I get a lot of questions about what drumsticks to buy as well as drum kits. Today I will be focusing on the types of different drum sticks you will find out there as well as what will work best for you. There is not a specific drum stick that works for everyone. Also, over time you will find that your preference may change. Lets take a beginners approach and focus on what some basic drum sticks will look like.
Looking Online or the Local Music Store
I always recommend if you have the ability to go to a local shop, do so. You will be able to get a better idea of holding the drumsticks in your hand than a picture over the internet. Drum sticks come in all different shapes and sizes. If you are looking at standard sticks you will notice each one labeled with a number and a letter. This will indicate the circumference of the stick and the application of drumstick. I have found a wonderful resource here that goes into detail about what the numbers all mean at the hub.
What the Numbers and Letters Mean
The numerical part signifies the circumference of the stick. In general, the lower the number the larger the circumference, and the higher the number the smaller the circumference. For example, a 7A stick is smaller in circumference than a 5A, which in turn is narrower than a 2B. An exception is the 3S, which has a larger circumference than a 2B despite the number.
The letter suffixes “S,” “B,” and “A” originally indicated the recommended application.
“S” model sticks were designed for “street” applications such as drum corps and marching bands. These large sticks were designed for the louder volume and projection needed for these uses.
“B” model sticks were intended for “band” applications such as brass bands and symphonic orchestras. With a smaller circumference than the “S” models, they were easier to control and thus especially popular with beginning drummers. 2Bs continue to be recommended by drum teachers everywhere as perfect starter sticks.
“A” stands for Orchestra. “A” model sticks were designed for big band and dance orchestras. They’re smaller in circumference than “B” series sticks and lend themselves to softer playing. These sticks continue to be very popular with many jazz and rock players.
If “S” stands for Street and “B” stands for Band, why does “A” stand for Orchestra, you might ask. This anomaly has been credited to Ludwig Drum Company founder William F. Ludwig, Sr., who reportedly chose the “A” designation because it printed better and he simply preferred the letter A to O. The designation has continued to be used to this day. You can read more here.
Materials of Your Next Drum Stick
As you can see there are many different traditional sticks out there for different styles of playing as well as custom sticks. If you are new to this I would focus on more of the basics. For a good all around drum stick I would recommend picking up the 5A drum stick. Now before finishing your purchase there will be a few other things to consider before your are done. Drum sticks and the tip are all made of different materials. The density of the wood will produce different results when playing and sounds. Also there are many different tips for each application of drumming. Lets look at Modern Drummers post on what to expect from drum stick materials. We have another page on Music Nuke that goes with the ultimate drum stick guide and the materials of a drum stick.
What’s the difference between sticks made of hickory, maple, oak, and plastic?
The most common types of wood used today are hickory and maple. Maple is 10 percent lighter than hickory, which allows drummers to use a larger-diameter stick without it being too heavy. Maple also plays a bit faster. It wears out pretty quickly, however. Hickory is a harder wood and will last longer than maple. Hickory is also fairly resilient and can absorb the shock of a hard-hitting drummer. Oak is the heaviest wood option. Promark’s Japanese Shira Kashi white oak sticks are 10 percent heavier than those made with American hickory. The extra density means oak sticks can withstand more intense playing styles.
The bottom line is that oak will last the longest. Hickory has a natural feel, takes an average amount of punishment, and is the most versatile of the three wood types. Maple will allow for more sensitivity and may be better suited to lighter playing situations.
For extreme durability, check out the aluminum/ plastic sticks by Ahead. These drumsticks are made of aerospace-grade aluminum tubing, and the upper half has a replaceable polyurethane cover with a threaded tip. These sticks are designed to last, while still offering a comfortable playing experience. According to Ahead, “Our sticks have up to 50 percent less shock and can last up to ten times longer than most similarly sized wood models.”
- Hickory is of medium weight and durable.
- Maple is lightweight and quick.
- Oak is heavyweight and durable.
- Aluminum/polyurethane sticks provide extra rebound and are extremely durable.
You can find the full post here from Modern Drummer which will explain more about materials.
What different drumstick woods sound like:
The Anatomy of a Drum Stick
When looking at drum stick, you will notice different parts to it. Drumsticks are broken into different sections and it is good to know each section because some may very between each manufacturer. The anatomy of a drum stick consists of four main areas. The main areas are the butt, grip, shaft, shoulder, and tip. Each section of the drum stick can be broken down further and Agner drum sticks made a fantastic post about the different areas and what you can expect:
Sticks length affects the overall play character and balance of the stick. In general, shorter sticks weigh less. They are quicker and easier to control. Longer sticks increase reach, leverage and provide greater power, response and feel of stroke flexibility.
Grip area is the thicker, counter balance end of a drumstick to hold it and although was not specifically designed as the area to play, but some drummers flip drumsticks to use butt-ends for special drum effects. They create more powerful and fuller tone than the tip end when played on drums and cymbals.
As the grip area on the whole is used to hold a drumstick for the most part when playing drums so that it should be felt comfortable in your hand when you play.
Body / Shaft is the longest and biggest area of a drumstick. The part of this area near to the grip area can be used to hold a drumstick in traditional grip. Mostly the body is used to produce specialty strokes like the snare rim shots. The shaft takes the most impact and so the power strokes are produced.
Shoulder is the area of a drumstick between the body and the neck, i.e. where a drumstick shaft slopes into the neck; it is the area where a drumstick starts to narrow. Drumstick shoulder is often used to hit hi hats and crash cymbals. Front-heavy sticks feature shoulders that are closer to the stick tip. This produces less response (inertia) and rebound, allowing you to dig in and be “on top” of the music.
Taper is a narrowing area of the drumstick. The term “taper” is sometimes used to identify the shape and the length of the drumstick shoulder. Obviously, the length and the shape of the taper influences power and the density of the drumstick. The length and thickness thinning effect on flexibility, sensitivity and sound of drumsticks. There is a feeling that the sticks with short and thick taper are more stiff and provide greater durability producing more powerful and volumetric sound than sticks with a long and narrow taper, which tend to be more fragile and bendable, but sounding is more delicate.
A taper affects the sense of stick balance and sense of balance direction. The length and diameter thinning of taper effect on flexibility, sensitivity and sound of drumsticks.
A long taper produces a back-heavy feel (or a rear-weighted feel) with more flex, yielded and faster response, which optimizes finesse and agility.
Drumsticks with a long and narrow taper have tend to be more fragile and bendable, but sounding is more delicate.
A short taper provides stiffer strokes and durability with a front-heavy feel (or a front-weighted feel). Such a taper is for better volume and speed optimizing. There is a feeling that the sticks with short and thick taper are more stiff and provide greater durability producing more powerful and volumetric sound than the drumsticks with long and narrow taper. Read the full post here.
Your Drum Stick Tip Explained
There are four general different tip shapes that you will find on the market. Each tip will consist of either nylon or wood and will produce different sounds. Rock drumming systems has came up with some bullet points that will help with the different shapes and materials you can expect to find:
Oval Drumstick Tip
- A well rounded tip, used for most styles
- Produces a warmer tone, with great bounce
- Has a softer tone, and a lighter feel
Mushroom Drum Stick Tip
- One the most common tips for rock drumming
- Produces a louder, full sound, with decent response
- Fairly durable, and well balanced
Fat Drum Stick Tip
- A very durable tip, used for louder, or corps drumming
- Produces a loud full sound, slightly heavier tip
- Great for cymbal crashing, hard on drum skins
Ball Drum Stick Tip
- Common with jazz drumming, or snare drumming
- Produces a crisp, bright sound. Great for Cymbals
- Excellent bounce and response, with a weaker tip
Nylon Drum Stick Tip
- Excellent for electric drum sets
- Produces Brilliant crisp tones. Great for cymbals
- More Durable then wood tips
You can find the full post here and more pictures of the different tips.
Final Thoughts on Drum Sticks
You will need different drum sticks for different styles of music, so expect to spend some time looking for different applications. For something like folk music or acoustic I would use a lighter stick while rock I would go with a thicker/heavier stick. If I was to do it all over again I would recommend getting a 2B stick to learn technique with and precision. If something doesn’t work try a different set of drum sticks and hang in there. It takes time and practice to adapt to anything. If you need help with purchasing your first set of drum sticks, please let me know.
How drumsticks are made: