Vintage Cymbal History: Zildjian's “Cheap” Zilco Cymbal Line

When you buy cymbals as much as I do every once in a while you're bound to run into a cymbal you've never seen before. This can be both good and bad, as every drummer who's bought a patina covered vintage cymbal at a garage sale knows.

Sometimes these cymbals turn out to be valuable Zildjian K Constantinoples with the stamps worn off, sometimes they're cheap cymbals that sound great after age mellowed out their sound, or sometimes they're just cheap and overpriced because they look old.

A few questions go through most drummers' heads before buying used cymbals from from garage sales or flea markets:

  1. Do you buy a cymbal you've never heard before just because it looks old?
  2. Will it sound good with the rest of your cymbals?
  3. Can you get your money back if it doesn't? By the way, this is the main reason I let drummers trade in used cymbals!!

In any case, when I ran into a vintage Zilco cymbal at a garage sale I wanted to know more.

Zilco Cymbals?!?!?

The Zilco by AZCO Canada stamp on the cymbal.

The Zilco by AZCO Canada stamp on the cymbal.

All drummers have had this problem at one point or another:

I ran into a great condition, close to perfect crash (or crash/ride?) cymbal with a Zilco by AZCO Canada stamp under a scimitar and some Ottoman script. I didn't recognize the brand.

The cymbal had enough of a patina to be from the '70's but it was lathed like modern B20 cymbals with no signs of factory hammering or hand hammering. My guess was still '70's since it had a much smaller bell and thinner weight than most modern cymbals.

The good news was that it sounded great as a ride with tons of warm, wet vintage tone. Crashable and just dry enough!

Whatever it was, it was going for cheap so I grabbed it and took it back to the loft to play it and learn more.

Zildjian, Zilco & Sabian: A bit of cymbal history

When I got online and began to look around for info on Zilco and AZCO Canada I couldn't find much more than some drum forum posts asking about Zilco prices with tiny bits of history. Some of them dated Zilco from the 1930's with others calling the cymbals late '60's or early '70's era Zildjian factory rejects.

I knew the 'Zil' came from Zildjian, so I at least had a starting point...

I thumbed through Zildjian's history in The Cymbal Book (by Hugo Pinksterboer, 1992) to get a definitive answer.

The First Zilco Era (late 1930s to 1950s)

Most of the confusion in drum forums has to do with the fact that Zildjian used the Zilco name twice:

Starting in the late '30's Zilco was used on cheaper Zildjians that were about a quarter of the price of the regular line. Pinksterboer cites a 1937 Premier catalog writing:

In 1939 Zilco also featured 11˝ and 13˝ Swish cymbals, “The new cymbal sensation; introduced by Gene Krupa and Dave Tough.”

So basically the older Zilcos were A Zildjian quality control rejects that were re-sold cheaply, including the Swish cymbals and others sized from 9˝ to 12˝. Because they were factory seconds they were a bit of a gamble—some sounded great and others just okay.

I did find an article from a Nov. 1983 Modern Drummer, by Chip Stern that had some more dirt on the two different eras of Zilco:

The Zilco trademark, which included a sword and Arabic writing just above the Zilco text, was initiated in June of 1930 and was primarily used on second-quality Zildjian cymbals. These cymbals were supplied to various drum companies to use with their complete drumkit setups.

This type of availability continued until 1968, when Zilco cymbals became its own line of cost effective cymbals. The Zilco line did utilise Zildjian's famous alloy, but in order to keep costs down, the company did not apply the hammering process. This 'new' Zilco line offered three factory matched setups called 'The Starter', 'The Rocker' and 'The Swinger'. The lines were available until 1970 when Avedis Zildjian decided that he no longer wanted to offer second-quality cymbals.

But, it's not as simple as that—Zilco also had two different stamps during this first 1930s era which, according to the Modern Drummer article may have lasted until 1968.

Zilco Constantinople Stamp

This earlier era of Zilco had at least two different stamps, one that read “Zilco Constantinople” and on that read only “Zilco Trade Mark” in all capitals.

I haven't been able to find any info about exactly when these different stamps were used but did find a forum post by someone who spoke to Armand Zildjian himself. He claims that Armand says it is probably a World War II era cymbal made at the Zildjian plant using the Quincy drop hammer technique—used until Avedis Zildjian stopped offering Zilcos and the technique was replaced by the pressing process.

The “Trade Mark” stamp is from the first part of the era, with the “Constantinople” one coming later on. No one seems to know the dates.

The original Zilco “Trade Mark” stamp from the first part of the 1930s to 1950s era.

The original Zilco “Trade Mark” stamp from the first part of the 1930s to 1950s era.

The faded Zilco Constantinople stamp that was used on Zildjian's later Zilco cymbals from about 1930-1950.

The faded Zilco Constantinople stamp that was used on Zildjian's later Zilco cymbals from about 1930-1950.

These cymbals have small bells, feel paper thin and often have hand hammering. Also, according to magazine ads like the one here most of these era of Zilcos were the smaller swish cymbals sized from 10 to 15 inches. If your cymbal falls into those sizes, it's more likely it was made between 1930 and 1950.


These are definitely worth buying (if the price is right), or at least trying out since the tone of cymbals from this era is a favorite among drum nerds—even if you don't know exactly when it was made.

Either way, my cymbal was for sure from the AZCO Canada era, and not one of these hand hammered aspiring Zildjian As.

The Answer!! A Cheap Zildjian Cymbal

So there you have it, my Zilco was not a Constantinople diamond in the rough, but nonetheless was a pretty solid, great sounding crash/ride. Well worth the money I spent on it!!

The same 1983 Modern Drummer article has a quote from Robert Zildjian explaining how the Zilco by AZCO Canada cymbals like the one I had were made:

There were two types of Zilcos. Originally there was a Zildjian that didn't make it, a second; then there was a Zilco that was a thinner rolling done without hammering, which cut the cost considerably.

Hopefully some more information comes out about the two Zilco stamps from the 1930s-1950s era, but in the meantime at least no one reading this will have to dig through drum forums trying to find out what Zilco is.


Posted on December 15, 2015 and filed under Music Gear.