Drummers often ask how they can make their drumsticks last longer.  The wood type, tip material, playing technique, drumming surface, and storage environment are all factors that affect the longevity of a drumstick.

Wood Choice

Drumsticks can be manufactured using just about any type of wood. Some companies specialize in making drumsticks out of exotic woods.  However, there are three common wood types used for sticks: hickory, maple, and oak.

  • Hickory – This is an extremely durable wood variety, making it a popular choice for drumsticks.  It will often chip or fray (peel along the wood grain) before breaking.  This allows the drummer to replace the stick before it completely breaks.  
  • Maple – This is a lightweight wood.  Maple drumsticks are ideal for drummers who prefer a larger stick without added weight.  Maple is often used for orchestral snare drum playing and softer drum set applications.  Maple drumsticks will often crack without warning.
  • Oak – This wood has high strength and durability.  It does not tend to fray (as hickory does). Instead, it will crack in half (similar to maple).  Oak will generally take more repetitive strikes before breaking, as compared to hickory and maple.

Stick Tip Material

Nobody has perfect aim.  Drummers can intend to strike the playing surface of the crash cymbal, but accidentally hit the cymbal edge.  When navigating around the set, they may occasionally miss a drumhead and inadvertently hit one of the metal rims.  This can chip a wooden tip, but will rarely damage a nylon (plastic) tip.

The sonic difference between the two tips is very noticeable on the cymbals. Some drummers prefer the full-bodied sound of wooden tips, while others prefer the high-pitched clarity of nylon tips.  Luckily most stick designs are available in both tip formats. 

Drummers who prefer the sound of nylon-tipped sticks can use them for both practice and performance.  If someone prefers the sound of wooden tips, they can perform with wooden tips and practice with nylon tips.  For example, if a drummer uses the 5A wood-tipped stick on the bandstand, he or she may wish to practice with the 5A nylon version in their rehearsal room.  The feel will be almost identical since the length and diameter of the two models are the same.  The only difference is the drumstick’s tip.

Some drummers do not use nylon-tipped sticks because they have had bad experiences with them in the past.  The plastic tips would sometimes fly off when playing.  This was due to the tips being glued to the drumstick.  Fortunately, the Vic Firth corporation came up with the process of injection molding the tip onto the stick.  This ensures that the stick remains on the stick at all times.

Proper Technique

A major cause of premature drumstick breakage is improper technique. A natural technique will all the stick to rebound off of the drum or practice pad, causing less stress to the wood.  If the stick is pressed into the drumhead, without allowing for rebound, damage can occur to both the stick and head.

For a detailed description of this concept, please visit the (__Sticking/Technique__) section of this site.

Drumming Surfaces

It is extremely rare to break a stick on a rubber practice pad.  Splitting practice time between the practice pad and drum set will save sticks (while refining technique).  When playing on the full drum set, there are some adaptations that can be made.  A few examples are provided below.

  • Snare drum – Drummers who hit a lot of rimshots (striking the metal rim and drumhead at the same time) often chip their drumsticks.  The original snare drum rim can be replaced with a “stick saver” rim.  This type of rim is flanged inward, toward the drumhead.  Instead of hitting a rim that is perpendicular to the drum, the stick strikes the slightly rounded edge.  Many drummers agree that it actually does save sticks!
  • Crash cymbal – Drummers often strike the crash cymbal with the shoulder of the drumstick (the area a few inches down from the drumstick’s tip).  Over time, this will also chip away at the stick.  For practicing, a cymbal dampener can be used.  It is stretched over the edge over the cymbal, allowing it to span the diameter of the cymbal.  The drummer can still play the crash cymbal in the usual manner.  The dampener will add a protective buffer between the cymbal and the stick.
  • Hi-hat – Drummers often play the hi-hat with the shoulder of the stick.  The stick angle used by some drummers is sometimes closer to perpendicular than parallel.  Drummers who play in this manner often have a layer of “sawdust” on the floor next to their hi-hat stand.  The cymbal dampeners mentioned above can also be utilized for hi-hats.

    Another way to save sticks is to play with the tips of the sticks on the top of the hi-hat cymbal.  The drummers can utilize this method while practicing, and apply the other method when actually performing (to obtain the desired sound).
  • Entire set – If the drummer wants to save sticks and reduce volume during practice sessions, drum mutes may be used.  The RTOM mutes slip onto the drum rims, providing a rubber rim and mesh head surface.  There are also cymbal pads that may be utilized with or without the dampeners previously discussed on this page.  My article, “Can I Play Drums if I Live in an Apartment” discusses these type of drum and cymbal mutes.

Storage Environment

Drummers must be cautious to not store their sticks in an environment that it too dry.  During the winter months, many people use coal- or wood-burning stoves for heat.  These heaters can absorb a great amount of humidity from the air. The moisture content of the drumsticks may lesson, causing the sticks to have a “thud” sound when tapped with a finger.  Oftentimes, these dried-out sticks will break prematurely.

It is a good idea to keep sticks in a stick bag to protect them.  However, sticks are usually kept in the same room as the drums, which are also wooden.  Therefore, the care that is taken to protect sticks will also protect the drums.  As a general rule, wooden instruments should not be kept in extreme heat or cold.  They should also not be kept in extremely humid or dry areas.  Unfinished attics and basements sometimes have these temperature and humidity extremes.

Other Money-Saving Considerations

  • Factory Seconds – Some drumstick companies sell factory second sticks.  These sticks are able to be used, but do not meet the stringent quality control standards required for their full-price models. They might not be 100% straight, or may have blemishes in the finish.  Drummers looking to save money often find that factory seconds are good sticks at a great price.
  • Repairing drumsticks – Some drummers wonder if broken drumsticks can be repaired.  While a stick that is snapped in half might not be able to be salvaged, a stick with a slight, hairline crack can sometimes be glued.  A bit of wood glue should be applied into the cracked area.  The stick must then be clamped while the glue dries.  This repair process may salvage an expensive orchestral snare drum stick.  It may also be used on sticks that will not be played with a great amount of force or velocity. 

Conclusion

A proper technique will aid in the longevity of your drumsticks. The other tips listed above will allow you to get even more use out of each pair of sticks.

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