Justin Ryan here! As a professional studio/touring musician and music teacher, I’m frequently experimenting with different Hi Hats. Whether I’m recording, teaching, rehearsing, practicing or performing there’s always a specific sound that I’m trying to achieve.

Hi-Hat Basics

The Hi Hat has been around for almost a century.  Percussionists were looking to add another sound to their trap set (drum set, drum kit).  The first version of the Hi Hat was known as the Sock Cymbal. Unlike modern Hi Hats, Sock Cymbals came in much smaller sizes than what we are used to seeing today. As time went on, the Hi Hat became an important part of the drum set, becoming instantly recognizable in many styles and genres of music. No matter what kind of genre you play, the Hi Hat always serves an important role as a timekeeper, sound effect and/or to increase and decrease the dynamics of a song.

Selecting your Hi Hat Cymbal: Size Wisely

You might be thinking, “How do I choose the right hi hat size”?  Well, the pitch and sound of your cymbal is relative to the size, weight and how the cymbal is made. When it comes to size, smaller Hi Hats like 13″ or 14″ will provide a more bright and crispy tone. If you’re looking for a dark and warm sound, go with a 15″ or 16″ Hi Hat.  Although it’s not too common, I’ve used a 16″ top with a 13″ bottom and a 14″ top with a 15″ bottom. I’ve also used crash cymbals as a hi hat. I put one Sabian AAX 17″ Studio Crash Cymbal on top of another and it sounded great; nice and crispy in the closed position with a warm shimmer in the semi-open position.  If you have some free time, try experimenting with different size tops and bottoms!

Selecting your Hi Hat: Production Process

When picking out a Hi Hat, it is important to consider the different methods used to construct the Hi Hat’as there are several types to consider, each with their own sonic benefits. I’ll start by contrasting hand hammered and machine hammered cymbals. Hand hammered offers a warmer tone and more individualized sound. The cymbals are in fact hammered by hand with a ball-peen hammer, so each cymbal can have a different pitch, sound and look. This process dates back to the early 1600’s.

Machine hammering can be done robotically or by a human running a hammering machine.  This evolution in the cymbal making industry is nice because if you break one or love it so much that you want two, you can find the exact same cymbal with almost the same sound.  Who’s to say one is better than the other?  You’ll have to try them all to determine which sounds best to you.

Selecting your Hi Hat: Materials Matter

Next we have sheet and cast cymbals. Sheet cymbals are created by an industrial process of combining malleable bronze, brass and/or nickel silver then shaped and sized.  These cymbals tend to be brighter sounding, appealing to the pop, rock and metal drummers. That isn’t to say that some jazz and orchestral percussionists may enjoy the sound.

Cast cymbal production is the traditional way of cymbal making.  Cast cymbals are made by melting down bell bronze and pouring it into a mould.  The cast cymbal is put through a lathe to flatten and shape then is hammered by hand. Cast cymbals are considered more prestigious because of the way they are produced and their ingredients. Jazz and orchestral percussionists tend to prefer cast cymbals because of their sound and prestige but I’ll let you be the judge of that.

I’d like to share with you some of my favorite hi hats. There are a lot of cymbal companies out there. One company I recommend is Zildjian; I really like their 14″ K hi hat cymbals. They’re reasonably priced at $434.95.  Although the pitch of the cymbal is fairly low they are very crispy and offer great tone!

I love the Zildjian A Custom 13″ hi hat cymbals. They’re crispy and sound great in the open or closed position.  They’re priced a little lower than the 14″ K hi hat at $339.95.

Another company I really like is Sabian. They’re 14″ AA hi hat sounds amazing.  The bell, bow and edge of this hi hat sustain nicely in the open position. When partially opened, these cymbals have a beautiful shimmer.  This hi hat is long lasting and offers great tone.  The Sabian AA 14″ Medium hi hat is $309.00 but you’re getting a great sounding, long lasting hi hat!