Stagg Cymbals – Review
A couple of months ago a student of mine came into the drum shop where I teach. She was looking for a new crash cymbal to replace the brass cymbals that came with her entry-level drum kit. We spent nearly an hour going through every crash cymbal in the store. There were models from the four biggest cymbal companies, and there were some lovely crash cymbals in that mix. However, there were two Stagg cymbals on stands by the cash register. They were DH Medium Crashes in 16” and 18” sizes. They had been there for a while, and I had never hit them before myself. I didn’t know too much about Stagg cymbals except that they were inexpensive, which I associated with “cheap,” and that they were made in China. My student and I decided to give those cymbals a try, and we were both surprised when we both agreed that they were the nicest sounding crashes in the store.
My student didn’t take home one of those Stagg cymbals, though. I wouldn’t let her, and I regretted it soon after. Having never delved into Stagg cymbals, I advised her against getting either of those DH crashes because I bought into the American hype that believes that a label is always worth the money. She bought something that cost about a hundred dollars more, from one of those “better reputation” cymbal manufacturers, that we both agreed sounded fairly comparable to the 18” DH Medium Crash.
That little cymbal hunting excursion started me thinking, though. Those two Stagg cymbals that sounded so great just wouldn’t leave my ear. I should say that I’ve been a cymbalholic for just about twenty years. I’ve toured factories and warehouses, picked out cymbals with cymbal designers, and I’ve owned cymbals made by every manufacturer. I love hand-hammered cymbals from Turkey, traditional cymbals from North America, and modern cymbals from Germany and Switzerland, and I’ve been through more than my fair share. I even had cymbal manufacturers make custom models to my specs. Cymbals mean an awful lot to me; I am convinced that a drummer’s cymbal sound affects the overall sound of the “air” of a band. I take this seriously. I could not let go of those great sounding crash cymbals. I almost bought them to use on a session, but I was feeling I needed more info about Stagg cymbals first.
I started researching Stagg cymbals. I watched videos on YouTube, I searched for reviews online and in magazines, and I went through the Stagg catalog. I found cymbals of much higher quality and diversity than I had expected. I learned that these cymbals are all hammered by hand, which surprised me. I learned that within the last few years Stagg completely revamped their manufacturing process, investing heavily in new equipment. They also expanded their product lines to include models that are traditional as well as more esoteric sounds. I discovered that Stagg is taking their cymbal manufacturing very seriously. I decided that they were worth even more exploration. I found a couple used Stagg cymbals for really great prices, and I decided to pick them up. I was falling hard for these special cymbals. I recently had the opportunity to try out several cymbals from the different Stagg cymbal lines. I want to talk a little about each one.
I’ll tackle the rides first. I sampled two 22”, several 21”, two 20”, and one 19” ride. The first 22” is from the Black Metal line. These cymbals have a dark surface on the top and a normally lathed bottom. This is the driest ride out of the bunch. It is fairly heavy though not overly so. The stick sound is a clear, silvery ping with great clarity with a bit of controlled wash supporting it. The bell is bright and clear, and crashing it with the shoulder of the stick brought out a clean, dark roar. This cymbal might be a little esoteric for some, but it was my favorite out of the bunch. It was clear and loud without being clangy or rude. The other 22” cymbal that I’ve been able to try is the Flat Ride that’s part of the Classic series. It is heavy and clear. It reminds me of some of the best flat rides I’ve heard. Playing the cymbal is like skating; it’s a playful cymbal to dance upon. Flat rides are known for being articulate, and the Stagg Classic is that. It is crystalline without being brittle. It’s heavy enough that what little wash it possess is more spread than trash. It’s a beautiful cymbal, and remarkable for the price.
On to the plethora of 21” rides. First up I’ll mention a 21” DH Extra Dry Exotic Ride. This cymbal is one of the ones I picked up used a few weeks ago, and it is really different from any other cymbal I’ve ever heard. It’s quite heavy, with a fairly large, unlathed bell. It isn’t as dry as a name such as “Extra Dry” implies, but the spread helps to give the cymbal body and cut. The stick sound has some click in the ping, and has a sound that has the slightest bit of trash in it. The bell is loud and clear. The Exotic Ride is a real winner. Next is the Myra 21” Rock Ride. The entire Myra line seems to sustain for days, and the Rock Ride is no exception. The Myra is a very loud ride; just the slightest touch brings the whole cymbal to life, and when it’s played harder it has plenty of power behind its bright ping. The bell is very bright and would cut through anything. The sustain does get a little loud compared to the stick sound for my taste, but the stick sound is always clear and audible. This would be my choice for loud rock gigs. The 21” Furia Rock Ride has some things in common with the Myra, like the loud, clear bell. Unlike the Myra, however, the Furia Rock Ride actually has a fairly low pitch, especially given its weight and volume. The stick sound on the Furia is quite dark and woody, and the crash sound when shouldered is dark and exotic. The Furia would be a great ride for fusion, where a loud ride is needed but a warmer, darker sound is a plus. I sampled one more 21” Rock Ride and that was from the DH series. The DH Rock Ride has excellent clarity and presence. This is the ride my student ended up buying and she said that it sounded “just like a ride should sound.” It was well-balanced with a clear, silvery ping, clean bell, and dry, compact build-up. This might be the most traditionally versatile ride in the lot. Moving to a couple lighter rides, there is first the 21” Vintage Bronze Sizzle Ride. This cymbal has two rivets. I really dig the Stagg rivets; they’re big and have a lot of surface area which creates plenty of sizzle from just two rivets. The Vintage Bronze is dark and smokey. The stick sound is clicky and the crash sound is a big warm roar. The Vintage Bronze Sizzle Ride is a really versatile dark ride; it’s not too thin and it doesn’t seem to have trouble going up to the louder dynamic ranges (not the loudest, but close). I would say, though, that it’s real home would be in jazz or moderate-volume settings. Lastly for the 21” rides is the Classic Series Jazz Ride. I confess I felt disappointed by this ride. It’s a nice cymbal; it’s medium weight and has a nice even balance between the stick sound and the wash. My disappointment comes from the fact that it seems a bit bland. It’s not a jazz cymbal in the traditional thin, dark, and trashy way I was hoping. I’d compare it to general purpose medium-thin rides, which is never really what I’m looking for (I prefer more esoteric sounds).
The two 20” rides are the lightest ones in the batch. First is the 20” DH Medium Ride. This is a great medium ride. The stick sound is clear, the spread is sweet and stays in its place supporting the stick sound, and the bell is bright. I would recommend this cymbal to anyone looking for a 20” versatile ride cymbal. The other 20” ride is from the SH line. The SH cymbals are a little thinner and trashier than the other Stagg lines. The 20” SH Medium Ride I tried supported that generality. The stick sound is slightly subdued as is the bell sound. The crash sound is dark and trashy. The SH ride sounds good, but it’s not really to my taste. However, the SH line is even more inexpensive than the other Stagg lines, and is an excellent bargain. I would have no trouble recommending the SH Medium Ride as an excellent semi-pro ride cymbal.
The last ride from the selection that I sampled is a 19” Vintage Bronze Ride. This cymbal is dark and dry. The stick sound stands out above a raw wash that never builds too loud. It is reminiscent of a few other rides I’ve owned that were so dry as to be dead; this ride is dry, but it retains a full, albeit dark and reserved, spread underneath the slightly metallic click stick sound. It is a great low-volume ride and can stand up to a bit of crashing. Although, the crash sound is raw and in my opinion this cymbal wouldn’t really qualify as a crash/ride; crashing on it is a special effect. This is another stand-out for me, one of the really neat cymbals in the bunch with a unique and special character.
The other batch of time-keeping cymbals, of course, is the hi-hats. I got to sample several pairs of 13” hats (which has been my size of choice for the last twenty years or so), one pair of 14” hats, and two pairs of 10” mini-hats. The 14” Hi-Hats are from the SH line. I remain impressed with the sound quality of the SH cymbals. They are versatile and smooth. These hats have a full sound with a dark wash when opened. The chick sound is a little soft for my tastes, but this would be a great pair of hi-hats for a versatile sound in the medium-volume range. Of the several pairs of 13” hats I was able to sample, the DH Fat Hats were my favorite. They have a very heavy bottom cymbal with a brilliant finish and several clusters of hammer marks, and a top cymbal that is medium weight and regular finish. These hats are similar in make-up to the types of hats I’ve played for years, I really love that very heavy bottom cymbal. These cymbals do everything I want my hats to do. They have an dry, articulate stick sound that has just a little bit of chunkiness in it. They splash beautifully and the chick sound is loud and clear. I can’t see a situation that the Fat Hats couldn’t handle; I’m sure they’ll be my main hats for years to come. The other stand-out for me amongst the hi-hats were the 13” Black Metal Rock Hi-Hats. Both cymbals have the dark top surface of the Black Metal line and normally lathed undersides. They also have a dark and articulate stick sound, without the chunk of the Fat Hats. They are loud without being rude. The splash sound is slightly muted, and the chick sound is slightly more mellow than the Fat Hats. These hats are also pretty versatile, but they’re a bit more esoteric; their dryness might be too much for some drummers. The 13” Furia Rock Hi-Hats were loud and dark, which is an unusual. The stick sound is clear and the bark is full. The chick sound is also quite dark but is plenty loud enough to project through most styles of music. They would be right at home in a big band or fusion setting, but could serve admirably in other styles as well. The loud, angry, big-brother of the group were the 13” Myra Rock Hi-Hats. These hats are bright and aggressive; they should cut through just about anything. Every part of these hats is loud and clear and bright. Even with the brightness and volume, they don’t sound harsh. The stick sound is a bit thin, but it is certainly focused. The splash and chick sounds are loud, and the bark sound is loud and sort of clangy. A neat thing about the Myra hats is that the bell is loud and clear enough to function like a bell more so than on many hi-hats. Getting a bit softer are the 13” Vintage Bronze Medium Hi-Hats. These are very dark with a mellow stick sound. The Vintage Bronze hats also have a very mellow chick sound. I see these as being a great choice for low-volume styles, but I’d worry about their ability to cut through if the volume got above forte. Last among the 13” hi-hats are the Classic Medium Hi-Hats. These aren’t quite as dark as the Vintage Bronze hats, but they are thin and airy, with a quality I describe as “papery.” The chick sound is very quiet and the splash is mellow. These may not be all that dark, but their overall sound is quiet and delicate. They would be excellent hats for quiet acoustic music, but they might not be a good choice for anything else. The two pairs of 10” hats that I was able to sample were from the Black Metal and DH lines. The 10” DH Medium H-Hats are clear and, given their size, quite loud. They are clean and cutting and would be an excellent choice for auxiliary hats. The 10” Black Metal Rock Hi-Hats are addictive; I couldn’t stop playing them. They are tight and funky. The stick sound is clear, and the bark and chick sounds are cutting. I had a lot of fun playing these. I have a hard time seeing hi-hats this small as anything other than auxiliary hats, but the Black Metals are special enough that they might even work sometimes as main hats.
On to the crashes. I was able to sample several crashes from a few different lines. Something that seemed to cross all of the lines was that all of the crashes are louder than comparable crashes from other companies, so a 17” crash might work where normally an 18” crash from another brand would be needed. Also, all of the Stagg crashes benefit form the long sustain that seems inherent to the brand. Starting with the smallest, I first tried a 13” DH Exotic Medium Thin Crash. This crash, like the Exotic ride, has an unlathed bell on top, but is fully lathed on the underside. Due to its size it has a splashy quality to it. This one will bridge the gap between big splashes and small crashes perfectly. Next up is a 15” Furia Rock Crash. It is loud and clear with just the slightest hint of trash (one of my students said, “It sort of sounds like a China cymbal”). I got to try three 16” crashes. The SH was the thinnest of the lot and had the darkest pitch, though it was still louder than the average 16” crash. I’ve said it already, but the SH cymbals are a great value. The 16” DH Medium Crash is bright and clear, it’s a nice general purpose crash. The 16” Myra Rock Crash is very bright and cutting without being harsh, and it has lots of sustain. I was able to sample two 17” crashes. The 17” Classic Series Thin Crash is warm and dark, and has the shortest sustain of any of the crashes I tried. It seems suited to jazz or studio work. The 17” Myra Rock Crash was louder than the 16”, and had more sustain, and sounded very much like a bigger version of it’s smaller sibling. I was also able to try two 18” crashes. The 18” DH Medium Crash was full and even, with a balanced sustain. This is the crash that my student and I got so excited about and that began my education of Stagg cymbals. This is a beautiful and versatile crash. The 18” Myra Rock Crash is slightly lower pitched than the 17”, but retained the character of the other Myra Rock Crashes. In listening to the different sized crashes, I was very impressed with the consistency within each model. Stagg has done a great job of making sure that each cymbal retains consistent sound qualities. So the 16”, 17”, and 18” Myra crashes, for example, all had similar sound qualities and character and sounded like part of the same family. Finally, I played a 19” Vintage Bronze Medium Crash. This big beauty has a big, warm, lush crash sound. Also, it has a sweet stick sound and would work very well as a crash/ride. Stagg offers a wide range of great sounding crashes to fit any taste and need.
I was also able to try out several models of China cymbals. As one might expect, China cymbals from China are especially authentic. I tried two models from the Traditional line, 14” and 18”. These have the squared-off bell and short, trashy sound I expect from traditional-style Chinese cymbals. I also played several China cymbals from the DH line. I played 8”, 10”, 14”, and 19” DH China cymbals. The bells of these cymbals were slightly squared-off, but not as much at the Traditional Chinas. They were somewhere between traditional Chinese bells and the rounded bells of most cymbals. These were all bright and trashy with an extremely short decay. The consistency of the Chinas struck me as well, as each step up in size sounded like a bigger version of the one below it. I found myself playing on these a lot; they were just a joy to play. The smaller models make great little accent cymbals and the 19” China was fun to ride on as well as crash. I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise, but China cymbals that are hand-made in China are everything that I expect from a China cymbal.
Next up are the splashes. I got to try several Furia, DH, and Hand-Hit splashes. All the splashes were labeled “Medium,” though the Hand-Hit splashes were noticeably thinner than the DH and Furia Splashes. I sampled the Hand-Hit Medium Splashes in 8” and 10”. They were thin and had a trashy sound. I liked these splashes a lot. They had a short sustain and would be great splashes in quiet or moderate-volume music. Since they are labeled Hand-Hit, I gave them a go with my hands, and I found that they did indeed open up quickly and produced their full sound even when struck with my hand. These are versatile splashes that could be useful for drummers in several styles. The DH Medium splashes, of which I also tried 8” and 10” models, were a bit heavier than Hand-Hit Splashes. The DH Splashes sound even and clean. They do have a splashy sound, but also have a bit of “small crash” mixed in. I felt like the DH Splashes were good general-purpose cymbals. I think they would be a great starting point for anyone looking for a splash. My favorites of the bunch were the Furia Medium Splashes, of which I got to sample 8”, 9”, and 11” models. The Furia Splashes have a quick initial attack with a short sustain and just a slight bit of kang mixed into the end of the resonance. They reminded me of some traditional hand-made Turkish splashes I’ve had the privilege of owning. That trashy kang sound gives these splashes a very unique character. The Furia Splashes are also plenty loud; they definitely won’t get lost in the mix like some splashes can. My one complaint about Stagg’s splashes is that they don’t offer a 6” splash in any of their lines. I’ve always had a soft spot for 6” splashes’ quick sound for special effects. Hopefully Stagg will add 6” splashes to at least some of their lines in the future.
As a last note on the splashes and small China cymbals, I tried stacking the 8” and 10” DH Chinas on top of the 8” and 10” DH Medium Splashes. The results were a bit different than I’ve had with similar stacks in the past (8″ Stack ; 10″ Stack). The shape of the bells on the small China cymbals gives them a bit more room to breathe resting against the splashes underneath. The result is an aggressive white-noise sound that, while short, has more body and a bit more sustain than I’ve come to expect from stacks of this nature. The sound was more throaty and had more body. I appreciated the added presence and I feel that these stacks are more versatile than other stacks I’ve used in the past.
I was very impressed with all of the Stagg cymbals. A few didn’t appeal to my taste, but all of these cymbals were high-quality and offer a very solid value when considering their price. My student saved herself about $150 by taking home the DH Rock Ride instead of a cymbal from one of the other brands. I confess that I’ve become a big fan of Stagg’s product. I found myself gravitating to certain lines for certain sounds. For instance, the Furia crashes and splashes were quick and splashy with just a hint of trash, while the Black Metal rides and hi-hats benefited from a dry, articulate character. The various lines offer something for every taste, from jazzer to thrasher. Stagg’s initial offerings several years ago were pedestrian, but with their revamped production methods and product lines, they compete in quality with any other brand. If there’s one thing I’ve learned in twenty years of being a cymbalholic, it’s that no cymbal will be right for everyone. But no one should be afraid to try Stagg cymbals just because they’re a new player in the cymbal game. Besides, it’s a debatable point whether cymbals first originated in Turkey or China, so cymbals made in China have just as much tradition and history behind them as cymbals made anywhere else. Don’t be afraid of a label; listen with your ears. You might just find a Stagg cymbal that was exactly what you were looking for.