VIC FIRTH PRESENTS:
PERCUSSION 101: DRUMSET
   — Video 23: Listening





Implement Selection Guide:
How understanding dimensions, wood species and tip shape can improve your sound!

How can I pick the right stick for my playing style?

At one time, sticks were generally "classified" into 3 categories: "A" for Orchestra/Jazz/Acoustic settings, "B" for Band and "S" for Street (Marching). However, those general descriptions no longer apply across the board. Percussionists today have a wide selection of implements to create exactly the sound and feel that they desire for any given situation.

Like a chef who wouldn't dream of using a meat cleaver to dice tomatoes, a great drummer wouldn't dream of using a heavy rock stick on a jazz gig! While it will ultimately be up to you to choose the perfect stick, this article will give you some general guidelines and give you a great starting point to begin experimenting with different sticks for different applications!

What makes a great drumstick?

A great drumstick is the perfect combination of balance, response and "feel". Each of these critical factors is a function of a stick's design - including the shape of the tip, the location of the shoulder, the taper, the thickness of the neck, the length and the species of the wood.

Let's go through each of the factors that determine which stick might be best for your situation.

 


THICKNESS



The thickness of a drumstick's shaft affects the overall weight, projection and strength. A thicker, heavier stick creates greater sound and offers increased durability. A thinner stick is lighter, faster and plays with greater ease. Generally, you need to match the thickness of your stick selection with the style of music that you play, and the volume in which you intend to play it.

Great sticks for light jazz and combo playing are the 7A, 8D and 5A (with a diameter of .540" - .565").

For jazz, latin and fusion playing, the most popular stick choice is the 5A (dia. = .565"), although you might want to experiment with something a bit thicker if you find that the stick doesn't produce the volume that you need (or if you tend to break sticks easily). If that applies to you, some good sticks to try might be the 55A, F1, 1A or 3A - all have diameters at .580", but have other characteristics that affect balance and speed (which we'll discuss in a minute).




If you play rock, pop, or anything outside the 'acoustic' setting, the 5B is a popular choice (dia.=.595"). Hard rock or metal drummers might want to step up to an even larger stick, which might include the 2B, ROCK or METAL drumsticks (diameters between .630" - .635").

TAPER
The taper affects the feel and behavior of a pair of sticks. A long taper produces more flex and a faster response, while a short taper is stiffer and offers additional strength. The amount of taper and location of the "shoulder" (where the taper begins) determines the balance of the stick.

One dramatic example of how a taper might affect the feel of the stick can be found in Vic Firth's American Jazz® line. Starting with the diameters of four of their most popular models (7A, 8D, 5A and 5B), a very long taper in the shaft makes these a very popular choice for the player looking for the ultimate in rebound and speed.

If you're looking for a stick that feels "front end heavy" (heavier on the tip than on the butt) and offers more "power", find a stick that has a short taper and strong shoulder.

 


TIP SHAPE
The tip shape is critical to the overall sound a stick will produce on drums and cymbals (the sound difference is more pronounced on cymbals).

A full "tear drop" tip produces a dark, rich cymbal sound (more lows).
A "barrel" tip produces a broad sound. Great for studio work.
A small round tip produces a brighter cymbal sound (more highs).
A large round tip produces a "fatter" sound.
Nylon tips produce the brightest sound and are the most durable.

 


LENGTH

The length of the stick affects its leverage and "reach" around the drumset. An example of two sticks that have the same diameter, but different lengths are the 5A (length = 16") and the Extreme 5A (16 1/2"). While essentially the same stick, these two models have drastically different feels because of the length differences.


WOOD
The wood type is the key to a stick's response and durability.

  MAPLE has a fine grain pattern, producing a light, fast playing stick with the greatest amount of flex. Vic Firth's American Custom® and American Heritage® models are examples of sticks turned in maple. These lines are perfect for the artist who is playing lighter types of music, or prefers a beefier stick without a lot of weight.

  HICKORY has a fibrous grain pattern and is denser and more rigid than maple. For these reasons, a hickory stick produces less flex and a more pronounced sound. Hickory is also capable of withstanding a great deal of shock, making it more durable. Vic Firth's American Classic® and American Classic® Nylon lines are examples of sticks turned in hickory.


Of course, there are a variety of other materials that drumsticks can be made of, but these two types of wood are considered best for all around playing. Non-wood products (such as composite fiber or metal), which may offer extra durability, can deliver undue shock to a player's wrists and arms, sometimes resulting in sore muscles or even tendonitis.

 


BRUSHES, TALAWANDS and RUTE
Wire brushes have long been a standard selection for the jazz drummer. Until very recently, the only selections that a drummer could make was whether to have a "retractable" handle or wood handle, and whether the butt end included a metal rod for light cymbal work. Now, there are a multitude of options for practically any sound that the drumset player wants to produce!
In addition to the traditional wire brush, you can now also select a brush made with plastic bristles, which can allow you to play with more volume and greater projection.
Vic Firth's DREADLOCKS are made from braided heavy gauge stainless-steel wires, which produce bold percussion sounds and a variety of effects.
RUTE, made from premium birch dowels, allow you to play even more alternative sounds and feels across a variety of musical settings.

The Steve Smith Tala Wands feature a foam center surrounded with bamboo dowels wrapped in thin PVC. This combination of materials provides great balance and rebound, while naturally producing a lower volume. Available with both birch and bamboo dowels.

 


MALLETS

And finally, don't forget that an all-around drummer needs a selection of mallets for cymbal and tom rolls, where a wooden implement just won't do!

Generally, a soft yarn mallet works well for cymbal rolls, but the shafts are often too thin for playing the drums.
Timpani mallets are often a great choice for the working drummer - and can be used on cymbals as well as drums. The hardness of the felt and inner ball will produce sounds that range from articulate to legato.
Also available are "swizzle" sticks, which are essentially drumsticks with a felt ball attached to the butt end. These sticks are perfect for the times when you need to quickly play a cymbal or tom roll, but do not have time to change implements.

 

 



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