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Hickory, maple or oak: what’s your ideal choice?

Do you like them tough and rugged, known for getting the job done? Or perhaps you prefer the soft and subtle, with a delicate appreciation of the finer things in life. Maybe all-rounders rock your boat, those with the strength and flexibility of a yoga master. Either way, the right drumstick choice is waiting for you!

Undoubtedly, wood selection and experimentation is essential in finding your favourite drumsticks and for improving your drumming. Many have experimented through the ages with different woods and materials. Some are evidently successful, as you can see in shops across the globe. However, it mainly comes down to three wood varieties time and time again. Oak for its hardness and ability to chip away slowly. Maple with its softer, darker tones and lighter feel. And, of course, the main player, hickory which has been used throughout history for its combination of durability, strength, flex and shock absorbing qualities. So… which one is right for you?

Know Your Wood

Oak of many varieties has been experimented with over the years. The most popular source for drumsticks has always been Japan. With a few strong oak varieties, Japan has none more popular than White Oak ‘Shira Kashi’ and Red Oak ‘Akagashi’ . Oak is known for its tight, smooth grain and high strength, which makes it superb for stick making. White Oak’s strength is slightly greater than Red Oak, although it is more susceptible to splintering, which is one of its drawbacks. So, even with Japanese oak, there is a trade-off between two types.

Maple is a beautiful hardwood native to North America and Canada, with Canadian sourced wood commonly regarded as the best in the world. Moreover, as a musical wood, maple is widely used in drum shell making. Maple is softer than oak and hickory, but it is still a hardwood with a smooth texture and swirling grain. It has excellent moisture resistant properties and can withstand a fair amount of wear and tear.

Hickory, as many will know, is a default choice in the manufacturing of various drumming products for centuries. Hickory comes in 18 species, 12 of which can be found in North America,  4 in Canada and 4 in Mexico. Hickory wood is very hard, dense and shock resistant. There are woods that are stronger than hickory and woods that are harder, but the combination of strength, toughness, hardness, and stiffness found in hickory wood is not found in any other commercial wood.  Due to this prized combination it is a go-to choice for hammer handles, bats and, of course, drumsticks.

A Matter of Taste

Photo by Caleb Oquendo from Pexels

Oak is a fantastic feeling wood for drumsticks. With a unique rebound and response all of its own, it can really suit players that want to keep a good pair around for a long while. The wood won’t chip away too quickly and they are able to take some serious punishment! They have an authoritative feel and can be many players’ career long stalwarts. The only drawback is oak’s lack of shock absorbance, an issue for some drummers with wrist or joint pain. Over extended use, heavy players could develop issues. It’s always best to use oak for low to mid-volume playing, if you need a long-lasting, responsive stick.

Maple is unique. Not offered by many makers, and certainly an underdog, maple drumsticks are the rarest of the three choices. They feel soft and buttery, and their sound is dark and earthy. For players who love dark, hand hammered rides and with a keen ear, maple sticks will offer a beautiful, dark tone and a luscious woody chop to rimshots. Think vintage Radio King snare and a deeply hammered, complex K Constantinople ride. For these situations, keep some maples handy. Of course, if you – like Todd Sucherman of Styx – prefer a thick handled stick, but without the excessive weight, once again maple is a great choice. The only drawback to maple is its reduced durability, as it is prone to chipping.

Hickory is the long-standing champion for most drumming situations. So, thankfully, the choice and availability of Hickory drumsticks is second to none. Hickory perfectly blends hardness, flexibility and strength, with the ability to withstand some manic hammering before giving out. It has a great feel and can be selected in different densities, quality grades and grain straightness, according to preference,. Many manufacturers don’t pay close enough attention to straightness of the grain, which can lead to premature breakage and diagonal splits mid-song. With hickory, it’s vital to keep the moisture content consistent and the grain completely straight. This will always make a great quality, arrow-straight and long-lasting drumstick. Players, of all genres, techniques and styles, can use hickory sticks for their whole careers and never need to shop around.

Play the Field

At the London Drumstick Co., we produce drumsticks in all three wood types with the Classic Hickory Series and Signature Series, the Oak Series and coming soon a Signature Maple line. Our small Custom Shop team craft our custom orders and our Signature Series sticks from the finest Maple and Hickory in any size, shape, or variation according to our customers’ needs. We can select heavier or denser dowels for players requiring more weight and durability, or we can dial this down if speed and a lighter touch is your jam. Ideally, all players should buy an example of each wood type and have them at-the-ready, in your bag, at sessions and shows. Who knows, you could be pleasantly surprised by a response or tone you weren’t expecting, which could change your buying habits for life. You might even find you like to mix it up and have an open relationship with your type of drumstick wood. Variety, after all, is the spice of life.

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