Choosing a pair of sticks can be slightly mind-boggling, so here’s a simple guide to help make sense of it.
Start out with a pair of 5A drumsticks
If you want the quick answer to the question… “What’s the best type of sticks for a beginner?” The simple answer is – you can’t go far wrong with a 5A hickory pair of sticks (hickory is the type of wood they’re made of, and 5A is the model number).
5A drum sticks are the most commonly recommended “starting point” for a decent sized, medium-weighted, average-thickness type of drum stick. It’s a safe bet if you are just starting out on drums. The 5A sticks suit a relatively broad range of musical styles and are versatile for many playing situations.
All the major drumstick making companies produce a ‘5A’ drumstick, although there is some minor variation between them. It’s a bit like clothing or shoe sizes; there is no absolute agreement across all the different manufacturers what 5A model of drumsticks should be like. It doesn’t change the fact that the standard recommendation is to start out with a pair of 5A sticks and see how you get on. Popular brands of sticks you’ll find in most drum shops are Vic Firth, Vater, Promark, Ahead and Zildjian.
You don’t have to choose 5A sticks – there are hundreds of other models to choose from. We cover this in more detail in another guide. However, here’s a beginner’s guide to what variations are possible across the different types of drumsticks.
Anatomy of a drumstick
Here are the main parts of the drumstick:
The butt of the stick is the “weightier” end and it is opposite to the tip end. It acts as a counterweight to the tip of the stick. The butt is where the diameter of the stick is measured. A thicker drumstick will create a heavier and louder sound, whereas thinner sticks are lighter and can be quieter.
The tip of the stick is the end which is usually used to strike the drums (although it is certainly possible to use the butt end if you so wish!). There is usually a choice whether you want the tip to be made of wood or nylon. That’s a personal preference depending on the style of music you play. Nylon tips tend to be brighter on the cymbals. The tip is shaped for different tonal qualities.
Versatile for a range of sounds from tightly-focused to more diffuse.
The larger surface-area tip shape produces a ‘beefier’ and fuller tone.
The bigger contact area produces a broader and more diffuse tone.
Tightly focused sound with especially crisp articulation on cymbals.
Neck / Shoulder / Taper
The neck is the area below the tip where the stick tapers out to the shoulder. The shoulder part of the stick is often used for cymbal crashes and washes. The length of the taper between the neck and the shoulder influences the sound and feel of the stick. Short-tapered sticks have a stiffer feel whereas longer tapering sticks can suit a more delicate sound.
The shaft is just another name for the main body of the drumstick. The shaft can be used to play certain sound effects or specific stick techniques, for example the cross-stick sound.
Commonly used woods for drumsticks are hickory, maple, oak, exotic woods, or synthetic wood substitutes.
Hickory is used because it is relatively rigid and yet absorbs shock. It is quite a dense type of wood.
Maple is a softer, less dense wood than hickory and therefore it is lighter. It suits quieter playing levels.
Oak is a dense wood and is probably the most durable of the three main types of wood. If you are a heavy-hitter and easily get through pairs of drumsticks it might be worth trying the harder wood.
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