Zildjian Cymbals

The Zildjian and Sabian Cymbal History

The next time you watch a live and, pay attention to the cymbals that the drummer is playing. See if you can spot the name “Zildjian” or “Sabian” printed on the tops of the cymbals. The story behind how those cymbals were made is fascinating reading.

Zildjian cymbals are famous for an amazing clarity in their sound and power. The Avedis Zildjian Company is the world’s biggest manufacturer of cymbals and drum sticks, and currently holds the title of one of the longest standing and continually operating companies. The family’s secret manufacturing process, which produces the alloy used to make those cymbals, has been passed down for nearly four centuries and fourteen generations.

It all goes back to 1618, in the city of Constantinople, where an Armenian man by the name of Avedis had hopes of becoming an alchemist. He was experimenting with different combinations of silver, iron and copper when he got an interesting end result from one batch - a sheet of metal that could make unique sounds without shattering! Instantly, Avedis realized what his discovery meant –cymbals forged from this metal would be better than other cymbals sold anywhere. Excited about the possibilities from his discovery, Avedis plotted to create a business making cymbals from his new metal alloy. He needed a name for the new company. Taking the Turkish word for a cymbal-maker (“zil”) and adding the Armenian suffix “ian” (meaning “son of”) to it, he came up with “Zildjian” meaning “son of cymbal maker”. In 1623, cymbal production at the new Avedis Zildjian Company got underway.

Avedis was very paranoid that his secret alloy formula would get out. He knew that his business would be lost if that happened. So fanatical was he about keeping the manufacturing process of his metal alloy secret that only his oldest son was entrusted with the knowledge of the process. And so it began that the secret knowledge was passed on from one person to the other as a deathbed type of gift. When Avedis was about to die, the business was passed to his younger brother, Kerope, because both of Avedis’s sons were too young to run the business by themselves. When Kerope was on his death bed, the family secret was passed back to Avedis’s younger son Aram - now finally old enough to handle the family business. In turn, Aram passed the secret manufacturing process to Avedis Zildjian III before he died.

The Zildjian Company also has its roots in historical conflict. Armenia is located in the Middle East/ Eastern Europe. It was the first state to adopt Christianity as its religion in the fourth century. When World War II broke out, the government in Constantinople began to distrust and dislike the Armenians. As a result, many of them were arrested and killed. It was during this time that the Zildjian Company used their cymbals as noisemakers to frighten the enemies of the Ottoman Empire.

Internal squabbles between family members can sometimes cause powerful rifts. This company did not escape that type of conflict. Before Avedis Zildjian III died, he reveled the family secret to both of his sons, Armand and Robert. The passing on of the family secret to two sons created a powerful legal struggle between the brothers, who battled for power within the company. In early 1977, Robert left the business and traveled to Canada to create his own company, Sabian cymbals, rivaling the Zildjian Company. Part of the settlement between the two brothers gave Robert the rights to the Canadian factory – only if he agreed not to use the Zildjian name, or claim that his cymbals were the same. Now, to all outward appearances, a Sabian cymbal is identical to a Zildjian cymbal - with the exception of the name and the price. Sabian cymbals are lower in price, making them more affordable for drummers everywhere.

Along with the secret combination of ingredients, the Zildjian Company says that a special heating and re-heating process helps their cymbals to be very durable. Workers who help to groove the final surface on the cymbals are apprenticed for five years. This ensures that each cymbal is carved by a master craftsman. When people buy Zildjian products, they know that they are buying a reliable product made with expert craftsmanship. To this day, Zildjian remains the world leader in cymbal making.

Many great bands and their drummers choose Zildjian cymbals and drum sticks in their percussion section: Green Day, Dave Matthews Band, Ringo Starr, and Travis Barker. Some notable users of Sabian cymbals include Tyler Stewart, Rod Morgenstein, and Phil Collins.

Armenians have a great sense of pride intheir heritage. It does not matter which Armenian accomplishes something great or monumental - all Armenians feel a swelling sense of pride when they hearabout it. This is why I choose someone from my Armenian culture to write about. I wanted to educate the reader about the historical depth and conflictthat arose out of something as seemingly innocuous as a cymbal.