All you want to do is get to playing, right? Does it even matter what sticks you use? It sure does. But the problem is there are so many drum stick types available on the market, where do you start when choosing your own?
Choosing the right sticks for your playing style, age, ability, and budget can be a bit confusing. It’s worth taking the time to find the right fit. It can make a huge difference in your technique.
We’ll break a drum stick down into individual attributes to give you a thorough understanding of what the overall stick is made up of. Then we’ll have a look at how different stick types might suit your style of playing.
The thickness, or diameter, of a stick determines its weight. Roughly speaking, thicker, heavier sticks are suited to hard and loud playing, while thinner, lighter sticks are more suited to styles requiring a lighter touch. Thickness also has a lot to do with durability, but thicker isn’t always better.
Further to this, a stick’s ‘size’ is normally determined by its weight. All sticks have a standard size such as 5A or 7B. A higher number denotes a lighter stick, where a lower number means a heavier one. Sticks will often have a letter beside the number. A 5A, for example, is lighter than a 5B. Sizes 2, 5, and 7 are the most popular, but in theory you can get a stick anywhere between the size 1-9.
Wood and other materials
Drum sticks are typically made from one single piece of wood, and turned down into the shape that we’re familiar with. They go through a rigorous process of testing and quality control before they ever reach our hands.
Check out this video, where Jared from Drumeo takes us through the amazing process that Promark uses to craft their sticks:
Hickory is by far the most common wood type for a drum stick, with maple coming in second place, and oak third. Hickory is a fairly durable wood with the ability to soak up the shock of heavy strokes.
- Maple is around 10% lighter than hickory, but will wear out more quickly.
- Oak is both 10% heavier than hickory and more durable.
- Drum sticks are not always made from wood, however.
When I was younger and had spent the afternoon watching Metallica’s Cunning Stunts concert (on VHS), I decided that drummer Lars Ulrich had about the coolest sticks in the world, and simply had to give them a go.
Featuring polyurethane sleeves over an aluminium core, these Ahead sticks claim to last 6-10 times longer than a regular stick, have 50% less ‘shock’ and 5% more rebound. I don’t know how accurate these figures are, but they certainly withstood my amateur hammering for more than a year with no replacement sleeves.
Another type of stick, said to be very strong and long lasting, is Carbon Fiber. Some players don’t like the way they sound, but if you need a longer lasting stick, try them out.
A stick’s taper directly influences the amount of flex and rebound coming off a drum or cymbal. A longer taper will give you more rebound and response, while a shorter taper gives less rebound, is more suited to powerful playing, and will generally last longer. A medium taper is, as you can probably guess, a balance of these characteristics.
Tip style and material
Drum stick tips, also known as beads, are commonly offered in both wood, where the tip is a natural part of the wooden stick, or with a nylon tip. Nylon gives a brighter sound and is much more durable, where wooden tips give a warmer sound.
Electronic drum players beware: Nylon tips can damage electronic drum triggers over time (nobody needs that expense!) Besides, tip style and material have no bearing on electronic sounds, so go for whatever feels the best for you.
Some tip styles include: round, teardrop, pointed, oval, acorn. There are loads of types, but the key is: the bigger the tip, the less definition you’ll get in the sound.
Most drum sticks tend to be lacquered, which gives them a smooth feel and lacquer is moisture resistant. Players who are prone to sweaty hands may find that their grip is reduced on a lacquered finish, but gladly there are other options available. Vic firth, for example offers a lacquer-free finish for sweaty hands and a double-lacquer option for players with dry hands. There’s hardly any price difference between these models, so choose whatever works for you.
Here is a chart which shows at a glance some common applications for popular drum stick types:
|Typical application||Heavy Rock/Metal||All styles||Jazz|
If you’re just starting out, or simply unsure which option to go for, start with the good old 5A in hickory. These are effectively the ’middle ground’.
Not too heavy or too light, they can be used to play any kind of music if you use a little care with dynamics, and they have good durability. For smaller hands, or younger players, go for 7A hickory sticks.
Find your size
Now armed with the knowledge of drum stick types available to suit your style of playing, go ahead and choose your weapons. Having the right sticks at hand will make playing easier, and improve your playing experience.
Other types of stick
Of course, we’re not limited to playing with only traditional style drum stick types. Here are a few common alternatives:
Rods – Could be considered a compromise between sticks and brushes. Rods offer a quieter touch than sticks, with a warm tone. They have a unique feel and can make some very nice sounds.
Brushes – A totally different game to sticks, brushes are commonly used in such musical genres as jazz, blues, and country. Brushes are something that every player should at least try for their expressive range and versatile application.
Nobody can tell you exactly which type of stick to use, because you are unique and may reflect this in your playing. All we can do is suggest what size is considered ideal for established styles.
I encourage you to experiment until you find your perfect fit. Try them out during your drum practice routine. If you’re a versatile player interested in many styles, you may well have a whole bag of sticks to cover every situation.
What is your favourite type of stick? Please do leave a comment below – I would love to hear from you.