The Positive Spin on Drums
by Chris Belin
Choosing The Right Pair Of Sticks
I’ll never forget the first time I walked into a music store to officially buy a pair of sticks. I was 11 years old. The previous 9 years of my playing life I used sticks that came with drum sets, gifts from teachers, or hand-me-downs from drummer friends. Never actually choose a pair for myself until this point. As I stepped into Plum borough music center I was faced with a difficult choose; 7A, 5A, 5B, or 2B sizes. I believe all they had was Pro Mark & JoJo models but my memory is hazy on that. I do remember the guy at the counter not acknowledging me at first, probably assuming I was loitering as a lot of kids did. I knew I liked to rock out daily... so I choose the Pro Mark 5B nylon tip figuring it would take me to stratospheric heights!
When I got home I realized the 5B’s were much heavier that what I already owned. Plus they were a bit thicker, but my rationality in the store was heavier meant you could rock harder. I thought the plastic tip was cool in the store but I didn’t realize it would make everything sound different, especially the cymbals. I was definitely playing louder, but found myself getting tired much faster. I wised up after awhile & switched to lighter sticks during sessions before getting burned out. Regardless, about a year later I returned to the store and bought some Ahead sticks, Tommy Lee series. These were even bigger than the 5B’s, still with nylon tips but more length! Both pairs lasted me a long time, even into late junior high. My best friend gave me his old Remo practice pad & the heavy models put a hurting on that!
Looking back I should’ve chosen the 5A weight. The early models I had I believe were 7A’s. That’s most likely why they felt so different and awkward at first. A regular 5A would’ve been an much easier adjustment. I definitely did adapt pretty quick though as my grip has always been very loose & relaxed, breaking less than 5 pairs of sticks in my life...and NO cymbals!! Still, everyone is different in their approach, choice of techniques, and goals. Here are a few things to consider in your quest for finding your perfect stick;
This is a huge factor depending on your preferences. Generally Jazz / Pop players prefer lighter sticks for quieter dynamics and Rock players prefer heavier sticks for louder dynamics. When playing you should never feel like you have to overwork yourself to achieve a certain sound, plus if you’re using the correct weight of sticks in conjunction with appropriate techniques for the situation they wont just break on you. Sticks should break only after wearing down. I normally replace mine before they get to the level where they could break.
Most sticks are around the same length, with an inch difference between two models being a drastic variation. Be sure to take into consideration your size, especially arm length, and your set up. Are your drums close to you or set up more spread apart? Are the cymbals placed high or low? You should always have a set up where you naturally hit the center or each drum for an overall sound. The cymbals should be placed where the main tone you use most often is reached naturally. Cymbal bells & back side of the cymbal should be a slight extension. This should help you in your quest for perfect stick length.
The tip plays a huge role in sound, especially the cymbals. Nylon tips produce a brighter sound than wood. Ball tips are brightest in both, also helping to project the cymbal sound more. Acorn tip is next in line followed by Olive tips, which are usually produce the deepest & darkest sounds depending on which cymbal part you’re striking.
Most drummers I know seem to like the regular smooth wood finish, but there are other options. A lot of companies have added models w/ rubber grip. Plus Regal Tip has the special lacquer that adds a different feel. Pro Mark has the natural feel sticks, which are rough feeling at first but smooth out a bit over time. The grip area of Ahead sticks is metal. Some signature model sticks even include indentations to help with grip. Lastly, different color sticks can also add some different visuals in live performance.
The taper starts at the shoulder of the stick to the base of the tip. Short taper is a shorter path between the shoulder & tip. This type works well for drummers who play on the edge of the hi hats often. Since there is more density the stick brings out a fuller sound from the cymbal. This is also true for a drum as the these sticks are normally heavier at the top. The stick can feel more like a hammer.
Long taper sticks are typically good for lighter playing since the length between the shoulder & tip is more drawn out. There are definitely exceptions, especially if the stick is an extreme size w/ length or weight. Overall, I feel long taper sticks make it easier to play subtle and achieve the quieter range of dynamics.
This goes along with the taper discussion above. Most sticks labeled as Rock or an extreme size, have a thick shoulder which will add more weight & produce a fuller sound. This also really affects the sound of your rim shots, cross sticks, & overall feel.
Most sticks have a rounded butt end. Some companies also add their trademark there, Vater with the butt end cut flat and Regal Tip with the black dot. I do occasionally like to use the butt end for louder sounds, especially in the studio. This even works well when your playing lighter sticks, flipping them around can give you a Rock sound even with a jazz stick. I also use the butt end of mallets if I’m playing a song where I mix stick sounds & mallets, two-in-one deal!
Stick choices for electronic drum sets:
I'd recommend wood tip sticks for electronic drum sets if you are using rubber cymbals. Nylon tips usually leave marks over time on all the black surfaces. Zildjian introduced a line called "Anti vibe" which reduces vibration to your hands. I find those work well with traditional rubber pads. Mesh heads seem to rebound nicely with any stick. No matter what, electronic kits have a different feel than real kits so you may want to modify your stick choice you for these. Most drummers tend to use lighter sticks than their normal for electronic drum set playing.
I’ve experimented with hundreds of different sticks thus far, and a ton of those have been within’ the last ten years of full time teaching. I did pretty much spend 5 years of my life, 1997-2002, playing Vater 5A Los Angeles as my main stick. That stick feels like another finger even to this day when I pick one up, muscle memory indeed!! Today I mix them up often. My current favorites are the Pro Mark 7A wood regular and the 5A naturals, both wood tip. I have a ton of other sticks I use; nylon tips, brushes, bundles, mallets, Johnny Rabb rhythm saws, etc. I’ll try any model, no limits!!
There are so many choices out there. Every stick company produces quality products. I’ve tried all the major, most small, & once designed a stick. Finding a good pair of sticks is easy!! Most stores today carry dozens of different models. Please take in consideration all that is mentioned above. My last pieces of advice is to experiment often & go with what feels right. Even step outside of you boundaries a bit and try some speciality sticks, like brushes, bundles, & mallets, if you never have. Hopefully with this knowledge you can make the process much easier plus save money & most importantly your body! Good luck!!