The characteristics of a drumstick can really affect the sound and feel of your drums and cymbals. Let’s take a look at the things that make the difference in a drumstick.
The three types of wood used to make most drumsticks are oak, hickory, and maple. Each differs in weight, density and texture. Oak is the heaviest and darkest looking wood out of the three. Oak sticks are durable and usually last longer than sticks made of other types of wood. Hickory is probably the most popular wood for drumsticks and looks lighter than oak. It is responsive and sturdy. Maple is a very light wood and allows for a large diameter stick without the weight. Small maple sticks are perfect for light, subtle playing.
Some drummers prefer sticks made out of synthetic materials because of durability (the material is stronger than wood therefore it lasts longer) and shock absorption (the shock of the impact on a cymbal or drum is reduced before it reaches the hands.)
The length of the shoulder (where the stick tapers off) and the diameter of where it meets the tip determine how quickly the stick rebounds off of drums and cymbals. This can affect tone and volume. A long, narrow taper is fast and responsive. A short, quick taper is front heavy with less rebound. A stick with no taper gives very little rebound.
The tip of the stick (what it’s made of and its shape) affects tone and articulation. Tips are made of either wood or nylon. Wood tips produce a warmer sound and nylon tips sound brighter and are more durable. Round and barrel shaped tips have a bright, clear tone while oval shaped tips have a dark, warm tone. Teardrop and acorn shaped tips produce a full rich tone while arrowhead shaped tips have a light, sharp tone.
The length of the stick affects its leverage and reach around the drum set. The average size of a drumstick is about 16 inches long. Longer sticks tend to feel heavier.
Sticks are classified into three categories: “A” for acoustic or jazz playing, “B” for band, and “S” for street or marching. Each category has a number (usually 2, 5, or 7) for the size of the stick with the number getting smaller as the stick gets bigger. For example, a 5A or 5B would be smaller than a 2A or 2B. These are just guidelines and it is ultimately up to you to choose the right stick for your situation.
Different sticks are suitable for different playing styles. For example, thin 5A sized-sticks are most common for jazz players to keep up with the fast timing. 2Bs are heavier and thicker and are commonly used by harder-hitting players. 5Bs, which are the most versatile, fall between 2Bs and 5As.
Most drumstick manufacturers have many different models of sticks available (a lot more than the average sizes mentioned above.) Also, most well known drummers have their own custom signature sticks available through the company they endorse.
A stick’s finish affects its grip and feel. Lacquered sticks are smooth and help reduce blisters and chafing. An uncoated stick helps to improve gripping. Some drummers use grip tape on the end of their sticks to improve the feel of their grip.
For quieter situations, you can use brushes or dowel rod type sticks. Brushes are wire or nylon strands attached to the grip handle of a drumstick. (Brushes have a playing technique all their own.) Dowel rods are bundles of wooden rods that produce a sound louder than brushes but not as loud as a regular stick. Also, mallets (sticks with a felt or yarn ball at the tip) produce a muted sound on the drums and are great for cymbal rolls.
HOW TO CHOOSE A STICK
As a general rule, you want each stick in a pair to be identical. Check to see that they are the same length and made of the same material. Make sure they weigh the same by using the same hand to make a stroke with each stick on a hard surface. They should produce the same sound. Check each drumstick for straightness by rolling the stick on a hard, flat surface. If the stick wobbles as you roll it, then it is not straight.
There is no “one size fits all” drumstick for every drummer. I hope this information helps you to choose the right stick for your playing situation.