- A voyage among the woods most indicated for the manufacture of sticks for the snare drum and drum set.
- A technical diagram for understanding how our handcrafted, custom-made drum sticks are created.
- A brief excursion among the new alternative materials.
- Some practical advice to help you choose.
During one of his many European tours, when drum sticks were better than those manufactured today, the famous drummer, Buddy Rich, in an interview published by Jazz Forum, said, Today's drum sticks are terrible. The wood is not first quality, it is soft, gummy and the thickness is tremendous. So, you have to try to do the best you can with what you have.
The choice of sticks is one of the most important decisions for a drummer or percussionist at any technical level.
Every performer is different and, as a result, has different needs in relation to the conformation of his hands, his technical level and the type of music he plays.
In general, the elements that contribute to establishing the definition of a good pair of sticks can be summarized in ten points.
1. Type of Wood
3. Type of Ball
5. Resistance to Impact
6. Wood's Tendency to Crack
8. For Whom and What Use They are Destined
The wood most used for making sticks, tool handles, golf clubs and baseball bats is currently hickory. Nevertheless, before the characteristics of hickory were discovered, ash was the wood most used for sports equipment, tool handles, etc., because of its flexibility and ability to absorb a great many shocks without breaking.
However, not everyone knows that the same wood can't work well for both the professional and the beginner because the former needs rigid sticks, quicker and more incisive; while the latter needs moderately elastic sticks, that are easier to use and avoid physical damage.
Starting from these assumptions, we have selected various types of wood, including some used successfully in the past, without, however, overlooking those alternative materials that constant technological research may be able to offer us in the future.
Balance has to do with the weight distribution. In other words, the stick, resting on one finger right in the center, should not dip towards either side. Almost all sticks tend to dip towards the handle because they tend to get thinner towards the striking tip.
So a good compromise would be a balance point that was not more than two centimeters off center (towards the handle).
A stick whose point is too light is easier to use but its more difficult to control.
The shape of the ball is important because the type of angle to use depends on it.
An oval point requires a very precise angle between arm and forearm. If, for example, the impact would occur on the point (angle too high) the sound would be different.
A round or spherical point, in addition to being suitable for everyone, is more indicated for a beginner because the impact, leaving aside the type of angle between arm and forearm, always occurs in the same way: like a ball that always falls the same way independently of how its thrown.
Rigidity, or resistance to bending, is the quality of the wood that allows greater control. This notwithstanding, as we have already mentioned, a stick that is too rigid, used by a beginner, can turn out to be harmful if not used with the proper technique.
Resistance to impact, or resilience, is the ability to absorb shocks without breaking. It is an important element in evaluating the strength of wood.
The various tests are performed by dropping a weight (usually a steel ball) on to a sample, from a greater and greater height, until it breaks.
The tendency to crack. Some woods shatter more easily than others, especially at the point, or corresponding to the grain. Drummers who work with cymbals a lot know this, and so do xylophonists who use mallets with wooden balls.
A cracking scale of wood is divided into: extraordinarily difficult to crack, very difficult, difficult, somewhat difficult, discretely easy, easy, very easy and extraordinarily easy. The woods we select almost all fall into the categories: extraordinarily difficult and difficult to crack.
The density of the wood, or specific weight, as everyone knows is the ratio of a body's weight to that of an equal volume of water. In practice, the specific weight of wood from the same tree is not always the same because there are several factors that contribute to determining the density, among which are the type of wood and how long it's been seasoned. In general, the greater or lesser weight of the wood indicates its greater or lesser compactness. Very heavy woods are also harder.
For whom and to what use the sticks are destined. The characteristics of the wood determine the type of user right from the beginning. A stick that's too rigid is not suitable for a beginner, while, on the other hand, a stick made of wood that's too elastic, is not suitable for the technical requirements of a professional.
If we change the subject to sports equipment such as, for example, skis and tennis racquets, the explanation will be even clearer.
If a beginner gets it into his head to use the same skis or racquet as a grand champion, the least that will happen to him is to break a leg or get a good case of epicondylitis (tennis elbow). This is because the grand champion, like a good professional in the music field, knows how to exploit the resistance and bending characteristics of the various materials to his own advantage.
Finally, the use for which the sticks are destined also plays a very important role in the selection of wood and the model. A pair of sticks that are too light and inconsistent will not work well for a band drummer, while a stick that is too elastic breaks very easily thus cannot be used for playing cymbals.
The weight of a single stick generally varies from about 55 to 70 grams and is related to the type of wood, the model and the length. This means that two pairs of sticks of the same model and length can have different weights depending on the wood they are made from. Ebony sticks, for example, are heavier than sticks made of hickory, while hickory sticks, in turn, are heavier than those made of fir.
Length. To allow the drummer to more easily reach the many instruments that make up a modern drum set, several companies have put sticks on the market that are longer than those used up until a short time ago.
A stick that is too long, in addition to being heavier, is also less balanced and therefore, requires a different technical approach. In other words, when you need greater control over the sticks, it is necessary to seek the right equilibrium by gripping the long sticks more towards the center and, as with rigid sticks, to avoid transmitting the vibrations of the wood up your arm.
BEFORE YOU BUY
Drum sticks aren't like refrigerators or televisions, where you can just purchase the best brand to avoid an unpleasant surprise.
Wood is a living fiber whose vibrations contribute to determining he quality of the sound, but precisely because of this vitality it can cause various types problems. In fact, wood is never still: it lengthens, shortens or twists, as a result of heat and humidity.
One of wood's major defects is warping, or its tendency to curve.
For this reason, sticks cannot be bought in a closed box, or rather
in a closed package, as the majority of stores expect to sell them.
6 ADVICE TO HELP YOU CHOOSE
Don't trust what is written on the stick. The fact that they are hickory, or some other valuable wood doesn't mean anything. Even starting with the same type of wood, there can be some glaring differences depending on the actual wood used. Only first grade extra is free from defects, while in first grade commercial, small defects are allowed such a slight deviations of the grain and small cracks.
Check that the sticks are straight. To see if the sticks are straight, roll them slowly on a smooth surface, one at a time, looking at them against the light. The amount of light that passes under the stick will reveal the seriousness of the defect. In addition, check to see if there is any grain that can open, microscopic cracks.
Check the weight. There are brand name models that can have a disparity of over 12 grams that, on a weight that ranges from 50 to 70 grams, represents a truly unacceptable difference. You can tolerate a difference of two or three grams, but no more, because a greater disparity, in addition to being harmful, could also be difficult to control during an execution.
Try the sound. To try the sound, it is enough to grip the sticks one at a time (with the same hand) and without changing position, play several strokes, on the same point and with equal force, on any sound-producing surface (even a table would do). If they sound different, it would be a good idea to keep changing one of the sticks and retrying until you find- two they are close enough.
Pay attention to their rigidity. Don't buy rigid sticks unless you're sure you can absorb the vibrations with the proper technique. Otherwise, it's a good idea to use an elastic stick that, even though less durable, will adapt better to your style of playing.
Buy several pairs of sticks. When you are able to invest a small amount of money, it's a good idea to purchase several pairs of sticks of the brand and model you prefer. Then, at home, with the help of a food scale, you can check the weight more carefully and match them up more calmly and precisely.
WHICH STICKS FOR THE FUTURE?
As with tennis racquets and skis, several manufacturers have already proposed alternative materials to the old, well-tested wood, but without much success. These products, the old metal study sticks aside, are called composites because they are made of mixed materials.
Recently, plastic sticks have come onto the market that are no longer molded, but turned on a lathe like wood. However, there is a product, the fruit of incessant technological research, that has already been tested and used for the construction of sports equipment: Thermolon&Mac226;.
This is a very new fiber that seems, for the first time, able to combine rigidity, for good control, with the elasticity to absorb vibrations after an impact. In theory, it would seem to be ideal for the fabrication of drum sticks that would have, among others, the characteristic (negative for the manufacturers) of being indestructible.
These futuristic considerations aside, we are convinced that drum stick manufacturers can continue to sleep soundly because, in our opinion, it will be difficult to successfully replace a lively and sonorous fiber like wood, in the near future.
As for mallets for other instruments, I want to remind you that an entire chapter in the video, Percussion and Drum School is dedicated to the handcrafted construction of mallets for timpani, marimba, vibraphone and glockenspiels.