Drum sticks are far from simple, wooden clubs you use to bash around snares, toms and cymbals like Animal from the Muppets (or Keith Moon). As with many things regarding music, the mysteries of drum sticks are filled with subtleties, and those nuances can affect how you sound, the way you play and, ultimately, how comfortable you are when sitting behind your kit.
Although the days of your childhood “my first drum kit” may be long behind you, those playthings made it easy—a pair of sticks usually came with the set, and what you got was, well, what you got. But once you graduate from your first setup, it’s a bit tougher to determine which sticks may be right for you, as there are so many options available. Researching which sticks your drum hero uses is a good start, but the model they prefer may or may not be the perfect fit for your style or technique.
Likewise, there’s not a “standard” drum stick matched to a particular style of music. Metal drummers use all kinds of different sticks, as do those who play jazz, rock, country, pop, reggae, and other genres. The choice of drum sticks is an individual one—which means the search for the perfect pair requires focusing on you. Audition a whole slew of sticks while considering which pair is most comfortable in your hands, which produces sounds on your kit that make you smile, and which helps you unleash every last ounce of your creativity while you play.
This guide will explain some basic terms and features to help you better understand the many different varieties of drum sticks. Then, we’ve assembled a collection of this year’s awesome sticks you should check out. We’ve also included some insights on how each of these drum sticks best addresses specific approaches, styles and ergonomic needs. Now, get out there and bang on some drums.
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Drum stick evolutions have been forged and inspired by jazz, swing, blues, rock and other drummers throughout the years. Manufacturers have simultaneously developed innovations to enhance durability, consistency, comfort, grip, rebound and the stick’s influence on the sound produced upon impact with drumheads and cymbals. This indispensable partnership of engineering and real-world performance feedback has ensured that today’s drum sticks have the right parts to deliver optimum results. Let’s look at some of those ingredients.
Some drummers may launch into a healthy debate on this subject, but let’s just say the first, toppermost part of the drum stick is the most important. It’s hard to argue that the tip is the component of the stick that interacts with the drum the most, and, as a result, its shape and composition have a significant and direct effect on your sound. Tips shaped to have less contact with a drum head or cymbal often produce bright, articulate and shimmering overtones that cut nicely through a dense music mix. Larger and/or wider tips that contact more of the drum’s surface tend to produce a warm, full sound with accentuated low overtones. There are myriad tips available—including custom designs developed by some manufacturers—but for the purpose of this guide, we’ll focus on the 5 most common tip shapes and how they affect drum tone.
Acorn: With a large surface area available to hit the drum, the acorn tip is known for its full, fat and round tone. As it produces a bell-like sound on cymbals and a nice, resonant attack on toms and snares, the acorn tip works brilliantly well for most styles of music. It’s no surprise that the acorn shape is an extremely popular tip design.
Ball: Ball tips deliver a consistent, balanced and focused sound because the surface area that impacts the drum is always the same. However, as it’s one of the smaller tip shapes, the tonal signature of the ball design is bright and articulate. If you hit the drums lightly, a ball tip can provide enough attack to carve out your space in an ensemble without overwhelming the other instruments. For a frustrated basher who can’t seem to get adequately heard in a band filled with horn sections, keyboards and background vocalists, a ball tip might just bust through the cacophony.
Barrel: A barrel tip delivers a loud, coherent and punchy sound—which is the reason many drummers consider these tips a great choice for recording-studio sessions. In fact, studio legend Steve Gadd is such a fan that his signature sticks have barrel tips. Microphones tend to love how barrel tips interact with drums, as the tone is usually broad and balanced without any mushiness or distracting high-frequency sizzle.
Oval: While an oval tip serves up a balanced distribution of low, midrange and high frequencies, it’s also a tip that can produce the most varied sounds. Shrewd drummers can hold their sticks so that the oval tip hits a drum at different impact angles to elicit a vast range of lovely overtones. These stick-shift techniques unlock a high level of expressiveness, meaning sonic explorers can quickly and easily change up sounds, moods and vibes—even within the space of a single song.
Teardrop: The teardrop drops a big chunk of real estate on the drum to produce taut, warm lows. Like the acorn shape, the teardrop is another popular tip with manufacturers and players. The teardrop tends to sound darker than an acorn tip, so drummers looking for a tad less high-end luster should grab a pair. A cool tip would be to carry both teardrop and acorn tips to a gig to subtly vary the boom between songs or sets.
Nylon vs. Wood: For the most part, the basic characteristics of a tip shape remain in play whether the material is wood or nylon. That said, nylon tips are brighter and more articulate than wood tips, and wood is warmer and darker than nylon. While producing increased articulation and overall clarity, nylon tips also tend to be more robust than wood tips, which can wear down during aggressive play. There’s no wrong answer here, as both tip materials are excellent. In fact, many drummers have a collection of nylon and wood tips in their stick bags.
To be sure, the wood used to create a stick influences the sound of that stick. However, the composition of a stick often has more to do with how it feels in your hands, as well as how durable it is as it’s smacked around your kit over and over again. The feel is in your court. Different woods possess distinct density and weight characteristics, so try a bunch and see if a specific wood speaks to you (or not). Let’s check out the common drum-stick woods with the heaviest first and then move down to the lightest wood.
Birch: While a birch drum stick may be heavy, dense and durable enough to take on Thor’s hammer in boulder-shattering contest, it isn’t one of the more popular woods for making sticks. Of course, the question is whether birch is a good match for you—not about how many birch drum sticks are manufactured worldwide. If you like a weighty stick and want to emulate the God of Thunder on your kit, go for birch.
Oak: Oak is next up on the weigh scale, and while it’s not as dense as birch, oak sticks can still uncork a loud and aggressive tone.
Hickory: Hickory is like a beloved international celebrity—it appears almost everywhere. Scores of drum sticks are made from hickory because it’s Hulk tough but it doesn’t weigh a lot. The balanced density, weight and durability of hickory sticks also informs their sound. Hickory offers a reasonably flat and transparent sonic signature with no frequency ranges significantly boosted or diminished.
Maple: Maple is the soft, cuddly puppy of these four drum stick woods. It’s still a tough customer that doesn’t break easily, but the lighter weight and mass can make it easier for some drummers to negotiate fast or complex drum parts, or play more delicately and expressively. For example, a drummer may bring out his or her hickory sticks for a club show, but exclusively use maple sticks for a wedding gig.
The taper is where the diameter of the stick starts to thin out towards the tip—a location called the “shoulder”—and it affects a stick’s feel and balance. Sticks with a longer taper will feel lighter at the front and sound lighter, as well. You also get more rebound with a long taper. Sticks that have a shorter taper feel heavier up front, sound more muscular and offer less rebound. It’s also obvious that a long taper feels longer in your hands and a short taper feels shorter. As a very basic rule, a short taper provides power, a long taper offers responsiveness and a medium taper delivers a balance of speed and power.
The body—or shaft—is where most of the weight of the stick resides, and it will exert a fair amount of influence on your comfort level while playing and practicing. A chunky body will provide increased volume and resonance, but unless you’re an Olympic power lifter, a thick and heavy stick can be a chore to handle during rolls and complex fills. On the other hand, a lighter, slimmer body makes it easier to negotiate fast and elaborate parts, but that benefit is often at the expense of power and brute force.
Some players identify the grip area right above the end of the stick as part of the butt, while others will debate the butt is solely the rounded end at the very bottom of the stick. Your call on that one. Some manufacturers add textured grips a little downstream from the body to limit hand slippage and the possibility of flying projectiles. If you’re guilty of clocking band mates with errant sticks, you might want to explore the many non-slip grips available. Also keep in mind that drummers sometimes flip their sticks around and play with the butt end forward to produce more volume, propulsive energy and savage tones.
When you spin by the drum stick display at your local Guitar Center, or read through the models offered online, it might be confusing to see designations such as 7A, 2B and 5A. The number of choices can be overwhelming, and what do these number/letter combos mean?
The 3-second answer is that these classifications denote the size of a drum stick. It’s valuable information for zeroing in on a stick’s stature and girth to discover if it might feel comfortable and energize your technique and playing.
The longer explanation is a tad esoteric, but, trust us, you’ll be glad you dove in. First, the letters represent applications long out of fashion, as they explain the use for which a certain stick was originally developed.
A = Orchestra. It’s the lightest and slimmest stick.
B = Marching Band. These sticks are heavier and thicker.
D = Dance Band. The designation is rarely used today, and its profile sits somewhere between an A and a B.
S = Street Band. This is the largest and heaviest stick size.
Happily, the numbering system is less arcane. Drum stick numbers can range from 2 to 9, but the most common numbers you’ll see are 2, 5 and 7. The low numbers signify the heftiest options, so a 2 is the heaviest of the heavy and the thickest of the thick, while a 7 is light and slim.
When you put the letters and numbers together, you can determine how a particular stick will feel in your hand. For example, the 5A is often considered a classic style, as it’s not very thick or thin, nor is it overly heavy or light. Many drummers start there, and then decide if they’d prefer a thicker and heavier stick, such as a 2B, or would rather play with something light and slim, such as a 7A. Some manufacturers have added a “Super” or “X” to certain designations to alert drummers that the stick has a longer than standard length.
Of course, you can always “punk rock” the process, toss out the classifications and simply grab hold of a bunch of different sticks to see which ones you want to use. Few things confirm a musical decision more than jumping in and playing. However, if you love a certain drum stick, you’d better take note of the designation if you want to buy the exact same size again. Just a tip…
Now that you have some background on the different types of drum sticks available—and how their features inform playability and tone—let’s take a look at 13 exemplary, highly rated sticks for 2023.
First up are sticks co-designed by some incredible drummers. These players harnessed their experience to create sticks that seamlessly fortify their artistry. Furthermore, all of the mojo they put into their own sticks may also benefit your style and approach.
Enhanced Speed and Complexity: Promark Anika Nilles Signature Hickory Drum Sticks
Germany’s Anika Nilles is already renowned as a solo artist, educator and YouTube star who has charted millions of views. But she gained even more fans after legendary guitarist Jeff Beck selected her to play drums on his 2022 U.K. and European tours. Nilles' signature Promark sticks are modeled after the company’s Rebound 7A, but due to her swift, propulsive and polyrhythmic onslaughts, she wanted a bit more control and finesse.
“The smaller tip makes such a big difference,” says Nilles. “It is sharpening my sound and makes it so much easier to control cleanliness in speed.”
In addition, the 16" length and severe taper of the Anika Nilles signature generate a faster response and a livelier rebound off the drum. If your style veers towards speed and complexity, Nilles may have the perfect stick for you.
Navigate Lots of Styles and Sounds: Promark Carter McLean Signature Hickory Drum Sticks
Self-taught, San Francisco-born Carter McLean worked his way up to the drum chair for the Broadway smash, The Lion King, in 2011. McLean has also done sessions or performed live with Charlie Hunter, Leni Stern, Victor Wooten, Bernie Worrell and others. His signature hickory stick has a unique, completely custom tip.
“You can play it parallel to the cymbal and get a big, open and bright sound,” explains McLean. “Play it at a steeper angle, and you’ll get a darker, more articulate sound.”
McLean’s stick has a slightly longer length (16 1/8") to accommodate an extended reach, but without overshooting the sweet spots of your cymbals and toms. The rear-weighted balance makes playing easy and helps with quickness, articulation and expression. As a result, the Carter McLean Signature is an excellent choice for managing a lot of different styles, techniques and sounds.
Own the Groove: Vater Elise Trouw Signature Drum Sticks
Elise Trouw is one of the most exciting multi-instrumentalists and looping artists on the scene. She garners millions of views on her YouTube channel, including 20+ million views for just one video—a mashup of “Everlong” by the Foo Fighters and “What You Won’t Do for Love” by Bobby Caldwell. Her whimsical, pink-colored drum sticks were inspired by the sticks she wanted when she was a little girl.
“I designed a pair of sticks that are fun because drumming is fun,” she says.
Made with USA Hickory, the Elise Trouw Signature 7A sticks are capped with a round tip for consistent sound production, and they promote lightness and control, as they are a tad slimmer than some 7As at a diameter of .540". Consider this stick if, like Trouw, you want to propel danceable pop grooves with uniform impact, but also explode into sick fills occasionally.
Pictured: Vater Elise Trouw Signature Drum Sticks
Extreme Metal: Vater Jay Weinberg 908 Signature Drum Sticks
Jay Weinberg is the son of celebrated Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band drummer Max Weinberg. While Weinberg actually subbed for his dad during Springsteen’s 2009 tour, he jumped into a much more ferocious scene when he joined Slipnot in 2014—ultimately winning the 2020 Modern Drummer Readers Poll for Best Rock Drummer. Not surprisingly, as Slipnknot’s music requires equal measures of aggression, speed and precision, his Jay Weinberg 908 Signature balances fluidity and power.
“The 908 is the result of total collaboration and discovery with Vater,” says Weinberg. “We’ve created a drumstick that’s truly unique and that has its own character, but feels familiar and versatile, to suit any drummer’s style.”
The size of the Jay Weinberg 908 Signature sits between a 5A and a 5B at a .585" diameter, and it also offers increased reach with a 16.25" length and a barrel tip that really lowers the boom. We’re not going to argue with Weinberg that his stick is for all drummers, but it’s a fantastic fit if you’re striving to become a metal master.
Versatile Comfort: Vic Firth American Classic NE1 by Mike Johnston Drum Sticks Wood
Michael Johnston hosted Modern Drummer’s Mike and Mike Podcast (with fellow drummer Mike Dawson) and launched mikeslessons.com, where his drum-education content has racked up views in the millions. As a nurturing and inspiring teacher who still tells it like it is, it’s appropriate that the NE1 designation of his signature stick stands for “No Excuses.”
“When your drum stick isn’t fighting against you, there are no excuses,” says Johnston.
To that end, Johnston adjusted the taper for super-fast rebound and responsiveness, while retaining durability without a heavy feel that can wear you out before the gig is done. He modified the tip to a “half barrel” shape that lets you play expressively on the cymbals, but also have a fat sound on toms and snares. Johnston discovered that a size between a 5A and a 5B was the sweet spot for him, as 5As felts too thin, and 5Bs were a bit too heavy. Let’s call the American Classic NE1 an all-around choice.
If a signature stick doesn’t do it for you, there are still numerous options that can help bring your playing to the next level. Here is a roster of 8 conventional and non-conventional choices that can elevate almost any technique or musical style.
Stunning Looks and Versatile Sounds: Promark FireGrain Drum Sticks 5A
These gorgeous, handmade-in-the-USA drum sticks are put through heat tempering to increase the durability and toughness of the hickory construction. Heat tempering also diminishes any excess vibration, which translates into longer sessions and increased power without fatigue. The FireGrains come with an oval tip, which lets you switch tones on the fly by simply adjusting the angle at which you strike the cymbal.
Pictured: Promark FireGrain Drum Sticks 5A
Lighten Up: Promark Hot Rod Sticks
Hot Rods are for situations when a drummer wants a lighter and quieter brush-like sound, but with more percussive attack. Nineteen birch dowels are bundled together in a 5B-type diameter (.550") with a 16" length. If you’re tired of the same old stick sounds, a Hot Rod is a great way to explore new percussive vistas. Each Hot Rod is handmade in the USA.
Pictured: Promark Hot Rod Sticks
Excellent Value: Sound Percussion Labs Hickory Drum Sticks - Wood 5A
These conventional 5A sticks deliver all the benefits of a light, tight hickory stick with a teardrop tip, but at very affordable pricing. The good deal continues with the sound and durability. The Sound Percussion Labs 5A delivers a concise and present tone, and it can handle night after night of pounding tom patterns and aggro cymbal washes.
Focused Attack: Vater American Hickory Los Angeles 5A Drum Sticks Nylon
The Los Angeles is on the slightly thicker side of the 5A equation, so if you dig the feel of a hickory 5A stick, but want a little more power, this could be the model for you. The Los Angeles also delivers a clear and incisive attack, thanks to a medium taper that’s heavier towards its nylon, oval tip. Made with USA hickory.
Get More Reach: Vic Firth American Classic Extreme Drum Sticks Wood X5A
When a conventional 5A just won’t make it happen for you, get extreme! The X5A takes the recipe of the Vic Firth American Classic 5A and extends the length 1/2" to 16.5" for expanded reach and more power. The X5A can also come in handy when you’re using a back-lined drum kit at a gig and the cymbals and toms are positioned just a teensy bit beyond your comfort zone. You’ll definitely appreciate that increased reach.
Popular Pick: Vic Firth American Classic Hickory Drum Sticks Wood 5A
Although you should seek out the best sticks for you and you alone, it’s always beneficial to take some counsel from fellow players. The Vic Firth American Classic Hickory 5A is reportedly the best-selling stick on the planet, so that’s a lot of drummers voting for the sound and playability of this model. Made with USA hickory, the .565" diameter and 16" long Classic 5A adds a teardrop tip that achieves maximum contact with drums and cymbals for a full, resonant tone.
Multi-Use Rod: Vic Firth RUTE-X Medium Gauge
The RUTE-X is a savvy hybrid stick that delivers the feel of sticks, but with the unique sound of rods. For example, you can get that wonderfully odd sizzle-swack on your snare with the rods, but when you need a stick-like rimshot or want to do some cross-sticking, the extended wood handle does the job. You can also change the response and sound of the rods by moving an adjustable band. The RUTE-X is 16.25" long with a .580" diameter.
Pictured: Vic Firth RUTE-X Medium Gauge
No-Slip Grip: Zildjian DIP Drum Sticks Black Nylon 7A
Zildjian DIP sticks are gig savers for drummers with the dropsies or sweaty hands. The coating provides a secure grip, but feels so natural that you practically forget it’s there. The hickory construction and 7A size (.520" diameter, 15.5" length) make this a light, easy to maneuver stick, while the nylon round tip delivers an articulate swack on toms and snares and a nice ping on cymbals.
Pictured: Zildjian DIP Drum Sticks Black Nylon 7A
Every drum stick is part of a diverse crew of sizes, weighs, and materials—all of which collaborate to produce distinctive sounds and playing feels. The massive fun is the journey to discover your perfect pair of sticks can go in so many exciting directions. Every time you pick up a new or different stick, you learn valuable insights into crafting your sound, upgrading your technique and launching new musical adventures. The kicker is that changing the sound of your drums can be as simple and as inexpensive as hitting it with a new pair of sticks.
If you want some personal assistance in negotiating all of the drum-stick options available, simply contact our gear advisors online, by phone or at your local Guitar Center.