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By Chris Barnes published 10 August 21
Everything you need to choose the right drumsticks for your own budget and drumming style
So, you've got your drum kit and you've chosen your ideal cymbals. Now you need the next link in the percussive chain - drumsticks. They're one of the most important tools in a drummer’s arsenal - the main point of contact between your hands and your gear - and they have a real impact on the way you play. Choosing sticks might seem like an arbitrary choice, but there really is a science to it, hence why we’ve created this guide to the best drumsticks available today.
If you've got the right drumstick in your hand, it should feel like an extension of your arm, so it’s important to choose carefully. If you're not sure where to start, fear not; the drumsticks in this guide include options for every style and budget.
The best model for you will be determined by a number of factors: the genre of music you play, the hardness with which you hit your gear and your overall budget will ultimately dictate which drumstick is right for you.
Nearly all drumstick brands – including the ‘big five’ of Vic Firth, Vater, Zildjian, Regal Tip and Promark – offer a similar range of standard models, which are great starting points. Most will agree, for example, that a well made 5A model is the best drumstick for rock.
The good news is that drumsticks aren't that expensive, unless you go for some of the more exotic synthetic sticks (which we also cover here), so you can reasonably and affordably invest in a few pairs to experiment...
Playing rock music requires drummers to deliver plenty of power and attack. To achieve this, a solid starting point for any rock drummer is a 5A model stick, and there’s no better example than Vic Firth’s American Classic 5A. These sticks are universally acknowledged as the best for rock, offering decent length, a medium taper for added strength and substantial diameter for the average drummer’s hands.
The tear drop tip delivers a potent combination of attack and warmth, helping everyone from softer players to hard hitters coax bombastic tones from their drums. Each stick is coated with a smooth lacquer, which improves comfort and aids grip when your hands get sweaty during long periods of playing.
When younger players start learning to play the drums it’s important that they use a drumstick that feels comfortable and manageable in their smaller hands. Full-size sticks can be too long and heavy, making them difficult to control. This can impact technique and, at worst, put off aspiring young drummers before they’ve had a chance to develop fundamental skills and start enjoying the drums.
At a pint-sized 13”, Promark’s Hickory Junior Wood Tip sticks are the best drumsticks for kids. They’re shorter than standard models, promoting a more comfortable, natural feel, while a medium taper helps deliver an even balance and rebound, meaning key techniques are picked up quickly. The oval tip is ideal for extracting a well-rounded, warm tone from the drums, no matter what style is being played.
Drumsticks might be one of the cheaper purchases for drummers, but if you play regularly and find you break a lot, the cost of replacements soon mounts up. Vic Firth’s Nova Series sticks are made from B-grade hickory, which helps reduce the cost, but they’re no less playable than premium sticks.
As with all Vic Firths, Novas are weight and pitch-matched before they leave the factory, so each pair is guaranteed to feel balanced in your hands. At a fraction of the price, it’s even worth keeping a few pairs in your stick bag as back ups in case you run out of your first-choice sticks. In addition to the 5A model, Vic Firth also offer 5B and 7A Novas in a number of different colours.
If you’re a full-size human coming to the drums for the first time, it’s vital that you choose a drumstick that gives you the best in feel, length, balance and power as a solid starting point. Then, as you develop, you can start exploring different models that suit your particular playing needs.
The 7A size doesn’t feel too big in the hands and is light enough to help you master key techniques early. Vater’s Manhattan 7A is the perfect example of this. It’s a premium quality stick that feels comfortable to play, with a small round tip for neat and defined cymbal playing. In fact, it’s such a versatile drumstick that you may never need to play another model. Vater offers this stick with wood or nylon tips.
Modern drummers don’t really subscribe to one particular style anymore, encompassing everything from rock and pop to hip-hop and dance music, often within the same track. As such, they need a stick that can handle the demands of diverse and dynamic drumming. Meinl’s Stick and Brush is a fairly new brand on the scene, but the company is renowned for its forward-thinking approach to percussion products.
Their new Hybrid model sticks – including 5A, 5B and 7A models – feature a unique Hybrid tip which starts life as an acorn shape, before being trimmed down to a barrel, enabling dark and smooth cymbal articulation, while the extended length and taper make these sticks ideal for fast fills and intricate grooves.
Hickory is the most common drumstick material, however there are plenty of alternatives worth considering. Shira Kashi Oak is dense and heavy – both great attributes for cymbal articulation – making it a great choice for jazz drummers. Japanese oak is also known for its durability, so these Promark sticks should last longer than hickory alternatives if treated with respect – we’re big fans of this considering the higher price.
The shorter length and reduced diameter of the Shira Kashi Oak model enables the player to inject greater nuance and dynamic into their drumming, whilst retaining a feeling of balance and control in the hands. At the business end, the oval tip helps extract a darker, warmer tone from your drums.
If you’re a heavy metal drummer who finds you’re constantly breaking drumsticks, you may need to explore alternative materials to ensure there’s nothing getting in the way of you and your blastbeats. Ahead is known for making extremely durable drumsticks, built around an anodised aerospace-grade aluminium core, and finished with durable polyurethane covers and ‘unbreakable’ nylon tips. Inside each stick you’ll find a vibration reduction system to help absorb the shock of heavier playing.
Ahead’s 2B model feels substantial in the hands and is perfectly balanced to promote powerful playing, whilst being light enough to pull off faster beats. Ahead claims their sticks last up to 10 times longer than wooden drumsticks, which takes the sting out of the higher price tag.
Cymbal giant Zildjian has a huge artist roster, which includes everyone from Dave Grohl and Ringo Starr, to Dennis Chambers, Travis Barker and Josh Dun. Many of their artists also play Zildjian-branded sticks, which says a lot about the quality and diversity of the drumsticks they offer.
Delve deep into the Zildjian artist drumstick line-up and you’ll find multiple gauges, tip-types and colours to suit your individual tastes and needs. It’s worth trying out the stick of your favourite drummer first, but who knows, maybe you’ll discover the perfect stick bearing the name of a drummer you’d never considered before? It's worth a shot.
Nylon-tipped drumsticks produce a very distinctive, defined sound from your drums and cymbals, and it’s an effect that many drummers search for; not to mention the fact your sticks should last longer thanks to the durable nylon tip.
Regal Tip founder Joe Calato was the brains behind the original nylon tip back in 1958, and their Nylon Series offers multiple stick models covering multiple genres, all bearing the famous tip. The drumstick brand also guarantees that their nylon tips won't budge, even under the most high pressure playing situations.
Stick durability is an issue that has been addressed by every drumstick manufacturer on the planet, all to varying degrees of success. If breaking sticks is a regular occurrence behind your kit, but you don’t fancy going down the fully synthetic route, Promark’s Firegrain sticks could be the most convincing solution yet.
These unique-looking drumsticks have been treated to a heat-tempering process that hardens the hickory and boosts strength and durability, all without impacting the feel and tone of the stick. It’s a solution that works, and certainly justifies the slightly higher-than-average price tag.
Most often, wooden drumsticks are made from hickory. This medium weight hardwood is a hard-wearing material, while alternative woods such as oak and maple offer different weight and density options.
For even more durability it would be worth exploring sticks made from still-tougher materials such as aluminium or graphite. This added strength reduces the need to regularly replace drumsticks, but inevitably costs more on a one-off basis.
Cheaper budget drumsticks, commonly made from B-grade hickory, come in at a fraction of the price of premium sticks, and are well worth considering. Even if these aren’t your go-to A-grade stage model, it’s worth grabbing a few pairs of budget sticks as back-ups in case of mid gig or session breakages. These are often more than good enough for home practice or giving the kids a go on your kit, too.
So that’s the overview; now let’s run through key terminology to help inform your purchase of the best drumsticks for you. When searching for your next pair, you’ll see a number of key words used to describe features: thickness, length, taper and tip. Here’s what they mean:
Many stick companies use famous drummers to promote their products, often in the guise of signature drumsticks - that is, sticks designed to the exact specifications of the drummer in question, and usually with their name or band logo adorned on the stick. Many regular drummers swear by the signature model of their favourite drummer. But are signature sticks always the way to go? Yes and no…
You may well find that your favourite drummer’s signature stick is the perfect fit for you and your playing style, and they tick all the boxes for taper, thickness, length and tip. However, your favourite drummer may prefer to play an ultra thick, extra long model that is far too unwieldy for you. So, you need to be honest with yourself if you discover your hero’s stick isn’t for you.
For something as seemingly simple as buying a pair of drumsticks, there’s actually plenty to chew over. Our recommendation would be to pick up a few pairs of different sizes and start playing. You’ll soon home in on the right model for you.
I'm MusicRadar's eCommerce Editor. It's my job to manage the buyer's guides on MusicRadar and help musicians find the right gear and the best prices. I'm a guitarist and a drummer and I've worked in the music gear industry for 18 years, including 7 years as Editor of the UK's best-selling drum magazine Rhythm, and 5 years as a freelance writer working with many of the world's biggest musical instrument brands including the likes of Roland, Boss, MusicRadar and Natal.
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