Drumsticks are the most important tool a drummer can have. Without them, you wouldn’t be able to play the instrument, so it’s important that you have a few good pairs.
The tricky thing about drumsticks is that there are so many different sizes and types out there that it can take years to find the ones that suit you the best. Here’s our short guide to help you understand what all the numbers and letters mean so that you can choose the most appropriate sticks for your playing.
Types of Drumsticks
Before we get into the details of stick sizes, note that we’ll only be focusing on standard wooden sticks. These are the most commonly used sticks for playing drums, and they’re what you’ll have the most choice with.
We’ll briefly mention other types of drumsticks near the end and explain the importance of using them while playing. But for now, we’re sticking with standard wooden sticks.
Some wooden sticks will feel amazing in your hands, while others will feel extremely uncomfortable. Your preference of sticks will all depend on what type of drummer you are and what styles of music you play.
Drumsticks range from 14” to 18”, with the most common length being 16”. The length of a pair of sticks isn’t stated with the letters and numbers, so it’s a specification that you need to look deeper to find when you’re thinking of buying some sticks.
Most drummers are perfectly happy with 16-inch sticks. Shorter ones are excellent for children who play on small drum kits.
Longer sticks are a bit of an acquired taste. They’re excellent for getting better reach around your setup, but they have a completely different balance point that takes some time to get used to.
Thickness and Weight
The numbers and letters on the name of a drumstick reflect how thick and heavy it is. These numbers and letters will be your most important identifiers when looking for different sticks to buy.
All drumstick brands use them, so the naming conventions are universal across all the mainline sticks on the market.
When it comes to the letters, all the sticks with the letter B are thicker than the ones with the letter A.
Sticks with the number 7 are the lightest, while sticks with 5 are a bit heavier, and sticks with 2 in the name are the heaviest.
Different Stick Types
Here’s what you can expect from the different stick types across every drumstick brand.
5A sticks are the most universally used drumsticks in the drumming community. They’re arguably the most versatile drumstick, as almost every drummer loves how they feel when they first use them.
They’re quite balanced, having a standard length and a moderate weight. You can use them for any style of music, and they’ll feel fantastic in your hands.
5B sticks are a bit thicker and heavier than 5A ones. These sticks are still fairly versatile, but they’ll give you more power behind your strokes due to their weight.
So, they’re good options for funk, rock, and pop. They’re a good type of stick to use if you want energy behind your strokes, but you still need agility.
7A sticks are one of the lightest options out there (and almost as popular as 5a). These are excellent for jazz and orchestral drummers. They’re also a good option for kids who are learning to play the drums as they’re easier to use.
You don’t get a lot of volume from these, so they’re also good for gigging in quiet environments. If you like to play the drums hard, we wouldn’t suggest using 7A sticks as they’ll break a lot easier than heavier sticks.
7B sticks are extremely uncommon, but there are a few options available from certain stick brands. These sticks are still lightweight, but they have a bit more punch to them when you’re playing.
They’re great for harder jazz styles. They’re also great for drummers who play in marching bands where standard sticks are used instead of the thick marching sticks.
2A drumsticks are also fairly uncommon, but they’re a worthy option to consider if you like heavy drumsticks. They’re a lot heavier than 5As, so you get more aggressive strokes with them. They’re excellent for hard styles like rock and metal.
2B drumsticks are some of the most popular options for rock and metal. 2B sticks are the heaviest out of all the sticks we’ve mentioned, so they’re the best for getting volume from your kit.
They’re quite intense to use, considering how heavy they are, but drummers tend to get used to them very quickly.
Custom and Signature Sticks
Drumstick brands don’t exclusively stick to those numbers and letters with their products. There are countless custom sticks being made at all times, and you just need to look into their specs to see their size, weight, and lengths. They often don’t have letters and numbers that will tell you those things.
All drumstick brands also make signature sticks. These are sticks that have been designed in partnership with famous drummers. The drummers will choose what specs the sticks have, and then you can buy the stick to get the same features that those drummers love so much.
Many professional drummers have incredibly good insight into how sticks affect your playing, so signature sticks feel amazing to use on most occasions.
Drumstick Tip Types
All drumsticks have different tips on them as well. This is what makes sticks so personal, as a standard pair of 5A sticks could have one of several different tips, and they all sound and feel slightly different.
Wood tips are the most common tips you’ll find on drumsticks. We highly suggest you get wood tips on your sticks, as they work the best for most settings. They also feel the most natural to use.
You get warmer sounds from the drums and cymbals with wood tips, but you’ll get a different feel according to what shape the wood tips have.
Here’s a list of shapes that you may find:
- Diamond Tip
- Teardrop Tip
- Barrel Tip
- Arrow Tip
- Round Tip
The difference between these tips isn’t as big as the difference you’ll feel when using varying stick types, but you may find that you prefer one kind of tip compared to another. It’s a good idea to try them all.
Nylon-tipped sticks have hard plastic tips that sound very bright when hitting cymbals. You’ll get more cymbal definition when using these, but that sound is often too harsh for many drummers’ tastes.
The sound you get from hitting the drums with nylon tips is pretty much the same as when you hit them with wooden tips.
So, you should just consider getting nylon tips if you want stronger sounds from hitting the surfaces of each cymbal.
The downside of nylon tips is that they often fall off, leaving you with sticks that don’t have any tips.
Other Types of Drumsticks
Mallets have thick felt balls for tips. These sticks are used for creating swell and washy sounds with the cymbals. When you play the drums with mallets, you get warm tones with almost no attack.
Mallets for drums typically have thicker diameters to cater to the large felt tips on the end. Many of them are also shorter than standard sticks, but you get long ones as well. Some mallets share the same number and letter conventions as standard sticks, but many don’t.
The downside of mallets is that a pair of them is typically a lot more expensive than a pair of standard wooden drumsticks.
Brushes have thin metal wires that protrude out of handles. These are used mostly by jazz drummers, but you can also use them to play any style quietly on the drums.
Most brushes are the same size, but the difference comes with the wires. Brushes with thicker wires give louder sounds, while ones with thinner wires are suitable for gentler drumming techniques.
Brushes don’t use the number and letter naming conventions, as their designs are completely different from standard wooden drumsticks.
Rute sticks are similar to brushes, but they’re a bit thicker and made from either wood or plastic. They have a bunch of thistles tied together. You get a softer sound from the drums when you use them, but it’s a bit livelier than if you were to use brushes.
Some rute sticks are referred to as 5As or 5Bs due to their handle sizes, but most of them have unique names.
Final Thoughts on Choosing Drumsticks
If you haven’t chosen a favorite kind of drumstick yet, the best thing you can do is try them all. There have been many drummers that swore by 5As but realized that 5B sticks were so much better for them once they decided to try them. Drumsticks should feel like an extension of your arms, and you’ll get that feeling when you choose a pair of sticks that have the perfect diameter, length, and weight to fit your preferences.