MD chats with the inventor of the world’s first cymbal spinner.
A lot of times a new and innovative drum accessory piques curiosity but is quickly set aside due to a lack of clear purpose. Spinbal is not one of those superfluous add-ons. Rather, this unique ball-bearing-based washer allows for nearly endless sonic and visual possibilities and offers the benefit of extending the life of the cymbal itself. The inventor of Spinbal is Guy Juravich, a super-enthusiastic and charismatic drummer, voice-over actor, entrepreneur, and self-proclaimed cymbal-art fanatic.
How Did Spinbal Start?
After graduating from Bishop’s University in Canada, Spinbal inventor Guy Juravich played in reggae, goth, tribute, and cover bands. While backing up a traveling burlesque show, he discovered the value of the kinetic vibrato offered by revolving cymbals. During performances, Juravich began spinning cymbals to emulate the show’s lasso artist, but he noticed that the cymbal would only rotate for about thirty seconds. In a quest to extend that time, he looked into how other objects spun. Says Juravich, “I was taking apart record players, Lazy Susans, toys, and everything else so I could to figure out how to spin cymbals easily.”
Juravich had his eureka moment when a skateboarder accidentally knocked into him on South Street in Philadelphia. The center hole in 8 mm skateboard bearings is the same size as the threaded rod on many cymbal stands. “After I saw that bearing,” he says, “I grabbed a skateboard wheel at a local skate shop, put it on a cymbal stand, and it worked.” Juravich then took his find to Sleepless Sound Studio in Philly and recorded the vibrato caused by the cymbal’s rotation in hi-fidelity. “We really noticed a dramatic sound when recording the cymbal in stereo,” says Juravich, “and that’s when I knew I had something.”
Some of My Friends Are Scientists
Launching a new percussion product requires more than just a clever concept, and Juravich admits he needed to reach out for help. “I have no history of engineering, I’m terrible at math, and I have no product development knowledge whatsoever,” he says. Fortunately, a former classmate and musical contemporary of his, Dr. Ilana MacDonald of the University of Toronto, is also an astrophysicist. MacDonald and Juravich worked though the physics of the gadget, discussing friction, angular momentum, and sonic shifts. The two concluded that a cymbal sleeve mount would theoretically work, and Juravich proceeded to design a prototype using a free CAD program. “I took the general concept of a cymbal sleeve and put a bearing in the bottom,” he recalls. “You could see the bearing on one side, but the other side needed to spin freely. So I made a space for that to happen.”
At NextFab, a shared “maker space” in Philadelphia, Juravich used a 3D printer to make the first Spinbal. “It spun for ten minutes, which completely shattered what I thought it would do,” he says. “I thought it would be a minute.” Juravich also discovered how to achieve varying sounds and effects depending on where and how he hit the spinning cymbal. “You could hit into [the rotation] to keep it going, hit against it to slow down the momentum, drag the stick, or hit the bell or side to produce cool overtones.”
The initial search for an affordable injection molding company to manufacture Spinbal proved difficult. Through Juravich’s press releases and email blasts, Graham Bradfield of Maxonix, another innovative accessories manufacturer, heard about the product and assisted Juravich in finding a more reasonably priced source. “He said it shouldn’t be thirty dollars a Spinbal from the injection molding company,” Juravich recalls. “He worked with me to find a company here in the U.S. that mostly makes aeronautics and medical equipment with incredible precision but that specializes in things measuring less than one cubic inch.”
As with many start-ups, procuring funding was the next necessary step to get Spinbal off the ground. “I looked into nonprofit lending and spoke to a couple of wealthy investors I had access to,” Juravich says. “But no one really wanted to take a risk on a cymbal-spinning product. It was too far out of left field for a lot of investors. So I asked myself, Who are the people who would be interested in this? As a voice and screen actor, I reached out to a casting director and asked about how films get funded.” That inquiry led to a meeting with a movie producer, who also works in the music industry, who then introduced Guy to investors more amenable to taking risks in the creative arts.
An angel investor guided Juravich to La Salle University’s business incubator and innovation lab, which is a cutting-edge collaborative workplace ideal for a modern start-up. There Spinbal received seedround venture capital from multiple investors, and with additional funding acquired from local Philadelphia investors, an LCC was formed. Next, an Allentown, Pennsylvania, company was contracted to manufacture the felt at an affordable price point, and a student at La Salle designed the retail packaging. Juravich concedes that he might not have gotten Spinbal launched, nor continued its momentum, without the support that the innovation lab provides. “Currently the students, staff, and director handle the books, accounting, taxes, the fulfillment of orders, the assembly of the product, the assembly of the packaging, and the shipping,” he says. “That allows me to do something that I know I’m good at, which is promoting.”
Building the Buzz
Juravich’s aptitude for promotion is evident with just a quick search of Spinbal’s social media platforms. “As a drummer, I did a lot of promoting and booking of shows, and I knew how to make a website,” he says. “I launched an Instagram account, and Spinbal was immediately a hit. I’ve used social media primarily for grassroots and free guerrilla marketing, advertising, and promotion. And by sending samples to drummers I knew and liked, I started getting great feedback. Instagram is also where we primarily do our business development, in terms of forging new relationships with international dealers and partners.”
Even with such savvy social promotion, success isn’t a guarantee if the product isn‘t seen as more than an optical novelty item. But Spinbal also allows drummers to explore more creative and inventive sounds. “Although we have sizzlers, rivets, venting, and all kinds of cymbal preparations to produce different tones, there are very few that I would consider proper sound effects,” says Juravich. “Stacks, for example, are mostly focusing on attack, but it’s still stationary. A sound effect should take something you’re used to hearing and have it become something different. Spinbal is a way to elicit new sounds from a cymbal. And every time I think I’ve figured them all out, another drummer on Instagram has discovered a new way of using it. I think we’re just on the tip of the iceberg with what can be done with employing kinetic sound effects to the entire drumset—not just the cymbal.”
Longevity: The Added Benefit
Aside from its creative visual and sonic possibilities, Spinbal also offers a practical benefit in that it randomizes the drumstick’s striking location, which extends the life of the cymbal by varying the impact point. “I was initially so obsessed with the tone and mesmerizing visuals that I failed to grasp this concept,” Juravich says. “It wasn’t until other drummers reminded me of this that we fundamentally changed our message. We’re now transitioning our communications from just sound effects and visuals towards cymbal protection.”
Converting the Critics
Juravich says that the number-one obstacle for the company is combatting the criticism Spinbal gets from skeptical drummers who’ve never tried it. “Some first impressions are that it’s a toy,” he says, noting that Spinbal was launched around the time that fidget spinners were immensely popular. “I needed to remind people that it’s a tool for a craft and a tool for creativity. And it’s not just for one thing; it’s for anything you might come up with that we don’t know yet. I don’t believe Spinbal is something everyone needs or something that is going to make or break a good drummer. But what it can do is inspire someone to think about the drumkit differently. Trying to open minds to a fundamental shift in how we use cymbals has been a challenge. But when someone finally gets it, it’s a wonderful moment.”
The Next Steps
Although Spinbal is currently available on five continents and in more than forty countries, Juravich is eager to collaborate with larger and more established brands and manufacturers in an effort to add new features to Spinbal. “I’d love to see Spinbals with wing nuts, so you can put the cymbal upside down or do more extreme angling,” Juravich says. “One limitation is that you can’t angle it past 40 degrees if you want to continue spinning.” He also sees potential in a motorized version that could be used to time the vibrato effect created by spinning the cymbal to match a tempo, or to incorporate light fixtures for more dramatic visual effects.
Two drum gear manufacturers have already developed products to complement Spinbal. Maxonix’s SizzleARM, a hanging, ball-chain sizzler that creates a sustained white noise effect, was designed to pair with Spinbal, and Sweet Spot Clutches offers a custom stacker that allows multiple cymbals to spin freely from one stand. Still, Juravich would like to add resources, including a creative team, to facilitate further expansion. “We designed the company to be welcoming to new ideas,” he says. “There are a lot of possibilities of what can be done, and I know I’m not the guy to run with it because I’m not an engineer or professional product developer. I’m just someone who had a fun idea, and I’d love to see this idea grow.”
The Creatives in the Community
Juravich feels a lot of gratitude toward those who were instrumental in the company’s development. Makaya McCraven, a high school classmate and now a highly lauded jazz bandleader, was one of the first drummers to experiment with Spinbal, offering constructive feedback and providing a quote for the packing: “New possibilities in sound and color using motion as its own effect.” John Convertino of the band Calexico received prototypes in 2016 and utilized them on his 24″ Zildjian rides while recording tracks with his band. Progressive drummer Aric Improta has been an enthusiastic supporter of Spinbal, often showcasing the product’s creative possibilities in his own viral drum videos. “Without [Aric], I would still be trying to convince people that it’s not a gimmick,” says Juravich, who also credits his friend Zack Austin for being a constant source of support. “I’m not sure I’d have the gusto to continue with all this without these guys.”
Juravich also acknowledges how important the Instagram drumming community has been for Spinbal. “I want to thank each drummer who has spun a cymbal and posted about it,” he says. “The micro communities that have attached themselves to Spinbal are what keep it going. I really lean on the online community of drummers for their creativity and ideas. I enjoy the role of being in a noncompetitive niche of the industry that’s all about collaboration and pushing the boundaries of what we can do with the drumset. Music is supposed to be a full-on experience. If you can improve that experience sonically and visually by engaging with the environment in a way that the audience hasn’t seen before…that’s the real joy of this experience for me—seeing others get creative with it.”
For more information, visit Spinbal.com and follow the company on its various social media pages using the handle @spinbal.