3 Best Drumsticks for Jazz

jazz drumming using 7A drumsticks for jazz

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I’m a British-American. I was born and raised in the US, and I’ve lived all over, from the Midwest to the Deep South. But my parents emigrated from England shortly before I was born. I feel this gives me a unique insider-outsider view of American culture.

I find myself comparing and contrasting America and UK (as well as Europe on the whole) constantly.

And while I’m known to be overly critical of American culture from time to time, I also recognize that the US truly is a unique and beautiful place, the best in the world at many things. The American inventive and multicultural spirit is really inspiring, and as a result, so many amazing cultural phenomena have originated here.

In my personal opinion, jazz is among the finest. What an inspired approach to music! What an important event in music history and what an inspiration to an almost endless list of future genres.

However, when it comes to jazz, it’s usually instruments like the trumpet, saxophone, and piano that get most of the attention while the drums are often overlooked. That’s a shame as far as I’m concerned since the drums provide the heartbeat to the entire piece. And how can you overlook those hi-hats!?

To get that classic jazz sound, you usually want drumsticks that are a little lighter since jazz drumming emphasizes lighter playing (at least compared to hard rock or metal). That means lighter sticks like 7A can work great but you can still perform amazing jazz with a 5A, especially if they’re lighter maple. 

That’s the quick overview, but we’re going to take a closer look at everything you need to know about finding the right drumsticks for jazz along with a few recommendations. But if you just want to see our favorites, you can see our top three here:

Best Overall
Vater Manhattan 7A Sticks
Vater Manhattan 7A Sticks
9.9
  • Checks all the boxes we look for when it comes to jazz drumstick standards
  • Longer than the average 7A stick by 1.5 inches with small and super precise round tips
  • More than 500+ five-star reviews on Amazon
Best Thick Stick
Vic Firth SD2 Bolero
Vic Firth SD2 Bolero
9.8
  • These sticks are both fat and light which offers a unique feel that performs great in jazz settings
  • Diameter of 0.635" but still lightweight thanks to the maple
  • More than 2,000 five-star reviews on Amazon
Best 5A Sticks For Jazz
Zildjian Sticks
Zildjian Sticks
9.7
  • Light enough for jazz but still a 5A design that many drummers will be more comfortable with
  • Backed by Zildjian long brand history
  • More than 500 five-star reviews on Amazon

The Impact of Jazz On Modern Music

It’s not unreasonable to break down music into two categories: pre-jazz and post-jazz. True, jazz was only really popular in the mainstream for about two or three decades, from the 20s to the 40s. By the 60s it had pretty much settled in the role it currently plays- high art music, a historic genre, an acquired taste. For fancy people who like feeling fancy. An indulgent exploration of tones and virtuoso playing. Hard to follow sometimes, unless you know what to listen for.

But jazz just introduced so many musical ideas!

The modern drum set was invented as a way for one person to play the role formerly accomplished by an entire percussion section, in a concert hall, or marching band. The kick drum with the pedal, the hi-hat cymbal, and the very idea of creating drum patterns that can be played by a single person.

Jazz’s contribution to the drum set is so influential! In modern genres like electronic, pop, and hip hop, where there is no physical drum set used at all, electronic percussion still usually emulates traditional drum kits.

Jazz and Drumming

So if you are a jazz drummer or a jazz drummer-to-be, you’re actually continuing a very proud and important tradition. Not to mention that great drumming is very important in the way non-musicians enjoy music. (I’m mostly a music producer and songwriter, and I’ve gradually realized that laypeople just really, really respond to drums. More than most people realize.)

While jazz drumming could be seen as “where it all began” it’s actually approached very differently than most modern genres. The entire focus of the playing is different, and the beat is driven forward in a different way. Most modern genres are powered by the kick and snare patterns, and the cymbals are used to accentuate the rhythm and keep time.

But in jazz, the cymbals lead, and the drums follow and this plays a big part in selecting the right sticks since you want drumsticks that pair really well with cymbals.

Aside from this fact, jazz drumming tends to be softer and far more dynamic than other genres. In jazz, the subtlety and expression of the playing are given a platform to shine. Ghost notes, accents, tone variation, the works. Whereas other modern genres tend to prioritize loudness and consistency which usually require a totally different (usually heavier) stick.

Choosing Sticks for Jazz Drumming

Choosing the best drumsticks as a jazz player is no simple task.

The number of different factors to consider- stick size, material, head shape, taper length, and more- is headache-inducing. Not to mention that naming conventions are archaic and confusing (higher numbers mean thinner sticks, for example.)

But read on for a breakdown that should clear the air and get you on the drum throne.

Choosing The Right Drumstick Size For Jazz

Stick naming conventions actually have a pretty interesting history. They consist of a number and a letter and the system is far from intuitive.

Lighter sticks have a higher number so a 7A stick is lighter than a 5A stick. The letter corresponds to a type of music that was intended to be played. You have “A” for orchestral music, “B” for the types of bands that perform in concert halls, “S” for marching bands, and “D” for dance bands but this is a lot less common. Yes, that convention has somehow stuck around despite being hopelessly out-of-date.

The letters are also really what complicate things and you just have to remember that a 5B stick is heavier than a stick 5A stick and so on.

The most all-around, or even “typical” size is 5A. It’s a great size for beginners, and can be adapted to pretty much any genre, jazz included. 7A sticks are among the thinnest and lightest, and usually the top recommendation for jazz players thanks to their smoothness when it comes to cymbal work. On the other end of the spectrum, 2B sticks are massive, preferred by very heavy players in genres like rock and metal.

Since jazz tends to be softer and more dynamic, thinner sticks like 7A shine. The light weight makes them more prone to breaking, which is why other genres with heavier playing go for more substantial sticks.

But the lighter drumsticks are also more expressive and lighter on your hands. However, if you’re coming to jazz from a different playstyle that uses heavier sticks, using the standard 5A size could be a good starting point as you work your way to the lighter 7A’s.

Drumstick Material and Jazz Drumming

The three most popular wood types are maple, hickory, and oak.

These three form a spectrum from the lightest to heaviest material. Many jazz players prefer maple sticks, which are very light and flexible. The flexibility also means they absorb the most energy, making them the easiest on your hands.

So 7A maples are a common recommendation for jazz players.

On the other hand, oak sticks are the heaviest and densest. Oak absorbs the least energy and is therefore harder on your hands. It’s also the most durable. Hickory is the middle ground between these materials. You can make any work, but if you want to get as close as possible to the classic jazz sound sticking with the lighter maple drumsticks is a good starting point and I’d recommend maple for most jazz drummers.

Tip Material

Drum sticks usually have wood or nylon tips. Wood is the default and the most common and gives sticks a deep, rich, and full sound. Wood is also the more traditional option and in line with what the jazz greats of the 1920s would have used.

On the other hand, nylon-tipped sticks are great for very bright, sharp, well-defined cymbal work which is just so important to great jazz.

So while both can work, I have to recommend nylon tip drumsticks for most jazz drummers. I also love how durable nylon-tipped sticks are and while jazz drumming isn’t about hitting the drums hard there is a lot of precision to the sound and even a small blemish to your wooden drumstick can impact the sound. It’s going to take a lot to recreate the same blemish on a nylon drumstick because they’re just so hard to damage.

But the biggest selling point to nylon tip sticks is clarity and sharpness which can level up your jazz game. However, I know there are some skeptics out there when it comes to the great nylon vs wood tip debate so I wanted to share this great video of a blind test across several different sticks (including the 7A’s that many jazz drummers use). You tell me if you can hear the difference!

 

Tip Shape and Sound

There are at least a half-dozen different tip shapes which can obviously make things confusing.

Tip shape also has a subjective and sometimes difficult-to-describe effect on tone so take all of this with a grain of salt. Still, I’d generally recommend oval, acorn, or round tips as the best starting point for jazz drumming.

Round tips give you the sharpest sound that I find pairs really well with hi-hats and cymbals that are a staple of the classic jazz sound (think Kind Of Blue by Miles Davis). Most jazz drummers will avoid barrel tips as it can be harder to finesse the right sound out of them and the same could be said for teardrop drumsticks but there’s definitely going to be more debate on that one.

But words can only take us so far so it’s worth checking out the 5-minute video below that gives a great sample of each tip.

As you listen, think about the particular style of jazz you want to play and find one that matches up. Despite playing music for more than 2 decades at this point, I’m still amazed at how a subtle difference like the tip shape of a drumstick can make such a big impact on the sound.

There Is No “One” Drumstick For Jazz Drumming

Understanding the different aspects of drum stick design will you get pointed in the right direction when it comes to theory but actually drumming is a whole other animal.

Many drummers play jazz with conventionally jazz-oriented sticks, but others are known to play with sticks that belong in a punk or metal band. There’s no substitute for trying out different kinds of sticks and seeing what suits your playing style and kit the best. The work is worthwhile- once you find “your sticks” you are likely to stick with them (no pun intended) for a very long time.

If you’re just getting started, sticking with the recommendations below will set you on your journey to finding your signature drumsticks.

Another note: I highly recommend buying from a trusted brand like Vic Firth, Zildjian, or others instead of lower-cost and lesser-known brands. Sure, you pay a premium, but it’s not just for brand-name markup. The trusted brands built their reputation on quality control and testing.

They actually put the work into making sure each individual stick is very well-made, and pairing the sticks proficiently. So while you can get away with budget picks in some cases, drumsticks aren’t an area where I’d suggest you try that.

Recommended Drumsticks For Jazz Drummers

Now that we know what we’re looking for, let’s get into the recommendations.

Best Overall: Vater Manhattan 7A Sticks

Best Overall
Vater Manhattan 7A Sticks
  • Checks all the boxes we look for when it comes to jazz drumstick standards
  • Longer than the average 7A stick by 1.5 inches with small and super precise round tips
  • More than 500+ five-star reviews on Amazon

We’re keeping things simple with the best overall pick and sticking to the traditional 7A approach. Vater Hickory Wood DrumsticksYou can also get a round tip that offers a beautiful, sharp, and precise sound that pairs perfectly with the nylon tip.

But if you’re a purist, you can still get these same drumsticks but with a wooden tip. That means you can also try both versions and see which one you prefer.

This version of Vater’s 7A is also a bit longer than the average 7A at 17 inches (40.64 cm) compared to the usual 15.5 inches (39.37 cm). That longer length can be a downside for some folks but the extra taper can really bring out the sound in cymbals. Especially when it’s combined with the round tip on these sticks and the combination can create the perfect jazz drum sound as far I’m concerned.

This video does a great job showing off these sticks in action and while it is a promotional video from the Vater brand (so keep that in mind) that sound and flow of these sticks really says it all:

It might be hard to really appreciate in that video, but the round tips on these sticks are quite small. That small tip isn’t going to be great for hitting a banging metal rhythm but it’s just right for sharp jazz percussion. It’s also another feature (along with the longer length) that helps these 7A’s stand out from others.

Lastly, these 7A’s are made from hickory which is in the middle of superlight maple and heavy-duty oak. Because they’re thin, these sticks are still plenty light enough for jazz but the hickory gives them a bit of extra durability and heft in your hands that feels great.

Overall, it’s hard to go wrong with these classics and these sticks check all the boxes when it comes to jazz. You can take a closer look at all the specs, read more reviews and see today’s prices on Amazon by clicking here.

Best Thick Stick: Vic Firth SD2 Bolero

Vic Firth American SD2 Drumsticks

Best Thick Stick
Vic Firth SD2 Bolero
  • These sticks are both fat and light which offers a unique feel that performs great in jazz settings
  • Diameter of 0.635" but still lightweight thanks to the maple
  • More than 2,000 five-star reviews on Amazon

Take one look at the Boleros and you’d expect them to be heavy. Too heavy for jazz, in fact. So what are they doing on this list?

Well, once you pick these up, you’ll be surprised at just how light these drumsticks are and that’s thanks to the maple construction.

So who is this drumstick best for?

They’re a great option for drummers that are used to handling heavier sticks but want to get involved in lighter jazz playing. Instead of jumping straight to a long, thin, and light drumstick, you can smooth out your transition (and you’re playing) by opting for a heavy but still light stick like the SD2 Bolero.

The combination of lightweight and fatness has led to the SD2 Bolero being called the “fat but light” stick and I honestly think that sums it very well. The small round tip also helps hit those precise sounds that are so important to jazz.

Vic Firth doesn’t have quite the same music pedigree as other drumstick brands, in fact, they also make rolling pins and pepper grinders which is more than a little funny. I guess it wasn’t hard to get into more cylindrical wooden products, but I can’t help but picture playing drums with Vic Firth salt and pepper shakers…

Still, they’ve been around since 1963 and they’ve made a solid name for themselves in the music world. It’s also not just me that’s happy with these drumsticks and there are more than 2,000 five-star reviews on Amazon from other drummers, many of them jass drummers. So despite the somewhat unique design of this drumstick, it’s still managed to have a wide appeal.

You can read some of those reviews, take a closer look at the specs and see today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.

Best 5A Sticks For Jazz: Zildjian Sticks

Zildjian ZJZ Drumsticks

Best 5A Sticks For Jazz
Zildjian Sticks
  • Light enough for jazz but still a 5A design that many drummers will be more comfortable with
  • Backed by Zildjian long brand history
  • More than 500 five-star reviews on Amazon

When it comes to brand history, Zildjian is just about impossible to beat and this brand started way back in 1623. Heck, this brand is so old that the founder accidentally discovered the ideal cymbal material while trying to create gold. Yep, the original Zildjian was an alchemist which isn’t exactly modern occupation.

So insane brand history that dates back four centuries? Check.

But what about the drumsticks?

I’m recommending the Zildjian 5A sticks but they also have a super 7A that you can snag from the same Amazon product page above. The 5A is very light, again thanks to being made from maple, so it has the light weight that you want in a jazz stick but still has the 5A length and diameter that will feel familiar to most drummers.

After all, 5A is by far the most common drumstick and it’s what most drummers are likely to have started with.

That makes a lightweight 5A stick the perfect starting point for the jazz drummer or a good choice for the drummer that just doesn’t want to switch things up too much between genres.

Even though it doesn’t change how they play, I like that you have a few color options with these sticks, and for some folks that could be the deciding factor. You can check out more reviews, take a closer look at the color choices and see today’s price on Amazon by clicking here.

Conclusion

Armed with the pride a jazz drummer deserves to have, and the knowledge about what makes for great jazz sticks, you’re ready to demo sticks searching for your favorites. So get out there and make some beautiful rhythms! Keep working, and always feel the joy of the music!