All the observations and remarks in this
article are based on my own observations and experiments during
some 30 years of professional percussion playing and teaching in
Classical, Jazz and Pop music.
This article does not pretend to be scientific of nature.
I estimate that 90% of the drumsticks is made
of wood and that 90% of those wooden sticks are made of American
Hickory. In my own collection of hundreds of pairs of
drumsticks, only a minority is made of Oak, Maple, Birch, Beech
or even more exotic types of wood like Ebony or Rosewood. This
is not without reason of course: American Hickory is precisely
the type of wood that combines strength and weight in the right
proportions and it has good shock absorbing properties.
Almost all sticks are longer than 385mm
(15.1") and shorter than 415mm (16.3"), and
that's it! Using longer sticks when your arms are short or the
other way round, won't help much. Making longer sticks is of no
use at all because you don't hold the stick at the very end
(well, almost nobody does) but at a point where the weight of
the part of the stick before that point, is more or less equal
to weight of the part behind that point. This point is called
the Fulcrum Point.
This is very well demonstrated by a pair of
1150mm (43") long sticks that Pro-Mark once made as a
gimmick. You have to hold them somewhere halfway, which leaves
about 400mm (16") of wood pointing towards you!
Almost no stick weighs less than 40 grams
(1.4 ounce) and almost no stick weighs more than 70 grams
This is if course very much related to the length, thickness and
type of wood. Latin Percussion once made a series of drumsticks
called Dynafibe, that were made of hickory that had a
greater density (by artificial compression techniques) than
regular hickory, and hence the stick was heavier. Personally I
have used this sticks to a great deal and liked them very much.
They had a great sound.
The Parts of
The Shape of
The usual shape of the stick is with a taper
from Butt-end to Shoulder but some variations exist. Notably the
stick with the shaft having greater diameter than the butt.
A very special design can be found in Tom Gauger's stick:
||The stick on the left has a normal
design, the stick on the right is Tom Gauger's model
The abrupt change give the stick a special feel and
balance because the fulcrum point is now closer to the
The Shape of the tip
For the tip I consider three base-shapes
to be in existence:
- Round shape (Ball, Apple)
- Oval shape (Pear)
- Triangle shape (Pyramid)
|This image shows each
Almost all tips fall into one of those three
The shape of the tip is of major importance on the sound of the
stick, when played on cymbals.
The influence of the weight
on the sound
The weight of a stick is of course dependent
on its size and the density of the wood. Given that, acoustical
laws dictate that the heavier the stick (up to some obvious
limit which is controlled by the size of the instrument), the
fuller the sound you get. By full I mean that the whole sound
spectrum from low to high frequency comes out.
This is something that best can be heard by heaving someone else
play your drum, while you are some 20 feet away. No miking! Just
the drum, the sticks and the player. Of course the drum itself
is of (major) importance, but given a good drum, the sound when
played fortissimo with light sticks, is terrible, no matter how
hard you hit! Playing softly with heavier sticks also gives a
much richer and defined sound.
Give it a try. Of course when you are playing on a miked drum,
then the most important factor is your sound-engineer!!
The sound of a heavy stick on a cymbal has also much more lower
frequencies than a lighter stick. This is something that is not
always wanted, but can be controlled to a certain degree by the
shape and position of the tip.
of the shape of the tip on the sound
Acoustical laws tell us that the smaller the
point of contact the more higher frequencies are produced. The
same is true for the density of the stick. The harder the wood
(more dense), the higher the frequencies in the sound heard.
The ideal stick (in my opinion) is heavy,
made of wood with a high density and the tip shape should be
triangular: The weight gives me body, and the density - together
with the Triangular tip- give me a clear cymbal sound.
|Now we can
see how the shape of the tip is of influence of our
||The Triangular tip (picture
left). Here we have the smallest point of contact, hence
the more higher frequencies come out and give a distinct
and clear sound.
Because all the forces act on a very small point, stick
wear is high! This can be avoided (somewhat) by
selecting wood types with a high density.
|Now we have changed the position of the
stick in such a way that the side of the triangle is in
full contact with the cymbal. The sound changes from
clear to dull! (picture right)
||The stick with the ball-type of
head has always the same area of contact. Changing its
position doesn't have much effect. (picture left)
|The Oval tip has a larger point
of contact than the model above and hence a darker sound
(when made of the same wood). Compared to the triangular
tip its sound is darker than the triangular tip in the
first position, but lighter than that stick in its
second (flat) position. (picture right)
Good factories try to match their sticks into
equal pairs. Equal of weight that is. But because factors like
temperature and humidity have great influence on wood, it's
always a good idea to try to match the pairs yourself before
buying. Sticks are also suspect to warping and this can be
checked by rolling them on a glass (or other flat) surface.
on the Sticks
Most manufacturers put some kind of code on
their sticks like: 5A, 7b, 6a or 3B, but because the
manufacturers failed to come up with a system that would give us
some real information about their sticks, the meaning of those
numbers is without any use for comparing sticks of different
However, within the numbering of a given company you'll might
find some system and you can be assured that a given number
won't change its meaning.
Apart from numbers you'll see lots of other descriptions like
"John Doe Jazz Model", "Dolly Parton
Swing Model", "Band", "General",
"Bolero", "Steve Gadd" and a
thousand others, which mean just as much as nothing!
Read reactions from visitors below.
Go out to find the stick(s) you like best and
buy them by the dozen, and if you're a real drum banger, buy
them by the ton!
Reactions from Visitors
In reference to the several comments on Easton
sticks, I have to say I can't stand the idea of an alloy stick
with a removable sleeve and a screw-on tip. Doesn't sound
natural to me. I think I would prefer a solid type stick made
of polymer or other material, like the carbostick from europe
which is made from carbon fiber and designed to replicate the
feel and response of wood. The USA distributor of these sticks
is HSS/Hohner. In general though, I still prefer high-quality
wood sticks made of heavy hickory or oak. I have to agree that
heavier denser wood sticks sound better on drums, especially
if the stick is balanced forward. I've tried various non-wood
sticks over the years and been disappointed with most of them,
that's why I still favor using wood sticks, especially those
that employ technology designed to ensure optimal consistency,
grain stability, durability and integrity.
I also think heavier sticks are the better
choice. I use the Zildjian John Otto Artist Series drumsticks,
whereas before I used to use Zildjian 7A's, which are very
light sticks. Last night I played my first gig with the John
Otto's, and I was totally and completely blown away by the way
i sounded and the way felt playing with them. I have to admit,
my arms are a tad sore, but it's a pleasant sore. All my
musician friends also commented on the fact that I played and
sounded better, and I told them it was because of the sticks.
I am right-handed, play right-handed and have a
rather interesting technique I use for drumstick choice. Since
I am right-handed, I place a heavier stick in my right hand
and a lighter, different style, stick in my left hand. It adds
a lot of variety to the sound you can get out of each piece of
your kit. Most noticeable is the distinct sound from cymbals
when struck with two different weight-style sticks.
I use AHEAD drumsticks by Easton. They are
artificial drumsticks made of a hollow aluminum shaft covered
by a replaceable nylon sleeve, and a replaceable nylon
screw-on tip. The handle is filled with some sort of shock
I find that they stand up to a lot of playing, and last a LOT
longer than wood sticks (if taken care of properly). The cost
is about 10 times what you normally pay for wood sticks, but
they far outlast wood sticks in heavy applications (which is
what I play in).
I played on the Ahead drumsticks as well.
Probably the most accurately balanced sticks i've played on.
But that is all the Ahead sticks have going for them. They are
fragile and they bend rather easily. Also, I noticed the screw
on nylon tips come loose after a while which means you have to
constantly tighten them again. After a few rim shots, the
sticks will bend, and eventually break. And at 30-40 dollars a
pair, I cannot see the cost/benefit factor there. If I break a
pair of wooden sticks, I grab another out of my stick bag and
I dont think twice about it.
While I agree with the above comment that
Easton "Ahead" drumsticks bend somewhat easily, I
still have to say that I am far more impressed with them than
ANY wood stick I have ever played. If you reach into a case of
Easton sticks and pull out any two sticks, they are going to
be perfectly matched, you can't say that about any brand or
model of wood sticks. Also, because Easton sticks are made to
be shock absorbent, you will not have to deal with many of the
long term affects that drumming can incur, such as Carpel
Tunnel Syndrome, Tendonitis, Ect. I know that if I play with
wood sticks for an hour my hands will be worn out and possibly
cramped because of the repetitive vibration and impact,
whereas if I played a hour with Easton sticks, I would not
have to deal with those problems.
Looking at the aspect of cost, I will agree
that the price you pay for Eastons is stifling when compared
to the cost of other sticks, but if you know how to handle
them in a way that they won't bend, they will last you for a
long enough time that they will be more cost effective than
wood sticks. I have pairs of Eastons that are still in perfect
condition (I change the sleeves after about 5 hours of
playtime) and they have lasted me for months. But any time I
play ANY brand of wood sticks, they NEVER last me more than
and hour or two. In my 16 years of playing I have played many
different brands and models, and I have never found a stick
that is more trustworthy, comfortable, and cost effective as
As a side note, the Easton model that I
normally play is the Lars Ulrich model (I scratch his name off
the sticks so as not to be confused as one of his fans). I
have done a bit of research on the different models that they
make, and not only is the Lars stick very close to being a 5B
(when compared to Zildjian sticks, and Promark sticks) which
is the size that is most comfortable in my hand, but they also
have the thickest inner wall, which makes them also the
strongest and least likely to bend/break when compared to
other Easton models.
Another thing that influences the feel of the
stick is the diameter of the shoulder compared to the
dianmeter of the stick. I play a Vic Firth SD10 that's got
quite a thick body that tapers off to a relatively thin
shoulder. I find that this gives the stick more
"bounce" than a normally configured stick of the
same weight - this makes it a lot easier to play extremely
fast jazz tunes, for instance...
The numbers and letters on the sticks were
first used for inventory purposes by Ludwig which first mass
produced sticks in 1917, using a machine called a V10 Rotary
knife made by a company called Goodspeed. 7A meant number 7
"All Purpose" and 2B meant number 2
"Band", 3S meant number 3 "Snare". Not
very useful nowadays 'cept as somewhat of a vague reference