If you just got your first drum set, you may be thinking of how confusing it is to set everything up. It’s understandable, as drum sets are one of the most complicated instruments due to how many parts they’re made up of.
However, setting up a kit becomes really easy once you learn how to do it well. In this guide, I’m going to focus on the cymbals and stands.
Make sure that the drum shells are positioned first, and then follow this guide on how to place all the cymbals.
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Setting Up a Cymbal Stand
Most cymbal stands have a similar kind of design, so they get set up the same way. In this first part of the guide, I’ll explain how to set up a conventional cymbal stand.
We’ll move on to the hi-hat stand, which is the only vastly different one, a bit later.
The first thing you need to worry about is the legs of a cymbal stand. Most stands have three legs with large rubber feet, and they create the base.
It’s likely that the legs will be retracted, so you need to pull them out so that the stand can rest upright.
You do this by loosening the first wingnut you see above where all the legs are connected. Once it’s loose, you can stretch the legs out.
Now that they’re out, you can tighten that wingnut again to keep them securely in place.
You need to decide how wide you want the legs to be stretched out. The wider they are, the more stable the stand will feel. However, you’re going to struggle with positioning if they’re too wide, as they’ll get in the way of other stands and the drums.
Find the middle point that works as the sweet spot.
You now need to focus on the solid tube that you’ll see above the legs. This tube is generally the second thickest one on the stand, with the first tube that the legs are connected to being the thickest. You can adjust its height to determine the overall height of the cymbal stand.
You do this by loosening the wingnut, lifting the tube up, and then tightening the wingnut again.
I’d recommend making this particular tube higher than all the others. With it being the thickest on the stand, you get more stability. Just don’t make it too high, as you’re going to adjust the other tubes too to get more height.
The second tube is slightly thinner than the first, but it works the same way. Loosen the wingnut to be able to adjust how high it rests, and then tighten the wingnut to lock it in place.
If you have a straight cymbal stand, this will be the final tube, meaning you can move on to placing your cymbal in the next step.
Straight Stands vs Boom Stands
If you have a boom cymbal stand, there will be an extra step. You can identify a boom cymbal stand by seeing a third tube that rests at a different angle from the first two.
This tube is much thinner, and it allows you to get better angle adjustments for your cymbals, which is why most drummers prefer using boom stands.
With the boom arm, you’re going to choose how high or low it rests by adjusting one of the wingnuts. You’re then going to select what angle it sits at by adjusting the other wingnut.
If you have a boom stand, just make sure that the legs are positioned a bit wider than what you’d have with a straight stand.
Every cymbal stand should come with a cymbal sleeve. This is a small plastic piece with a rounded bottom that rests on the top part of the stand.
It’s essential to place this on the stand so that the metal of the cymbal won’t have contact with the metal of the stand. If that ends up happening, your cymbal will get cracked very quickly.
Sleeves tend to look different across various cymbal brands, but they all serve the same purpose. Just make sure that the sleeve is there, and make sure to put it down on the stand before placing the cymbal or the felts.
Now comes the part where you place the cymbal. However, you need to put a piece of felt down first.
The first felt needs to rest on the rounded part of the cymbal sleeve.
You can then place the cymbal so that it’s resting on the felt. If you place it without a felt being there, you’re going to hear an ugly noise from the cymbal colliding with the sleeve’s plastic base.
The last step here is to place the second felt on top of the cymbal. Having the cymbal sandwiched between cymbal felts is the best way to protect it from getting damaged.
The final step of setting up a cymbal stand is to screw the remaining wing nut on the top. This is so that the cymbal doesn’t have any risk of falling off the stand when you play.
Many drummers prefer to play without top wingnuts so that the cymbals can sway and resonate more. However, I don’t think the risk is worth it.
Just make sure not to tighten the wingnut so that it chokes the cymbal. If you tighten it too much, the cymbal won’t ring as long. An even worse effect is that the tension from overtightening will cause cracks after a while.
The hi-hat stand is the one stand that is vastly different from the rest, so here’s how to set that up.
The legs need to be stretched out the same way as other stands. However, you also need to worry about the pedal.
The pedal has two rods underneath it that need to be connected to the supporting beams. Once you do that, the legs and the pedal will sit securely at the base.
The pedal and legs are connected to a single tube, and there’s a small metal rod inside the tube that goes up and down as you lift and press the pedal. You’ll see the upper part of that rod at the top of the main tube.
You need to take the separate hi-hat rod and screw it into that rod. Once you’ve done that, you’ll have a long rod that goes up and down with the pedal.
You now need to place the second tube on top of the first. The hi-hat rod will run through it, and then you can secure it by tightening the wingnut.
This tube will determine how high your hi-hats rest, so choose a height that you think will be good for your drum kit setup.
You’re going to see a plastic washer at the top of the second tube. This washer allows you to adjust the angle of the bottom hi-hat. It will also act as the base that the bottom hi-hat rests on.
Make sure that this is here, and make sure that there is a large cymbal felt resting on top of it.
You can now rest the bottom hi-hat cymbal on the large felt. Out of the two hi-hat cymbals you have, the bottom one will be heavier, so that’s a good way of identifying it.
The final step is to attach the top hi-hat cymbal to the clutch. This is the small piece that allows you to control the hi-hat mechanism.
Remove the bottom metal washer from the clutch, along with one of the felts. Put it through the center part of the hi-hat cymbal, and then reattach the felt and washer.
You can then place the top hi-hat on the rod and tighten the clutch in a position that sets the height. Make sure not to have too much space between the two hi-hat cymbals, as that will stop you from being able to close them together with the pedal.
Setting Up Different Types of Cymbals
The general way of setting a cymbal stand up is the same across different stands, but there will be slightly different ways depending on what kind of cymbal you’re putting on it. Here are a few things to think about with each cymbal type.
Drum kit setups typically have two or more crash cymbals. The main one should be positioned to the left of you next to the first rack tom and above the hi-hats.
The second one can be placed next to the floor tom.
You want to angle your crash cymbals slightly forward but not too forward that you're only seeing the top of the cymbals.
If you angle them flat, you’re going to strike the edges and potentially cause damage over time.
Every drum kit setup has one main ride cymbal. If you’re right-handed, you’re going to put the ride cymbal stand on the right side of your drum set.
The most common place to put it is next to the second rack tom. If you don’t have a second rack tom, you can place it between the high tom and floor tom. However, some drummers like to place their ride cymbal a bit more to the right.
Your ride should have more of an angle than your crashes, as one of the main focuses is playing the surface. So, you want to make it easier to reach.
China cymbals can be set up on any kind of stand, and they can be positioned anywhere on the drum kit. However, most drummers like to have them to the far right.
These cymbals are all about aggression, and having one to the far right allows you to use a lot of force from your right hand to play it.
The angle of a china really depends on what sound you want to get. Some drummers like tighter angles, while others prefer to have them sitting quite flat.
Splash and Effects Cymbals
Splash and effects cymbals can also be positioned anywhere. You can place them on main stands, or you can use boom arm attachments to lock them onto other stands.
Tips for Setting Up Cymbals
Make Sure the Stands are Stable
Making sure the stands are stable is the only way to prevent your cymbals from falling over when you play.
With cymbals being heavy and quite sharp at certain angles, it’s actually a safety to have wonky stands. So, you need to really focus on securing them when you set your kit up.
As I said earlier, you can make them more stable by pulling the legs out wider. However, you also need to balance that with how high each tube is positioned.
The weight of a cymbal will also affect how you set the stand up. Heavier cymbals will need to have wider legs at the bottom of the stand, while you can have less of a stretch with lighter cymbals.
Boom stands are more likely to fall over than straight stands, so I’d recommend being more careful when using them. Losing balance easily is the one negative of using a boom cymbal stand.
Adjust Heights and Angles Once All Your Stands Are Set Up
While it’s good to do all the height and angle adjustments while setting the stands up, you may find that your cymbals aren’t where they should be when placed around your fully set up drum set.
That’s why you need to do one final check when everything is put next to each other. Your hi-hats might be too low in relation to your snare drum, or your ride cymbal could be too angled next to your rack tom.
Play around the kit when your cymbals are set up, and you’ll end up finding a few things that you need to fix.
You may even realize that you want certain cymbals positioned in completely different areas. By trial and error, you’ll realize what the best overall cymbal setup is for the way you play the drums.
Memory Locks Are Helpful
Some cymbal stands have a thing called a memory lock. This is a small piece of metal that gets attached to a stand, and you can move it up and down the tubes to basically save the position that you’ve set your stand up in.
When you pack the stand down, the memory lock will remain, allowing you to get the exact same height the next time you set the stand up.
It’s typically higher-end cymbal stands that come with memory locks. However, you can buy them separately to attach to any stand.
I highly recommend using these if you gig a lot. Drummers who pack up and set up their drum kits multiple times a week save a lot of time when using them.
Always Use Cymbal Sleeves and Felts
My final tip is to always use cymbal sleeves and felts. I know that I mentioned this previously, but it’s one of the most important aspects of setting up a cymbal stand.
Cymbals are very expensive, and you want to make them last as long as you possibly can so that you don’t need to spend more money on new ones.
The best way to protect them is by using cymbal sleeves and felts. It’s a good idea to buy extras to keep with you so that you’re never left without them.
I’ve played a few gigs where I lost a few cymbal felts. Having some in my stick bag as replacements saved me from risking my cymbals.
How To Set Up Drum Cymbals, Final Thoughts
While setting up a cymbal stand can seem tricky at first, it’s actually quite a simple process to learn. You just need to understand the difference between a boom stand, a straight stand, and a hi-hat stand.
Once you know how to set each one up, you’re good to go. You’ll then find a few stand attachments that allow you to set more cymbals up, but those essentially work as extra boom arms.
Again, make sure that you have cymbal sleeves and felts!