Side note: Parker does play “professionally” in that he is in a couple of bands that actually get paid for playing gigs. However, he doesn’t make his living that way. He tells us that the money he makes playing the drums just goes toward supporting his music habit; buying more drum stuff, buying vinyl, etc. It is a cycle of addiction really. Just like a meth addict who sells meth so he can buy more meth. Except that Parker’s teeth don’t fall out like a meth addict.
|Turkish cymbals from 3000 BC|
As a bit of prelude, let me explain that cymbals were first developed independently in both Turkey and China thousands of years ago. The Turkish cymbals were the ones that evolved into musical cymbals as we know them, the ones used in drumming. So this was not just a trip to visit any old cymbal factory. This was a visit to a see cymbals being made in a country that invented them and has been making them for thousands of years.
Sure enough, on Monday morning a white van showed up at around 9:45 as previously arranged. “Are you Carey?” the man in the passenger seat asked? It was actually happening! This was Erhan, the European Sales Manager for Bosphorus. There was another couple and their adorable two year old daughter, Marianna already in the van. I will refer to the man as Marianna’s dad and the woman as Marianna’s mom. I am a little embarrassed that I don’t remember their names, but Marianna stole the show. Marianna’s dad makes his living playing drums. They are from Barcelona, Spain.
We picked up another couple a few minutes later, Miguel and Maria. Miguel also makes his living playing from drums. They live in Madrid, Spain. They had no connection to Marianna and her parents and had never met them before. To give you how big a deal visiting the Bosphorus factory was for them, Miguel and Maria had been saving and planning for the trip for five years. They sought out one of the least expensive hotels they could find in Istanbul to leave more money for buying cymbals.
I wasn’t expecting a large, high tech factory given the artisan nature and small number of cymbals they make, but I don’t think I expected what I saw when we pulled up. It was about a 45 minute drive out to the factory on the outskirts of Istanbul. We turned off the highway and wound our way into an area with a mixture of buildings, small single family homes, newly constructed 6 story apartments, small shops and industrial businesses, and finally stopped in front of a building with the “Bosphorus Cymbals” sign half hidden by stacks of wood. I later learned that the wood was used in the oven to heat the cymbals during the later pressings. There were also many white bags in the front yard. These are filled with coal used to melt the tin and copper.
We entered the office, met one of the owners and got an introduction to Bosphorus Cymbals. Another pleasant surprise, they were casting today (melting the metal and pouring it into round disks). They only cast once per week and it just so happened that we were there that day!
From the offices, we went over into the actual factory. I use the term, “factory,” but it is really more of an artisans workshop with a few pretty heavy duty pieces of equipment. I have seen, been through, and managed quite a number of factories in my career. Typically, in a modern production environment, you are focused on driving out variation, improving standardization, measuring and plotting processes and results, adding automation when possible to reduce costs, improving repeatability and controlling processes. The most high tech piece of equipment I saw at Bosphorus was the time clock system on the wall used to record employee work hours. This was not a typical “factory” as I have been used to.
We went into the casting area. Two pots about 18 inches in diameter were sunken into the floor. Red hot lids glowed as the copper and tin mixture in the crucibles below were melting. Erhan told us that the ratio of copper to tin was critically important to the sound and quality of the cymbal and that the ratio was secret. The first thing that makes Bosphorus cymbals unique.
Next we went into the area that contained the roller press that flattens the hot disks that will eventually become cymbals. A short distance away was the wood fired oven, kind of looked like a pizza oven, where the individual disks would go to be heated, pulled out and flattened a little more with the press, and then put back in the oven. This process would be repeated up to fourteen times for each cymbal to get the right thickness, shape and sound. They use wood rather than coal for this process because the temperature is easier to control with the wood.
Beside the oven was a four foot by four foot concrete pool or tub filled with water. This was used for the tempering process. When the cymbal has been formed to the right size and thickness, it is tempered. Tempering means taking a hot metal and quickly reducing the temperature, in this case by plunging it into water. This gives the piece of metal the desired mix between hardness and durability. In the case of a cymbal it also has an effect on the sound. This is a critical step in making the cymbal. This is the second critical thing that is important in making quality cymbals.
Erhan explained that the temperature of the water in the tub used for tempering the cymbals was important in the quality and sound of the cymbal. As the cymbals are quenched, the temperature of the water changes and varies from area to area in the tub. He had previously approached his boss and told him that he could add a simple pump and temperature control system to circulate the water and get a consistent temperature throughout the water so that they had a more consistent tempering of the cymbal. The owner thought about it for a while, and then decided against it. His reasoning was that this was one one of the things that separated a Bosphorus cymbal from a mass produced cymbal, you get a truly unique product.
The final area of the factory was a room where the cymbals are hammered by hand to the right shape, thickness and sound. This was little Marianna’s favorite area. She waved her arms in time to the five workers pounding the cymbals. Another person worked the lathe where a series of small, closely spaced grooves were placed in many cymbals. The grooves add harmonics to the cymbal, further enhancing the sound.
“They will be ready to pour in about an hour,” said Erhan, “Let’s go try out some cymbals.” We went back to one of the offices where there was a small drum set with about four empty cymbal stands. Lining the walls were shelves of cymbals and the next four hours were spent by the three drummers trying out cymbals. “OK. What kind of cymbal do you want to try first?” he asked Parker.
“Well, I definitely want a 21 or 22 inch ride that is a little on the dark side,” answered Parker. This is where I realized that I am not a drummer and didn’t appreciate all the nuances of the selection of cymbals. Dark side? Is Luke and the Force involved in this? For the next four hours the three drummers tried out dozens of cymbals each. The process was interesting to watch. I imagine the process close to what happens when a bunch of women go out clothes shopping and try on outfits for each other and get opinions on the clothes.
“What do you think of this dress?”
“I don’t think that particular shade is right for you.”
“You’re right. I am looking for something a little more understated,” etc. etc.
The drummers took turns trying cymbal after cymbal. Sometimes the reaction was quick, one hit and, “No. This is not for me,” or “Yes! I love this one!” Other times it was trying out one cymbal for a while and saying, “Put this one aside, I am not sure if I like it or not.” There was even some trading going back and forth, “If you don’t want that one, I might want it.”
After about an hour of trying cymbals the word came that they were ready to pour. We went back into
the factory and watched them pour molten metal into small pans filled with water and oil. Steam filled the room and sparks flew. After sitting in the pan or crucible for about 30 seconds someone with tongs came over and pulled the small disk out and took it over to the press. At this point in time, the disk is run through the press only once and then weighed and marked according to what type of cymbal it would become.
When we finished watching the pour, we went back for more cymbal choosing. Parker ended up with three things: a 22 inch Master Vintage Series ride, 15 inch effects crash and 15 inch Antique Series high hats. Miguel got one of the same crashes that Parker got. In total he got about 7 cymbals. Marianna’s dad got 5.
Another cool thing was that all of Parker’s cymbals that he got had not been printed yet with the model number and Bosphorus logo. Miguel had one of his cymbals drilled to accept rivets. Both Miguel and Marianna’s dad needed some of their cymbals printed as well. So, although not quite custom, Parker’s cymbals were just for him. He personally selected them right from the factory before they were even marked and printed for sale.
While the cymbals were being printed and drilled, we made a trip to the local ATM. One thing I learned in Turkey is that cash is king. Most places accept credit cards, but there are significant discounts for paying cash. Bosphorus took cash only.
We also had an opportunity to get to know our fellow visitors better. We learned about the music scene in Madrid and they learned that people actually lived in places where the temperature drops below minus 40 degrees Celsius. They found that hard to believe.
Finally the cymbals were ready. Each drummer got a complimentary cymbal bag to put their cymbals in. By now it was about 5:30, we had spent the entire day there. It had started to snow. We loaded in the van and began our trip back to our respective hotels. The three North Americans were in the back seat, the Spaniards were in the two middle bench seats and the driver and Erhan were in front. The drive back was a little slower since we were in rush hour traffic. The Turks were having a conversation in the front seats in Turkish. The Spaniards were having a lively conversation in the middle seats in Spanish. From my limited Spanish language understanding, I think they were talking mostly about politics and food. The Mossop family mostly just sat in the back drinking it all in.
At last, we reached our apartment. Ehran got out of the van to see us off. “I am sorry if you were bored while they were trying out cymbals,” he said to me.
“Not at all,” I replied. “I didn’t understand everything about why they were selecting the cymbals they did, but the whole day was very enjoyable.”
We shook hands and said our goodbyes. This was a unique experience and one of those days we would remember for a long time.