A great symbol for a great cymbal

Zildjian can trace its roots back to the 17th century Ottoman Empire. Its calligraphic logo is a reminder that here is a brand with real heritage

Music is not the tribal phenomenon it used to be. The kind of original, distinct musical movements that brought with them a way of dressing, of dancing, of seeing the world, and that fulfilled the ardent need in adolescent youth for a sense of identity and belonging, seem to be a thing of the past. Band logos don’t seem what they used to be either, changing from album to album.

If you’re looking for tribal loyalties in music today, you’re probably better off plugging into the world of instrument brands. The divisions there are sharp and the loyalties are often lifelong, germinated by pre-teen visions of idols extracting beloved melodies from Fender or Gibson, Marshall or Vox, Korg or Moog.

Many of these brands have been around for generations. Zildjian has been around a bit longer. Anyone who has noticed the company’s black, calligraphic script on the cymbals of drummers might be surprised to learn that its first celebrity endorsement came from Sultan Osman II, ruler of the Ottoman Empire, in 1618. No other music brand has as long, as rich or as authentic a pedigree. America’s oldest family-owned business is older than the US itself – and its origins lie in the heart of a great Islamic empire.

Its closely-guarded process for treating an alloy of tin, copper and traces of silver, passed down from generation to generation, was happened upon by Avedis Zildjian, an Armenian alchemist in 17th-century Constantinople. His cymbals, known for their clarity, power and sustain found favour with the sultan, whose elite Janissary army units used them to frighten the life out of their foes.

From the 1920s, when the still-small family business relocated from Turkey to Quincy, Massachusetts to capitalise on the jazz boom, Zildjian worked with drummers like Gene Krupa to pioneer the development of the modern range of cymbals – hi-hat, splash, ride etc – and with it the sound of drumming and percussion in modern music.

It wasn’t until the 1970s, though, that the company invested in a consistent visual identity. They were missing a trick by not having anything to identify their cymbals to millions of pop and rock devotees watching on television. After a chance meeting between their wives at the local gardening club, Robert Zildjian hired graphic designer David Lizotte to develop a logotype for print advertising and its in-store ‘cymbal tree’ displays.

“They had a lot of historical printed material,” recalls Lizotte, who still lives just two miles from Zildjian’s factory, “and one thing that stood out was the calligraphy – in particular, one piece of paper with the name written by Avedis Zildjian III. I re-drew it in pencil, and a lettering artist in our studio (Gunn Associates) cut the lettering out of masking film, so it was super-sharp. That was it! No research, no big programme, no big money!”

Somehow, Lizotte captured 350 years of brand heritage in something highly contemporary and of-the-moment. Appearing at a time when drumkits were expanding, and rock was being opened to more exotic influences, the Zildjian logotype struck the right note. And it has served the brand well in its own tribal rivalry: when Robert Zildjian left to set up his own business, Sabian, he took the Zildjian recipe with him. In cymbal terms, the competition between the two is close; in logo terms, it remains no contest.

Michael Evamy is the author of LOGO and its companion, Logotype, to be published by Laurence King in 2012. evamy.co.uk

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