There's more to drumsticks than meets the ear.
There are three species of wood used for most sticks: hickory (but not pecan hickory as these sticks thud and do not ring); oak; and sugar (or hard) maple. Any reasonable stick will indicate the species. Hickory is the most common species. Oak is heavier, vibrates up one's hand making one's hand become tired more quickly, and tends to warp more, so it will not always be perfectly straight. Maple is lighter weight, has less vibration so is less tiring when playing for a longtime, is more flexible giving a bright tone and is more prone to breakage.
In a few cases, sticks are made of rosewood, mahogany and koa (Hawaii).
All wood will lose and gain moisture as the humidity changes. In the wintertime when interior humidities are low, the stick will have about 6 percent of its weight as moisture. In the summertime in an unhumidified location, the stick can increase its moisture to 12 percent or higher, meaning that its weight will go up 6 percent in the summertime. Also, if the moisture changes much, the stick can warp. For this reason, keep your best sticks in a plastic baggie, sealed, so that the moisture cannot change. Moisture does change the tone as well as weight.
You can test for straightness by rolling the sticks on a flat surface, such as a mirror or glass table top, and seeing if they roll smoothly or have a humping roll.
Each individual piece of wood, even from the same tree, will have its own sound and weight. Therefore, it is critical to have sticks matched for weight and tone. You could find 20 low cost, unmatched sticks and find only one or two that are matched pairs. The better stick manufacturers will weigh and test their sticks for tone, and then match them. Some manufacturers can have over 20 different tones. This matching costs money, so you might not have every pair of your own sticks matched. Perhaps Santa Claus can bring you a well matched pair that you keep in reserve and use only in critical, important situations. Which is best -- high, medium or low tones? It is your choice.
You can test the tone by holding a stick to your ear and then flicking your finger (finger nail) on it and listening for the tone.
Wood is made of microscopic cells shaped like soda straws, but only 3 mm long and 1/100 of that in diameter...long, hollow miniature tubes. This is where the tone develops.
Wood tone is more mellow and warmer than nylon. Nylon tips seem to be more crisp and will not chip.
Some sticks have no wax, varnish or lacquer on them at all. Varnish or lacquer is popular. My favorite is wax which I think gives a fantastic grip.
Sticks are sold by several different sizes. As an example, 7a is light, fast and small. 5a is considered an all-around useful size. 5b and 2b are heavier, larger diameter, stronger and louder.
The point at which the stick begins to narrow from the shaft diameter and then down to the tip is called the neck. Thinner necks are more prone to breaking. A long neck, tapering from the shaft to tip over several inches (sometimes called a slow taper) means less weight on the front and therefore a more responsive stick. This slow taper is suggested for younger drummers.
Wood is fairly soft when it is hit. So, when a tip hits the drum or cymbal, the wood gives a bit and then springs back. If it hits a rim, the wood cells can actually collapse a bit (the hollow spaces close up).
The sound will change depending on the contact angle that the wood makes with the drum or cymbal. Hence, different shaped tips give different sounds.
The oval tip gives a softer sound as there is actually a larger contact area with this tip. The tip weight is low and contact angle is not too critical. A mushroom shaped tip is louder and fuller in sound, with contact angle becoming more important. A fat tip is very loud and is heavier, and harder to control for younger drummers. A ball tip has the least contact area so it will rebound quickly from the drum or cymbal. It is used for jazz music, snare drums and cymbals. Nylon tips are used for electric drums and give a crisp sound.
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