Choosing the drumsticks that are right for you comes down to two criteria – comfort and sound. Firstly, you want a stick that has just the right weight and balance in your hand and is vibrant and responsive in relation to your playing tendencies. Secondly, it should produce the sound volume, dynamics and nuances you need for your music on both your drums, cymbals and any accessories you employ on your drum set.
For most drummers, finding their “true” drumstick is a many-years long process. It is very likely to be the same for you, but there are guidelines you can follow based on the style of music you play and your personal playing characteristics. Let’s take a look first at the different components of the drumstick and then discuss the combinations of them that are more likely to appeal to certain types of players.
A drumstick consists of four parts – the tip, the shoulder, the shaft and the butt. When choosing drumsticks, you will primarily focus on the type of shaft and tip on the stick.
Drumsticks are classified with a number / letter designation. The number refers to the thickness of the shaft of the stick. A lower number (ex. 2) is going to be a thicker shaft drumstick, while a higher one (ex.7) is going to be a thinner one. Obviously this is important in choosing a stick. While a 2 drumstick is going to be heavier and more physically demanding on your hands, it is going to be much more durable and will channel more of the energy from your arms down into the drums and cymbals. 2 and 3 grade sticks bring more volume to your playing. A 7 drumstick is going to light in your hands and very easy to play with, but they are not nearly as tough and will break easily in the hands of a heavier hitter.
The letter designation is more in relation to the type of music / player the stick is designed for. An “S” stick is designed for marching drummers and is a large stick that can only be paired with a lower number shaft. A “B” stick is well-suited for band players and most contemporary music is performed by drummers using a “B” stick in varying shaft thicknesses. “A” sticks are, by the book, designed for orchestral music but many drummers across many genres of music prefer to play with an A stick and again with varying thicknesses.
To give you some examples, a jazz drummer is more likely to use a 5 or 7 drumstick, and more particularly a 5A or 7A drumstick as they are lighter and more suited to finesse playing. A rock or pop drummer may also prefer the lightness of the 5 or 7 stick (more likely the 5) but will get more sound and durability out of a 5B or 7B stick ( 5B sticks are pretty much the staple for rock and pop drummers). 2 and 3 gauge sticks are those of choice for heavier hitters and often ones who are playing in more hard rock and heavy metal bands.
The importance of having the right tip on your drumstick cannot be overstated. After all, it’s the very connection point at which the energy is transferred and its shape plays a pivotal role in the type of sound created. This is true of both drums and cymbals, but cymbals especially.
To begin, you will need to choose between wood and nylon tips. Wood tip sticks are less expensive and wood tips produce a warmer, whole sound on the drums and a less-marked sound on cymbals. Nylon tips sticks are slightly more expensive and give a more pronounced, strike-definitive sound on the drums and a much more “pingy” sound on cymbals. For most drummers, the type of sound they want out of their ride cymbal plays a large part in choosing wood or nylon tips. Both types are prone to damage if the player hits too hard, especially on the cymbals. Nylon tips can break off rendering the stick useless, while wood tips can chip to the extent they’re similarly kaput.
The shape of the tip is also integral to the sound created by the stick. There are four primary types of tips:
The first one on the left is the standard drumstick tip. It is the “jack-of-all-trades” drumstick tip and can work well in nearly any type of music. It is right in the middle of the spectrum, with the girth to generate enough volume and a gradual taper to be conducive to sticking nuances while still keeping volume up. New drummers are often encouraged to choose a standard tip stick as it is a nice and accommodating mix of all the tip attributes.
The second is the teardrop tip, and it is popular with drummers who are playing mid-volume music that swells and recedes throughout. The harder taper on the tip makes it more responsive in cymbal playing but there is still some width in the fat of the tip to make the drums roar when the music calls for it. Teardrop tip sticks can appeal to any type of drummer, from those playing jazz to those playing metal. All in all, it is very similar to the standard tip but offers greater cymbal definition and the ability to tailor your volume with the mood of the music.
The third is the round tip. This type of drumstick tip is popular with orchestral, jazz and contemporary drummers who rarely if ever have to compete for volume and for whom note clarity and definition are a primary concern. A round tip stick will offer very little in a return on investment when you put your arms into it and are much more fragile than its wider-tipped brethren. They are typically unsuitable for rock, pop and other players who need drum volume and cymbal “ping” to cut through the music.
The fourth is a barrel tip. Barrel tips, as you can imagine, provide a big sound when in contact with the drums and are commonly paired with lower number (2/3) drumstick shafts for hard-hitting drummers playing hard-hitting music. They produce a similar presence on the ride cymbal and are also the most durable tips. It is worth noting, however, that most drum teachers DO NOT recommend beginning with a barrel-tipped stick, even if the student is aiming to be a hard rock / heavy metal / trash player. They argue that it prevents them from understanding the dynamics of drumstick use and how the tip is correctly applied to cymbal and accessory work.
Drumsticks are primarily made from three types of wood – maple, hickory and oak and the one that is best for you is often a reflection of how much oomph you need to hit your drums and cymbals with.
Maple is the lightest of the three woods and is therefore the most flexible and responsive. You really “feel” the drums and cymbals through maple sticks and they are accordingly a good choice for jazz and contemporary drummers.
Hickory is the most commonly used wood for drumsticks, likely because hickory is the wood of choice for most drummers. It is a nice hybrid between responsive and durable and it absorbs energy well. Hickory sticks appeal to drummers across all genres of music and, in fact, some drummers believe hickory sticks “age” better than others.
Oak is the strongest of all woods and, not surprisingly, oak drumsticks are the loudest, strongest and most durable drumsticks. They are great for transferring the power and energy of drummers playing loud and aggressive music, but be forewarned that they also give off much more vibration that can tax your hands and forearms. For those looking for durability and volume, however, an oak drumstick in a 2/3 B shaft with a barrel tip is going to be the way to go.
Lastly, one thing you should always do before buying a pair of sticks is to give BOTH of them the “Roll Test.” This involves simply taking the stick and rolling it along a flat surface. If it is not straight, you’ll know very quickly watching it as it freely rolls along. This is important, because a non-straight stick is going to be hindering you and your playing. Always give sticks the roll test before buying them.
This is only intended to give you some insight into what goes into choosing a drumstick for most drummers. Again, you should be trying, evaluating and rejecting many different types and gauges of sticks with different tip materials / designs on your way to finding your perfect stick. It’s not going to happen with the first pair you buy, and it shouldn’t. Most new drummers buy inexpensive lesser-known brand sticks in the beginning and try different types of them. They settle on one and then begin buying that particular style of stick from a more renowned manufacturer.