As with everything with drumming, there is a lot more than meets the eye. Yes, you’re just hitting metal and plastic with sticks, but to a drummer, much more is in play and being considered.
Drumsticks are no exception, as there are so many different choices to choose from. We will dissect the different choices when choosing a drumstick.
This will aid any drummer in choosing how to pick a pair of sticks and gain a little more knowledge on the craft.
We will start with the bigger picture topics and work it down to smaller details.
The different types of drumsticks
To a beginner, the scope of what you can put in your hands is extraordinary, especially at this day in age with how many different options there are.
For a beginner, it is most common and easiest to start with drumsticks. They allow you to learn the fundamentals of drumming without getting too complex to start.
You may see brushes as an option, these are more so for a more finessed approach to the kit, someone who already knows their way around and can apply the basic concepts to the brush.
Brushes are great for jazz playing and create thinner sounds and really express the sound of the heads, rather than the full tones of the drums.
Mallets are mostly used in orchestral drumming, yes very useful and probably a second place to the basic stick.
Simply they remove the click of the stick hitting a drum/cymbal, exposing the true tone of the instrument. On cymbals they are great for larger fulfilling rolls, also doing the same for toms.
Rutes are another type of drumstick, they are a bunch of dowel rods fastened together, producing a softer stick sound.
Most have the function of loosening or tightening the rods, the looser, the softer and flatter the sound is. While on the tighter side, it closely resembles a drumstick sound, but much softer.
So, there are many choices to choose from, but do not become confused. As a beginner, stick with the classic drumsticks for now, and you’ll expose yourself to other options later.
Honestly, brand does not mean too much in the drumstick world. Most brands produce the same sizes and specs of sticks, but with their logo slapped on it.
There may be some small subtle differences, but to the average drummer, there is not too much of a difference.
Now some brands do have different drummers signature sticks, maybe if you really like Travis Barker, Zildjian carries his signature sticks.
Most people just go to the most common brand Vic Firth. They are an extremely versatile brand with countless sticks to choose from, plus they are trusted by many, many drummers.
Some other brands that are notable are ProMark, Zildjian, and Vater. To keep things simple, we suggest starting with Vic Firth, and possibly later in your drumming career branching out to other brands.
You will notice different numbers and letters located on sticks. For example, there are 5A, 2B, and 7A.
The numbers represent the weight of the sticks, but contrary to what you would think, the higher the number, the lighter the stick.
The letters are a bit more specific:
A – designed for orchestra, softer and faster playing.
B – stands for band, medium weight stick, popular in rock music.
S – street sticks, generally bigger and thicker sticks, relatable to a marching band stick.
The most common are As and Bs. For a starter, maybe start with As and work your way up.
If you are a bit more experienced, using Bs for practice will help build control. Then transfer to As when actually playing, you will have learned to control them better as these are smaller sticks.
Always though, whatever feels better when playing is what you should use.
Yes, wood, wood is a huge part in choosing a stick, it can determine the weight and feel of the stick greatly.
There are three main wood types used in drumsticks: maple, hickory, and oak.
Maple – lightest type, least durable. Hickory – most common type, medium weight, shock absorbent. Oak – these are the heaviest and the most durable.
The best place to start out of these would be hickory. They are the mid-grade; they give the best of both worlds.
Overtime trying the different sticks will be a good choice, just to see if any other ones fit your fancy.
A plethora of different tips are available for drums also, sounds weird right? As stated at the beginning, there are many little nit-picky things drummers pay attention to.
So, let’s look at the different tip options:
Round – produce much better sounds on the cymbals, a more articulate, focused sound.
Barrel – much louder and fuller sounds, larger tones from the drums.
Teardrop – most versatile, most common, used for many different styles and produce great sounds.
Triangle – the balance between round and barrel tips, same sizes with a pointier tip.
Overall, tips are a great way to diversify your stick to whatever style or genre you are playing. So, whether it is rock, which normally requires some heavier hitting, or jazz which is more articulate than other genres.
A good idea may be to have a pair of each tip in your stick bag, just to be safe.
Another concept to tips is the material in which they are made of. Commonly you will have the options of nylon or a wood tip.
Wood tips are naturally made into the sticks, no extra work is required. Nylon tips are an extension of the stick, they are a hollow nylon tip glued onto it.
These are the differences:
Nylon – longer durability, more consistent sounds, brighter sounds from cymbals.
Wood – warmer and darker sounds, versatility in genres.
It can be quite controversial on which to use. If there is a lot of cymbal work in a song, it may be useful to use the nylon tips. For general playing, wooden tips are probably the better option.
If you are tight on money, nylon tips are a good choice as they will last longer. Among all these, both are good choices, both having their advantages.
Coatings have a big impact on how you use the sticks. The worst thing as a drummer is when you’re playing and drop a stick… real bummer and embarrassing.
When you play you sweat, well most people do. Sweat has a big factor on the grip of the sticks, which causes tossed drumstick accidents, or generally can make it frustrating to keep a hold of it.
Here are your different coating options:
Natural grip – natural feel of the wood, grainy, changes over time as naturally the sticks are used, feel will vary depending on drummer’s touch.
Lacquered – seal to prevent moisture, tacky feel, slick.
Grips – can be sold separately to apply to any stick, great for a stronger grip, can help durability of stick slightly.
Many drummers go with the lacquered stick. The tackiness of them gives a nice grip. A natural stick may be good if you really want to be one with the stick, it can sound weird, but some drummers really enjoy that.
Unless you have a real preference for it, or have a problem dropping sticks, do not worry about the coating too much.
Drumsticks come with a large volume of choices to choose from. Everyone has their different choices of what they like, some being extremely picky.
It is not a mystery that all of the different specs on this list do make a difference in the playability and sound, all coming with advantages and disadvantages.
The best course of action is to make the choice based on your personal preferences.
For beginners, a simple place to start are the Vic Firth 5As. They are very popular and are a starting point for almost all drummers.
Ultimately despite style or genre, the player must be comfortable playing, otherwise the sticks don’t mean anything, it is always the player over the gear. Be a great player before worrying too much about the gear you are using.