How many sticks have I broken in my 20 years as a drummer? It is absolutely uncountable. However over the years I’ve learned to break sticks less and less. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been constrained to practice pad drumming and I don’t wail on the drums as often during the week.
However I don’t think this explains it. I play rock gigs every week at loud volumes and don’t wear down my sticks as fast as I used to.
For this article I wanted to explore some practical tips to avoid breaking drumsticks as well as a review of some of the “unbreakable drumsticks” on the market.
A good pair of drumsticks are evenly weighted perfectly symmetrical. If you ever want to test this, roll the drumsticks on a flat surface to see if they veer off or otherwise appears uneven.
Normally the top half of a single stick is lighter than the bottom half. Not only does this feel good to the drummer (as the stick is inclined to bounce up and be ready for the next hit), it is putting less weight on the fulcrum of the stick.
If you remember from high school physics, the fulcrum is the point where a lever or any other object pivots. If you put pressure on this point without allowing the lever (stick in this case) pivot, well, there is going to be stress on the stick.
This brings us to rimshots. Rimshots are, of course, the awesome sound we can get by hitting both the rim and the surface of the drum at the same time. Depending on where you hit the surface of the drum you can get a higher or lower sound.
Rimshots are where I get the majority of the chips on my sticks. In rock this sound is indispensable (not to mention super fun). However I’ve found making the drum more parallel to the stick reduces the damage. This means actually adjusting the snare drum to be parallel to where I strike the stick, as well as adjusting my technique to ensure an even hit.
A way to do this is to loosen the grip. Instead of gripping the stick tight and letting loose a rimshot that (even just barely) hits the rim first before the drum head will eventually wear down the sticks.
In my experience, you can actually get the same volume of a rimshot with way less power than most drummers use. You don’t need to raise your sticks above your head and bash like a caveman in order to get volume (however it is pretty fun). This takes control and experimentation to find the sweet spot.
Another option is to vary the position in which you hit your rimshots. If we make contact with the stick closer to the tip of the stick it is known as an edge rimshot. Varying the place we hit the stick will allow us to not only not wear down the sticks as much, but also is a useful musical tool to develop to explore all the sonic possibilities of the snare drum.
The cymbals are another culprit of chipping down our drumsticks. Playing on top of a ride cymbal or hi-hat will most likely leave your sticks unscathed. However digging with the side of the stick against a closed unmoving surface (i.e. hi-hat or a thick ride cymbal) will wear down your sticks faster.
To some extent this is unavoidable. If you are getting the sound you want, you shouldn’t be
worrying about damaging your sticks—I mean, after all they are just sticks.
However, in my experience, the same loosening of the grip technique can be very useful in minimizing damage. The philosophy is such—the more the stick is able to bounce back, the energy is dispersed and not entirely directed on the fulcrum of the stick.
Another discovery I’ve found is actually playing on cymbals that are lighter. I love playing rides that weigh less than 1900 grams. The light washy sound and feel of these cymbals are doing much for rebound of the sticks.
As we’ve mentioned, there is an unequal weight difference between the top of the stick and the bottom of the stick. This weight difference is key for leveraging the drumsticks in a favorable way.
But what about drumsticks with no tip? They can take a bit to get comfortable and the articulation on the cymbal has always felt very awkward to me (imagine playing the ride with the butt of your stick).
However for these, I wouldn’t worry about breaking a stick as much as puncturing a drum or damaging a cymbal.
Okay let’s get into the material solutions. If you are really into experimenting and want your sticks to last for a long time, I’ve put together some fun suggestions to try.
Vic Firth has done an excellent job with their new Carbon Fiber model. The feel and weight is a little bit different. But it’s surprisingly comfortable coming from a background of wooden sticks.
These sticks tend to be a little bit heavier and the feel is not quite like a wood feel. However they are very smooth, as far as unbreakable sticks go, these are amazing and on the top of my list for anyone who is looking for such.
If you are looking for a significantly cheaper option than the Vic Firth you may want to check out these Kuppmen Carbon Fiber sticks. Same deal, they are made of Carbon Fiber. They feel good and are absolutely made for laying into the drums.
Now this one I had to include for fun. Hot Rods are essentially a stick made up of little tiny sticks and the point is they sound with less volume and have a different sound in general. I personally tend to use these sticks to hit hard and therefore wear my wooden versions down quick.
These are the perfect substitute, because in my opinion, hot rods never feel like true sticks anyways. So the differences between Carbon Fiber Rods and regular wooden ones wasn’t very apparent to me.
Ben Heckler is a multi-instrumentalist and musician from Portland, Oregon. Currently Ben lives in Barcelona where he teaches drum lessons, writes and records original music for his band Sea Fuzz as well as playing drums for one of the biggest Beatles tribute bands in Europe, The Flaming Shakers.
Ben is constantly creating and composing various types of music, video, and artwork for a multitude of projects that come his way. He hopes to use his platforms to share, help and inspire others to create in their own ways.