Who makes the best drumsticks? Vic Firth, Vater, Pro Mark, Zildjian, or Regal Tip?

Posted: 2012/02/20 in Drum Tips, Uncategorized
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NED SAID –A virtual column of trusty advice

Hi Everybody,

In my previous blog about drumsticks I promised to compare the different stick companies.  Then I took a wrong turn and ground my axe on other things.  So here you go.

As I mentoned in that blog, Vic Firth’s nylon tips are very reliable.

But, my beef witih all the companies has always been that no sticks were my size.  I thought it was just a skill issue on my part, and I kept working on my technique until those sticks would start to feel good.  But they’d betray me at the oddest times, or I’d lose my control over them if I took a day or two off.  But, the relatively new Vic Firth 5B Extremes fit my hands perfectly.

Luckily for you, even though I’m now pacified with my easy to use Vic Firth 5B Extremes, I’m still am in touch with my anger of old.  My axe is still sharp.  I’m ready to grind on…

Regal Tip

I don’t know.  I haven’t tried their new or maybe I should said “current” sticks.  But they look like their sticks from the 60’s and 70’s, made by Mr Calato.  His daughter, Carol Calato is rebuilding the company.  Back in the 70’s all the drumstick companies made unreliable sticks.  However, Regal Tip were the trustiest totally untrustworthy sticks on the market.

Vater.  –Made by perfectionist elves.  For elves.

Seemingly new on the block, Vater makes the best wood tip sticks.  I have no idea about their nylon tips.  Never tried them.  But the Vater family is CRAZY about quality.  They are like the Native American dogmen, who chained themselves to stakes when their camp was invaded so they could stand and fight to the end.  Except the Vater family chain themselves to their lathes.

They’re extremely responsible ways acount significantly for Vic Firth’s reputation for quality.  Vic contracted them to make all Vic Firth sticks for decades.  Today, their Vater brand produces even higher quality than what they did for Vic.

I have an enormous pet peeve with those who supply drummers with equipment.  It’s almost all made by short people on behalf of other short people.  Short people are the majority of people in this world.  In fact, we should stop calling them short and start calling them typical or average.  Drumset hardware does not fit a six foot two drummer, it fits a five foot 2 drummer.  Ever see a short drummer slouching over his drums like an old witch?  Hey, I haven’t either!  Ever see a tall drummer slouching over his drums like an old witch?  Hey!  Me too!

The Vaters are short dudes.  With short fingers.  And have a very short view on tall people.  I wish they’d take a short pause to look up and notice us minority tall folks.  I wonder if they’re trying to single handedly discourage tall drummers through the anti-evolutionary process of unnatural stick selection.

The Vaters make perfect drumsticks for short people with short fingers.  And I mean PERFECT.  They’re the straightest, most perfectly matched wood tip sticks I’ve ever used.  I have a number of slightly used Vater sticks that Vater gave me to try out.  They’re fricking perfect.

I have no idea how long they last because I can’t stand the stubby little things in my hands.

Zildjian  –You’ll poke your mom’s eye out

Cymbal maker, Zildjian, makes the lousiest high production drumsticks on the market.  They are proving that maybe we drummers really do fit the stereotype.  In my opinion, they sat down and had a meeting.  “Hey, check it out.  Nobody makes lame drumsticks that constantly break, anymore.  Those were high profit days, baby.  Let’s capitalize on this.  Let’s make sticks that break really fast, so we can sell lots more sticks.  We’ll pay endorsers who are amazingly skilled, or amazingly famous, or both.  We’ll use as many of the ones who already endorse our cymbals as possible.  We’ll advertise flashy photos of them in drum magazines holding our sticks so the labels are viewable.  Then, we’ll just sit back and watch the idiots buy our sticks by the ton.”

There used to be an Alka 2 antacid commercial that went something like, “Alka 2–Built to break apart.  Drop two Alka-2’s into a class of water and watch them fizz into oblivion in a matter of seconds.”

Here’s my new campaign for Zildjian drumsticks:  “Zildjian Drumsticks–Built to break apart.” Pick up two Zildjians and watch them split like atoms in a matter of seconds.”

On Friday, one of my students showed up with a bunch of his old sticks (mint condition, not a mark on them).  “Here Ned, I hate these, maybe one of your students will want them.”  Interestingly, 3 of them were Zildjians with nylon tips.  Three?  Where’s number four?  Not, one hour later, a 7 year old was playing along with Slim Shady’s “My name is” and PiiiiiiiZZZWHaaaAAAP.  A nylon tip flew off his right stick and hit his mom in the clavical, bounced up, hit her chin and then fell inside her shirt.  We all had a great laugh. But,

Zildjian, you jerks, if that tip had hit higher, I would have been sued for blinding a drummer mom.

Vic FIrth  Nailing it in white size 14 DDDD.

Vic was the first maker of great drumsticks.  He’s a great classical percussionist, a Tuft’s grad, and drives to the 7-11 in his old Rolls Royce Silver Shadow.  How cool is that?  He started out just making sticks for himself because the manufactured sticks drove him nuts.  He was the first drumstick maker who was a perceptive smart drummer.  Vater was the second.  Vic was the first to stop telling us to just suck it up and just play with warped broken sticks all the time.

He’s built an amazing empire and has so many models of sticks to match up with fans of Blink182, Steve Gadd, or whomever, that it’s dizzying to try to follow.  Don’t!  Lot’s of custom sticks have been designed by Vic and the famous artists to fit them perfectly.  Which makes their fans go gagga and go buy those models whether they fit in the fan’s hands or not.  Case in point:  Me playing through hundreds of pairs of black Steve Gadd sticks for a half-decade.  Steve Gadds were my first Vic Firth sticks and they were the best sticks I’d ever used.  But they were made for Steve Gadd who is approximately five foot five, not for me.  Steve, by the way is so perceptive.  I think his collaboration with Vic set the bar for what a stick maker and a drummer could do together to make magic sticks.

And now, finally, Vic makes long versions of a few of his sticks.  My gripe?

Why only a few/  Why not a long 2B?

It’s like “Big guys are only allowed to play these couple of models.”  Sort of like my size 14 DDDD shoes.  My Asics come in only one color, white.  If I were a size 10, I’d be allowed to buy 10 colors.  But, I’m a from the despised minority called tall people.  I’m size 14 DDDD, so I get to have NO TASTE.  That’s why I look like a street person in my dirty white Asics.  It’s hard to get excited about buying a new pair of white Asics just because they fit.  Speaking of which, ever wonder why basketball players wear ugly black church socks to play basketball, these days?

Nobody makes a size 20 sock in White, man.  Players used to squeeze into those fake one-size-fits-all white socks, “Size 14 to 20”, that were made by the Vater family.

When players donned men’s Big & Tall stores’ black church Gold Toe socks, they suddenly found themselves spending less time limping to their podiatrist’s office, and were having more fun running up and down the court.  Hey look.  Here come the Celtics in their chocolate mint uniforms.  Black socks and lime green shorts and jerseys.  Nice!  It did so well, that now exotic sports cars come with ugly black wheels.  I countered the trend by simply removing my hubcaps.

Man, I hope that’s the reason the Celtics wear old man Gold Toe black socks, because those black socks running up and down the basketball court look even worse than white socks with a tuxedo.  I went to a Celtics game and thought I was watching a bunch of pantsed lawyers trundling the court.

OK.  I’m back.  And for my hands, the spoils definately go to the Victor Firth.  His sticks are nearly always straight and they’re pitch paired.  As straight and well pitch paired as Vater’s?  Nope.  But they’re number two for quality.  And their quality is exceptional.  they’re number one in length for the stooping majority.  They’re so consistent, I buy them in shrink wrapped bricks of 10 instead of rolling them on the counter.

NOTE TO MY SMARTY PANTS STUDENTS:  If you want to keep any company’s sticks pitch paired after you buy them, use a sharpie to draw a unique ring around each member of the pitch-paired couple.  Then you’ll never swap the spouses around into incompatible pairs.

Pro-Mark  Warped sense of humor

These Pro-Mark guys broke my hands in the 70’s with strange models that they tested on the open market instead of a drummer or two at their factory.  They were made for Pro Mark by two Japanese guys with a garage and a lathe.  They looked beautiful.  But why not two Japanese drummers with a garage.  “Hey, check it out, we sold a ton of the new model in July, but in August it didn’t sell at all.  Hmmm.  Did so many drummers buy it because they hate all the sticks out there?  Did they stop buying it because IT STINKS?  If we don’t rectify this situation, will that little Mormon drummer in Utah, Ned grow up and write a Ned Said piece on us 40 years from now?

In the 60’s and 70’s, Pro Mark’s stick straighteness was horrible.  I’d roll pair after pair in the music store.  Wa-lump, wa-lump, wa-lump.  Store owner, “Oh, that’s not so bad.”  Ned, “May I please try another pair?”  Store owner or employee with exasperated sigh as he’d pull out another pair from behind the counter, “Look, you need to take your lumps just like the rest of us.”

Pro Mark sticks shattered at the most inexplicable times.  Which conjured images of fairy sabateurs.   Like during “Louie Louie”.  How can you break a stick in that song?  Easy, Pro Mark had access to nano technology back then and planted subcutaneous explosives along their stick’s grainy fault lines.

I moved to Regal Tip.  Which was bad in it’s own way–tips flying off of their ludicrously short sticks.  But not as warped as Pro Marks.  And everytime the store was sold out of Regal Tips, I was forced to give Pro Mark another shot.  I’d even get my hopes up.  And Pro Mark always let me down.

I was getting ticked off back in 2007 at how Pro Mark had managed to stay in business working this scam.  So, I sent Pro Mark a letter telling them I had no idea how they’ve stayed in business and grown so much.  And how they broke my heart and hands in the 70’s and how I haven’t been willing to try them since.  I went on and on about their warped sticks, their strange models, their constant breaking, of the agony of finishing the last two hours of a gig with shattered or broken sticks, my bleeding hands, the black electrical tape.  Cursing the name Pro Mark.  WHY? What did they think drummers were going to do with their sticks?  Churn butter?

A Pro Mark PR person wrote back that they were sorry I felt that way and that they wanted me back.  (Vic never writes me back when I ask him why he won’t make me a longer 2B).  The Pro Mark PR person sent me a huge box of sticks of varying models.  She knew I had long hands and tried to cater to that.  As a bonus, she even threw in some some skinny shorty jazz sticks with cool sounding cymbal tips that Pro Mark was particularly proud of.  She said that she understood that I might not like them, but that Pro Mark wanted me to know that they like ME and want me back, and they had nothing long enough for me in an actual jazz stick–But that I might run into a situation where I need their great jazz cymbal sticks, and will be greatful to have them.

You know what?  All those years of messing around and messing up with different model sticks has really paid off for Pro Mark.  They sent me some great sticks.  They felt great in my hands, some of them were long enough for me.  I played and broke, or chipped up the tips of them all in my dilligent effort to return their peace making gesture.  Most of them lasted way longer than they did back in Jr. High.  In fairness, two of them exploded when I reached for them.  Further proof that sabateur fairies are real.  However…

Even after hand picking the sticks for me at their factory and sending them overnight and doing everything they could to give me a great experience, Pro Mark still hurt my feelings, by making me feel like they think I’m a total dope:  The sticks were warped.

Pro Mark, if I’m so stupid and poor, and you’re so smart and rich, why are you the ones making the warped drumsticks?

I have to hand it to them.  Like Zildjian, they sell a lot of sticks because they’ve got the endorsement affiliation promotions down to an absolute science.  And I admire that SOOooOOooOoo much.  It proves that if you don’t have a great product, but you really know how to operate the levers of marketing, you can be a winner.  Even if you’re a little guy, fighting the world with his tiny new product, whatever it may be, if you can operatate the levers of marketing like a champ, you will be a champ.  Which proves that if you DO have a great product like Vic, and you have great endorsement affiliation promotions you can get great products to the people who need them.

Thanks to Vic Firth, I no longer have to duct tape my cracked sticks to make it through a gig.  Or, worse, back in the 70’s, I didn’t know about duct tape.  Did it exsist?  I’d use my dad’s, or the guitar player’s black electric tape which of course only lasted as long as the intro to Proud Mary.

Synopsis Jokingcanis:

Do you accidentally speed up and slow down your band? Buy some warped Pro Marks they’re super easy to find.  Here’s how to use your Pro Marks to solve your tempo problems:  If your problem is slowing down (dragging) hold them so they warp toward the drum and get there sooner.  If your problem is speeding up (rushing), turn them so their warp makes the tip farther from the drum to slow yourself down. 

Are you of typical height?  Buy Vaters.

Are you tall?  Vic has some white Asics 14 DDDD’s he’d like to sell you.

Do you have a favorite drummer who plays Zildjian sticks?  Buy Zildjians, and you too can break sticks just as fast as your hero.

Are you happy or furious?  Please comment!

See you at your next lesson, Ned


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