Drumsticks are treated rather stepmotherly by some drummers, the main thing is that they are available in the first place so that you can start drumming immediately. Drum sticks are even less suitable as objects of desire than bass drum pedals, and collectors are not really interested in them either, unless a certain Ringo S. used them to work on his instruments. Moreover, when the freshly acquired sticks come into use, their deterioration already sets in, because with some colleagues the wooden sticks actually last only a few weeks. And yet they are – together with the pedals – our most important tools, because they represent the “translators” of our musical ideas and exercises.
A stick chosen according to your personal taste and purpose will do wonders, not only in terms of playing technique, compared to a model that may not be optimal, but only cost 20 euros in a pack of five. On the following lines I have compiled a few clues to help you find the right stick for you as quickly as possible, without having to spend vast sums of money until at some point you finally find the model of your dreams.
What types of wood are used for drumsticks?
American hickory wood is by far the most commonly used material for making drumsticks. The relationship between weight, stability and the possibilities of processing is very flexible here. If you prefer much lighter sticks, you can find an alternative in maple versions. However, the model selection here is much smaller. This also applies to drumsticks made of oak. Manufacturers like Tama and Pro Mark have some models made of this wood in their program. The higher degree of hardness of the oak wood leads to a somewhat brighter and silvery sound on cymbals, in addition, Oak sticks are said to have a longer durability. If you like somewhat heavier, but not excessively thick sticks, you should definitely try a model made of oak.
Exotic materials: carbon, aluminum
Sticks made of high-tech materials such as carbon or aluminum enjoy unbroken popularity, especially among fans of louder music styles. A relatively high purchase price is offset by significantly increased durability. Whether the playing feel is then pleasing is again a matter of taste. The aluminum sticks from the American company Ahead, for example, offer a pleasantly “sprung” feel, while you have to get used to the carbon versions from manufacturers like Techra. Both materials produce a rather hard, shrill sound on cymbals, and an uncontrollably hard playing style can also lead to damage to the precious bronze plates.
Numbers and letters: What does 5A actually mean?
Sticks come in a simply unmanageable variety of models, but almost all manufacturers have one thing in common. This refers to the designations you find on the sticks: 5A, 2B, 7A and so on. In contrast to the German Industrial Standard (DIN), these number and digit combinations are not binding weight or length specifications, but manufacturer-dependent designations for the respective standard models in the range. Or in other words: a 5A from Vic Firth looks different from one from Pro Mark or Rohema. Nevertheless, these model names will help you to make your choice. As a rough guide, you can remember that the number describes the circumference of the stick, but inversely proportional. The lower it is, the thicker the stick is. So a 7A will be thinner than, say, a 2A model for all manufacturers. There are exceptions, however, that make things increasingly confusing. These include the phenomenon that an 8A stick is not thinner than a 7A at all manufacturers, but usually longer. And a 1A type thinner than a 5B. You can already see: buying a stick purely by numbers will most likely not lead to success.
The chaos becomes complete if you rely on the letters. William F. Ludwig, founder of the company of the same name, is said to have come up with them, with B standing for “Band”, S for “Street”, i.e. marching applications, and A for “Orchestral”. He is said to have liked the letter A better than a plain O. The letter S is no longer available from many suppliers, while A is almost always the smaller version of the B version. Other letters such as F or D are special product extensions that vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. Everything clear? To help you get started, I’d like to introduce you to three models whose descriptions are more or less exactly the same for almost all manufacturers.
The most common models
5A/5B – the standard models
A 5A stick may be considered the golden mean, a model that all manufacturers construct so that every drummer can somehow use it satisfactorily. It is made of hickory, has a normal length, a mostly teardrop-shaped tip, is lacquered and is also in the middle range in terms of weight. If you’re still not quite sure which sticks might fit best, this is where you should start. That being said, 5A sizes are probably the most played around the world.
A little more weight and a larger diameter with otherwise the same key data offers the 5B stick, which is also considered a standard model and is recommended primarily for drummers who are in the direction of rock.
2B – the stick for loud players
In terms of weight and length, the 2B models are mostly similar to the 5A variants, with the big difference that they are significantly thicker and therefore heavier. Fans of powerful playing who like the stick to slam into the skins with gusto usually prefer this stick to the thinner 5 models, but drummers with larger hands often feel more comfortable with the extra volume as well. Another argument for thicker sticks is durability. Those who often play long and loud gigs or rehearsals will be happy if they only have to buy a new pair once a month and not two or three times.
7A – the stick for more delicate playing styles and drummers with smaller hands.
The 7A represents the other extreme among the standard models, although there are of course even thinner sticks. Here players are served, who like to play dosed and do not like it when the stick pushes down too much due to its weight. 7A sticks are very suitable for quieter styles of music, ride cymbals sound much finer with them than with thicker models. But also for drummers with small hands or children 7A’s are often the better choice.
Heads, tips – the upper end of the drumstick.
In addition to the feel, different head shapes influence the sound of the drums, but especially of the cymbals. Anyone who consciously compares here will quickly find a favorite. But which shapes are there anyway?
The teardrop shape is certainly the most common type of head. The elongated variant, which tapers towards the tip at the end, ensures a balanced tone that is constant at many playing angles on all instruments and is used on sticks of all weights and sizes. Due to its versatility, this shape can be found on most standard models from almost all manufacturers. With its large contact area, it is also easy on the skins because the impact energy is distributed evenly.
Ball heads are – who would have guessed – round and are preferred by drummers who like a slightly more specialized sound. With their smaller surface area, the spherical shape produces a more focused, but also somewhat less bass-driven impact sound on the drums compared to the teardrop shape. Since the applied impact energy is concentrated on a smaller point when playing, the risk of dents in the heads also increases – at least for players who do not yet have their playing technique under optimal control. On ride cymbals, sticks with round heads produce a defined ping, but this produces somewhat less midrange noise than elongated shapes with more contact area. Overall, different angles of contact have less of an effect on the sound with ball shapes.
Also popular with drummers are stick types with a barrel shape. Here, manufacturers offer a great many variations. Models with outwardly curved flanks and a geometry that tapers toward the top are the most common. They combine the properties of teardrop and spherical shape, sound balanced and are gentle on the skins. But they also exist with very long heads, straight and/or parallel flanks and more or less strongly contoured edges. Here you should keep in mind that these – at least in steep impact angles and guided with a strong hand – represent a stronger load for the skins and at the same time sound somewhat more diffuse on ride cymbals.
Wooden sticks equipped with nylon tips (the letter N is usually found in the product name) tend to lead a shadowy existence. The hard plastic compounds used for this purpose produce a brighter and more aggressive attack tone on ride cymbals than their wooden counterparts, and at the same time their durability is significantly increased, which means that signs of wear appear much later. However, the somewhat harder feel is not to the liking of many drummers, and the glassy sound is also a matter of taste. If you like the general feel of wooden sticks, but are into a very accentuated ride cymbal touch, you should take a closer look at the “N models”. The wear-resistant heads are also a good choice for playing on electric drums.
Is the drumstick head-heavy or “grip”-heavy? The importance of the shape of the shaft
The transition from the shaft to the head, or tip, has an extremely large influence on the feel of the stick. The later the shaft tapers towards the end, the more top-heavy the feel. A very slight taper has the same effect. Both characteristics lead to a higher weight at the tip and thus to top-heaviness. For us drummers, this means that the stick wants to fall on the head with more force, thus taking some of the work out of our hands on the “way there”. The downside, of course, is increased inertia during rebound. Personally, I don’t like top-heaviness in sticks at all, because I simply like a balance between outward motion and rebound best. I also tend to shift the fulcrum between my thumb and index or middle finger back a bit in the heat of the moment. If this weight shift is compounded by a stick with a heavy head, the whole affair just pushes toward the skin with too much vehemence, and I lose control of the movement. Analyze your movements and your stick position. What do you like better? By the way, some manufacturers have graphics on their websites that show exactly how long the shaft/head transitions are.
Use extra heavy or thick sticks for practicing on the pad?
The question of whether it makes sense to buy separate sticks for playing on practice pads is hotly debated among drummers. Some find that particularly strong models lead to strengthening of the hand muscles and thus to more speed and precision, others fear the exact opposite. As is so often the case, the truth lies somewhere in between, or rather in personal taste as well as in conscious application. The fact is that a normal rubber pad produces a different, usually stronger rebound than a skin. A heavy stick, through its increased inertia, can help curb this characteristic somewhat and make the feel more natural. Once set in motion, it also ensures that the behavior of the sticks can be felt more concretely. Changes in direction therefore always require a bit more energy than lighter models. However, if used incorrectly, heavy sticks also increase the risk of injury. If you don’t adjust your movement sequences, you risk that the rebound energy is dissipated more strongly in the fingers and wrists than is the case with light versions. So adjust to the heavier weight by realizing that you’ll need less energy on the “outward” leg than you would with lighter sticks.