When I started playing
(in the 60s) there were not that many models of drumsticks
to choose from compared to today. There was a code that all
drumstick manufacturers used. If a stick had a B (as
in 2B or 5B), the stick was designed for band. If it
had an S (as in 2S or 3S) it was used for
street (marching drums). If it had an A
(as in 5A or 7A), it would be an orchestra model. So the
S were the heavier sticks, the B were the
medium weight sticks and the A were the lighter ones.
Well, a lot has changed, especially with the artists
having their own models. Most of these artist sticks are just
variations of the standard models with some minor modification.
Well, this choice can be confusing to the young player (and even some of the older ones, as well). So I will give you a few tips (pun intended). The tip of the stick is called the bead and it comes in various shapes and sizes. The most common are oval beads. There are acorn beads that are a little pointier at the tip and round beads which are just, well, round. There is a company that produces diamond shaped sticks, the Joe Porcaro Company, I believe. This shape is rather new and not every store carries them. The shape of the tip is basically designed to give you more or less stick surface hitting the cymbal. Rounder beads tend to be a bit more bouncier on a snare drum as well as on a cymbal. Acorn or diamond tips have a little less wood hitting the cymbal for a bit of a crisper, sharper cymbal sound.
The most frequent question I am asked with relation to the beads is Which is better the wood tip or the plastic tip? And the answer to that is Yes! or, No! or whatever....this is the story. First of all the plastic tip is actually a nylon tip. The purpose of the nylon tip is that when you continually strike a wood tip stick against a cymbal, the wood will soften and will eventually splinter or break. This will not happen with the nylon tip stick (well once in a while they will crack and some companies use an inferior glue whereby the tip goes flying off of the stick, but they have made glue improvements.) The sound of the nylon tip stick is much brighter on the cymbal, in fact for some drummers, it is a bit too bright and not as natural sounding as a wood tip model. At the beginning stage, if you are on a pad, either tip will work.
The tapered part of the stick right after the bead is called the shoulder. Some of the taper are shorter than others. The thinner the taper, the weaker the stick can be. So, if you play loud, stay away from thin tapered sticks. The other end of the stick is called the butt end and well leave that as it is.
If you are a beginning student working on hand development, I would suggest a medium weight stick (2B, 5B, SD1 Generals, etc.) Stay away from those skinny sticks (7A, etc). They are totally useless for hand development. Give those to ma to use in her plants, so the vines grow up straight. Also, until you develop some technique, stay away from the real heavy sticks. Later on you can use them to build more power and endurance, but for now, stay with a medium weight stick. NEVER USE THOSE SOLID METAL STICKS AT THE BEGINNING STAGE....unless you need something for self defense. They can do damage if you do not use them properly.
All of the main drumstick manufacturers make a fine stick. (Stay away from those 10 pair for $10 models. They are very light, unbalanced and not very good.) The main stick companies are: ProMark, Vic Firth, Regal, Vater, Zildjian, Ludwig, Mainline, Malletech, etc. They all use either Oak or Hickory or some other fine, hard wood. Which wood is better? Why, of course...definitely.
If you are a loud player and playing in a rock band, use a medium to heavy stick. If you are playing in your jazz band, then for petes sake, (who is this pete anyway?) get some light sticks (5A, Erskines). If you are in marching band then use Corps sizes (3S, Dennis deLucia, Ralph Hardimon, Corpsmaster or similar sizes.) Use the stick that is right for the job, which means that you may have several different sizes in your stick bag if you are playing several different styles.
As you progress as a drummer you will develop your OWN likes and dislikes for sticks and you will find yourself trying different models until you find the ones you like. So which stick should you buy? Buy the ones that feel the most comfortable in your hands and paying attention to how you are going to be using the sticks.
Grab several pair and roll them on a flat surface to see if they roll straight. Then make sure that the grains are long especially in the are starting from the bead to the middle of the stick. Then take the sticks and tap them on a wooden counter, lightly, to see if they make a nice solid sound. If you are buying only one pair of sticks (for hand exercises), make sure that the sticks produce the same, or close to the same sound, when you tap them on the counter. If your sticks cannot produce the same sound then there is no way you will achieve an even sound from both your hands.
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