If you’ve been playing drums for a while, you may have come across a cymbal with a keyhole at some point or another. While cymbal keyholing was a lot more common in years past, you can still find a few cymbals that have been affected by it nowadays.
We’re going to look through what exactly keyholing is and how to prevent it. We’ll also discuss whether a cymbal keyhole is as bad as some people think it is. Let’s dive in!
What is Cymbal Keyholing
Cymbal keyholing is when the bell of a cymbal starts to develop a crack. Some of the cymbal in the center chips away so that it looks like there is a keyhole forming near the center.
Keyholing used to happen all the time in the 70s and 80s because of the way cymbal stands were designed. It also happened because of the way drummers positioned their cymbals back then.
As hardware has become better designed, and drummers have become more aware of cymbal placement and technique, keyholing doesn’t happen as frequently anymore.
A cymbal keyhole isn’t quite as bad as a crack on the cymbal as it doesn’t affect the sound as much. However, having a cymbal keyhole does affect the integrity and durability of the cymbal. So, you should avoid cymbal keyholing as much as you can. Luckily, it’s fairly simple to avoid.
How to Prevent Cymbal Keyholing
The biggest cause of keyholing is metal-on-metal contact. If a cymbal is placed on a cymbal stand without felts or a nylon cymbal sleeve, keyholing will start fairly quickly.
Nylon sleeves placed on the top of your cymbal stands are designed to protect the cymbals and keep them from getting damaged from the cymbal stand.
So, as long as you have a cymbal sleeve on your cymbal stands, keyholing shouldn’t happen. Cymbal felts will provide an extra layer of protection for your cymbals. They’ll also allow the cymbal to vibrate freely on the cymbal sleeve.
Felts, sleeves, and cymbal toppers are a staple in every drummer’s setup nowadays. If you have those, you’ll be good to go in terms of cymbal durability.
Some people will argue that bad cymbal hitting technique can cause keyholing. While that may be slightly true, bad technique will typically cause cracks in the cymbal instead of a keyhole. However, it’s important to have a good cymbal hitting technique regardless.
The best way to keep your cymbals free from cracks or keyholes is to hit them at an angle every time you play them instead of hitting them head-on.
How to Fix a Cymbal Keyhole
The best way to fix a keyhole is to attach grommets to both sides of the cymbal. It would be better to use rubber grommets so that you don’t have even more metal-on-metal contact.
The grommets will close up the hole and the cymbal will keep its tone. Using grommets is also the best way of stopping the keyhole from getting bigger on the cymbal.
Grommets actually used to be very popular on cymbals before cymbal sleeves came to the forefront.
Does Tightening Your Cymbals Too Much Cause Keyholing?
The main thing that causes cymbal keyholing is having no felts or sleeves on a cymbal stand. I’ve heard quite a few drummers say that tightening your cymbals too much can also cause keyholing. This isn’t true.
Similar to bad playing technique, tightening the cymbals too much will make it easier to crack them, especially at the edge. This means that tightening them too much will have a worse result than keyholing.
While tightening the cymbal takes away some of the sustain, it’s always better to muffle the cymbal in other ways that won’t cause damage. Putting tape on the bottom of the cymbal is a better alternative.
You should never tighten your cymbals too tightly. They’re designed to resonate and vibrate freely. While tightening them too much most probably won’t cause keyholing, it’ll cause them to crack in worse places.
Should You Buy a Cymbal That’s Been Keyholed?
Thankfully, keyholing doesn’t affect the tone of a cymbal too much. If you’re purely looking for sound, buying a used cymbal that’s been keyholed won’t be a problem for you. In fact, you can regularly find excellent deals on cymbals that have been keyholed.
It’s not uncommon to find a $400 cymbal only costing $100 because it has a keyhole. The discounted prices are undoubtedly the best thing about keyholed cymbals.
If you’re looking for durability, you may need to think twice before buying used cymbals that have been keyholed. The structure of the cymbal has already been compromised, so it’s not going to last as long as a new cymbal would.
When it comes down to it, you should just use your discretion whenever you buy a cymbal. If the bargain price of the cymbal is worth having the keyhole, you should go for it.
Just make sure to never buy used cymbals that have been keyholed or cracked for the same price as an undamaged cymbal.
In conclusion, cymbal keyholing is when your cymbal develops a crack in the center that ends up looking like a hole. The biggest cause of it is when a cymbal is played on a stand that has no nylon cymbal sleeve. The constant metal-on-metal contact damages the bell of the cymbal.
Keyholing doesn’t affect the sound of a cymbal too much, so you can find some excellent bargains on secondhand cymbals that have been keyholed. However, keyholing does affect the durability of a cymbal. Like any cracked cymbal, a keyholed cymbal is eventually going to wear out a crack even more.
If you want to prevent cymbal keyholing, make sure to have nylon sleeves on all of your cymbal stands. The nylon cymbal sleeve is the biggest protector of your cymbals. Cymbal felts are the next thing that you need as they help the cymbals vibrate freely.
Another downside of keyholing that I haven’t mentioned yet is the fact that a keyholed cymbal no longer rotates around the stand. This means that you’re only ever going to be playing one part of the cymbal, increasing the chances of cracking it.