5 Best Drum Sticks: How to Pick the Perfect Stick
By Mason Hoberg
There are a countless amount of variables in finding your perfect drum tone. Your shells, your heads, and your cymbals all have a huge impact on your tone. While it may not be the first thing many drummers consider, drum sticks are also an incredibly important part of getting a great drum sound.
The only downside is that there is a staggering amount of drum sticks on the market. There are countless models from countless manufactures, all of which come with their own pros and cons. Thankfully, this guide is here to help you make the best decision possible. Our guide well help you figure out how to select the best drum sticks, as well as give you a few great recommendations that won’t break the bank.
- Drum Stick Numbering
- Wood vs. Synthetic Drum Sticks
- Types of Drum Stick Tips
- Top 5 Drum Sticks
Drum Stick Numbering
If you’ve been on the market for drum sticks, by now you’ve probably seen that most drumsticks come with both an accompanying number and letter. The number describes the circumference of the drum stick, with lower numbers generally signifying a wider circumference.
The letters on a drum stick stand for the stick’s intended use. “S” stand for street, which are intended to be used in situations where volume and projection are a prime concern. “B” stand for band. These sticks have a smaller circumference than “S” sticks and are recommended for beginners because they’re easier to control than the thicker “S” sticks. Lastly, “A” sticks are the thinnest type of stick. They’re great for players who prefer a softer tone, and though they don’t have the raw volume of “S” or “B” sticks they do offer a greater dynamic range than either.
Wood vs. Synthetic Drum Sticks
The main woods used in drum stick construction are oak, hickory, and maple (in order from most dense to least dense). The denser the material the more volume you’ll get, but as your stick gets denser you may find that it becomes harder to play at speed.
The main benefit of using a synthetic stick is that some synthetic sticks have replaceable heads, something that’s not feasible with wooden sticks. Synthetic sticks are also generally much more durable than wooden sticks, which means that you’ll have to replace your drum sticks much less often.
Types of Drum Stick Tips
There are four main types of stick shapes:
Round tips: Round tipped drum sticks produce a bright and focused sound that are great when you need a dynamic punch. These sticks are also great for cymbals, as the focus tone maintains a lot of snap and clarity that other sticks tend to lack.
Barrel tips: Barrel tips have a broader tone. These sticks also have a lot of volume.
Pointed or triangle: These sticks produce a tone that’s in between the tight and dynamic sound of round tipped sticks and the broad tone of barrel tipped drum sticks. They’re a great fit for the drummer looking for a versatile tone.
Teardrop: Teardrop tipped sticks are capable of producing the tone of both round and barrel tipped drum sticks depending on how they’re held.
Top 5 Drum Sticks
As always, our recommendations are selected with widespread applicability in mind. We try to make sure that everyone who reads one of our articles can find a viable option. While we recognize that the more expensive pieces of equipment are generally objectively a better choice, we also know that it doesn’t matter how good a drum stick is if you can’t afford. So just keep in mind that the best choice for you may not be the best choice for your fellow musicians, and vice versa.
Vater Chad Smith’s Funk Blaster Hickory Wood Tip Drum Sticks
Established in 1956, Vater Percussion has been making drum sticks that have been used by some of the most notable musicians in music history for decades. Like many other manufacturers of drums and drum accessories, Vater Percussion was established by the owner of a music store. The differentiating feature between Vater and other manufacturers at the time is that Vater was actually one of the first companies to produce signature products for famous musicians of the time. Though he may not be a household name today, one of the first musicians to have a signature drum stick from Vater was Buddy Rich. Buddy Rich was billed as “The World’s Greatest Drummer” during his career, and inspired some of the most influential jazz musicians in the world.
The drum stick of choice for over 20 years by drummer Chad Smith (the long-time drummer of the Red Hot Chili Peppers), the Vater Chad Smith’s Funk Blaster Hickory Wood Tip Drum Sticks are a great fit for reproducing the tight and funky drum sound that have defined this musician’s career.
The main feature that separates Vater sticks from other drum sticks on the market is that Vater generally produces sticks with a higher than average moisture content. They do this to increase the durability of their sticks, though it does result in a bit of extra weight. While the results of this process aren’t overly dramatic it is something you should take into account when looking at this product.
While these sticks are heavier than similarly priced sticks with a lower moisture content, because of their dimensions these sticks are actually slightly lighter than your standard 5B drum stick. This is great for playing at speed, or utilizing certain drumming techniques that require a larger stick, but you will have to change your technique if you want a more powerful tone. Because these sticks are designed to be relatively top heavy this can be compensated for by gripping lower on the stick, though this may be a bit uncomfortable for some drummers.
An important thing to note with these sticks is that they’re made from hickory. Hickory is the stick of choice for heavy handed drummers because it’s an incredibly durable hardwood. This leads to a more durable and reliable stick.
To get a good idea of how these sticks sound, the best thing to do would be to closely observe Chad Smith’s live sound. Tracking down live sound samples is better than listening to a studio recording because studio tracks are heavily altered during the recording process. While this isn’t going to be a perfect representation of the sound of these sticks because there are other elements that effect Smith’s tone, it will give you an idea of the overall tone.
As far as quality is concerned, Vater produces a very high quality product. Unlike a lot of companies in this price range, Vater offers an outstanding quality guarantee. Every Vater stick is guaranteed to be straighter, more consistent, and of a higher overall quality than any other leading manufacturer of drum sticks. Vater drum sticks are also weighted and balanced through use of a proprietary computer system, ensuring that each set of Vater drum sticks are going to be virtually indistinguishable from one another. And though it doesn’t apply to this model, Vater nylon tipped drum sticks are also guaranteed to not break and/or chip.
Vater has an important place in the history of music. Not many companies can claim to be true innovators in their field, and few can keep a similar level of innovation for decades. Vater also has an unmatched dedication to producing a quality product. It’s important to have reliable equipment when you’re a musician, because there’s nothing more distracting than technical problems during a practice session, gig, or when you’re trying to record an album. Regardless, these drum sticks are a great choice for any drummer. If they work for Chad Smith, odds are they’ll work just as well for you.
ProMark PW747W Japanese Shira Kashi White Oak Neil Peart
Founded in 1957 by percussion instructor Herb Brochstein, ProMark has been the drumstick of choice for professional and hobbyist musicians alike for decades. Like many companies producing accessories for drum sticks, Brochstein was actually a successful shop owner before he started manufacturing products of his own. Undoubtedly, the decision to produce drum sticks was inspired by a niche in the market that Brochstein saw was unfilled. Regardless of his reasoning, the decision obviously paid off as ProMark has gone on to become one of the most notable producers of drum sticks in the country.
ProMark is also a company that isn’t afraid to break tradition in regards to their products. The company was the first to bring Shira Kashi white oak to the American market, and they are also the only company to successfully produce oak sticks for drummers in America. ProMark is also environmentally conscious, and in recent years has entirely re-engineered their production process to be more environmentally friendly. They’ve also moved away from using endangered wood in their designs, a move which more companies are going to wish they implemented as supplies of endangered species of wood shrink.
As evidenced by this review, ProMark has also partnered with a variety of notable musicians to produce signature drum sticks. Some good examples of the company’s multiple partnerships include: Todd Suchermans of Styx, Jason Bonham, and of course Neil Peart.
The most important thing to know about ProMark’s PW747 Japense Shira Kashi White Oak Niel Peart drum sticks is that oak is a very dense wood. Oak is actually even more dense than hickory. When you take into account that hickory is already considered to be an incredibly dense wood if you’re considering buying these sticks you should be aware that they are going to be heavier than other sticks at this size. This oak is roughly 10% more dense than hickory, so there will be a 10% increase in weight as well.
These sticks are roughly based off a classic 5A diameter, though they’re a bit longer and have a thicker taper. These are some hefty sticks, which while the difference isn’t extreme when compared to hickory you will notice the extra weight with these sticks.
Lastly, these sticks are also equipped with an oval tip. The main thing to be aware of with oval tips is that the sound is going to vary drastically depending on the type of grip that you employ while playing and the angle of the tip to the head. While this does increase the your flexibility it does also mean that a consistent tone is going to require more precision.
Because these sticks are so dense they definitely pack a punch. This increases overall volume, but it’s also going to make the tonal characteristics of your kit shine through even more. So if you’re looking for a stick to switch up your tone you may not like these as much, but if you’re looking for more volume or a heftier stick you may find that this set will be a good fit for you.
These sticks are relatively bright sounding, though this can be compensated for depending on how you utilize the oval tips. The sticks are also regarded to have a very balanced overall response (though they do sound a bit bright they also do a good job of representing other fundamental frequencies) and rebound.
As far as quality is concerned, these sticks are generally regarded to be incredibly durable and manufactured to a high quality. The reported durability of these sticks is due at least in part to the wood they’re constructed from, as a denser more durable wood is obviously going to translate into a more durable drum stick. A part of the quality of these sticks is also due to being manufactured and produced in the U.S. Though the quality of Asian instruments and instrument accessories has increased in recent years, American and European products still have a leg up as far as quality is concerned.
While the ProMark PW747W Japanese Shira Kashi White Oak sticks are a bit heftier than your standard drum stick, in the right situation they’re definitely capable of meeting the needs of any musician. They’re undoubtedly a quality product, and considering that as of writing they’re roughly $11 on Amazon they’re worth trying out for novelty alone.
Vic Firth American Classic Drum Sticks
Founded in 1963 and headquartered in Boston, Massachusetts, Vic Firth is one of the largest manufacturers of drum sticks in the world. The founder of the company, Viv Firth, was born in 1930 in Winchester, Massachusetts. Firth was the son of a successful trumpet player, though he found that percussion instruments were his true passion. By the time he was in high school, he was already a full time professional percussionist. In addition to founding his own company and receiving an honorary doctorate in music from the New England Conservatory of Music, Firth was also the principal timpanist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra from 1956 to 2002.
Uniquely, Firth founded the company not to fill a gap in the market, but to advance his own career. As he was required to play more and more complicated pieces with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Firth felt that the drumsticks he was using weren’t up to the task of playing the music he was required to play. He felt that in order to play to his full potential, he needed to design his own drum sticks that were up to the task of playing at a symphony level. Firth actually hand whittled the first two prototypes himself, and sent these prototypes to a wood turner to be refined. Though Firth intended these sticks for his personal use, they went on to become a hit with his students. In turn, this led to the sticks being carried by distributors all over the country. At time of writing, Vic Firth is one of the largest manufacturers of drum sticks in the world, manufacturing more than 12 million sticks a year.
The subject of today’s review, the American Classic series is a great example of the quality products turned out by the Vic Firth company. These sticks are a great fit for everyone from the beginner to the dedicated professional, and produce a phenomenal tone.
Turned from American hickory, the Vic Firth American Classic series measure in at 16” with a diameter of .570. Hickory is one of the most durable woods around, capable of withstanding a great deal of shock and abuse. Hickory is also a relatively flexible wood, giving these sticks a light and “snappy” feel that’s perfect for a wide variety of playing styles and techniques.
These sticks are weight and size matched, which produces sticks that are perfectly even. While marginal differences in stick weight and shape may not seem like they’d be a huge issue, it can definitely throw off your playing. Even the smallest difference between sticks can throw off your rhythm, which is incredibly debilitating for a drummer.
In case you weren’t already aware, these sticks do feature a wood tip. While these sticks are crafted from solid hickory, wood tipped sticks aren’t quite as durable as nylon. However, wood does give a snappier and more focused tone than nylon. This is further enhanced by the round tip of the sticks, which adds further clarity and punch.
The most notable thing about the tone of these sticks is that they’re incredibly tight and focused, which makes them a great fit for genres that require tight and intricate passages. Genres like rock or punk really benefit from a bright and snappy drum tone, which these sticks can offer in spades. They’d also be a great fit for country or funk.
However, if you’re looking for a broader or rounder tone you may want to consider a different option. Not that these sticks aren’t capable of producing an approximation of that tone, they’re just not going to be an ideal fit.
As far as quality is concerned, these sticks are as durable as any your likely to come across. In fact, according to consumer reviews these sticks are actually much more durable than a significant amount of their competition. This is likely due at least in part to their hickory construction, which is a very durable wood. Regardless, theses sticks aren’t likely to let you down or break without being put under a high amount of abuse.
These sticks are sure to be a perfect fit in the right situation. While these drum sticks aren’t going to work in every situation, or for every player, in the right hands and for the right type of music they truly do have the potential to sound extraordinary.
RegalTip 111NT Regal Hick Sticks
Founded in Niagara Falls, New York in the late 1950s, RegalTip is one of the largest manufacturers of drum sticks in the world. They offer a stunningly wide array of products, and throughout the almost six decades they’ve been manufacturing drum accessories they’ve always maintained a high standard of both quality and a dedication to pleasing their customers.
Before RegalTip was established, the company’s founder Joe Calato was frustrated by the fact that his drum sticks were not durable to stand up to the rigors of live performance. As a professional drummer, Calato required a drum stick that both sounded good and was reliable enough to trust. After a hefty amount of experimentation (and a significant helping of elbow grease) Calato managed to produce a nylon tipped drum stick that was both incredibly durable and produced a lively and balanced tone. His achievement was eventually recognized by the Percussive Arts Society, and he was eventually introduced into the organization’s Hall of Fame.
Though Joe already revolutionized drum stick manufacturing and design, his innovation didn’t stop there. He made it his personal mission in life to produce the best drum stick the world has ever seen, addressing issues commonly faced by drummers such as straightness of grain, knots, and warping of the sticks. His children and grandchildren carry on this legacy, and the company is family owned to this day.
A continuation of the company’s dedication to providing drummers with an unparalleled drum stick, the RegalTip 110NT Hick NT Drum Sticks provide a great value to any drummer.
The most important thing to note about these sticks is that they’re one of the thinnest drum sticks commercially available. This set has a .475 diameter, which though it may not seem like a dramatic change will feel significantly different than even a set of drum sticks with a .5 diameter. RegalTip is one of the few manufacturers who produce sticks with this small of a diameter, so if you prefer a smaller diameter stick you should definitely keep this set in mind.
The company also uses a unique non-slip finish. The coating is reportedly slightly sticky, which definitely aids in keeping the stick in your hand. It does feel a bit different from other finishes though, so keep that in mind.
Lastly, like many other sticks that have been reviewed for the site the RegalTip 110NT Hick NT Sticks are made from hickory. Everything previously stated about hickory applies to these sticks, so if you end up deciding to purchase this set you can rest assured that they will hold up to regular practice and performance.
Because these sticks are so light they produce a much tighter and clearer sound than a heavier sticks. They also emphasize higher frequencies, which is great if you’re playing genres where you require a tone that can cut through a band’s mix.
As previously stated, these sticks are very light. This makes the set a great fit for playing at speed. However, this also lowers the overall volume that these sticks are capable of producing, which depending on your situation may be a pro or a con. For example, if you’re playing in a wide open venue with a lot of boomy acoustics these sticks would be a great fit. They’d also work great for a practice session. However, they wouldn’t be the best fit for a larger venue that requires more projection.
As far as quality is concerned, the RegalTip 110NT Hick NT sticks are just as reliable as any other hickory made drum stick. The nylon tips further enhance this durability, as nylon tipped drum sticks are far more resistant to chips or cracks than their wood tipped counterparts. RegalTip is also heavily invested in producing quality products, and the reputation that they’ve gained in their decades of business for manufacturing quality drum sticks is well reflected in this product.
RegalTip has a well deserved reputation of being at the forefront of innovation in their field, and every one of the sticks and mallets that they produce reinforces this trend. The RegalTip 110NT drum stick set is a quality investment for any drummer, and provided that you’re looking for a low weight nylon tipped drum stick this set should be a great fit for your needs.
Zildjian Nylon Black Dip Drumsticks
Though it’s undoubtedly a very modern company in every respect, Zildjian is actually one of the oldest manufacturers of instruments in the world. In fact, it’s one of the oldest companies in the world. The Avedis Zildjian Company (generally just called Zildjian) was founded in the 17th century by Avedis Zildjian during the Ottoman period.
To put the period that the company was established into perspective, Avedis Zildjian (the namesake and founder of the company) was actually an alchemist looking for a way to turn cheap metals into gold. The first cymbals were a result of his experimentation. The surname Zildjian was bestowed upon Avedis by Sultan Osman II, and comes as a combination of the Turkish words for bell and seller/maker. The original cymbals were actually a war device, intended to create sounds that would intimidate the enemies of the Ottoman empire.
The company actually split in the early 1930s. Members of the family left for America, and once they arrived they established The Avedis Zildjian Company. The newest incarnation of the company produced some of the finest cymbals of the time, and they were actually the first company to produce cymbals exclusively for drum kits. Once the company gained enough capital they purchased the original European trademarks to the Zildjian name.
Though it’s seen a bit of a departure from its roots, the company is still manufacturing some of the best accessories and cymbals available to musicians today. No exception to this trend, the Zildjian Nylon Black Dip drumsticks present a great value to drummers the world over. Features
The standout feature on the Zildjian Nylon Black Dip drum stick is the DIP material on the lower half of the stick, which provides drummers with a sturdy non-slip gripping surface. If you find that your hands get overly sweaty when you play you have a lot to gain from this feature, as the gripping surface is slightly tacky and water resistant. This should help keep the stick from sliding around in your hand while you play.
According to Zildjian’s website, these sticks are made from hickory. The best part about hickory is that it produces a very durable drum stick, which is great if you’re a heavy handed drummer. The only downside to hickory is that it doesn’t have quite as much “snap” as a softer wood, which may be an issue if you play genres that require faster passages or beats. However, this can be compensated for with proper technique.
Lastly, these sticks are equipped with oval tips. Oval tips provide a bit more flexibility than round or pointed tips because you can change the tone of the stick by turning it in your hand. This is a huge plus if you need to cover several different drum tones and you don’t want to have to keep track of several different sets of sticks. These sticks also have nylon tips, which helps to further enhance durability.
While drum sticks are just one variable that decides your overall tone, these sticks are representative of the general tonal qualities of the materials they’re made from. The oval tips are capable of providing everything from a broad and round tone to a more sharp and punchy sound. The nylon tips aren’t quite as bright as wood tips, but they aren’t dull or flat sounding by any means.
As far as quality is concerned, these sticks are generally considered to hold up incredibly well. Most of the reviews commend the Zildjian Black Dip drumsticks for being very reliable and durable, which isn’t surprising considering that they are made from hickory. The only real concern with the stick is that the grippy material on the lower portion of the sticks is said to have a tendency to wear off with heavy use, though the speed with which this happens is going to depend on your playing style and technique. One thing that would probably help with this is wiping or rinsing the grippy portion of the stick off after every playing session. Considering that sweat and the oils in skin are relatively acidic cleaning the sticks after every playing session will most likely help maintain the coating for longer.
Zildjian Nylon Black Dip drumsticks are inarguably a quality product. Drummers are justifiably very particular about their choice in sticks, so while these drum sticks may not be the right choice for everyone they’re definitely a great choice for someone who prefers this type and size of stick.