Stuck in the sticks

By Tim Kane

Sturbridge, MA – Call it an identity crisis of sorts, but my bag was chock full of odd-sized drum sticks to the point where I just had to purge them the other day.

I used to prefer playing the skinnier, lighter and shorter 5A nylon tips, which were invented by Joe Calato, by the way. Then, dear wife gave me custom drum sticks with 5B wood tips for Christmas with my website address laser written onto them. Sweet! They just sounded better on cymbal bells, produced stronger shell resonance, and created more bounce while playing buzz rolls on the snare.

By simplifying what I own for models, however, I am slowly rediscovering the best types of drum sticks in terms of weight, length, finish, taper, durability, color, and tip in order to match my particular needs.

Like highhats, drum sticks are one of the most important elements of your drum set. Take the time to experiment with various types, though one challenge you’ll encounter is a growing number of local music stores don’t carry a great diversity of brands these days.

What should you look for? In my opinion, the top five drum stick manufacturers in the world include Vic Firth, Zildjian, Pro-Mark, Vater and Regal Tip. If you get the chance to test drive some pairs, roll the sticks on a flat surface before using or purchasing them. Like 2X4s at the lumber store, drum sticks are not all cut perfectly straight. The more warped they are, the less efficient they perform around your drum set.

There are specific wood types and outer coatings to consider as well. The most common drums sticks are made from Maple, Hickory, and Oak – Maple being the most apt to break and Hickory drum sticks being the most popular. I have never liked synthetic sticks such as aluminum. Drums are meant to be played with real wood.

Varnished or lacquered sticks are important considerations as well. If you sweat a lot, you will want to avoid slippery coatings, or sand them down after purchase. There are a growing number of sticks with tacky surfaces embedded over the butt ends now. You can even buy sure grip wraps for them. I stay away from painted sticks, as they tend to taint my heads with that particular color.

As for drum stick tips, I still prefer wood, though nylon is the standard today. The problem I have with nylon is they tend to sound too pinging and brilliant on certain cymbals where wood produces much warmer tones. There are actually four types of tip designs and tonal qualities to consider, including: rounded (focused for cymbals), pointed (triangular shaped for medium tones), teardrop shaped (diverse sounds), and barrel (larger area for bashing). I have found the most success in playing distinct patterns with teardrops.

Size and taper wise, traditionalists will tell you that 5Bs and 2Bs are intended for hard rock drummers while 5As and 7As are best suited for jazz and funk. Though originally designed for such uses, I use 5Bs during practice to build my endurance for live gigs employing 5As. I have even used a 5B in my left hand for more punch on the snare while playing a lighter 5A on the ride and vice versa.

Choose the drum stick best fit for your hands and drum set positions, not just the musical style you are playing. Stick selection is an often-overlooked process to being the complete drummer, and is actually a critical ingredient.

– Tim Kane is a professional writer, editor and drummer of 30-plus years residing in Sturbridge, Massachusetts.

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