If you’ve ever tried shopping for drumsticks in a music store you’ll know just how overwhelming it can be with the amount of choices.
Do you go with 5A, 7A, 5B, 5A, or one of the other many choices? What do those numbers even mean!? What about maple vs. hickory vs. oak?
Rest assured, by the end of reading this article you’ll have a perfect understanding of it all and you’ll know exactly which drumsticks are perfect for you and your playing style.
Before we dive in, here’s a quick roundup of my choices for the best drumstick brands:
- Best Drumsticks Overall - Vic Firth American Classic 5A Drum Sticks
- Best Drumsticks For Metal/Rock - Promark ActiveGrip Rebound 5B Drumsticks
- Best Drumsticks For Jazz/Funk - Vic Firth American Classic 7A Drumsticks
- Best Drumsticks for Electronic Drums - Zildjian 5A Nylon Anti-Vibe Drumsticks
- Best Drumsticks For Kids - Vic Firth Kidsticks
What Do The Numbers And Letters On Drumsticks Mean?
Drumsticks for each company are different, but there are some basic similarities.
You’ll commonly see drumsticks with 5A, 7A, and 2B. You’ll also see 5B, 7B, and a variety of other number/letter combinations.
The important thing to know is that the higher the number, the lighter (and usually thinner) the stick is. When it comes to the letter, A will usually be lighter (smaller in diameter) than B.
Let’s look at some common comparison examples:
5A vs. 7A Drumsticks
5A sticks are a lower number, therefore they will be larger in diameter, and therefore heavier.
5A vs. 5B Drumsticks
The number is the same on these, so they will be quite similar, but because one has a B instead of an A it will be larger in diameter, and therefore heavier.
How To Choose Drumsticks
In general, 5A sticks are the most common. They are considered medium weight and size, so they work for almost every occasion.
5B and 2B sticks are most commonly used for heavier styles of music like rock and metal. Their thicker nature makes them more durable for heavy-hitting.
7A sticks are lightweight and thin which make them great for playing fast/soft styles of music like jazz.
The important thing to realize here is that everybody has different preferences. Get a few different types of sticks (they are cheap!) and see what you like playing with. There are some metal drummers who love 5A’s, and there are some jazz drummers who prefer the heavy 5B sticks.
Further down in the article we will go over the different types of wood found in drumsticks, as well as the different tip types you'll find and how they affect your sound.
Vic Firth American Classic 5A Drum Sticks
It doesn’t get any more classic than this. If you want a pair of drumsticks that will suit you for every occasion, these are it. They are considered medium in both weight and thickness, with a medium taper as well.
The teardrop tip shape allows for rich cymbal sounds, and the hickory construction means they are durable. These are the best selling sticks of all time and every drummer should own at least 1 pair.
Promark ActiveGrip Rebound 5B Drumsticks
The heavy hitters of rock and metal will greatly benefit from the larger diameter and weighty 5B sticks.
The ProMark ActiveGrip has the benefit of a heat-activated grip coating that grips better the harder you play. Played by the likes of iconic rock drummers like Mike Portnoy, the ActiveGrip technology is great for drummers who sweat a lot or who grip their sticks too tight.
You definitely won’t need to worry about having your sticks go flying across the room with these.
Vic Firth American Classic 7A Drumsticks
7A drumsticks are pretty much the standard for any jazz drummer, or for somebody who plays any kind of low/medium volume fast music.
The lightweight and low-volume nature of these hickory sticks also make them some of the best drumsticks for church playing.
When speed and touch are a priority, these are the sticks to get.
Zildjian 5A Nylon Anti-Vibe Drumsticks
If there were ever a pair of drumsticks perfect for playing electronic drums, these are it.
For the past 12+ years I’ve been playing my electronic drums with regular drumsticks and I’ve always complained about the vibrations from the rubber cymbal pads. You can really feel the shockwave as it travels all the way up your arm. On top of being tiring, this also easily takes you out of “the zone” when playing.
I recently upgraded to a Roland TD17-KVX electronic drumset (check out my review of this amazing kit right here) and decided that my sticks need an upgrade as well.
These Zildjian Anti-Vibe sticks have a hollowed out butt-end of the stick and inside is a rubber cylinder that helps to absorb a large amount of the vibrations. I’m happy to report that the feeling when playing on my electronic drum set is a huge improvement, and it’s one of the best drumming investments I’ve made in a while.
The fact that these are medium weight/size 5A sticks means that you’ll be able to handle any musical style with ease - from jazz to metal.
Vic Firth Kidsticks
Kids are going to need something small, lightweight, and agile. The Vic Firth Kidsticks hit all of these marks.
These sticks are geared toward ages 3-8, so if you are shopping for someone a little older I’d stick with the Vic Firth 7A sticks listed earlier.
These are about the same diameter as regular 7A sticks, except they are around 2.5 inches shorter which make it more comfortable for little ones to play. They are made of hickory which means they are super durable, and as a bonus they come in a cool blue color that kids will most likely love.
Drumstick Materials And Their Differences
Drumsticks come in a variety of materials. Each one brings its own benefits and drawbacks depending on your playing style and what kind of feeling you prefer. Here are some of the most common materials for drumsticks:
Hickory is the material that most commonly found in drumsticks - and for good reason. It’s extremely good at absorbing shock. It’s fibrous grain pattern gives it a dense and rigid properties that are ideal for drumsticks. Hickory is also what you will find in baseball bats.
If you want a very lightweight stick with tons of flex, Maple is your best bet. Many drummers who like large diameter sticks but don’t want the weight that comes with it choose Maple as their material of choice. The major downside to Maple is that it isn’t the most durable and can be prone to breaking. Since Maple is
Oak is about 10% more dense than hickory, which means it’s much more rigid and durable. It can withstand very heavy hitting and provides clear cymbal articulation and a great sounding cross-stick tone. The downside is that since it’s more rigid, it tends to not absorb a lot of shock. This means that you’ll really feel the vibrations in your wrists and arms.
Though more rare than the other woods, Persimmon has great durability, density, and can withstand strong impacts with ease. The added weight and density in this material makes it great at articulating things like double stroke rolls, which makes Persimmon perfect for concert snare sticks.
Carbon Fiber drumsticks are relatively new, and the Vic Firth TITAN sticks are some of the first to feature this material. Made of an advanced aerospace-grade carbon fiber composite, you won’t find a more durable or consistent stick out there. The major downside to carbon fiber is that it can get pretty expensive. Expect to pay around 6 times more than a traditional wooden pair of drumsticks.
Drumstick Tip Shapes And Materials
Wood vs. Nylon
The first things you’ll have to consider when it comes to drumstick tips is if you want wood or nylon. Wood tips will produce the the most natural sound and rebound, while nylon tips will produce a more consistent and bright sound while being more durable.
If using a wood tip, just be aware that the type of wood will greatly affect how dark or bright it sounds.
The shape of the tip can greatly affect the sound produced. How do you know which to choose?
The most important thing to realize is that the more surface area of the stick that is contact with the drum or cymbal, the darker and fuller sounding it will be. In contrast, when there is a very small amount of surface area in contact with the drum, it will produce a very bright and defined sound.
With this logic in mind, a more large elongated tip shape will have more dark and full sound, while a small round tip will have a brighter more crisp sound on both cymbals and drums heads.
The last thing to look at is the taper of the drumstick where the main body of the stick slims down to meet the tip. The longer and more exaggerated this taper is, the “quicker” the stick will feel in your hand. Just keep in mind that you’ll get less power from these types of sticks. If you prefer power over speed, look for short tapers.
Alternate Drumstick Types
Brushes are essentially fanned-out strands of metal wires or plastic, and when struck they produce a very soft sound ideal for jazz, pop, and latin music. Other than just hitting the surface, brushed can be dragged across the drum heads or cymbals to create a different sound.
Also known as rutes, rods are a cluster of thin sticks all bundled up into one stick. They provide the perfect balance of volume between brushes and regular sticks.
Mallets are sticks with large soft heads, usually capped with some kind of cloth, rubber, or plastic. Other than playing things like xylophones, mallets are perfect for cymbal swells.
As you can see, there is a lot more than you probably thought that goes into the construction of a pair of drumsticks. You should have a bit better of an idea as to what you should gravitate towards.
Still having trouble deciding? You can never go wrong with the middle-of-the-road 5A sticks.