Sticks are sticks, right? As long as they’re straight, shouldn’t they do the job? What’s the difference between 2B and 7A anyway?
If these questions sound familiar, you’re not alone. Drumsticks come in a surprising array of shapes, sizes, weights, and even materials. So how do you know which ones to choose? Sure, you can just stick to the sticks you’ve always stuck with, but are they really the best for you?
It’s entirely possible that what you’re used to using isn’t the best stick for your playing style and could be holding you back from greatness. That’s why I decide to put together this article all about what you need to know about drumsticks.
Anatomy of a Stick
I’m going to be talking about some of the different parts of drumsticks. It’s important to make sure we’re on the same page so that we can speak the same language. That’s why I’m starting with the parts of the stick.
Let’s work our way up from the butt to the tip…
Yes, just like on you, the butt is the bottom of the stick. This is, of course, the thickest and heaviest part of the stick. You can use it for different effects when playing. The most popular use is probably spinning the stick around and striking with the butt for extra weight when needed.
From the butt upwards, the straight, main body of the stick is called the shaft. The lower shaft is sometimes called the grip area, and you might find this part coated in some sticks, like Zildjian Dips.
The point where the stick starts to slope is its shoulder. Like the butt, striking with the shoulder instead of the tip can give you some extra force for crashing and other loud strikes. This sloping continues up to the narrowest part of the stick, called the neck. The sloping zone from the shoulder to the neck is called the taper.
Finally, you arrive at the tip…
It can come in many different shapes and is the normal strike zone for drumsticks. And that’s it – the anatomy of drumsticks.
Sizes and Numbering Systems for Drumsticks
Let’s start by stating that there is no industry standard for drumstick sizes. Instead, different companies create their own standard sizes. While there is no industry standard, sizes and numbers make up a big part of what you need to know about drumsticks.
The length of a drumstick is generally anywhere from 15 to 17 ½ inches (about 38-45cm for metric users). Although you could find outliers in special cases, like the gimmicky 11-inch Pocket Stix.
Diameter, on the other hand, is the confusing part…
In the past, drumstick companies hit on the idea to market sticks as matching a certain type of music or band. Bigger, louder bands demanded heavier sticks with larger diameters.
So they used the letter ‘O’ to represent orchestra sticks, ‘B’ for marching bands, and even ‘S’ for street bands. Later, O changed to A, and now what you’ll generally find is a choice between A or B sticks. “A”s are usually lighter, and “B”s heavier.
Then there are the numbers…
Against intuition, smaller numbers are thicker sticks, while bigger numbers give you thinner sticks. If you think it’s something to do with fractions, trust us, it’s not. A 5A stick isn’t 1/5 of an inch thick!
Put together, small numbers with Bs are big sticks, and larger numbers with As are thin sticks. The most popular sizes for big bashers are 2B, like Vic Firth’s American Classics. On the other hand, Vater’s 7A Woodtips represent thin, light, and very nimble sticks.
We hope that’s a little less confusing, but remember, it’s not an industry standard. Don’t expect the 2B from one company to be the same size as one from another company.
Drumsticks are made from wood, right? Well, usually. But which wood, and how does changing the wood change a drumstick?
The overwhelming majority of drumsticks are made from good ol’ American hickory. This is because it’s an easily available, robust hardwood that’s lightweight and durable. Hickory also helps to absorb a lot of the force of your blows, reducing fatigue on your hands and wrists.
This is about 10-15% lighter than hickory. Meaning you can get a lighter, more nimble stick for the same grip diameter. Maple sticks like the Vater Sweet Rides are fast and light to play with.
At the same time, maple is considerably less durable than hickory. If you strike a lot with the shoulder or taper of your sticks, you’ll find maple sticks get chewed to pieces quickly.
It’s anything from 10-20% heavier than hickory. It’s also a lot more durable, so it’s well suited to heavy, loud playing. Oak sticks like the Shira Kashi Oak sticks from Promark give you excellent durability but more weight and more player fatigue.
Wood sticks are usually either left plain or, more commonly, coated with lacquer. Lacquer can improve durability but could make the sticks more slippery in sweaty hands.
There are other drumsticks made of nylon, like these Nylon Drumsticks from Ublove. They can even be airplane-grade aluminum like the Ahead Advanced Alloy Core sticks. These are ultra-durable drumsticks but are often lightweight to the point of being awkward to use.
Tapers and Tips
Most drummers know that size matters. However, the shape is equally important if you want to know how to find the best drumsticks. Let’s look at taper first. As I mentioned earlier, when the stick starts to slope from the shoulder to the neck, that’s the taper. The length of the taper makes a big difference.
A short taper means the manufacturer hasn’t taken off much material. This keeps the sticks heavier on the front and helps provide more attack for heavier playing styles. A long taper means more material has been removed, making the sticks more back-heavy. This gives you a lot more bounce, suitable for more controlled styles.
Tips come in a host of different shapes, which give more or less contact with cymbals and drum heads. Here are the main ones you’ll find…
- Round/Ball – clean, clear, and bright
- Oval – widest range of sound
- Barrel – loud and heavy
- Acorn – full, rich sound
Tips can also be natural wood or more durable nylon. Nylon tips are way brighter and cleaner sounding, while wood tips are deeper and warmer.
Need Great Drums or Drum accessories?
We can help you find what you need, so check out our in-depth reviews of the Best Snare Drums, the Best Drum Tuners, the Best Jazz Drum Sets, the Best Drumsticks, the Best Portable Drum Kits, the Best Drum Thrones, and the Best Drum Practice Pads you can buy in 2021.
Also, have a look at our comprehensive Zildjian ZBT And ZHT Cymbals Review, our Ludwig LC178X0 Drum Set Review, our Yamaha DTX562K Electronic Drum Set Review, and our Roland TD-25KV Electronic Drum Set Review for more great items currently available.
And don’t forget our handy guides on How To Build Your Own Soundproof Home Studio For Drums, How To Set Up Your Drums, and Odd Time Signatures for more useful information about drums.
What you Need to Know about Drumsticks – Final Thoughts
Drumsticks aren’t all that complicated. Sure, they come in different sizes, shapes, weights, and materials, but that variety reflects the variety of drumming styles out there.
Metal slayers might look to durable oak 2B short-taper sticks with rubberized grips to help them smash. Jazz cats could lean towards maple 7A long-taper nylon ball-tipped sticks for the best control and detail.
But in the end, drumsticks are a personal choice. The best stick is the one that feels great in your hand and lets you play your very best.
Until next time, let the beat go on.