The New Brunswick cymbal factory that was a crashing success

CBC visited a factory in tiny Meductic, N.B., where the Zildjian family business made cymbals using a secret method in 1969.

Sabian cymbal company began with a Zildjian family business dispute

Zildjian family won't reveal secret of its cymbals

3 years ago
Duration 1:53
In 1969, the family factory in New Brunswick turns out high-quality drum cymbals.

The tiny New Brunswick town of Meductic, on the Saint John River, is home to one major employer whose name is known to drummers around the world: Sabian.

The company makes high-quality cymbals that have been used by drummers including Phil Collins, Tyler Stewart of Barenaked Ladies and Rush's Neil Peart.   

The manager of the Zildjian cymbal plant praised "the good labour force" in Meductic, N.B. (CBC News/CBC Archives)

But back in 1969, what is now the Sabian factory was home to a company then called AZCO, a subsidiary of the Zildjian cymbal company.

"It's the only plant in Canada devoted to the trade, and is becoming a mecca for drummers from all over the world," said CBC reporter Bill Curtis, as the camera showed the factory machines and craftsmen at work inside.

AZCO was run by the Zildjian family, originally from Armenia, which had been casting cymbals using a carefully protected method since 1623.

"When Avedis Zildjian immigrated from Turkey, he brought the secret to Boston," said Curtis. "Now, it's in Canada but still a closely guarded family secret."

Cymbals are suspended in the air to dry after being dipped in liquid as part of the manufacturing process. (CBC News/CBC Archives)

The company had opened a factory in Meductic for reasons explained by general manager Willard Way.

"We have wide open spaces here, no traffic problems, plenty of clean fresh air for manufacturing cymbals, and a good labour force," he said. 

According to the Sabian website, Way was a local fishing guide who had been entrusted by a member of the Zildjian family, Robert, to help set up the Meductic operation.

And he wasn't about to give away the secret of AZCO's cymbals.

"It's a secret in mixing metal and casting," was all Way would say.

But the family wasn't shy about supplying the reason for the plant's location.

"The truth is, the Zildjians love fishing," said Curtis. "And that's how they discovered Meductic. And because they combined business and pleasure, crashing cymbals of Meductic vibrate around the world."   

The rift that split the company 

Sabian cymbal company results from Zildjian family fight

33 years ago
Duration 2:10
CBC's Venture looks at how the Sabian cymbal company of Meductic, N.B. got its start.

In 1990, the CBC business program Venture revisited the factory in Meductic, which was by then making cymbals under the Sabian name.

A disagreement years earlier between the sons of Avedis Zildjian, Robert and Armand, had seen Robert form a new company he called Sabian, using the Meductic plant for manufacturing.

Andy Zildjian had joined the breakaway family business started by his father Robert and is seen here at Sabian's Boston office. (Venture/CBC Archives)

The two companies were now in direct competition for drummers' dollars, and reporter Colin King wanted to hear from both of them — but only the Sabian branch would talk.

"One time when I was younger, my uncle said to me, 'you have to remember, kid, you're cymbal royalty,'" said Andy Zildjian. "There's no such thing as cymbal royalty. I mean, we're just — we're making cymbals." 

He was speaking from Sabian's Boston office, not far from HQ for Sabian's competition, which was simply called Zildjian.

Zildjian has counted among its artists Dave Grohl of Foo Fighters, Max Weinberg of Bruce Springsteen's E Street Band, and Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones.

Barenaked Ladies drummer Tyler Stewart is seen using a Sabian cymbal at a 2004 concert in Boston. (Robert E. Klein/Associated Press)

"Before the brother split, Zildjian virtually owned what's now a $40-million game," said King. "In eight years, though, Sabian's taken a quarter of the expanding market."

Venture visited the Sabian factory, where workers could be seen hammering away.

"Sabian spins a good story," said King, "of sturdy, honest Canadians whose rural values of solid workmanship remain unsullied by those big-city ways."   

In his office, Robert Zildjian described what had happened when his father died, leaving the Zildjian business to two sons. 

"Now, when he went to Heaven and looked down at what really happened, he could see it was an unsuccessful transition."

According to Zoom Company Info, Sabian's 2019 revenues stood at $23 million, while Zildjian's 2019 revenues were $33 million.

Drummer for the Dave Matthews band, Carter Beauford, performs with a Zildjian cymbal on his kit during a concert at Lane stadium in Blacksburg, Va. on Thursday, Sept. 6, 2007. (Steve Helber/The Associated Press)

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