A great drumstick is the perfect combination of balance, response, and feel. A stick’s design—its diameter, length, weight, type of wood, taper, and tip—all determine the way it feels in your hand. The optimum drumstick for you will depend on your style of music and type of drum kit. To play your best, choose the stick that feels the best and suits your musical purposes. Below is some advice from Pro-Mark on the main elements important to choosing the right drumsticks.
Round, acorn, and arrow are the most common shapes for drumstick tips. There are probably 20 or more variations on these three main shapes, tailored to drummer preferences, playing and performing situations, or styles. The size of the tip’s point of contact with the instrument determines tone and articulation. The differences can be very subtle. Wood tips generally produce a warmer sound, and nylon tips often produce a brighter, more articulate sound and are more durable.
Bright, clear tone; Ideal for jazz and cymbal play.
Bright, clear and loud; Articulate on cymbal bell.
Dark, warm tone; Suited for multiple applications.
Broad, clear tone; Ideal for live performance.
Full, rich tone; Ideal for rock and full band play.
Thick, solid tone; Ideal for heavy play.
Dark tone; Ideal for acoustic performance.
Light, sharp tone; Angles enable versatility in play.
The diameter of a stick is fundamental to its feel. A thicker diameter creates greater sound and offers increased durability. A thinner diameter is both lighter and faster and plays with greater ease. Length and weight are also important. The length of the stick affects its leverage and reach around the drum set. Shorter and lighter sticks produce a more delicate sound and may require greater effort to play louder. Longer and heavier sticks produce intensity and allow louder play with less effort.
Small: Lighter in weight, these sticks are fast and responsive, subtle and expressive. They are deal for lighter play or small hands.
Medium: The most popular among players, they are both sturdy and versatile which makes them great for any style of music.
Large: Heavier in weight, these sticks are durable and loud. They support heavy cymbal use and are ideal for harder play.
Extra Large: Solid and powerful, they give the maximum impact for heavy playing and are ideal for louder music and larger hands.
Double Extra Large: For powerful sound, the increased size of these sticks provides greater projection for indoor and outdoor marching, concerts, and extreme rock.
Weight, density, texture, resonance and flexibility all vary from one type of wood to another. The most popular woods for drumsticks are oak, hickory, and maple. Your choice will depend on personal preference and musical requirements. Other woods sometimes used for drumsticks include birch, ash, rosewood, lancewood, and ebony.
Oak: Dense and heavy, oak sticks are exceptionally durable and usually last longer than those made of other types of wood. Because oak is a heavier wood, drummers can often play louder with less effort. Oak, however, does not absorb shock quite as well as hickory and maple.
Hickory: The most popular wood for drumsticks, hickory sticks are resilient, responsive, and sturdy—giving them a “classic” drumstick feel. Hickory is considered a hardwood, though not as dense or heavy as oak. It is an excellent shock absorber, making hickory sticks comfortable to play.
Maple: About 10% lighter in weight than hickory, allowing for a large diameter without weight. Maple has a fine grain pattern, producing a stick with the greatest amount of flex. It is less durable than hickory and oak.
Birch: Less popular than oak, hickory, and maple, birch produces high-pitched tones on instruments and a super solid cross-stick sound. The stick is ideal for drummers who want a stick with additional weight and heft.
The length of the taper, and stick diameter where it meets the tip, determine how quickly the stick rebounds off drums and cymbals. This can affect tonal brightness and volume. A long taper produces more flex and a faster response, while a short taper is stiffer and offers additional strength. The amount of taper and location of the “shoulder” (where the taper begins) determine the balance of the stick.
Long, narrow taper: Fast and responsive.
Short, quick taper: Front-heavy, less rebound.
No taper: Very little rebound from the stick itself.
Hi Jon. Thanks for a great and informative explanation on choosing drumsticks. In terms of size, what would you recommend for beginners? I think 5A’s would be a good start but I’ve also heard the argument that starting with 5B’s is the best. To me however, 5B’s sound too heavy for a beginner. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
The best way to choose the right drumstick is to try different variations and check which feels the most comfortable. I think for beginning drummers 2B sticks would be a better choice for developing precision and technique.
When I started out I used a 7a Pro mark stick, but then I would use a thicker stick, I believe it was a 2B Vic firth stick either is great, I continue to go between a Stick that is a 590 in diameter or a 635 which is a 2B I also use Power Wrist Builder’s. However I don’t recommend; them for Beginners. When I was a kid, I used 7A’s from 11 because I could use the butt end and still play quite Swiftly, now I use a 2B or the Buddy Rich Model Drumsticks which is still quite Light, I would suggest that a kid be able to choose the stick they’re comfortable with it’s all about comfort as they grow up they will eventually use a bigger stick possibly depending on their styles.
You wrote “Hickory is considered a hardwood, though not as dense or heavy as oak.” Other than Osage Orange, Hickory is the strongest, hardest, stiffest, most dense hardwood in the US and is unarguably superior to oak in all strength properties and hardness. I do agree hickory absorbs shock well…which is why it’s used for axe handles.