I had a recent discussion with Ryan, owner of San Jose’s Lemmon Percussion about the image of a beat-up looking vintage drum set, versus the image of a beat-up looking vintage electric guitar. We agreed that a beat-up vintage guitar looks cool, because it’s been played so much and has earned its right to passage. As for the beat-up old drum set no matter how vintage, rusted hardware, tarnished cymbals and chipped paint on wooden hoops just makes a drum set look neglected. It’s like looking at an classic car that needs some TLC and a new paint job to help it come to life.

With this in mind, I pulled out my old 1964 Ludwig Black Diamond trap set and am detailing it in preparation for an upcoming blues gig. I have begun with what would seem to be the simple task, the polishing of cymbals. I first flashed back to the nightmare of a time when I polished my cymbals for the first time–it was indeed a nightmare. Over the years, I’ve learned some definite do’ss and dont’ss where cymbal polishing is concerned. These tips will save you time and frustration.

I suppose if you really want to go crazy you can use a powered buffer, but I recommend you still use the following as a guideline.

Product: You can use just about any cymbal cleaner available at music stores, but I use basic BRASSO brand brass cleaner, which you can pick up at any local market or drug store. It’s less expensive then cymbal cleaner and does a great job.


  1. Of course read the cleaning product directions
  2. Suit Up! It’s going to get dirty quick. Wearing household cleaning gloves and work clothes is a must. The stuff that comes off in the cleaning process is nasty, and will make your skin smell and feel really funky.
  3. Do this job outside or in the garage. Cloths used in the cleaning process will get very dirty and create a strong odor. Your work area will also get dirty, so prep a large flat work surface area and cover it with plastic, cardboard or butcher paper.
  4. Apply the cleaner with a dry cloth or paper towel. Apply in small sections and with the grain of the cymbal. I reiterate, SMALL SECTIONS WITH THE GRAIN OF THE CYMBAL. I work on each section of the cymbal like it’s in pieces of a pie. This will save you time! Bigger sections are not better. You’ll spend more time having to go back over your work.
  5. Keep the cleaning product wet when applying. Immediately after applied, get a clean soft cloth or paper towel and rub very hard to remove the product and tarnish. This is KEY to doing the job right–put lots of elbow grease into it!
  6. Overlap your sections to avoid creating lines of demarcation
  7. A second or third application is optional, but I have found in some cases it doesn’t improve the shine.


  1. DO NOT LET THE PRODUCT DRY! I can’t emphasize this enough. As soon as you apply it on the pie shaped section, get a new dry cloth and start rubbing it off. This is the key to speed and ease
  2. Don’t apply the product to the whole cymbal at once. The process will take a great deal longer and you’ll waste lots of time trying to get the dry product off once it has dried.
  3. Don’t do this task when you are tired. It takes a lot of arm strength, and if you have a lot of cymbals it will be a lot of hard work.

Using these tips, you’re polished cymbals will make your whole kit shine. That shine is what I like to call the symbol of a shining cymbal.

G. Brandau

Before AND After