But starting in the 1980s, when programmable drum machines and electronic drum sets arrived on the scene, that segment of the market began to grow, allowing musicians to do things they couldn’t with traditional acoustic percussion instruments. Now, Smith says, “about 50 percent of the percussion market is electronics, and we had nothing in that space at all.” The growth in electronic drums — which often include rubber cymbals that try to replicate a metal cymbal’s sound — was largely driven by Japanese companies like Roland and Yamaha.

“The reality is, electronic instruments are growing, and this allows us to participate in that growth,” says CEO John Stephans. The company’s annual revenues are in the tens of millions of dollars.

In 2022, Zildjian, which is privately held and one of the oldest family-run businesses in the US, acquired a small startup in Japan, BAC Audio. Several of its key engineers had worked for Roland developing its electronic drum sets, which sell for between $400 and $8,400. The product they’d been designing incorporated a special perforated cymbal from Zildjian that is 80 percent quieter than a traditional cymbal. Following the acquisition, Zildjian continued to develop the electronic drum set, which it calls a “hybrid kit.” With traditional plastic heads on the drums, it can be played as an acoustic set, but with mesh heads on the drums, it can be played in electronic mode.

Zildjian has launched its first fully electronic drum set — starting at $4,500 — in an effort to grow its revenues. Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

In electronic mode, the kit is nearly silent — save for the much-muted cymbals — and the audio can either be fed into headphones for practice or recording or into an amplifier for a performance. The drum set, bearing the brand name Alchem-E, comes with 20 different sound settings, allowing it to emulate different sets such as a 1960s-era Gretsch “Round Badge,” played by Charlie Watts of the Rolling Stones.

“We think this could bring more people into the e-drum category,” says Mike Weber, senior business manager. “It has the look and feel of an acoustic kit. We know there are some people who turn up their noses at electronic,” Weber says, and one reason is that the rubbery faux cymbals “don’t feel like real cymbals.”

He predicts the Alchem-E product line will appeal to “weekend warrior musicians with a little bit of disposable income, gearheads, and also young aspiring drummers.” Among the drummers Zildjian has lined up to endorse the new kit are Ash Soan, who has recorded with musicians like Adele and Seal, and Josh Dunn of the electropop duo 21 Pilots.

But Zildjian’s new product faces two challenges: competing with brands that are already established sellers of electronic drums, and persuading drummers who haven’t yet bought an electronic kit to consider it.

“There is still stigma attached to it,” says Adam Marcello, an associate professor at Berklee College of Music. “It’s like when the synthesizer was invented, and you got huge blowback from traditionalists saying, ‘This is what I do, and what I’ve always done.’” But Marcello, who plays an electronic kit from Roland, says one of the plusses is that it allows him to “recreate any sound” in a convincing way. (Marcello is an endorser of both Roland and Zildjian.)

Zildjian’s new product faces two challenges: competing with brands that are already established sellers of electronic drums and persuading drummers who haven’t yet bought an electronic kit to consider it.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Some independent retailers, like Boston Drum Center in Canton, say they are focused on selling only acoustic instruments. Sean Kennedy, the owner, says that while he sells Zildjian’s cymbals, he typically sends a customer looking for electronic drums to a larger retailer like Guitar Center. Today’s electronic sets can’t capture “all of the dynamics of an expressive player,” he says. But Kennedy adds that one of the most common complaints about electronic kits is the sound and feel of the cymbals, “so if [Zildjian] has that figured out, it could be a step forward.”

Zildjian says it plans to sell the new kit on its own website, as well as through retailers like Guitar Center and Sweetwater. While Zildjian’s cymbals are made in Norwell, and its drumsticks in Maine, the electronic drumkit is being produced by a contract manufacturer in Asia.

In a last-minute twist this month, Zildjian dismissed Smith, the executive who had overseen the Alchem-E project for two years, and said that it would delay shipments of the new drum set to customers. The set is available in stores for demonstrations, but Stephans says the company wanted to spend more time “dialing in the software” that controls the kit’s sound and responsiveness. Shipments will happen “at a date in the very near future,” Stephans says.

He says Zildjian is also bringing back its former chief marketing officer, Kristen Sadowski, who left the company in 2022, to replace Smith as the top executive overseeing the new Alchem-E line.

Stephans says that future tech-oriented products are in the works, targeted at both musicians and a broader base of consumers who are “inspired by music.” Those could launch as soon as this fall.

Zildjian has launched its first fully electronic drum set — starting at $4,500 — in an effort to grow its revenues. Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Scott Kirsner can be reached at kirsner@pobox.com. Follow him @ScottKirsner.





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