DRUM! Visits The Meinl Cymbal Factory
Apparently it is. We stop beside a huge tent set up on the Meinl grounds. Tomorrow is their first drumming festival featuring many of the company’s big endorsers. Ernest stagehands carry drum sets and microphones left and right. Everyone has a walkie-talkie and access pass. It’s a big production. We walk in as Mike Terrana prepares to do his sound check.
(Left) Mike Terrana grimaces.
Terrana — an imposing and muscular American metal basher with a Mohawk — is bigger than life and beloved in Europe but can’t get the time of day in the U.S. Our loss. We hung with Terrana for the next couple days, cracking jokes that somehow got better as they got worse.
Frivolity hit stride at the pre-show dinner, where a large group of drummers, Meinl employees, and drumming journalists wolfed schnitzel and downed homemade beer into the wee hours. Planted at a big wooden table in a cavernous stone room with Terrana, Rabb, Shauney Baby, Drums & Percussion editor Heinz Kronberger, and assorted spouses, we had a ball and probably talked a bit too loudly until jet lag hit like a sucker punch to the jaw. A driver took us back to the inn, where we fell onto the bed like a sack of concrete, only to have our internal clock wake us up a couple hours later, far too early. We sat on the balcony and watched the sun rise over the farmland. Little did we know that we were being eaten alive by mosquitoes.
You might think that Meinl’s push into the U.S. market only recently gained traction, but in fact the company sold cymbals to American drummers since the ’60s, when they were distributed with Kent drum kits. It was the first of many milestones. Reinhold Meinl gestures to the wall in Meinl’s glass encased conference room where a rare early Kent cymbal is mounted in a frame. They ran across it being discussed online in a drum related chat room and contacted the owner who agreed to trade it for a brand new Meinl cymbal.
He might have thought that he got the better end of the deal, but the Meinls know better. Sure, this battle-worn relic wouldn’t fetch much at your local drum shop today, but to the Meinl family it symbolizes the very foundation upon which their legacy was built. “Kent Drums was one of our big customers for many years,” Reinhold explains. “When my father got an order from Kent, those orders were big enough to keep him busy for one month, and he could not do cymbals for any other customer. This is how small the company was.”
In truth, the operation couldn’t have been much smaller. Born in an area once renowned for musical instrument craftsmen in what is now the Czech Republic, patriarch Roland Meinl relocated to Germany at the age of 16 after fighting in World War II, and began making cymbals by hand, one by one, while Reinhold and his mother packaged the finished products. “It was hard,” Reinhold says, “because they had to start from nothing.”
Of course, when you come up from nothing, you have plenty of room to grow. And they did, slowly and methodically. They hired their first employee in 1964 and brought another on board two years later when the family took a technological leap forward and invested in a spinning machine to increase production and quality. The business grew steadily until the mid-’70s, when Meinl began to produce cymbals for the fledgling American brand Camber. Suddenly their output increased exponentially.
“For about ten years, we got such big orders from the Camber brand that we had no time to work on any new Meinl-brand cymbals,” Reinhold says. It was a mixed blessing. “Our cymbal factory was busy around the clock, and our wholesale operation was growing, so we were financially okay for many years. We sold thousands and thousands of Camber cymbals to America, but the Meinl brand was disappearing around the world.”
Reinhold set out to change that equation when he became more involved with the family business in the early ’80s. He recognized that the company needed to establish its brand, and perhaps more importantly, venture into the professional cymbal market after building its reputation on student models. So in ’83, Meinl invested in robot hammering and launched its first high-end series, the Profile line. With the steely familial determination that is their hallmark, the family never looked back, and today offers a wide selection of cast- and sheet-bronze cymbals invested with a dizzying array of sounds and colors for drummers of every style and playing level. And they’re not finished. Oh no. Not even close.
Monster Chops Marathon
Leaving the inner sanctum of the Meinl conference room, we hear the drumming festival raging in the distance. The grounds swarm with drummers, young and old, some wagging tongue studs while others stroll in leisure ware. Despite overcast conditions, the place seems packed with attendees grabbing swag from a line of booths sponsored by several German drumming-magazine publishers. Impromptu jams break out at an outdoor hand-percussion playground as drummers line up for one of the ongoing tours of the cymbal factory or chow down at the requisite schnitzel and beer stands.
Of course, the performance tent is the centerpiece of the show, and Meinl has assembled an impressive lineup of players to dazzle the crowd. Besides Terrana, Rabb, and Shauney Baby, the event showcases Benny Greb, Phil Maturano, Roland Peil, Ron Van Stratum, Amel Serra, and Thomas Lang — each demonstrating a different style and technique with chops to spare.