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How to Make the Best Cymbal Stack for Your Sound

June 27th, 2019 by Stephanie Vasilakis

Cymbal stacks are a fantastic tool to let your creativity breathe when you’re building your setup. Picking cymbals to match your sound is always important, but stacks are a unique (and usually pretty affordable) opportunity to really make you stand out.

But what are stacks?

Cymbal stacks are exactly what they sound like - two or more cymbals stacked on top of each other. They hit each other when you hit them, which completely changes their sound and gives you a unique, often (but not always) gritty/trashy, sound.

Why would I use a stack?

Stacks, in theory, can do a lot of different cool, musical things. They’re probably most often used to get a tight, trashy, bright sound that cuts through the rest of your sound and can create some really cool accents in a groove or fill. They’re also great for simulating electronic cymbal sounds. But you can just as easily use a stack to create a unique ride sound, even when playing quietly. Different cymbal combos can sound drastically different.

Where do I get a stack?

If you own a set of cymbals, you already have one. While there are tons of pre-designed or even pre-packaged stacks available, you can just as easily combine two (or more) cymbals together that you already have laying around.

Do any two (or more) cymbals work?

Kind of. Every sound can have a musical use, but certain combinations will give you much, much better mileage. It’s always worth experimenting, but if you can’t find a use for a certain combo, or they just don’t lay on each other very well, it’s also fine to let that combo go or try something else instead.

If you're looking for a place to start, we sat down with Adam Anderson from Meinl to talk about what Meinl's general approach is to pairing cymbals for stacks!

How expensive are stacks?

That depends on how much you want to spend! Small, affordable splash/effect cymbals can be combined to make some cool sounds, often for under $100 (sometimes way under). Old, broken cymbals you may have laying around can also sound awesome when you combine them with the right cymbal. Or you can try to build a masterpiece stack that costs thousands. This is one of the reasons building stacks can be so fun for a drummer - it’s usually not as expensive as other cymbals, and can yield a more creative result.

What sizes of cymbals should I use?

First and foremost, a concern with stacks that you don’t usually have with other cymbals is that you have to consider the form factor of each cymbal you use - how big is the bell? How steep is the bow of the cymbal? And most importantly, what kind of contact does this create between cymbals?

That said, any size can work - you can use two large cymbals, two tiny splash cymbals, a splash stacked into the bow of a china cymbal, a tiny splash underneath a crash cymbal, and just about anything else (within reason). Smaller cymbals and china cymbals will typically result in a brighter, harsher, shorter, and more cutting sound, while larger cymbal combinations tend to be lower and washy. That said, different combos can surprise you, and there are no clear rules as to what a certain combo will sound like.

Which way do I stack them?

All the different ways you can, then pick what sounds the best. Try a hi hat configuration. Try nestling them into each other. Try one on the bottom, then switch it to the top. You will discover a sound you can use somewhere in these combos.

What do these things actually sound like?

How about we let some experts show you?

Mark Guiliana

In this video, you'll get a good taste of one of Mark Guiliana's stack combos. It's hard to tell exactly what the cymbals are, but it looks like the top may be a Sabian HH China Kang.

Matt Garstka

This video features Matt Garstka's Signature Meinl Stack, which means you can get this exact same sound with no experimenting.

Dave Weckl

Here's a bit of a throwback for you to check out. Again it's basically impossible to know what the bottom cymbal in this video is, but the top cymbal is a Zildjian K China.

Experiment and Have Fun

Above all, be creative. Put things together in all the different combinations you can think of - you never know what might work! If you're interested in cutting to the chase and getting a sound that will definitely be useful, take a look at the pre-made stacks we offer. Be sure to let us know what your best-sounding stack is, or if you have questions, in the comments!

Stephanie’s experience spans from drum set to the marching arts. She’s an alumni of the marching arts top groups including the Bluecoats, Pulse Percussion, the Blue Devils and RCC. In recent time, you could spot her behind the kit on the hit show Glee, or at the “Happiest Place on Earth” performing with the Disneyland Band.

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