What Are The Differences Between Ride Cymbal & China Cymbal?

Cymbals come in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, and configurations. Let's look at two of the most common cymbals in the drumming world: the ride cymbal and the China cymbal. Both cymbals have defining characteristics that make them stand apart from one another.

What are the differences between ride cymbal and China cymbal? The differences can be summarized as follows:

  • The Ride cymbal comes in a variety of designs, but the China has a very peculiar shape.
  • Ride cymbals produce a soothing ring-like sound. The China sounds much “trashier”.
  • The ride cymbal leads the rhythm section. The China is used for accents.

In this article, we'll be focusing on the differences between the ride and China cymbals. Nonetheless, let's first give an overview of the cymbal's history and how both cymbals developed over time to the ones we can find on today's market.

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The Backgrounds Of Ride Cymbals And China Cymbals

Cymbals have been utilized as metallurgy became more commonplace, possibly during the Bronze age. The earliest prototypes of the modern cymbal seemed to have spawned around the area of East Asia and Asia Minor. In particular, Tibet and China had a longstanding tradition of devising cymbals for their worship services, and the Chinese were also wont to use cymbals as psychological weapons during battles.

The China cymbal stemmed from these Eastern Asian traditions (hence the name). It is said that this cymbal borrowed a plethora of elements from the smaller “bo” cymbals, such as the pronounced convex bow and an upward-tilted rim.

Arabs and Turks, on the other hand, had their own cymbal tradition. Through the Saracens, cymbals were imported to the Mediterranean during the formation of Al-Andalus, specifically in the Iberian Peninsula and, to a much lesser extent, Southern Italy.

However, the art of hammering cymbals in Europe went largely into oblivion shortly afterwards, at least until Avedis Zildjian (founder of the company under the same name that exists to this day) accidentally created a special alloy for cymbals in 1623 and began manufacturing these new models en masse for the Janissary orchestra and the Turkish army at the behest of Sultan Murat IV. This cymbal will be the direct ancestor of the modern crash and ride cymbals.

Fast-forwarding roughly 300 years, Turkish and Chinese cymbal manufacturers would be the main cymbal exporters to Western Europe and America at the turn of the 20th century. The first Chinese cymbals sent abroad had a particularly rough finish and a cheap appearance, though they would progressively get more refined as their use became more mainstream.

Panamanian-born drummer Billy Cobham brought the China cymbals to the forefront and catapulted the cymbal's popularity in jazz-rock and akin genres. He was wont to install his China cymbals upside down to get intriguing sounds out of them, with considerably faster attack and delay.

Since then, manufacturers sought creative China cymbal designs that benefitted from this novel Cobham-inspired configuration, such as Paiste's “Novo” cymbals with a peculiar inverted bow extending upwards towards the rim. Other models include the “China Splash” (similar to the original Chinese “bo”) and the “Pang and Swish” (with a slight taper reminiscent of Turkish models).

Meanwhile, Turkish cymbals were traditionally more expensive and came in a wide array of sizes and shapes. Ride cymbals would come around during the mid-20th century and quickly became a favourite for jazz rhythm sections in the US and beyond due to their steady and soothing tone.

In modern times, many ride cymbal models are crafted with a plethora of distinctive sound properties.

One of those is the “Ping Ride”, which, as its name suggests, produces more “ping” effects. Another is the “Earth Ride” (designed specifically for Cobham), which was invented almost by accident by Armand Zildjian as he became impressed by the tonal qualities of some unfinished cymbals at his factory, considering them a perfect fit for what Cobham was asking for.

The Similarities Between Ride Cymbals And China Cymbals

Ride cymbals and China cymbals, despite their contrasting characteristics, also sport several similar traits that are hard to miss. The following are some of the most obvious features they have in common:

  • Both cymbals, as expected, are made of a great number of metal alloys.
  • Both the ride cymbal and the China cymbal are shaped like round plates or dishes.
  • Both the ride cymbal and China cymbal are standalone cymbals.
  • Both ride and China cymbals are commonly found in the same drum kit.
  • Both cymbals are primarily played with drumsticks, brushes, and other such beaters.
  • Both instruments are idiophone instruments.
  • The presence of both ride cymbals and China cymbals is typically very austere when compared with the number of crash and splash cymbals installed in most drum kits.

The Differences Between Ride Cymbals And China Cymbals

Now let's segway into the differences already described at the beginning of this article:

Difference 1: Design

In the introductory paragraphs, I stated:

“The Ride cymbal comes in a variety of designs, but the China has a very peculiar shape.”

Regarding this first difference, there is not much contention. The China cymbal has a very distinctive “bulbous” design that makes it stand out from the rest.

You may be able to distinguish a China cymbal from any other cymbal type by its protruding bow creating a “double bell” effect. The rim or edge is also flanged upwards, similar to a cowboy hat's flap. This gives the China a very eccentric sound delivery filled with significant overtones.

The China also differs from its most comparable counterparts – the crash and ride cymbals – in that it does not have any semblance of taper. For those not aware, the taper is the gradual change in thickness that can be discerned from the bell to the edge.

By contrast, the ride cymbal design is more akin to conventional Turkish crash cymbals but with a higher profile and less emphasis on the bell at times. Crash and China cymbals, conversely, are prone to have a thicker and more pronounced bell.

In fact, some ride cymbal models don't even carry any bell at all, as is the case with the “Flat Ride”. This lack of bell is significant, and we'll revisit this design factor in sound analysis.

Difference 2: Sound

Referring back to the initial response to the question, I stated:

“Ride cymbals produce a soothing ring-like sound. The China sounds much ‘trashier'.”

The above does not mean the ride cymbal can't offer resounding crashes. Using a ride cymbal as a crash cymbal is entirely possible, but apart from being too loud, it's much more taxing as you'd have to deal with its extra mass, volume, and weight.

Some ride cymbals wouldn't function as crash cymbals, though. For example, the “Flat Ride” would be unable to crash as it lacks a bell, which is the core component in a crashing cymbal.

In any case, when not played for effects, the ride cymbal carries a soft ringing sound with a very smooth attack and prolonged sustain. While not creating the same steady beats of a closed hi-hat, the ride may still deliver very defined sounds suitable for complex rhythmic patterns.

On the opposite pole, the China's sound is, as said before, “trashy” and undefined (sometimes, even unpredictable). The China is one of the loudest and harshest cymbals in any drum set, which makes it perfect for louder forms of music. This is possibly due to the convex bow structure mentioned in a previous paragraph.

Difference 3: Use Case

As the third point in the original answer, I stated:

“The ride cymbal leads the rhythm section. The China is used for accents.”

In a rhythmic phrase, you normally have beats that are more emphasized than others. The regular beats in a percussion piece allow the percussionist to keep time and introduce different cues, whereas the accents tend to be introduced for dramatic effect at given intervals.

The role of the ride cymbal has been, traditionally, to “ride the rhythm” (which is why it received the moniker “ride cymbal” in the first place). In that sense, the ride cymbal is often compared to the hi-hat cymbal, as both fulfill the role of timekeepers.

While the ride has a much longer sustain than a hi-hat (especially a closed hi-hat), the beats are subtle enough not to overwhelm or drown the other beats when played in quick succession. Nevertheless, the closed hi-hat has an edge for faster ostinatos because of its dry staccato and generally fundamental tone.

On the other hand, the China cymbal has a similar function to the crash cymbal. Both crash and China cymbals produce explosive sounds that are eligible to give closure to a phrase or provide a dramatic break. On the flip side, the China's general lack of stability makes it largely unfit for timekeeping.

Read How Ride Cymbals Compare To Other Instruments

Read How China Cymbals Compare To Other Instruments

This article has been approved in accordance with the My New Microphone Editorial Policy.


Arthur is the owner of Fox Media Tech and author of My New Microphone. He's an audio engineer by trade and works on contract in his home country of Canada. When not blogging on MNM, he's likely hiking outdoors and blogging at Hikers' Movement (hikersmovement.com) or producing music. Check out his music here.

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