We weren’t in Kansas anymore, but we certainly weren’t in Oz either.
Following 16 sleepless hours flying east over the big pond, including an unexpectedly clammy transfer in Paris’ hot and confounding Charles De Gaulle Airport, we landed at the Nuremberg terminal, where we collected our luggage and strolled directly to the parking lot without seeing anybody remotely resembling a customs agent.
So much for German homeland security. But we weren’t here to cause trouble. We came to visit the Meinl cymbal factory.
In nearly 20 years of publishing drumming magazines, we watched ringside as Meinl gradually found a footing in the American cymbal market (the company also offers a vast selection of high-quality hand-percussion instruments from its factory in Thailand). Meinl’s effort to win a slice of American market share was hard fought, with an early history of cymbal brands with clumsy English names, spotty marketing that didn’t inspire American consumers to buy, and endorsers from bands most U.S. drummers never heard of and never would.
(Left) Reinhold Meinl.
But we would come to learn that the Meinls are a proud and determined family that set their sights on the U.S. market some time ago. “Not only is America 50 percent of the world’s market, but America influences the rest of the world,” says Reinhold Meinl, current company president and son of founder Roland Meinl. “I do not think any company can be a success without having success in America.”
Things began to coalesce in 2000, when Meinl finally scored with American consumers by taking some calculated risks. New lines captured imaginations: Gen-X aggressively explored edgy sound effects; Mb20 sang with an Americanized rock resonance; and the individually-cast, jazzy, Turkish-made Byzance line broke entirely from the company’s previous penchant for making cymbals from sheet-bronze blanks.
A Meinl office sprung up in Nashville around the same time, with a stocked warehouse to facilitate domestic shipping and a fresh team of American reps hungry to sign relevant endorsers. They leapt into the extreme drumming fray, signing freakishly coordinated monsters like Thomas Lang, Johnny Rabb, and Marco Minnemann. The company wisely presented these amazing, but fairly unknown endorsers on endless clinic tours and key PAS conventions, effectively building their superhuman reputations while they scrambled the brains of drummers throughout the U.S.
More importantly, Meinl also carved an identity among the new breed of metal drummers, scooping up key endorsers like Jason Bittner of Shadows Fall, Jaska Raatikainen of Children Of Bodom, and Chris Adler of Lamb Of God, wisely exploiting their names and likenesses in print ads and clinic tours. The payoff is that the Meinl logo now oozes Ozzfest cred. Slowly but surely, step-by-step, the pieces fell into place.
5,804 miles from San Jose, to be precise. And while we’ve known quite a few Meinl representatives over the years, we harbored a skewed vision of where they worked and lived. In our mind’s eye, we pictured a grey factory in an industrial suburb of Nuremberg, filled with workers in matching grey jumpsuits, filing in and out of their workstations at the howl of a steam whistle.
Okay, so we watched way too many late-night Hollywood movies.
Within minutes, our Meinl escort Reinhard, a young drummer working his way into the family business, turns our van away from the city and toward the lush greenery of the German countryside. Every so often, our expressway narrows to skinny two-lane streets that snake through picturesque villages framed by cobblestone and thatched roofs. We get our second wind. Cameras come out.
After half an hour, Reinhard points to a long sleek structure ahead. It’s the Meinl factory. We can’t believe our eyes. Meinl overshadows a small cluster of buildings in what is otherwise a beautiful rural setting. You feel like you’re miles from anywhere, and in fact, you are. Another young Meinl employee would later whisper that he’d rather live in an area where there is more to do. He was talking about girls, of course, but we only saw cows outside the window of the country inn where we stayed.
So this is the new home of heavy metal cymbals?