Bob Henrit tours the Zildjian factory, looking at success cymbals
Bob Henrit Visits The Avedis Zildjian Cymbal Plant In Boston
In the five years or so I've been going to America I have never had a chance to visit the Avedis Zildjian Cymbal Factory. Of course we play in Boston on every tour but, up until now, never on a weekday. So this tour I decided that, come what may, I would visit the factory. What this actually meant was, I had to persuade the other members of the band to take their precious two days off in Boston.
The Zildjians are the justifiably proud possessors of a beautiful, brand-new glass and marble factory, out in the country, twenty-five miles from downtown Boston. Inside the marble foyer is a huge metal sculpture, constructed completely from cymbals and pieces of cymbals. As I arrived, Avedis himself wandered over to say hello and enquire how everything was in Europe at the moment.
Our guide for the factory tour, sales manager Lenny Di Musio, took me to the hall of fame. Here are priceless photos of famous drummers through the past fifty years or so, from Zutty Singleton to Billy Cobham, via everyone you could possibly think of, and a few you possibly couldn't. All these drummers with one thing in common: Avedis Zildjian, the Rolls Royce of cymbals!
The plant itself is spacious, airy and light, seemingly perfect working conditions. Although the building is a hive of industry, there are only twenty-five people employed here, including all of the office staff and the Zildjians themselves. Their engineering work force is divided into (if my memory serves me right) two men in the laboratory working on the formula, five men for foundry work, three men for finishing, one man for hand-hammering the Chinese Cymbals, and three more for selection and quality control. This gives a total of fourteen men making all of the best cymbals in the world.
One cymbal starts off as a highly secret alloy, which becomes an ingot behind locked shutters and out of sight of prying eyes. I picked up an ingot weighing three or four pounds and struck it. It astonished me when it rang like a bell. This seems to prove that the Avedis sound itself is in the formula of the alloy before the manufacturing process is begun. At the ingot stage, each blob of metal is earmarked for a particular size of cymbal.
The whole process, from ingot to finished cymbal, takes five days, with one completely different process for each day.
The first step is to make the ingot red hot in a furnace and then flatten it in a rolling mill. This operation is repeated four or five times on the first day.
On the second day the bell is stamped in, and the cymbal heated and quenched to give it strength and hardness. The hole is then drilled and the metal roughly cut to size and put, five at a time, into a press and left to assume its characteristic shape.
Day three, the cymbal is hammered, not by hand any more but by a completely automatic machine which, evidently, works just as well. This secret machine bangs the metal, at random in concentric circles, thus removing all the lumps and high spots and making the surface more uniform. The only cymbals which aren't worked on the automatic machine are the Chinese ones which, because of their upturned edge, must be laboriously hand hammered.
The fourth day of processing is for planishing the still-rough hammered cymbal on a horizontal lathe with a hand-held tool fixed to something like a broom handle. This takes out the roughness and puts in the characteristic grooves.
On the fifth and final manufacturing day, the cymbal is polished and cut accurately to size on another lathe. Zildjian's brilliant range of cymbals are, I believe, highly polished by hand, although I didn't see any being worked while I was there.
It's now time for the cymbal to be visually inspected for imperfections and rejected if necessary. All cymbals go into a huge storeroom and, only when orders come through are they aurally inspected by one very skilled person, who designates crash ride, medium bounce, pang or whatever. It's only as the cymbal is about to be shipped that the "Avedis Zildjian, Made In U.S.A." trade mark is stamped on it.
The warehouse where I finished off my tour is a drummer's Aladdin's Cave; absolutely wall to wall and floor to ceiling cymbals. Eight inches is the smallest they make and twenty-four inches the largest, while in between they have all the intermediate sizes, including some unusual dimensions, which don't seem to come to England. Most of their smaller cymbals can be supplied in two or three different weights, while the larger ones in no less than five. From time to time, the factory stops work on cymbals and completely switches production over to their Taiwan Gongs.
My trip to see the Zildjians was an exceptionally interesting experience, made doubly so by the kindness and interest shown me by the Zildjians, Lenny Di Musio and all the staff. Very enjoyable.
Feature by Bob Henrit
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