Everything You Need to Know About Drum Sticks & Mallets

In the grand scheme of drumming, finding the right drum sticks is often overlooked in favor of finding the perfect drum set. But, did you know finding the right drum sticks is just as important? Not only does playing with a well-balanced set of sticks improve your comfort, but it’ll also help produce the best sound.

If you’ve found the perfect drum set and have moved onto finding drum sticks, you may have a few questions. Whether you’re confused about choosing a specific size or model or aren’t sure when to replace your old drum sticks or mallets, here are some answers to common questions you may be having.

What Do the Numbers & Letters Mean?

Although the history behind the numbers and letters stamped on drum sticks is a bit hazy, what they stand for is clear: the letters originally represented styles of music, while the number is directly related to the stick’s diameter. Contrary to what most would think, the larger the diameter, the lower the number. For example, 7A sticks are smaller in circumference than 5A, which are more narrow than 2Bs. While some of this coding still applies to modern-day basic stick models, most companies have adopted their own individual systems for naming or numbering sticks. In most cases, they bear little or no relevance to the size or shape of the stick. For this reason, most experts recommend trying out a few different “numbers and letters” from a few different manufacturers before deciding on the combination that’s right for you. And remember, a 5A from one brand may be different from a 5A from another, so purchase carefully.

Vic Firth American Classic Hickory Drumsticks The American Classic line combines tradition and Vic Firth style. With bold designs for fuller sound and deeply back-cut tips for intensified cymbal response, the American Classics are turned from select hickory, further enhancing their durability and sound.


Which Tip Shape is Better?

When it comes to drum stick tips, there are five different types: oval, teardrop, round/ball, acorn, and barrel. Each one produces a different sound, and each has a different feel, especially when it comes to playing cymbals. Oval tips provide the largest spectrum of sound, while teardrops are ideal for warm and focused low tones. If you’re seeking a clean, bright, and crisp sound, opt for round tips. Acorn shaped tips produce a full, rich sound, while barrel tips are punchy and loud. When choosing a tip type, take the type of music you play into consideration. Do you need to be heard over a few amps? If so, barrel-style tips are recommended. If you play with an acoustic ensemble, the warm sound of teardrops may be ideal. If you aren’t sure, speak with your music teacher or band director for personalized advice.

What’s the Difference Between Wood and Nylon Tips?

Once you’ve decided on the shape of the tip, it’s time to decide between wood and nylon tips. There is no good or bad, right or wrong choice when it comes to drum tips, as it’s a matter of what you prefer for particular playing situations. In some cases, drummers even alternate between the two. Nylon tips create a brighter sound than wood, and tend to have more bounce. Nylon tips also produce a harder or sharper attack on the drums and cymbals, while wood produces softer, warmer tones. If you’re looking for the most economical choice, purchase drum sticks with nylon tips. One more possible consideration is that nylon tips were only invented in the 1950s. If you’re playing older music and are striving for authenticity, you might want to use wooden sticks, especially if your audience is up close or you’re being videotaped.

Vic Firth American Custom Bolero Drumsticks Wood Round tip. In maple. L=15 7/8″, Dia.=.635″.


How Often Should Drum Sticks Be Replaced?

If you’re hoping for a cut and dry answer to how often your drum sticks should be replaced, there isn’t one. Some drummers replace their drum sticks once a week, while others can go for months without replacing. In most cases, drummers use their drum sticks until they break or splinter. Although it’s not necessary to replace drum sticks as soon as they start fraying, it’s a good indication that they’re close to breaking. If you have a performance or recital in your near future, replace your sticks as soon as they show signs of wear. If you’ll simply be practicing in your own living room, you can save some cash and play them until they break. Once you become a frequent drummer and get into the swing of things, you’ll be able to tell when your sticks are at the end of their life. As a general rule of thumb, always have a pair (or two, or three) of back-up sticks to use in case of an emergency.

Have a specific question about drum sticks or mallets? Head to a Music & Arts store or speak with one of our online representatives for more information.

Music & Arts

Music & Arts is a family owned and operated music resource for parents, students, educators and musicians. With over 140 stores in 23 states and the largest private lesson program in the United States, Music & Arts is an authority on music education and a resource for new and experienced musicians alike.

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