Picking drum sticks may seem like the easiest thing to do to an amateur. In reality, there are so many choices and so much confusing information regarding descriptions that it can be somewhat hard to buy your first drum sticks or even replacement sticks.
Here’s some general information that should help you find a better match for your level of experience and playing style.
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The Most Common Drum Stick Materials
Drum sticks are made of wood and almost entirely of wood for that matter. From end to tip, the same type of wood is typically used, with very few exceptions. Here are the types of wood you need to know about.
Maple drum sticks are not as common as you may think, despite maple wood’s popularity in the instrument production industry.
It’s because the wood is not as durable as others. However, sometimes it is preferred for its superior flex and lightweight nature.
The majority of drummers, whether they are amateurs, students, or pros, use sticks made of hickory. It’s a very responsive type of wood and quite sturdy. It has also been attributed to the classic or traditional feel.
Oak is a dense and heavy wood, which makes it an ideal choice when you want extra-durable drum sticks. It’s also great at producing louder sounds with minimal effort.
Although more popular than maple but not as common as hickory, it’s a top choice in metal and other aggressive genres.
Perhaps you’ve noticed some drummers using black drum sticks. If so, they were probably made of carbon fiber. Carbon fiber can increase the durability of drum sticks tenfold.
In terms of sound, they’re not louder or quieter. And to be frank, using them on snares and toms can sound very similar. However, they give your ride and cymbals a more open and bright sound.
One thing you definitely can’t play is a rimshot. That means that carbon fiber drum sticks are more of a novelty choice than a necessity, in any situation.
Lettering and Conventional Numbering
If there’s one thing that’s weird about drum sticks is how they’re labeled with various numbers and letters. Typically, all drum sticks are numbered between 2 and 9. However, the number 2 indicates the largest diameter.
The most often used type of drum stick is a 5A drum stick.
There are also various letters used to describe drum sticks. A, B, and S are the most common. The letter A denotes sticks designed for orchestra playing. That means that they are generally lighter and narrower than their B counterparts (band sticks or brass sticks).
S is a letter you won’t see too often. It was initially used to describe drum sticks designed for marching bands or playing in wide-open spaces. They should be even heavier and denser than B sticks and thus capable of creating louder sounds.
But it’s not all black and white. Conventional numbering and lettering in drum sticks are similar to how saxophone reeds work. That means that manufacturers are not constrained by any well-established rules and can use the same numbers and letters on drum sticks different than those of their competitors.
There’s also no rule against not using conventional numbering. As such, you’ll often find drum sticks described as being for jazz, for rock, for orchestra, for metal, and so on. For example, jazz drum sticks can feature 7A, 8A, or even 8D, among other descriptions.
The good news is that the most popular drum sticks tend to follow some of these basic rules. Therefore, a 7A stick will almost always be optimized for jazz just as a 5B stick will be optimized for heavier music like hard rock, heavy metal, and so on.
How to Choose Your Drum Stick Size
There’s nothing to it. It’s always best to pick the length you feel most comfortable with. That will not affect the sound significantly if your technique is accurate. The same length sticks can be vastly different in weight.
Finally, it’s the weight and diameter that will affect the sound the most, along with the tip. So, you have heavier drum sticks for louder playing and lighter sticks if you want more expressivity as well as the ability to be more subtle and play softer rhythms.
Drum Stick Tips and Why They’re Important
There’s a good deal of variety when it comes to tips. There are four basic tip shapes, each one with distinctive properties and applications. To the untrained eye, it’s hard to spot even spot visual differences between different tips, let alone figure out what makes them sound different.
Acorn tips probably produce the darkest tones, which makes them well-suited for acoustic performances. They’re also easily recognized as they have the biggest contact surface, which dampens and darkens the sound.
Barrel tips feature a wider contact surface. The flat surface creates a stronger contact sound.
Ball tips are quite the opposite. The small contact surface will create a bright sound on toms, snares, and cymbals.
Oval tips have a warm and somewhat dark tone. They’re suitable for many genres but don’t have great cymbal articulation. Given their shape, they’re pretty much the middle-ground between barrel and ball tips.
Shapes aside, you should know that tips can also be made of nylon or Delrin. If you plan on getting non-wooden tips, you should know that they are more durable.
Although nylon tips won’t chip as easily when used on cymbals, they can produce significantly brighter sounds. That won’t be suitable for all genres. On top of that, I wouldn’t recommend nylon tips for beginners.
They have a much faster rebound and are thus harder to control, especially if you want to play fast and loud.
Keep Things Simple and Study Your Favorite Drummers
Remember to not shy away from forums, review sections, and even interviews with your favorite drummers or drumming instructors. There are so many drum stick designs coming out each year that it’s even hard for seasoned pros to keep up with the latest things.
That said, this article contains everything you need to know before buying your first pair of sticks. You will truly learn to appreciate the subtleties between different types of drum sticks only after you get some experience.