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The confused drummer’s guide to drum sticks.
Confused by the sheer wealth of choice available on the drumstick market? Then let Rockem Music’s roving reporter guide you through the ins and outs of just what all these different models do.
Before we get too far down to brass tacks, it may be that what I’m suggesting might not work for you. Sticks are as much a personal choice as anything, and ideally should feel a part of you, as opposed to something uncomfortable.
What are they made from?
The most popular and widely used wood is American hickory. This is a very strong and dense wood, so is used for its durability and consistency. In recent times, oak has become more widely used, which dependent on the source, can also be extremely hard wearing, while being a little lighter than hickory. Also on the budget end of things, maple sticks have recently arrived on the market. They are very light and easy to play with, but do not quite have the durability of hickory or oak. However, maple sticks come in very cost-effective packages, so for some people, the economics balance out, dependent on the feel they are looking for.
What does the model number mean?
The most common stick size is 5A. In a stick model, the number denotes the length of the stick, and the letter generally denotes the girth of the stick. To give you a clue, between 3A, 5A and 7A sticks for example, a 3A stick is longer than the 5A, and a 7A would be shortest out of the three. A 5B stick is thicker and heavier than the 5A. Some of the most common sizes are 5A, 5B, 7A, 3A, and 2B. Some manufacturers offer alternate versions of popular sticks, with longer versions of the popular models so that you can get the weight of one stick, with a bit more reach. Specialist sticks for certain types of music are also available.
Wood or nylon tips?
There is a belief that nylon tips are more durable than wood tips, but this is dependent on the manufacturer. Nylon tips were initially intended to create a sharper sound on the drums, and a much brighter sound on the cymbals, particularly on the hi hats and ride cymbal. Some people avoid nylon tips, as they feel the tips pop off easily, but nowadays, the manufacturing methods have improved to counteract this problem. Vic Firth’s injection moulding process is perhaps the cleverest method, ensuring optimum durability.
What about the alternatives to wood?
In recent times, some manufacturers have brought out sticks that aim to provide a durable alternative to wood. The most prominent of these are Ahead sticks and Carbosticks. The Ahead sticks use a special alloy, which is covered by a plastic sleeve, and the tip screws on and off. Then once the cover wears out, you can unscrew the tip and replace the rubber cover, which is less expensive than buying a full pair of sticks. Although the sticks themselves are quite expensive in the first instance, the durability makes them a sound long-term investment. They are not for everyone, however, and you must especially careful with the way you strike your cymbals with these sticks as they increase the risk of cracking. The Carbosticks use a durable carbon fibre, which lasts a lifetime, so are very good for those who break sticks regularly!
Specialist and signature sticks.
A clever innovation in recent times has been with the new versions of sticks with grip applied to the butt ends. The most notable examples of these are the Zildjian “Dip Sticks” and the Shaw “Extra Grip” models. The Zildjian sticks are dipped in liquid rubber, which when dried, leaves a very thin coating of rubber for grip, while the Shaw sticks have a waxy finish applied (which I can personally vouch for as being very good). Pro Orca also make interesting sticks with rubber inserts at the gripping points. Aquarian’s Power Sleeve sticks are also very clever, with reinforcement half way up the stick, where contact with rim shots etc most occurs.
Many of the stick companies also offer signature models from some of their prominent artists. These are often clever innovative designs (check out the Danny Carey stick by Vic Firth!) and often are for that drummer’s particular purpose. As with standard model sticks, be sure that you pick a stick that is comfortable for you, even if that is not the stick of your favourite drummer!
Which stick is right for me?
There are a few rules that generally help with selecting sticks, i.e. light sticks like 7A or similar for jazz, medium sticks for pop and funk, heavier sticks for rock. In store, you can often try sticks on a practice pad (don’t go upsetting people by testing out new sticks on kits and chewing them all up!). Vic Firth Nova are certainly worth a look, for those hunting a good pair without breaking the bank, as these are made from the same stuff that Vic Firth’s top sticks from, and with the same method, but may have a little discolouration in one stick (which is rarely noticeable anyway!). Also, a smaller stick may obviously be more suitable for very young players, such as a 7A size, or 8D.
Sticks suitable for light playing, jazz etc.
Vic Firth 7A/8D/Peter Erskine signature/Steve Gadd signature, Zildjian 7A, Zildjian Jazz, Vater 7A, Stagg Maple 7A/5A, Shaw 7A, Shaw Jazz.
Sticks suitable for medium playing, pop, funk, etc.
Vic Firth 5A/5B/X5A/X5B/SD9, Zildjian 5A/5B/Z4A/Super 5A/Super 5B, Shaw 5A/5B/C/CC.
Sticks suitable for heavy playing, rock etc.
Vic Firth 5B/X5A/X5B/2B/3A, Zildjian Super 5A/Super 5B/Rock/2B, Shaw CC/C+/5B/2B