as old as drumming itself. But it has only recently seen a surge in popularity, thanks to innovative drummers willing to push the envelope. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ way to stack your cymbals. The beauty of this practice lies in the ability to experiment and find the configuration that works for you. It’s a tool for exploration, pushing boundaries, and finding your unique sound.

The Importance of Material and Thickness

Cymbals are typically made of bronze, brass, and other alloys, each with unique tonal characteristics. Bronze cymbals, for example, are often revered for their bright and cutting sound, while brass cymbals tend to produce a warmer, more rounded tone. Different cymbal materials will interact differently when stacked, offering a broad palette of sounds to explore.

Similarly, the thickness of your cymbals plays a pivotal role in the stack sound. Thicker cymbals tend to produce higher pitched sounds and a longer sustain. On the other hand, thinner cymbals will create lower pitched, shorter, and faster sounds. Combining different thicknesses in your stack can yield intriguing, multi-layered sounds.

Recommended Cymbal Stacks

For those who wish to delve deeper into cymbal stacking, consider investing in some of these highly rated stacks: The Sabian HHX Evolution Mini China Stack, known for its dark, tonal complexity; the Meinl Cymbals HCS Trash Stack, praised for its cutting, raw tone; or the Zildjian L80 Low Volume Stack, perfect for quiet practice while still retaining a full, rich sound. For those looking to breathe life into their cracked cymbals, consider the Meinl Cymbals Byzance Extra Dry Dual Crash/Ride for its unique, dark timbre. The world of cymbal stacking is a treasure trove of sounds waiting to be unearthed; these products can serve as the key to unlocking your unique sonic experience.

Final Thoughts

In the dynamic percussion realm, stacking cymbals introduces unprecedented creative freedom that expands your musical language. Embracing this technique offers an opportunity to sculpt a sonic landscape that is truly individualistic. From the explosive tone of a Splash Stack, the complex harmony of the Trash/China Stack, the versatility of the Hi-hat Stack, to the avant-garde possibilities of the Special Effects Stack, and even the unforeseen beauty of the Broken Stack, the power to manipulate, modify, and shape your sound is literally in your hands.

Every drummer has the power to be an innovator, and cymbal stacking is one medium that makes this possible. As you experiment with different cymbal combinations, you’ll find your unique voice emerging from the sounds you create. The journey to discover your ideal stack is an exploratory process, one where you let your ears guide you to the sweet spot of rhythmic tonality. Remember, while theories and guidelines may exist, they serve as starting points, and your personal taste should always prevail. Cymbal stacking is an open-ended art form; its possibilities are as limitless as your imagination.

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