plating, anodizing, & finishing Q&As since 1989
Cleaning & Refinishing Bronze Cymbals p2
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An ongoing discussion beginning back in 2003 ...September 19, 2009
Q. I've been playing drums for around 12 years now and the one thing I dread is cleaning them. I found a drum cleaning machine online but I can't seem to find any purchase info on it. It is called the PC-1 and is made by Pro Cymbal, inc. I have sent them an email on purchase info and I am waiting for a response. Does anyone know anything about this machine?Jeremy Miller
- Gardendale, Alabama
July 6, 2010
Q. Does anyone know how to maintain cymbals and keep a polish on them when you are in a humid environment? I have read that playing in these environments are a cause for greenish tint to appear on your cymbals due to the finish being not being able to withstand it. I play Sabians AAX, Zildjian K customs and Paiste Signatures and it all has the same effect.
Please help with a cleaning and/or maintaining technique.
- Houston, Texas, USA
July 30, 2010
A. To all my fellow drumster's out there that can't find the proper cymbal polish &/or proper technique to keep those cymbals shimmering. I have been playing for well over 30 year's now. And have used every high end make & model cymbal made on the market. From Paiste, Sabian, Zildjian -- all custom medium weight cymbals. I have been playing live and in the studio for 25 years of my career. So I feel I have the qualifications and experience to make the following factual statements:
I have tried every polish and or cleaning solution on the market, and have followed the directions on those product's labels step by step. None of what I have read in any of the above have worked for me. I finally found a cleaner that I happened to stumble upon because I have a close friend that cleans mansions of millionaires for a living. And she came across a cleaner that is in every one of their estates. It is called Noxon 7 [affil. link to info/product on Amazon]. It is a cleaner made for very expensive fine silver, brass, bronze and other precious metals. I can attest first hand. This is the best cleaner you will ever find on the market.
What I do is: Dampen the cymbal first with a hot water rag, then apply a nickel size dab of the Noxon on a different damp hot rag and wipe in the direction of the tonal groves in the cymbal. Wait to see you have an even coat on the entire cymbal. Then use a third cloth hot and damp to clean the Noxon completely off. Then you want to use a very dry soft rag to finish the job. You don't want to leave any part of the cymbal damp. That is what causes the discoloration and will start the oxidation process. Trust me on this. I have called Zildjian myself to impart my findings to them. Because I was having the same exact problems as all you have had. It's a green bottle with gold and/or silver writing on it "Noxon 7". Get it and follow my steps. You will be glad you did in the end. My cymbals look almost brand new. And I have had them for many years.
And it is not true that a dirty cymbal sounds better than a clean one. There is zero sustain and/or resonance that will cut through the way a cymbal should if there is dirt in the tonal groves. The bottom line is, you take care of your gear, it will take care of you. Keep them clean and away from moisture.
Sincerely, A drumming Friend to all. AKA DrumsKeith! Good Luck, I am sure you will be more than satisfied as I have been for the past two years with this product(f you use it right).Keith David
- Methuen, Massachusetts, USA
October 7, 2010
The Dos and Don'ts of Cleaning and Polishing Cymbals
- by George Lawrence, drummer for Poco, Publisher of Not So Modern Drummer magazine, and owner of George's Drum Shop.
(This is posted permanently at WWW.NotSoModernDrummer.com).
There is a lot of phony baloney and misinformation out there about cymbals and cymbal cleaning and I hope to cut through some of that in this article. Please correct me if you have proof that I am wrong about any of this. I am not the final authority on cymbals or cymbal cleaning and I want to be corrected if I am wrong, but please do it with proof, not just opinion. I expect to be challenged on the internet about this and hope that the process leads to even further correct knowledge. Much of this is derived from my forty years of observation and experimentation in drum shops. So far everything I've written here has withstood the test of time.
First of all, Professional cymbals are not made of brass, but of bronze which is an alloy of copper and tin. Cheap beginner cymbals ARE made of brass, like Zildjian Planet Z, Sabian Solar, Paiste 101, etc., or of nickel and brass. Sabian Solar = Camber by the way. The alloy used to make professional and midline cymbals is usually B20, B12 or B8 bronze. These are the cymbals that I will discuss here.
B20 = 20% tin, 80% copper with a few other possible trace metals like silver. Zildjian A, K, Z, Sabian AA, HH, Paiste Twenty, Bosphorus, Istanbul, etc.
B8 = 92% copper and 8% tin. It is a stronger alloy and can be manufactured as sheet metal which is what some cymbal manufactures make their less expensive lines from (Zildjian ZBT, Sabian B8). There also other alloys such as B12 (Zildjian ZHT) or the Chinese cymbals which are around 22% tin content (which is why they sound tinny and Chinese?).
So, since cymbals are made mostly of copper, Brasso and metal cleaners made specifically for other types of metals are not the optimum cleaners for bronze cymbals. They require enormous amounts of elbow grease to work. I am amazed by how many drummers swear by these brass, chrome, silver, etc. cleaners even though they have tennis elbow from polishing for hours. There is even one independent cymbal cleaner manufacturer who uses the word brass in the name of his product. That guy didn't do his homework.
Cleaning and polishing are two different processes. Don't confuse them.
1. Cleaning means getting the dirt off the cymbal but leaving the lacquer.
2. Deep cleaning/stripping means getting the dirt and the lacquer off the cymbal.
3. Polishing means shining the cymbal with a cloth or buffer, with or without a liquid or cream or spray polish. Most products sold for cymbals are simply polishes and don't really clean.
If you have ever taken your cymbal to be cleaned and polished at a music store or drum shop what usually happens is this: The cymbal is put into a Stewart MacDonald or similar cymbal cleaning machine which is a big plastic bucket with a motor underneath and the cymbal is spun at high speed while the operator applies Zildjian or other cymbal polish to it with a soft rag until it shines. Most of the older drum shops have an SM machine but it is no longer manufactured (I am in the market for one if anyone is selling). If the music store has a horn repair department then they are most likely going to put some sort of brass/ metal polish or polishing rouge on it and hold it up to the big buffing wheel that they polish horns with. These methods usually polish/shine the cymbal up enough to look better but do not deep clean it. It is basically shining/polishing the lacquer on top of the cymbal. Horns have lacquer on them too. In order for a cymbal to be thoroughly cleaned the dirt, oxidation and other elements have to be washed out with water and a cleaning agent before physically polishing.
As for brand name cymbal cleaning/polishing products, I have tried them all for years at my drum shop and other drum shops, from the Zildjian, Paiste, Sabian creams and spray cleaners to Groove Juice spray, Roadie in a Bottle liquid, and the cotton wadding with chemicals in it like Buckaroo and Flitz. They all work as intended; as a cleaner. They all work to some degree but most require a good bit of elbow grease to polish and the results are varied.
Cotton wadding; The cotton wadding types are metal polishes that are simply repackaged; Buckaroo = Flitz, etc. I find that the cotton wadding and other types of metal cleaners leave a heavy black film that, if not removed, results in a shine with a darker tint that never goes away, except with the application of our cymbal cleaner. That black film is a mixture of metal, chemicals and dirt. I read from one person on the internet that the black film was metal that the cleaner had taken off. This is not true. The metal was already there and removed by either scrubbing, sticks, vibration or general wear. Even the mildest chemical cleaner will result in a light black film if metal detritus is already present.
No mess spray cleaners like Groove Juice or Sabian spray are great for just removing fingerprints, smoke and light dirt from newer cymbals that still have the store lacquer coating, but they will not deep clean very dirty or older cymbals, or restore that new, shiny look. But they are great for light quick cleaning with no watery, soapy mess.
The liquid and paste creams are light metal polishes that are designed to not take the store lacquer or ink logos off the cymbals with light cloth polishing.
The BEST over the counter cymbal cleaning product that I have found is a new product (2008) called Cymbal Swipes which is a wet nap that comes in a baby-wipes type container. These cloth napkins contain butyl cellusolve, organic acids and surfactants. You wipe the cymbal down with it and scrub a bit to get hard dirt off and basically the cymbal comes out very shiny BUT you must wash off the cymbal with soap and water afterward and wipe it dry, so it is not something you want to do onstage. But it is the easiest and most thorough cleaner on the market. It does not require a lot of elbow grease but still cleans the cymbal down to the shiny lacquer. The cymbal will yellow again. All lacquered cymbals eventually yellow with time, some faster than others.
We advise against hi speed buffing because it dulls the sound of the cymbal, but if you prefer the visual over the aural, then do it! It's your instrument! Andy Zildjian told me in the mid eighties that hi speed buffing of cymbals wears down the microscopic metal ridges that are in the grooves of a cymbal. These ridges are what give a cymbal its highest pitch sounds, the zing!. These ridges are so microscopically small that they are very easy to wear down and are even worn down by playing, one of the reasons for older cymbals getting mellow as they age. Hi speed high pressure buffing definitely wears down these ridges. Low speed, low pressure buffing does not.
Which brings us to brilliant cymbals. Brilliant finishes on cymbals are usually not a plating or coating. Brilliant finishes on cymbals are achieved by high speed buffing at the factory which (you guessed it) actually dulls the sound of the cymbal because it wears down those little microscopic ridges that produce the ultra high end sounds. Let me state this again. Brilliant cymbals sound duller than non brilliant finish cymbals. Brilliant cymbals look brighter but they do not sound brighter. Go do an A/B blindfold test with a brilliant A Custom and a regular finish A and tell me I'm wrong. I have personally put brilliant finishes on cymbals with a high speed buffing machine and heard the difference, which is drastic.
The effect of heat on cymbals: I have read from others on the internet that high speed buffing changes the molecular structure of cymbals and that this is why you should not high speed buff. From what I have read about principles of physics one would have to heat a cymbal to many hundreds of degrees (1500?) before it would start melting or changing its molecular structure. I think that those who wrote this are mistakenly attributing the effect of wearing down the cymbal's ridges to heat. I have not seen any proof that quick low or high-speed buffing heat changes the metal, so the challenge stands. I have been advised that high speed buffing causes surface or work hardening which doesn't go very deep but may cause stress in the bronze. One of the best tests I have done so far was to high speed buff an unlathed cymbal and it did not change the sound of the cymbal at all.
"Store lacquer" on cymbals. Very important. This is what most drummers are not aware of. Almost all new major brand cymbals have a coat of lacquer or polyurethane applied by the manufacture. Why? Well it ranges from keeping the cymbals looking new in the stores and resisting fingerprints ("store lacquer") to a heavier lacquer (Paiste, Meinl) that is meant to be permanent and this is why their cleaners are weaker than the others; the heavier lacquered cymbals do not tarnish or get dirty as much, so a strong cleaner is not needed. The lacquer protects the metal's shine for a long time, but will eventually wear down. The first time you thoroughly clean a new cymbal with the correct metal stripper, the lacquer is removed and your cymbal will never look like that again unless you can replicate the exact lacquer that the manufacturer put on it. The ones with heavy lacquer may look mottled and change color drastically when you clean them with metal cleaners because you haven't removed all the lacquer. If you want to maintain the original clear coat on your new cymbal then use a very light cleaner like Paiste's cleaner that will not remove the lacquer, BUT the store lacquer will eventually wear off with use anyway. I will instruct you how to reapply the lacquer later in this article.
Acids. I strongly warn against using strong acids on cymbals. I've heard of people recommending everything from vinegar, ketchup and lemons to muriatic acid. Strong acid is not necessary for cleaning cymbals. It is overkill. It cannot be completely washed off. It stays deep in the metal and eats away at the instrument. Most any metal cleaner will have ingredients that dissolve dirt well enough. Acid can be harmful if ingested through the skin, mouth or nose. Don't believe everything you read in drum forums. Years ago I had a guy demonstrate his new acid cymbal cleaner on my Zildjian K hi hat cymbals and it ruined the finish of the cymbal. It is still discolored fifteen years later. To use acids on cymbals is just plain dangerous and ignorant.
Dirt on cymbals. Some drummers like the mellower (duller) sound of an old cymbal with years of dirt on it. I do too, for jazz. I have some nice old Ks that I never clean because the dirt in the grooves has made them less bright than when I originally bought them, and I like the stick articulation I hear from the dirty surface. I like my newer cymbals clean and bright sounding for rock. As for the myth of burying your cymbals in the back yard to "age" it, the same effect can be achieved by getting a cup of dirt and rubbing it into the cymbal. I asked a metallurgist about drummers claiming that burying a cymbal in the ground will "age" the structure of the metal and make it sound like an old K Zildjian. He said there is no scientific basis for it. All of the cymbal manufacturers recommend cleaning your cymbals.
Logos. I hate ink logos. Some people like them. I would no sooner put an ink logo on a cymbal than I would pour a bunch of ink on guitar strings or any other part an instrument that is supposed to vibrate freely. It does not benefit the sound at all and can only detract from it. Cymbals have not always had ink logos. The trend of putting ink logos on cymbals as advertisement started in the early eighties? (who was the first? Zildjian?). My personal feeling is that they detract from the mystique and aura of the instrument visually. If you really clean your cymbal properly , that ink logo is going to come off,. If you clean around the logo then you will have a clean cymbal with a dirty area, the logo. Your choice.
Polishes and waxes. Polishing is achieved by actually polishing the cymbal to a shine with a polishing cloth or a light electric circular buffer with a soft cloth pad on it. Bronze can be brought to a shine quite easily with physical polishing once it is cleaned thoroughly.
My method of deep cleaning/stripping, relacquering, and polishing:
1. Cleaning/stripping: I use a specific metal cleaner, only Wright's Copper Cream [affil. link to info/product on Amazon], with plenty of water and a soft cleaning cloth like soft terry cloth or a diaper. If you use this copper cleaner you will strip the lacquer off your cymbal. You apply this goop in a basin or tub with warm water or you can use a spray bottle with water in it if you can't get to a tub. You will see the color of the cymbal change immediately and the cleaning process start to work. Once you have scrubbed the dirt out, use more water all over the cymbal until all the dirt is off. You can add more goop and water if the cymbal is very dirty. In extreme cases you can use a more aggressive cleaning material like a sponge or plastic bristle brush to pull dirt out of the grooves. You then wash the dirt and cleaner off the cymbal and dry it. Another method to wash the cymbals is to put them in your dishwasher at home and put some of the goop in the water, but good luck with your spouse. This also works for drum hardware and stands. You must wear latex gloves when you do this so the goop doesn't harm your skin and so you don't get fingerprints on the cymbal before polishing or lacquering. Fingerprints really stick out like a sore thumb on raw unprotected bronze.
2. Applying lacquer. Do this if you want the cymbal to look as close to showroom new as it can get. Once you have the cymbal thoroughly cleaned you can apply a very light coat of lacquer then slow buff it after it has dried.. We have experimented with a number of lacquers and found a fast drying, hard finish lacquer that can be slow buffed and does not affect the brilliance of sound of the cymbal. .
3. Polishing: You can maintain this lacquer by using the soap and water/ polishing cream method as dirt builds up on the lacquer.
So, you basically have three methods of cleaning/polishing cymbals
1. Clean and polish:
Clean with soap and water, polish with a commercial cymbal polish and a soft cloth. This does not take the lacquer off and usually does not take the logos off.
2. Deep clean/strip and polish:
Clean with the proper metal cleaner and water, polish with a commercial cymbal polish and soft cloth. This method will still collect fingerprints quickly that will require frequent repolishing.
3. Deep Clean and strip, refinish with lacquer, polish;
Clean the lacquer off with the proper metal cleaner and water, apply one coat of lacquer, polish, apply another coat of lacquer if desired, polish..
Don'ts of cymbal cleaning:
I have seen all of these recommended on the internet. I have seen damage from all these products. Do not use them.
No brillo pads
No steel wool
No Goof Off
No nail polish remover
No lacquer thinner
No paint thinner
No paint remover
No epoxy remover
No phosphoric acid
No automotive rubbing or buffing compound
No toilet bowl cleaner
No rust stain remover
No naval jelly (designed to take rust off battleships for Pete's sake!)
No acid of any kind.
Cleaners no better than strong soap and water:
Brasso or other brass polish
We have found that WD-40 works well in removing logos and stubborn stains on cymbals. It's also good for removing gum from carpet. The dad in My Big Fat Greek Wedding would probably recommend Windex for this too.
Not So Modern Drummer magazine - akron ohio U.S.
October 7, 2010
Hi, George. Thank you for this excellent article! But "phony baloney and misinformation" has the connotation of "self-interested untruthfulness" rather than merely inaccuracy. There may well be inaccuracies posted here, but there is only a little self-interest here and zero untruthfulness :-)
Ted Mooney, P.E.
Striving to live Aloha
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey
November 10, 2010
Great article! You sound like you know your stuff. Most of the junk you read online is pointless.
What are your thoughts about the product Nevr-Dull [affil. link to info/product on Amazon]?
Does that fall into the brass/chrome polish category, or the automotive buff one?
I've used Nevr-Dull on cymbals without any obvious negative effects ... If you've never tried it I suggest it at least once. It seems to work for me.
Thanks! - Mark
- Perrysburg, Ohio, USA
March 16, 2012
A. I may not be playing drums for as long as some of the people here do. I'm playing for just about 10 years now (may be long but not very long). But from those years, I have learned that something in your fridge can help clean your cymbals. It is KETCHUP. It does not need tough rubbing or any rubbing tool/brush at all. Place a generous amount of ketchup on your cymbal and let it sit for about 15 minutes (I don't think it matters much if you exceed the time as I left mine for a day). Rub the ketchup off after and that's it. The catch is, I use Planet Z cymbals which are colored a bit gold. The ketchup might take the gold luster off. The ending turns out to be a pale yellow, but very shiny. Hope this helps.Ellmar Villadares
- Cainta, Rizal, Philippines
November 1, 2013
Q. I have some old(er) bronze B-20 B-8 alloy and some brass cymbals that are in dire need of some mild to heavy corrosion removal. There are lacquer (I assume) labels which I would like to preserve on them, as it identifies the brand and type which maintains their value. I am looking for an electroless bath process that will remove the tarnish similar to the old 'salt and baking soda/tinfoil' silverware method that will not damage the labeling ... (perhaps even this might be suitable), but I do not want to experiment on pieces of metal that are worth $400+ each.
Does anyone know of a sure-fire dip, or electroless bath process that is suitable for this? I have the bath and system to electropolish stainless steel, but do not want to destroy my parts or contaminate my bath with alloys that might make my stainless look smutty.
I have a few acids and bases ranging in strength at my disposal, just looking for a concoction that is 'tried and true' for these materials, if possible.
I do not want to use Brasso, as I have tried it in the past and it removes the labeling I want to preserve and generally does not passivate the metal surface enough to prevent immediate re-tarnishing.
Any tips would be greatly appreciated~!
- Kelowna, B.C. Canada
November 6, 2013
A. Try 5% ammonium citrate solution pH 9 (dissolve 50 gms citric acid in water, add some ammonia pH must be 9).
Hope it helps and good luck!
- Cerovski vrh Croatia
April 19, 2014
A. I have only used Wright's Copper Cream [affil. link to info/product on Amazon] you can buy it at the grocery store in the cleaning aisle. Dampen cymbal, wipe on with the grain, and rinse off and dry immediately.chip mcclurkin
- findlay ohio usa
May 13, 2015
A. Barkeepers Friend [affil. link to info/product on Amazon]. Ignore all these other responses. This IS the best cleaner.Jim Bianco
- Tucson, Arizona USA
September 22, 2016
My cymbals really look bad. I haven't cleaned them for years. Do you think my cymbals will change sounds? Different than the day that I bought them? I'm looking for cheap/home remedies on how to clean my drums -- would you suggest anything?john ray punzalan
- Balanga, Bataan, Philippines
Electrolytic plate cleaning for musical cymbals?October 4, 2016
Q. I wondering if the electrolytic plate cleaning will clean music cymbals. The cymbals I use are B8, B12, & B20 bronze (brass, tin, copper, bronze) mix. . . Will this cleaning method harm the material (finish or stability)? Or remove factory logos ? Will it work for the removal or fingerprints, finger oils, nylon streaking from plastic stick marks, etc.?Eric McCullough
Musician 30+years / restoring drums/hobby - Lawrenceville, Illinois U.S.A.
A. Hi Eric. If by 'electrolytic cleaning plate' you mean those aluminum plates that you put silverware or jewelry on to remove tarnish, they will not remove fingerprints, finger oils, nylon streaking, or any soils. "Cleaning plate" is a bit of a misnomer; they are actually for tarnish removal. I don't think they'll work for bronze and they're maybe too small as well.
Ted Mooney, P.E. RET
Striving to live Aloha
finishing.com - Pine Beach, New Jersey
August 24, 2017
Q. I am in a marching band playing Zildjian crash cymbals and I recently used Brasso to remove the tarnish on them because the cymbals I was assigned hadn't been played or cleaned in four years. My instructor flipped out, saying that I had just shredded what little lacquer was left on them and that I just made their situation worse even though I was following the instructions of someone that had played in DCI (Drum Corps International) on cymbals and that was how he kept them to their standards. I don't think my director would want me to remove any logos, but is there anything else I can do or suggest to bring them back to show condition?Lily Luffman
- Atlanta, Georgia, USA
April 27, 2020
A. Hi. An inexpensive way is Lava soap. It has pumice in it, which is a natural polishing compound. You'll have to use a bit of elbow grease, though.
I recently discovered Barkeepers Friend [affil. link to info/product on Amazon], a brand of scouring powder. Wet your cymbal (I have a tub so that even my largest fits in) sprinkle some Barkeeper's Friend on it, and then with a SOFT scrub brush clean the cymbal. You'll see an amazing difference. You don't have to rub hard at all, just keep with the grooves. Then rinse and dry. I then went over them with Brasso [affil. link to info/product on Amazon] polish to REALLY bring out the shine. They are like mirrors now.
A word of warning: This WILL remove the stamped-on logo. That doesn't bother me as the ink dulls the sound a bit. And sound is the important thing in music. A couple of my cymbals were so tarnished they were almost green. They are much brighter now, both in terms of looks and sound.William Matthews
Pastor - Andover, New York, USA