Crash cymbals come in all different shapes and sizes, and it can often make choosing a particular one somewhat tricky. Whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned drummer, choosing a certain size will always make you ask a series of questions before your cymbal purchase.
The size of your crash cymbal will affect both tone and playability. Sounds start to change as cymbals get larger, and you’ll also get different types of response when the cymbal makes an impact with your drumstick.
Here’s a quick guide on crash cymbal sizes. I’ll explain all the details of the most common sizes, and you should have a good idea of which size to choose after reading.
What are the Different Crash Cymbal Sizes?
The most popular crash cymbals range from 14” to 22”. However, most drummers and drum companies see 16” as the smallest size for a crash.
Anything smaller than 16” doesn’t work very well for a crash cymbal. This size often produces unpleasant tones without much musical responsiveness and they decay too quickly, making it sound like an oversized splash cymbal.
A cymbal that is 12” or lower is considered a splash cymbal. Splash cymbals are great, but not if you’re looking for a crash, and that makes 13” to 15” a bit of a gray area.
On the other hand, cymbals over 20” are usually created to be ride or china cymbals. You won’t commonly find pure crash cymbals that are 21” or 22”.
What Size Crash Cymbal Should I Get?
So, the commonly accepted size range for crash cymbals is 16” to 20”. Each of these sizes offers very different tonal qualities.
My favorite crash cymbal sizes are 17”, 18”, and 19” inches in diameter. I personally find 16” too small and 20” too big for a crash cymbal.
In the following explanations, I’ll link video examples of cymbals from Zildjian’s K Sweet line so that you can see how the size affects the sounds. Most cymbal brands have similar product lines like this, including Paiste, Zildjian, and Meinl cymbals.
Crash cymbals of this size tend to have the fastest decay. This means that they get out of the way very quickly after you hit them.
They’re great for short stabs in between drum fills, and they’re also good for crash-riding when you want to have punchy and aggressive sounds.
Not all drummers are fans of 16-inch crash cymbals, though. They don’t offer as much tonal richness as larger crash cymbals, and you don’t get great tones when playing them on only the surface.
They’re often used by drummers who play musical styles like rock, metal, and country. A few good examples are Rich Redmon, Matt Cameron, and Mike Mangini.
You won’t see jazz and worship drummers using this size very often.
17” crash cymbals are my personal favorite size. While every line of crash cymbals has 16” and 18” options, not every line has the middle option.
These cymbals have slightly more resonance and lower pitch than their smaller counterparts. They ring for slightly longer with deeper tones. However, they still don’t offer a lot of playability in the area of hitting the surface to make sounds.
They’re great for drummers who want a punchy crash with a darker tone than what a 16” crash would offer.
Dave Weckl is one of the best drummers to watch that uses 17” crash cymbals very often.
Here is your most popular size for a crash cymbal. Out of the five sizes we’re looking at, this one falls right in the middle. 18” crashes offer the best of both worlds.
You can play them aggressively on the shoulder to get sharp sounds that accent drum fills and grooves, or you can gently play them on the surface to get lighter tones. Some crashes of this size have bright tones, while others have dark and earthy characteristics.
If you’re needing just one crash cymbal for your drum kit, an 18” crash will be your best choice most of the time.
Almost every drummer has used an 18” crash at some point.
19” Crash cymbals are a bit more complex and deeper in their tones. With larger surface areas, they have more room to resonate and offer musical expressiveness.
You can play a 19” crash cymbal the same way that you would a ride. It just won’t ring as long.
These crashes are excellent for crash-riding when you want long and washy cymbal sounds to cover your grooves.
They’re commonly used by jazz and worship drummers, as well as rock and metal drummers. Two drummers that I see using 19” crashes a lot are Larnell Lewis and Robert ‘Sput’ Searight.
These crash cymbals are the same size as most ride cymbals. Some companies will make ones called crash/ride cymbals, while others are purely intended to be used as crashes.
However, all 20” crash cymbals can be played on the surface to produce lighter and shorter sounds. Some will just sound washier than others.
You’ll get the deepest and most resonating tones here. All 20” crashes act like a thin-ride cymbal, and they’re arguably the least versatile size for a crash cymbal.
For styles like worship and jazz, they’re perfect. But they’re too big for styles where you need quick and powerful tones from your crashes.
Small vs Large Crash Cymbals
Both sets of crash cymbals work well for various purposes. It also comes down to personal preference.
Some drummers love the quick sounds of 16” crashes, while others prefer the musical resonance of bigger cymbals.
It helps to have a variety of different sizes to use for varying purposes. But if you have to only pick one or two, you should go with the best sizes for the music you play.
What Two Crash Cymbals Should I Get?
The best answer for this would be to get a 16” and 18” crash cymbal. That’s the most versatile cymbal setup combination for most drummers, as the smaller one will work for sharp accents while the larger one can be crashed on for a bit more washiness. You’ll find some of the best crash cymbals when looking for this setup.
If you’re not a fan of 16” crash cymbals, note that it’s always good to have at least a 2” size difference between your primary and secondary crash cymbals. That would mean you should get 17” and 19” crashes or 18” and 20” ones.
While the most popular crash cymbal size for a drum set is 18”, you need to pick the best size for your personal sound preferences mixed with the most appropriate choice for the music you play.
Most cymbals tend to work relatively well for anything, but some just fit much better. A metal drummer would struggle with a set of crash cymbals above 20”, while a jazz drummer wouldn’t be able to play great-sounding jazz swing grooves on 16” crashes. Keep that in mind!
It also depends on how the cymbals are made. Thinner cymbals sound washier than thick ones, and larger cymbals often have more resonance.