Buyers Guide: How do I Choose the Right Drumsticks?
Drumsticks are an absolute must when it comes to playing drums and many other percussion instruments. But how do you choose the right ones when there are so many options?
Most sticks are between 16 and 17 inches long, though there are also special short sticks for young children. Stick thickness can range from 0.3 to 0.75 inches. Traditionally, stick sizes are indicated with letters and numbers. 5A has long been seen as the average size, with 5B and 2B being thicker, and 7A thinner. The primary influence when deciding what size stick to use is the music style that you're going to play. Generally speaking, the heavier the music, the thicker the stick, because then you can get the volume you need. As such, lighter music is typically played with thinner sticks.
Sticks are made from all different types of wood. The difference lies in the density of the wood, which means that some types are sturdier, but therefore often heavier. Maple is the lightest option, and as such it is suited for light playing; the disadvantage of maple is that it splinters more quickly. Hickory is a common wood type because of the balance between weight and wear. Oak is the heaviest, and is therefore a great choice for heavier music styles; they are also the most difficult sticks to break. Along with wooden sticks, you'll also find aluminium sticks with metal cores. These sticks are extremely durable and some of the parts are even replaceable.
Another thing to take into account when choosing your sticks is the finish. You can choose between natural or varnished with a unique colour. You can also choose a stick with a grip, which is handy for drummers who get sweaty hands.
Tip shape and material
The tip of the stick, which is the part that hits the drumhead, also comes in different shapes. This is quite an important part to consider, as it greatly influences the type of sound you're going to get. A round tip has a small surface and therefore sounds clear, making it a good choice for lighter music styles. The barrel shape, as the name suggests, looks like a barrel. It has a slightly larger surface and produces more volume; this shape is primarily used in marching music, thanks to the good articulation it provides. Oval tipped sticks have the most contact with the surface of any type of drum stick, which makes them the most all-round type. Tear drop tips are also quite versatile, and they fall between barrel and oval tips when it comes to volume and fullness. These are all wooden tip types, but there are also nylon tips. These give sticks a lighter sound, particularly when used to play cymbals. Thanks to the hardness of the nylon, these tips are also less vulnerable to damage. Finally, there are also sticks with combination felt and wooden tips, which are great if you want to be able to switch between soft and powerful sounds.
The tip shapes from left to right are round, barrel, tear drop, oval and nylon.
Brand and signature
We carry many different brands of sticks in our assortment, such as Vic Firth, Pro Mark, Ahead, Zildjian and others. All of these brands offer a range of sizes, from thin to thick, long to short, and they also offer different finishes. That means that there's a stick out there for every drummer. A number of famous drummers have also teamed up with stick manufacturers to produce drumsticks based on their own personal preferences. If you want to use the same sticks as your idol, then you can go for a pair of these! Or, you could check out the characteristics of the signature sticks and see if there are similar ones out there that are perhaps even better suited to your style.
Brushes consist of bristles that are arranged in a rounded fan shape and then mounted in the handle. They produce a softer sound and are primarily used in jazz and blues. Often times, the bristles are retractable, which makes it easy to adjust the size of the fan and thereby the sound. Of course, retractable brushes are also practical, as they're easier to transport and provide more protection for the bristles. When choosing a brush, you can choose between nylon and metal bristles. Nylon bristles sound a bit louder and won't bend easily, whereas metal bristles produce a softer sound, but have a higher risk of getting damaged. The length, diameter and finish of the handle are the same as with drumsticks.
Rutes, also known as multi-rods, are unique sticks that are part stick and part brush. Just like brushers, they have multiple bristles, though rute bristles are made of wood or plastic instead of metal. The length and thickness of rutes are similar to that of drumsticks, and they can also be played the same way. Rutes produce a softer sound than drumsticks, but they're louder than brushes, making them a great choice for softer styles or for acoustic sets.
The mallets category is filled with sticks that are primarily used for percussion. You could use them with melodic instruments, such as the xylophone or glockenspiel, or you could use them with samba and marching instruments. The tip is the most important part of a mallet, and this is the part that varies the most when it comes to material, shape and hardness. Depending on the timbre you're looking for, you might choose a soft, round or yarn tip, or you might choose a hard cartwheel tip for strong accents.
From left to right in the photo: plastic tip, yarn tip, marching mallet and gong mallet.
There are special timpani sticks available for playing the timpani. The tip hardness is the most important aspect of these particular sticks, as it has a very direct influence on the playing. Soft sticks are better suited for calmer pieces of music, and hard tips are better for louder, more powerful music. Of course, you've also got medium-hard tips that make for a good all-round choice. Timpani mallets can also be used for playing other percussion instruments like cymbals.
There are a lot of different accessories out there for sticks, such as stick holders that you can easily mount to a stand. There's also tape (in different colours), which can be a great way to add some extra grip to your favourite pair of sticks. If you've got the special aluminium sticks by Ahead, then you'll also find tips and covers for them in this category.