The Zildjian A New Beat hi-hat has remained possibly as the most utilized hi-hat in professional environments almost since its conception in the sixties. It has a combination of qualities to it that you won’t find in any other hi-hat. Among them, its perfect “chick”, a pleasant sound in all conditions and a great versatility for all styles and musical situations.
It’s 1960, and the Zildjian Company is undergoing many changes. Avedis Zildjian III has already started to transfer responsabilities to his son Armand, who is feeling overwhelmed with too much workload. These days, the company employs 15 workers and outputs 70,000 cymbals per year. The healthy economy is noticeable and popular music is exploding. Everybody watches TV and jazz music is everywhere. Soon enough, a new phenomenon called The Beatles will hit hard, and will be seen on the Ed Sullivan Show with the Zildjian logo on their set of drum cymbals. The demand of Zildjian cymbals will grow strong.
Armand Zildjian has reasons to be concerned. He is taking more responsabilities in the business in a key expansion moment. On the other hand, he is the person who tests the new cymbal models that are being made, so he realizes that he needs some more skilled testers. But where to find them? His father Avedis III has managed to build good relationships with his professional clients, the new stars of swing and jazz. Buddy Rich, Gene Krupa, Papa Jo Jones, Max Roach, Elvin Jones, Louie Bellson and many other drum masters come regularly to the Zildjian headquarters to buy, seek advise and share their concerns or needs on cymbals. This is the glorious age when these drumming monsters helped to design cymbals of all sizes and purposes. They were not only customers but friends, as the current heirs of the Zildjian family have related many times. Armand recruites some of these drummers to test his cymbals, who better than them to give their approval. So he creates the industry’s first Artists Relation Department.
The exact date is not clear, but between 1963 and 1965 Louie Bellson wants to try something new with a hi-hat. He suggests that Zildjian could make a much heavier Bottom cymbal prototype. He wants to experiment with the “chick” sound that can be obtained from a combination of a heavy Bottom and a lighter Top. The tests are very successfull and it results in a fantastic variety of new sounds. Louie Bellson suggests a special name for the new Bottom cymbal: New Beat. After a short time, Zildjian starts selling it under this name, but only as a single bottom cymbal that can replace any other bottom cymbal the costumer already has.
It becomes a best seller and many professional clients adopt it as their main bottom cymbal in their sets. Zildjian soon realizes that it must be sold as a new hi-hat with two cymbals. Towards 1967-68, the New Beat hi-hat is on sale as the package we all know. When The Beatles appear on TV in 1964, sales rocket and Zildjian sells 90,000 cymbals that same year. At the end of the decade, the New Beat becomes the standard equipment in all professional environments, such as in recording studios or on venue kits. And this hasn’t changed.
The New Beat is a combination of a heavy Bottom and a medium weight Top cymbals. The result is a very vesatile, good-sounding hi-hat. It can be very louder but it is very easy to control. When playing it, it becomes obvious that its sound will depend more on our technique and feel than on its features. Its chick is really remarkable and it has a very good stick rebound. The New Beat will fit almost eveywhere and is actually everywhere, in songs from any style you can think of, should it be soft, extreme or commercial. In some reviews it’s been said that perhaps it won’t be suitable for playing soft jazz or delicate music for its loudness, but it is a curious statement, since it was designed and adopted immediately by the true masters of the jazz genre. Many years have passed and several new hi-hat models have reached the market. It is very possible that one can think of a particular model that may sound more appropriate for a certain song or style, but reality persists: the New Beat hi-hats are the reference in the professional world, among very few others.
An interesting issue about the New Beat is that there are other people that consider it to be a “Rock hi-hat”. Now that gives you an idea of its versatility now that you know its origins. I guess 30+ years being Neil Peart’s hi-hat helps fot that matter. The great late Louie Bellson must be laughing at this with his buddies in heaven. Not being a jazz drummer, I’ve chatted with several drum and cymbal sellers and everyone agrees about the New Beat being the reference you want to compare any other hi-hat with. This last years, Zildjian has increased the weight of the cymbals and probably the closest thing to the original New Beat soundwise is the Armand model, which is indeed an amazing hi-hat, one of the very best ever made. If you opt for a more specific sound, you’ll have a lot to choose from. Perhaps a good choice could be the Mastersound or the Quickbeat, but here we are entering in the field of personal taste. None of these hi-hats can do all the things that the New Beat does, but the latter can play the same role of the other ones. That’s why it’s widely used.
As an example, I was searching for a versatile hi-hat when I was setting up my first serious drumkit. I had several features in mind for that couple of cymbals, and I even wasn’t sure they could be gathered in a single pack. I wanted a clear, precise “chick” sound with no shrillness or resonances. I also wanted what I called a “pleasant, nice sound” when played with different intensity. Could this sound remain nice for a variety of musical styles? I went to different music stores, and even waited for three long months to some specific model that was being brought because I wanted to try it and had good memories of it. My budget only allowed me to purchase one hi-hat and you don’t put more than one in a “normal” set of cymbals, right? So I could not be wrong on that. I was also worried about my own judgement. I wasn’t a professional who knows every model and my ears were not trained. All those doubts and all that time checking out cymbals and the answer was the same time and again. I could be enjoying some feature of any specific pair of cymbals, but the one that sounded good to me under all circumstances was the New Beat, both in 13″ and in 14″. As the years went by, I have acquired other hi-hats -my favourite one is not the New Beat-, but it’s been always the first choice when trying anything. I guess this says it all.
Recently, Zildjian has been overhauling some of its classic cymbals, including the New Beat. They have adjusted the weight a little bit and have slightly changed its shape, giving it a steeper curve and a higher profile. They have also repositioned a new bigger logo. Zildjian says that they have “dialled into the essence of that classic sound and made adjustments to the curvature and weights, capturing the sweet spot of the A Zildjian sound.” They are sold in the same natural bronze finish, as always.
This post is also available in Versión en Español.