Sabian unearths buried cymbals on N.B. farm to see how soil affects instruments

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MEDUCTIC, N.B. - On the same farm where previous generations of his family grew potatoes, pumpkins, strawberries and Christmas trees, Mark Love, master product specialist at Sabian cymbals, harvested a different sort of crop Monday.
As the warm day grew hot with the approach of noon, Love oversaw the unearthing of a big metal cage. Inside, 100 premium Sabian cymbals were slotted like plates in a dishwasher, two layers of 50 packed tight with soil.
They were underground for eight months, during which time the temperature dropped as low as -38 C and deep snow blanketed the field, now fragrant and green with clover.
The cymbals are part of One of 100, a Sabian experiment to test an old adage among drummers that soil-aging gives them a different sound quality.
The talk is mostly among jazz drummers, said Wayne Blanchard, director of marketing for the Meductic, N.B., cymbal manufacturer.
In the old days, when musicians would play the club circuit, "I think a lot of things like smoke and just grunge from the air landed on the cymbals and took the brightness out, and a lot of jazz drummers go for that dark and dirty sound," he said.
"It takes the sparkle out. I think that is what this is all about."
Robert Zildjian, chairman of the company that makes 800,000 cymbals a year, said the legend has its roots in New Orleans, attributing it to Ray Bauduc, a legendary jazz drummer who soil-aged his cymbals.
"He used to do it in his mother's backyard for at least six months," Zildjian said. "Number one, it was the aging, and aging under the soil brought out different conditions in the alloy."
About 60 of the 100 cymbals have sold since sales opened in March, going for $800 each - about $200 more than what their non-buried counterparts retail for.
Along with a custom-made cedar box the cymbal is packed and delivered in, buyers will enjoy other perks, including an exclusive One of 100 forum, access to product specialists, and a tour of the factory.
As Zildjian, his wife, and a dozen or so Sabian staff members looked on, an excavator cut into the soft, rock-free soil until the top of the metal cage peeked through the earth.
Men in jeans and work boots jumped down and hooked winches onto the crate's four corners.
"It's going to be pretty funny if there's nothing there but a note that says,`Thank you,"' quipped Peter Stairs, Sabian's vice-president of sales, as the crate was raised.
Rusted red and streaming soil from grates and the cutout Sabian logo on each side, the cage had taken on an almost archeological look in just eight months.
"I'll be honest with you, once this comes up, we don't know what we're going to find," Blanchard said before the unearthing.
At the dig site, Nort Hargrove, vice-president of manufacturing, plucked a cymbal from the dirt and tested it, holding it aloft on his finger as he tapped it with a drumstick.
His first impression: "It was pretty duddy."
Once he brushed off more of the dirt and mud, though, it sounded a lot better.
An hour later, at the big Sabian factory a few kilometres from the dig site, Mark Love held one of the excavated cymbals.
"They all look alike, but they are all different," he said. "Because they are hammered by machine and by hand, each one is unique."
Next to the brassy shine of a regular Vault Artisan cymbal, the unburied version was muted and a bit darker with a subtle patina developing in patches.

Geographic location: MEDUCTIC, New Orleans

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