A sizzle cymbal is a cymbal to which rivets, chains or other rattles have been added to modify the sound.
These rattles have two main effects on the tone of the cymbal:
- Most obviously, the sound of the 'wash' of the cymbal is made louder and more penetrating, and is dominated by the sound of the rattles themselves.
- Also important but less obvious, the cymbal loses some of its sustain and dynamic range, because whenever there is insufficient energy left in the cymbal to lift the rattles the sound cuts out sharply.
A traditional sizzle cymbal
Both effects have musical uses, and can also be used to mask unwanted overtones in cymbals of lesser quality. However the best results are still generally obtained with high quality cymbals.
The most common form of sizzle cymbal used in a drum kit is a large ride cymbal with a number of rivets loosely fitted but captive in holes spaced evenly around the cymbal close to the rim. This might be called the traditional pattern sizzle cymbal. The loose fit allows the rivets to rattle in the holes. Swish and to a lesser extent pang cymbals with rivets installed in this way were heavily used as main ride cymbals in the swing band era. Many early rock music drummers, such as Ringo Starr, used a secondary ride cymbal with rivets, normally a ride cymbal thinner than the main ride and ideally one size larger. This was used for variety, to back a lead break or to give extra tone colour to the whole of faster songs. A swish cymbal with rivets is the main ride cymbal of choice for some leading jazz and fusion drummers.
Many other rivet patterns have been tried, but the only one to have gained much following is a single cluster of three rivets close together in an arc close and parallel to the rim. This gained popularity in some genres during the late 1980s and early 1990s and was predicted to replace the traditional pattern, but the traditional pattern has remained more popular overall. Bottom hi-hats, crash cymbals, splash cymbals and even bell splashes have been fitted with rivets.
Some cymbal makers claim that if the rivets are removed from a sizzle cymbal its previous tone will be restored, despite the fact that this leaves small holes in the cymbal. Whether this is entirely true is controversial, with a result that the value of a cymbal is generally reduced by rivet holes. However it is also true that many classic cymbals from which rivets have been removed have excellent sounds despite the holes.
In order to produce a sizzle sound without the need to bore holes in the cymbal, sizzlers may be used. There are two main patterns:
Chain sizzlers mounted on cymbals
- Rivet sizzlers suspend rivets above the rim of the cymbal, normally in two groups 180 degrees apart.
- Chain sizzlers suspend several short lengths of ball chain on the surface of the cymbal, most often either near the rim or more commonly in many places along a diameter. These chains may be fixed, adjustable in length, or completely removable.
When a sizzle cymbal is required in an orchestra, most often a chain sizzler is used. This allows the finest control and greatest range of tone in the hands of a skilled percussionist, and also allows any cymbal to be used without any permanent effect on its tone, giving still more tonal possibilities.
Detail of orchestral sizzler