Over the years, I have tried many different drum sticks. From all shapes and sizes to all kind of brands. And one thing is for sure, there is no perfect drumstick. It’s all down to personal preference.
But sometimes we seem to get caught up in undeserving criteria when choosing our sticks. We may tend to favor a particular size, brand or even color because our favorite drummers use this one, or they may simply be the sticks we are used to. I have tried my best to distil down these criteria until all that matters is whether or not the sticks help me, or hinder my playing.
With this in mind, I would like to share with you the details I look for when choosing a stick for live performance. I will also share what particular sticks I prefer and why, and by doing so, I hope to teach you how to develop your own set of criteria in order to choose the perfect sticks for you.
First of all…
…let me tell you a little bit about my personal journey with drumsticks, and how it has affected my current choice.
The sticks I had with my first kit at the age of 13… well I have no idea what they were! They didn’t even have any writing on them. They just came with the kit (which was second-hand by the way). Then a friend of my dad’s who played the drums gave me a couple of pairs. And one of them, I remember to be very heavy and thick, at least for a 13-year-old. I remember him saying, “if you can play with these, you can play with any sticks!”. Again, I never knew what they were, but now I assume them to be at least 5B’s, maybe even 2B’s.
At the time, it didn’t quite resonate, but now looking back, it’s a concept I believe to be important. You need to be able to play the drums in any situation, on any kit, and with any sticks. If you can’t get up with a band to play because the drummer doesn’t have your particular size or brand of sticks, then you can’t really call yourself a professional drummer.
The first preference I developed regarding sticks, was actually a very unimportant one… color! I was really getting into Guns N’ Roses during the 90’s, and I would religiously watch them live in Paris on video tape (I actually nearly ended up wearing that tape out!), and Matt Sorum quickly became my favorite drummer and source of inspiration. At the time, he was using sticks that now I believe to be the metal shaft “Ahead” drumsticks. I didn’t have a clue what sticks they were, I just knew they were black with white tips. So instead of going to my local music store, I proceeded to spray paint my own sticks black! Obviously, this was a bad idea, but it seemed like a good one at the time. Pretty soon my hands were covered in flaky black paint as I played away to “Mr. Brownstone” in my basement. A choice that definitely did nothing to aid my drumming, but it was a choice never the less.
Today I have a completely different, and definitely much more functional set of criteria for choosing my sticks. I will now share these with you, along with a brief explanation of my own choices and why I make them.
The length of your stick is most easily determined by where you sit in relation to your kit. I like my right-hand stick to strike the hi-hat just past the tip when my arm is relaxed and my elbow still by my side. I don’t like having to over-reach in order to hit anything as this will clearly take a much larger toll on your energy reserve as the night goes on. And since I play for 3 hours nightly, I prefer to conserve energy. If you find yourself having to reach forward or lean too much, consider trying a longer stick. And similarly, if you find you have to pull back, try a shorter one.
The weight of your sticks can change a lot of things. First of all, there is a minimum and maximum force that will make your drums sound the best. If you hit too hard or too soft, they simply won’t sound as good as they could, so staying within these boundaries is essential to obtaining a good drum sound. The way your sticks can contribute to this is as follows… The lighter your sticks, the harder you need to play, and the heavier they are, the more you need to control your strikes.
Just as Sir Isaac Newton discovered, “force, equals mass, times acceleration”. Now I don’t want to get too science geeky on you, but what Newton’s second law of motion basically means to us drummers, is that the heavier your sticks (more mass), the softer you can hit (accelerate) to produce a hard strike (force). And in the same way, the lighter your sticks, the harder you will need to hit. Now it’s ok to choose your sticks based on your playing. In other words, you say to yourself “well I’m a heavy hitter, so I will choose lighter sticks. And that’s how I chose mine for many years. But recently, in the last couple years, I have been making this choice in reverse. And for this reason, I now choose heavier sticks and play softer. It allows me to conserve energy, relax and concentrate on my drumming, while still retaining the optimal force production to make my drums sound the best they can.
The diameter of the sticks can change a lot. I never used to think so, but in the recent years, I have discovered an interesting detail about the thickness of my drumsticks.
I went down to my local music store to purchase some more sticks, and as always, they didn’t have the ones I was currently using, so I opted for a thicker one than usual. After a few months of trying out this thicker stick, I decided to go back to my (then) previous choice, and what I realized, is that by going back to something thinner, my grip completely changed. I was now having to grip the sticks a lot harder. In other words, because of the lack of girth, my hands had to squeeze harder in order to keep control of the sticks. Now as you may have noticed, a big part of my drumming is all about energy conservation. But now, I was having to grip the sticks much harder, and this was tiring out my wrist muscles, as well as creating more tension in my hands when I was trying as much as possible to relax. So the bottom line is the thicker the sticks, the less work your wrist and hand muscles have to do in order to keep control.
The taper refers to how long the stick stays at its thickest before starting to taper down to the tip. This can be a fairly overlooked detail, I know I did for a long time. What different tapers can do for your stick is change the weight distribution, and therefore the feel and rebound. A longer taper will mean the sticks stay heavy at the grip, but get lighter towards the tip. A shorter taper will do the opposite. This one is definitely a case of trying different tapers combined with different weights till you find something you are comfortable with.
The feel of your sticks is determined by all the preceding factors and more. The thickness, weight, length and finish will all play a role in how comfortable (or not) you feel while holding and using the sticks. Now this one is very personal, and will vary from individual to individual. If you hand me to pairs of exactly the same size and finish, but from different brands, I will almost certainly prefer the feel of one over the other.
There are many different kinds of finishes to choose from. All the way from unfinished to finished with half the stick dipped in some kind of thick rubber coating. The latter I find particularly strange. In my local music store, they once tried to sell me “surfboard wax” along with my sticks! “Do you want some hand wax to improve your grip? ” they asked me. I just said “no thanks”. If your sticks are running away from you, then you should try upgrading to a thicker stick, working on your technique and learning to relax a bit more.
The quality is always something to consider. The better the quality, the longer your sticks will last, and the better they will sound. I have purchased many a cheap pair thinking I will be saving money, but in the long run, it wasn’t worth it. I remember using a cheap pair of sticks which belonged to a sub-brand of my usual brand (a bit like the Epiphone to Gibson). First of all, they felt different. They felt lower in quality and simply cheap. the finish was uneven and uncomfortable, and the weight distribution was strange. Almost like the tip was heavier than the rest of the stick, and this affected not only my grip but also the rebound. And worst of all, after less than a week, they had started to develop a “banana” like shape. And this caused them to rebound in a completely random manner, sometimes rebounding straight up, and sometimes to the left or to the right. So needless to say, I went back to the “real” ones as soon as I could.
And last, but definitely not least, we have the sound. Ever notice how a new pair will always sound better than an old pair? This isn’t just psychological. The way the used sticks get indentations, lose their wood and mass, and change their shape will greatly affect how they sound. Similarly, the different thicknesses, along with how hard you strike, will dictate how much force is produced. And as I mentioned earlier, there is a certain amount of force that your drums will be “happiest” at, and will produce the best sound.
And let’s not forget about the tip!
Having a nylon tip can really change the sound of your ride. It’s much brighter, crisper and louder than a wooden tip. And depending on your preference of sound, and also the venue, it can make a world of difference. I play a medium to small venue where my cymbals are not mic’d up, so using a nylon tip allows my ride to really cut through the mix and be heard all around the room even when we are playing the Ace of Spades! And apart from that, I just prefer it, and I personally don’t even see the need for wooden tip drumsticks to exist! But that’s just me.
So to wrap up…
…there are many things to consider when choosing a pair of drumsticks. But the best way is to just try all different kinds, and see how they match up to all the points discussed, and your personal style of preference. The bottom line is, you shouldn’t be afraid to experiment and try different kinds of sticks. I used to be a die-hard “5A” fan. And refused to try anything else. But after slowly upgrading and trying different kinds, my current preference are “pro mark 2B nylon tip”. They feel and perform exactly how I want my sticks to. But I’m not afraid to change. If I find another size or brand that feels better, I will gladly make the switch, but for now, these are my sticks of choice. I just have one more thing to say… “2B’s or not 2B’s… that is the question”.
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