Types of Drum Sticks - The Complete Guide for Drummers

Types of Drum Sticks - The Complete Guide for Drummers

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If you're an expert drummer, you know that drum sticks aren't interchangeable. Music makers have their favorite brands and models.  Depending on your drum set, technique, and musical style, you will have different needs. Each feature, from material to size to general type, has a specific design and purpose.  Below is a comprehensive guide for sticks and mallets. Whether you play marching band tunes or heavy metal rock ballads, you can use this guide. Read on to learn all the fundamental information for choosing the best pair.


Sticks are undoubtedly the most common type. They come in several different materials and vary in shape and size, which means that they can also be customizable.  Many famous drummers have their signature shapes or color. It's also not uncommon for drummers to have several pairs of sticks made from different materials.


The material affects everything from longevity to the distinctive sound that a pair of sticks will produce. The most common types you'll find include:


While drumsticks can consist of several different kinds of wood, the most common is hickory. This material is excellent at absorbing shocks, which means they'll hold up to vigorous drumming and continued usage.


Oak is denser than hickory, which means that it is a more durable material. Musicians who prefer music styles like metal have oak sticks because of their excellent rebound and momentum for blast beats.


Maple is most suitable for softer music. It is very flexible and lends itself to a more detailed and complex playing style.


You also can forego wood sticks altogether and choose ones made from synthetic materials, such as plastic or metal. When a drummer chooses synthetic sticks, it's because they offer more control than wooden ones.


Besides the material, you can also choose what material is best for the bead or the stick's tip. The bead is a critical part of many techniques, including rim shots, which you can produce holding the stick three inches from the bead.


Wood tips are the most common. These produce a sound that is deeper sounding and more traditional than with nylon tips. With wood tips, think jazz and rock.


In terms of cymbals, wood tips create minimal vibration with a tendency to deteriorate over time. Nylon tips are more consistent and last longer than wood tips since they are less prone to chipping. They don't sound quite as classic as wood tips, but they make up for it with their durability.


The size also affects the tonal depth and timber you'll get while playing. 

Stick Thickness

Stick sizes usually break down by letter and number. The number represents the circumference of the stick, while the letter indicates the size and application. The lower the number, the thicker the stick.  Legendary American musician and percussion innovator Vic Firth has set many industry standards for percussion, so his products are an excellent point of comparison. As a general rule, a thinner stick like a Vic Firth 7A will be lighter than a thicker stick like a Vic Firth 5A. This difference in weight affects how they sound and feel, as well as how durable they are. As with all types of sticks, the size and weight directly affect what type of music they are most suitable for playing. A rock musician would choose something heavy like Vic Firth 2B sticks, while jazz drummers would prefer the lighter Vic Firth 7A sticks.

Taper Length

Taper refers to the distance between the bead and the thickest part of the stick. This length controls the amount of rebound you will get off of cymbals or drums.
  • A short taper will offer less rebound but will be more durable and sturdy. A shorter taper is best for heavier music, like metal or rock.
  • A medium taper will get you a more middle of the road result. This length is the most balanced of the three and applicable in many different genres.
  • A long taper offers the most rebound, best suited for genres like jazz since it requires a more dynamic technique.


Much like with size, usage is also another helpful category. "S" sticks are heavier and intended for street performances, such as marching band or drum corps. "A" sticks are best when performing jazz music or orchestra. Lastly, "B" sticks are the easiest to control and popular with many rock drummers.


Mallets are sticks that have a ball at the head of the stick. Also called beaters, drummers use mallets to produce anything from deeper frequencies to muted thumps. 


The ball at the head will usually consist of yarn, cloth, or cotton. Some have rubber or plastic tips, depending on the purpose.  Because mallets are useful for a wide array of instruments, you'll want to make sure that you purchase a mallet with the right material for your instrument. For example, if you are playing the marimba, you will need a soft mallet. Because marimbas consist of rosewood, a delicate material that needs protection, a mallet made of a soft material like yarn is the best choice.  As for the mallet's shaft, these can be natural materials like rattan or birch, or synthetic materials like fiberglass.


The size of the mallet's head will affect both dynamics and articulation. The smaller the head of the mallet, the thinner the tone. A thicker and heavier head will produce a deeper sound.


Most commonly, mallets are useful for percussion instruments like marimbas or xylophones. They are also well-suited for loud, massive drums, or even cymbals. Compared to standard sticks, they have a unique sound perfect for building anticipation.


Brushes consist of either wire or plastic strands joined together in a handle. They are excellent at creating exciting effects, such as swooshing.


Much like the wooden or nylon stick beads, the different materials in brushes will generate different sounds. Wire strands will produce a more traditional, smooth sound.  Nylon is slightly louder and usually best in larger venues, with the downside being the sound that can be a bit duller. They do, however, last longer than wire strands since they don't rust. The portion of these strands opposite the handle, sometimes called the fan, can be either adjustable or fixed. They can also sometimes retract the strands inside the handle to be less likely to damage while not in use.


The size of the handle on brushes doesn't have a significant effect on the sound. It's more of a preference, with some drummers preferring to have longer handles that are easier to control. However, you might find that a shorter handle results in a better feel, so it's best to try out different options to determine what you like best.


The strands at the end of brushes create a soft, unique sound. You will often hear it in the soft effects in music genres like Latin, pop, or jazz.  There are several brush techniques, a common one being sweeping the end of the brushes over a drum head. This movement creates a continuous background sound.


Rods, also called rutes, consist of several thin sticks or dowels bound together by a plastic sheath to form one stick. 


These sticks can be straw, plastic, or nylon. The handle may consist of rubber, wood, plastic, or vinyl. The change in material will cause a slight change in sound, but the result is still the same middle of the road sound that made them so popular.


The thickness of these sticks or dowels can also vary, depending on the sound you want. The thinner the sticks, the lighter the sound.  Some drummers also use adjustable O-rings, which come with specific models. The ring spreads apart the dowels to change the sound that they make.


Rods were originally for orchestral music. However, their unique sound has made them popular for use with a standard drum set. Because they are quieter than a stick but louder than a brush, rods offer a unique middle ground. It's perfect for music where you want drums to be an essential part of the track but not dominate it. Another great feature of using rods is that you can alter the tone by merely switching the position of the band that holds the bundle of small sticks together.


For every genre of music or drumming technique, there is a type of drum stick. Whether you prefer traditional sticks, brush, mallet, or rods, each one offers a unique sound and experience. Use this guide to find the best for you to use, depending on your musical taste, the techniques that you prefer, and your drum kit of choice. If you prefer to experiment, that's also a great way to discover new sounds and techniques. Either way, the tools you use will make those explosive beats and soft swooshes bring out the best in any music genre.