Some Really Geeky Stuff About Drumsticks...
They're just pieces of wood, right? Well possibly... but drumsticks are one of a drummer's most important tools and like any tool, it's important to select the best one for the job. The problem is, drumsticks are available in a bewildering number of models and sizes so finding the right stick can be a daunting task for the inexperienced drummer.
The good news is that with just a little bit of information, narrowing down that choice becomes easy and before long you'll find the perfect stick (or sticks) for your particular style, taste and technique.
Characteristics of Drumsticks
In the image below, the different parts of the drumstick have been labelled.
The tip is the part of the stick which most frequently comes into contact with the drums and cymbals. Most tips are a variation on one of four basic types, each one subtly affecting feel and sound - especially on the cymbals. We'll discuss tips in greater detail later on.
The body main part of the stick and the part that we actually grip, normally making our fulcrum at the balance point. It is this part of the stick that actually strikes the rim of the drum when playing rimshots or cross-sticks. The diameter of the sticks body determines its size.
The shoulder is the tapered part of the stick between the body and the tip. The degree of taper affects the weight distribution and the rigidity of the stick and ultimately, the stick's feel.
The Butt is the back end of the stick which acts as a counter weight. For more power and volume, a drummer might flip the stick around, holding it in reverse in order to strike the drum with the butt.
Sizes and models
Traditionally, drumsticks are classified using a system of letters and numbers. Three letters are used: A, B and S.
A denotes 'orchestral' usage and consequently, these are the smallest sticks.
S denotes 'street' usage and consequently, these are the largest sticks.
B denotes 'band' usage and consequently these fit in between A and S sizes.
Each letter is preceded by a number which gives you a general idea of a sticks diameter. In fact, if you look closely, you'll see that the stick pictured above is a 5B. I say 'generally' because the number isn't a precise measurement and one manufacturers 5B may differ slightly from another's.
Increasingly, and perhaps as a result of savvy marketing, manufacturers are offering sticks that come in different variations of the traditional sizes. For example, a Extreme 5B which is a 'beefed up' version of the standard 5B.
Also, Signature Sticks are becoming very popular. These are sticks made specifically for certain drummer whose signature then adorns the stick. Often, these sticks feature idiosyncratic design characteristics which distinguish them from a standard model, such as Anthrax drummer, Charlie Benante's model which is pictured below;
The Most Common Types of Tip
Most tips are a variation on one of four basic types: acorn, barrel, round or nylon. The tip shape/type has a subtle affect on the feel and sound of the stick, with the affect being most audible on the cymbals.
With round tips for example, the surface area of the tip that is in contact with the drumhead or cymbal remains fairly constant whatever angle the stick strikes the surface. However, with acorn tips the contact surface area of the tip will vary significantly depend on the angle that the stick strikes the surface, allowing for subtle timbral variations. With barrel tips, the effect of this is somewhere in between.
Whatever their shape, nylon tips are prized for their durability because they don't chip like wooden tips. This can be a valuable attribute if you're on a budget as they generally last longer than wooden tips but many drummers find that they have a slightly idiosyncratic sound and feel and so wooden tips are still most popular.
Other stuff to hit the drums with
Brushes comprise of bundles of flexible metal wires that protrude in a fan-like shape from a rigid handle that is most commonly made from wood or rubber coated metal.
There are several anecdotal explanations as to the specific origins of the brushes but most agree that they evolved from a type of metal fly swatter that was available in the early twentieth century. There are various theories as to exactly how drummers came to use devices such as the Allis-Wiens Fly Killer on the drums but nevertheless it was the Ludwig & Ludwig drum company that saw the marketing potential and began producing their version of the wire brush, which they called Jazz Sticks the early 1920s. Today brushes in a variety of designs are manufactured by every major drumstick manufacturer.
Multi rods comprise of several thin wooden dowels that are bound together around a single thick wooden dowel and held in a sleeve that acts as a grip. The precise gauge of the dowels used depends on the model and there is usually an additional collar that holds the dowels further up. In some cases the position of this collar can be altered to adjust the 'spread' of the dowels.
They create a thinner, lighter sound that works well in situations where the attack and volume of a conventional stick might be to too much but where the softer, more diffuse sound of a brush might be too little.
Mallets comprise of a relatively large head, which is attached to a thin shaft, and are customarily used to play instruments such as glockenspiel, marimba, vibraphone and tympani.
Broadly speaking there are two types of mallets: wrapped and unwrapped. Wrapped are softer and consequently are the type preferred by drum set players, who might use them to play cymbal swells or elicit different timbres from the drums.
Once you've decided on which model (or models) of stick you're going to use it might be worthwhile investing in a quality stick-bag. Many stick-bags nowadays are highly functional and come in large sizes with several compartments that are designed to hold all kinds of drumming paraphernalia, from manuscript books to metronomes. It looks more professional than turning up to your gig with your sticks in a carrier bag and it'll keep you sticks, brushes and beaters in good condition.