Whether cymbals have been kept in storage or carried around from gig to gig, they can develop a layer of dirt or grime that affects not only the appearance, but also the sound of the cymbals. Most professionals caution against cleaning cymbals, as the process of cleaning the metal may, in fact, hurt the finish and cause irreparable to the metal used, but there are times that call for a thorough cleaning, as well.
For cymbals that have been in storage, weather conditions, dust or even pollen can turn a once-shiny set of cymbals dull. The age of the cymbals themselves can cause a natural tarnish to appear, too. Cymbals that are used regularly, but subject to the constant moves that performances may require can develop a dirty look from the actual handling of the metal. In these cases, cleaning the cymbals may actually improve both the appearance and sound. Some cymbal manufacturers, like Meinl Cymbals, may offer a product to clean the cymbals, or a cymbal polish that helps to retain the cymbal’s shine and glow.
To clean the cymbal, it is important to understand that by removing the finish, more damage could occur from exposing the metal to the elements. Therefore, it is important to respect the coating on the cymbals in order to keep the metal protected. Some cymbal cleaners are chemically-based, and may also remove the label on the cymbal. If chemical cleaners are not an option, a mixture of flour, salt and vinegar can be effective. In any case, by taping over the label with painter’s tape, the logo can remain intact, while the rest of the metal is cleaned, regardless of the type of cleaner used.
Begin cleaning the cymbals by wiping off dirt and debris with a damp towel and dry thoroughly. Apply the cleaning solution and gently rub the cymbals with a soft towel, being sure to go along the grooves to minimize damage. Once the cymbals begin to shine and most of the dirt is removed, a coat of cymbal polish can finish the job and help protect the metal from further damage caused by weather, dirt or oils from the skin. Always be sure to remove any excess cleaner, polish or water from the cymbals before storing them away or replacing them on a drum kit.
By keeping cymbals clean, it is possible to retain the beauty of the metal and keep the original sound as clean and sharp as if the cymbals were new. Cymbals may be prone to tarnish, but it is also the tarnish that helps keep the metal of the cymbals protected from environmental damage, and can give a drum set character and life. Only clean cymbals that are extensively dirty or take the cymbals to a professional to clean in order to extend the life and playability of the cymbals.