What are the best drum sticks?
Back when I first started playing drums, the phenomena of “signature” drum sticks were exploding – where stick companies endorsed big name drummers and created, marketed and sold sticks with their specifications.
I’m sure this is a fantastic business practice for stick companies, however it often leaves new drummers stranded in the drum stick section of their local musical instrument retailer, not knowing which stick to pick!
…and this is precisely why I thought that I would write a quick guide to help those of you who are newer to the world of drumming make a decision.
In this article I’ll talk first the variables that go into picking a stick. Then, we’ll dive into some techniques you can use to pick the right sticks for you, after which I’ll give you some specific product recommendations.
Ready? Let’s roll!
The Factors To Watch Out For
We all have different hand sizes and shapes. Our arms aren’t all the same length either. In other words, no two humans are created equal. This is why picking the right drumstick can really have a profound impact on the beginner.
Drum Stick Weight
Picking a drum stick that’s too heavy leads to quick fatigue and having to do more work than you need to in order to get the desired result. Sticks that are too light may lead you into some bad habits as you’re learning your basic rudiments.
A stick should feel like an extension of your arm and hand as opposed to a weight that’s dragging you down. So, chose a stick that you can hold and manipulate comfortably.
Top Tip: If you have gotten a bit more advanced and are looking to build up more stamina, go out and pick up a pair of sticks that are heavier than your normal stick. Use the stick during your warm-up routine and well into your practice session before switching to your regular sticks. You’ll find that long sustained double stroke rolls come a bit easier. Just be careful not to over exert yourself, which could lead to muscle and tendon fatigue.
Circumference also critical. Sticks that are too wide or too narrow could lead to some additional bad habits, not to mention that if you’re a heavy hitter, small diameter sticks will quickly explode your stick budget. As with weight, make sure you can comfortably hold the stick you’re trying out.
Wood Or Nylon Tip?
I’ve often been asked whether wood or nylon tipped drum sticks are better. If I’m in a rush, I’ll advise students to stick with wooden tips, as they generally feel more natural to play with and won’t leave nylon streaks all over your cymbals. That is an ‘easy out’ answer though.
If you know Bob Ross (the famous TV painter), or any painter for that matter, you’ll know that they use a variety of different paint brushes to achieve certain effects. This analogy translates perfectly to the question of wood vs. nylon. Wood tips will generally result in a warmer, less harsh sound where nylon tips bring out a lot more clarity and rawness from your cymbals and drums.
It really depends on what kind of sound you’re after and, perhaps most importantly, what makes you comfortable. You might pick up a pair of each type of stick to try the difference out yourself.
How To Pick Drum Sticks
OK…now to the good stuff. If you want to try out a bunch of sticks the next time you’re at Guitar Center, here are some tips you can use to determine whether a stick is right for you:
- Find The Balance Point: In order to know where to grab the stick, you’ll first want to find the balance point of the stick. To do so, hold out one finger and try to balance the stick perpendicularly. Once you’ve done so, you’ve found the point at which your fulcrum (the main part of your grip between your index finger and thumb) should be.
- Start Bouncing: Without gripping the stick, try some exploratory bounces just with your fulcrum to get a sense for the balance of the stick and how well it rebounds. When you’re ready, go ahead and use your full grip.
- Use a Loose, Natural Grip: When you first grab a pair of sticks, do not strangle them! What did they ever do to you? Grip them with a firm but not tight grip so that you can really get a feel for them.
- Play Some Rudiments: OK, so you’re at the drum shop – there are loads of other drummers around – and I’m sure all you want to do is to show the world your latest licks and stick tricks. Well, if you are serious about picking some sticks out, now is not the time for you to show-boat. Take your time here. Play some single stroke and double stroke rolls. Really get a feel for, what could be your new partners in crime. Then bust out some paradiddles and accent patterns. Again, take your time here. Become one with the stick.
- Try Different Pads: You won’t necessarily be able to use these shiny new sticks a lot of actual drum gear as to not mess them up. That said, try out every possible surface variation you can, which usually consists of a few different drum pads they provide. You’ll want to get a sense for how the sticks in your hand react to a variety of surfaces.
Repeat these tips with each new stick you pull off of the shelf. You will quickly develop a sense for your favorites. Put three of your favorites aside so that you can come back to them once you’ve gone through all of the sticks you want to try.
A word of caution: I know you’re tempted to take those brand new sticks you have in your hand and head over to that beautiful sunburst DW Collectors kit to really take them for a test drive. DO NOT DO THAT! There is a reason drum shops provide test sticks – so that their inventory of new sticks won’t get messed up.
My Personal Recommendations For New Drummers
- Vic Firth American Classic 5B: The 5B size stick, which is made by multiple manufacturers, has been an absolute workhorse for beginning drummers for decades! It is probably one of the most-stocked and used sticks in existence and has a good balance of all the factors mentioned in this article.
- Vic Firth American Classic 7A: The 7A is a lighter, narrower version of the 5B, which is great for younger or smaller drummers who need something with less weight. If you are a heavy hitter, this may not be the stick for you as it is a bit thinner.
No matter how great the sticks you picked out are, there will still be a period of adjustment for you once you get them home and start rocking out to a Rush tune. That is normal. Whatever you do, enjoy this process of selecting your new pair of drum sticks as there are surprises around every corner!