The sticks section of a store can be quite overwhelming for a new drummer, especially considering the amount of guesswork involved in finding the right sticks for you.
Here’s a guide to help you overcome the daunting ordeal of stick shopping, so you can spend more time doing the fun stuff, like rudiment studies and sight reading… or pretending you’re headlining Shea Stadium in your garage.
Drum sticks are usually made of either hickory, maple or oak, and they all tend to go for about $8 a pop. Sticks selling for any cheaper tend to be just that – cheap. They’re likely unspecific about what wood they’re made of, which is a bad sign, and they’ll probably break far sooner than a brand-name stick.
That said, you’ll occasionally spend $10 on a reliable pair of sticks that will break in a few hours, which could be down to poor technique or just poor luck.
Oak sticks are the heaviest, maple sticks are the lightest and hickory sticks are the Goldilocks of the bunch, in that they’re somewhere in between.
I’ll give you a tip that I wish I received sooner than I did: Japanese Shira Kashi Oak sticks might sound like a bit of a gimmick, but they’re incredibly durable and tend to last twice as long as standard oak, at least for me.
There are other, more gimmicky sticks. Ahead make a line of aluminum sticks with a plastic casing that I recall were all the rage amongst my friends when I was a teenager, likely because they were entirely black and Joey Jordison, of Slipknot, used them.
They’re closer to $40 per pair and I never thought they sounded particularly good (because they’re plastic), but I definitely still bought them because rock and roll, baby.
You can also get your hands on coloured and illuminating sticks, which are fun for about 5 minutes, until your cymbals get covered in nasty colored smudges. I’d recommend staying away from these unless, for some reason, you love damaging your set up.
You can get most style of sticks with either wood or nylon tips and they both come their own drawbacks.
Wood tips can chip away, giving an uneven and undesirable sound from your cymbals. Nylon tips conquer this problem, though they can detach in the middle of playing, leaving you with a tip-less wooden spear of sorts that can cause major damage to your drumheads.
I personally always go with wood tips because I find the stick can withstand more wear and tear before breaking than a nylon-tipped stick can stand before the end pops off.
Tips also come in a variety of shapes that supposedly offer a wide variety of sounds, but I’ve never noticed much of a difference, especially if the kit is going through the sound desk at a gig – the levels of volume they apparently offer can be matched with the slight movement of a fader. Generally, whatever tips the store has will be just fine.
5A is kind of the industry standard when it comes to stick size and weight. They’re recommended for rock drumming, but they’ll just about do the job for anything life throws at you.
7A sticks are lighter and thinner than 5As. Theoretically, these are better suited to more nuanced genres, like jazz, and drummers with smaller hands. I still use 7As because 5As have always felt unnecessarily chunky to me.
2Bs are the thickest, heaviest sticks out of the commonly found sizes. Again, this comes down to hand size and personal preference mostly. I’ve never found myself thinking “I wish my sticks were chunkier and heavier,” so I tend to ignore the 2B section when shopping.
Signature Drum Sticks
A lot of famous drummers have a range of signature sticks, which can be a bit of fun for if you’re a kid trying to imagine yourself drumming for Rush or Red Hot Chili Peppers.
If you feel like spending a bit more money, these are worth a gamble from time to time, as they’re not just sticks with signatures adorning the sides, but very specific sizes and weights that stray away from the usual 5A, 7A and 2B stats. You might get lucky and find a signature stick that suits you far more than the ones you’ve been using.
Brushes are found most frequently in swing or jazz drumming, in which the player sweeps the brush along a coated snare batter. They come in both metal wire and plastic, which offer slightly different timbres, as well as retractable or fixed.
Retractable brushes were designed in order to avoid damaging the wires in transit, though stray wires can cause equally irritating problems when frequently retracting. The upside of retractable wires is that you can choose exactly how spread out the brush is, offering a wider variety of sounds.
Rods serve as a middle ground between brushes and sticks. They are essentially a collection of wooden dowel fixed together, with somewhat adjustable tightness. Playing with rods provides another percussive sound to your arsenal, like a collection of light wooden clicks.
Rods can achieve a much softer sound than with sticks, though with barely any of the flexibility of brushes. I have used rods frequently for live gigs where it was important to keep the sound low but also maintain good dynamics. My favorite ones to use are Steve Smiths Tala rods.
There’s a lot more to it, like sticks specifically designed for certain instruments, like timbale or marching band sticks, and hybrid sticks like Swizzles that are part stick and part mallet, but for kit drumming, this is all you really need to know.