Rob Zildjian is eulogized thusly on that great modern document, Wikipedia: "Robert Zildjian (14 July 1923 - 28 March 2013) was the founder of Sabian Cymbals, the second largest manufacturer of cymbals in the world."
There's a lot in that one sentence, if you know where to look. The largest manufacturer is Zildjian, a family company Rob broke from over ownership disputes after his father's death. You are welcome to prefer Sabian or Zildjian cymbals, but that's about it -- they are very much the beginning and end of the discussion. You might think a sheet of metal wouldn't take much craftsmanship, but I can assure you unequivocally that it does. My first drum set came with some off-brand crap that sounded like trash can lids. I bought a set of Sabians to replace them, and from those instruments you can draw the texture and rhythm and accent that plays no small role in the scope of your favorite songs. But I am a decided amateur here, so we asked the most expert drummer we know, Tex Bosley (of myriad Denton bands and Tex's Tub Drum Co.) to share his thoughts on the legend.
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I met Rob Zildjian for one brief handshake at PASIC years ago in the '90s. I was with a bunch of UNT Drum Line guys. We had just won a World Championship and he took the time to congratulate us and shake our hands. He seemed like a nice guy, especially when you consider that it was (and is) his father and brother's company, Zidljian, that sponsored UNT.
I wish I had more of a personal angle. You know, more of a story to tell but, sadly, I only met him that one time.
As far as Sabian and myself, I use a set of 14" Sabian HHX Legacy Hi-Hats (The Dave Weckl Signature Series) as well as a matching 17" crash cymbal of the same make and model. Those plates sound amazing and I've never been happier with an instrument purchase (especially the hats).
Zildjian does have "signature" cymbals but they are of a different line (Oriental, Sound Effect, etc.). You can always recognize them by the red paint/logos. The classic Zildjians have black markings and no Zildjian with black markings has, as far as I know, ever been issued as an "artist" or "signature" series.
Sabian, on the other hand, has released several "artist"/"signature" series using their premier cymbal models. Like, for instance, the cymbals I mentioned earlier, the HHX Legacy. The HHX model is one of Sabian's top-of-the-line series and they are putting drumset artist's names on a portion of that line (something Zildjian has never done). I think that is very important. When a young drummer is looking at a wall of metal at a music superstore it's often THE SOUND that draws them to a particular instrument. The fact that Sabian supported drumset artists by putting the artists' names/signatures on their best sounding cymbals has, no doubt, positively effected many percussionist by introducing young players to premier artists.
Plus, as drummers, it's often difficult to garner attention (read: monetize publicity). That's the nature of the beast. You are behind the frontman, in the back. Often your job is to stay out of the way. We get noticed for all the wrong reasons sometimes so when an artist reaches the point where they rise above "the pack" for the right reasons it's often through a form of recognition like the "signature" series product.
If a young drummer gets turned on to a pro via a "signature" series product and that relationship improves them as a player then everyone wins. The artist gets a new devotee. The company gets a new customer. The young player gets some new perspective. The music community gets an improved drummer and the listeners get a better product.
Being in business with my brother I can imagine what it must have been like for Rob to split with his family's business. It must have been a heartbreakingly terrible experience. I imagine much sleep was lost but one can't help but admire someone who believes in their own ideas enough to bet on themselves over a sure thing.
In the end, I think Rob Zildjian is to be commended and revered for continuing on with his own vision and for putting out some of the best sounding cymbals on the market.