So, that brings us to the questions of the day.
How many cymbals should you have in a basic drum kit?
At very least, you should have hi-hats, a ride and a crash. Beyond that, use your imagination and watch other drummers for ideas. For me, I use hats, ride and two crashes - one left and one right - and a splash right over my first rack tom. I'm also a big fan of stacking a splash upside down on top of a ride or crash. There are other cool ideas all over the place, just experiment and see what you like and works for your playing and style of music..
What sizes should you use?
This is open to debate. I'm a weirdo, cymbal-wise, so I use 13" hats, a 22" ride, and my crashes are 15" and 17". The splash is 7". I'm not a really high volume player, so these particular cymbals get me what I need in terms of control and response.
Standard sizes (if there are standards anymore) are 14" hats, 20" ride and 16" or 18" crash. Again, try a lot of cymbal sizes, and find what works for you.
Which brand is best? Uh......yeah.....about that. This is like the Coke/Pepsi debate or the Chevy/Ford debate, but much, much worse. Given that I've played cymbals I've liked from more than a dozen different companies, I'd sooner tell you which presidential candidate I'm voting for this year. I'd probably take less heat for that than for declaring cymbal supremacy for one or the other.
In my personal cymbal bag I have a pile of Zildjian Ks, K Customs, A Customs and As. I also have some Sabian and Meinl pieces. In addition, I have a serious hankering for some Bosphorus, Hammerax, Paiste and Soultone. There are many more cymbal makers, too many to mention here.
Again, listen for what you like, and play what makes you happy.
A few years ago I had the opportunity to play one of the practice kits at Brigham Young University (BYU), and it was equipped with a set of Paiste Signatures. Like I said above, I'm mostly a Zildjian guy, but I was blown away. They were the smoothest, silkiest, easiest playing plates I'd ever met. The experience taught me never to walk away from something just because of the brand name. Put stick to metal, and let your ears make the call.
One more resource you may want to check out is MyCymbal.com. They allow you to hear the exact cymbal you're purchasing before you buy, usually played by somebody awesome, like Peter Erskine or Jeff Hamilton.
Good luck choosing some great cymbals. And don't be afraid to try something new.