Mojo’s Quest For The Perfect Drumstick

I have been playing and teaching drums professionally in the San Francisco bay area for over 30 years.  I started playing in the 8th grade and played in bands all through high school.  During that time I was fine with any old drumstick because my technique was not good and I was still figuring things out.  It was right after high school when I got real serious about drumming and had made the decision that I wanted to pursue drumming and music as a career choice.  This is really where the quest begins.

I was getting my technique together and the whole idea of stick choice became a big deal.  Around this time a friend of mine turned me onto this weird looking stick.  I didn’t resemble any drumstick that I had ever seen.  It was big old fat stick (about a 2B) and it stayed fat right up to the neck of the stick (the thinnest part of the stick right before the tip). That stick carried a lot of punch because of the size of the stick but wasn’t super heavy on the front end (tip) because of how thin the neck was.  I really loved this stick and I used it all the time.  The stick was the Dino Danelli signature model made by Ludwig. Everything was great until Ludwig stopped making the stick.  This was when I began to realize just how screwed I was.  I could not find another stick that even came close to the feel of the Dino Danelli model.

I have spent countless years and hours in drum shops standing in front of the drumstick bins looking for a good stick only to not find anything and then having to settle for something just to get by.  Through this whole process over the years I was able to figure out what I did and did not like in a drumstick.  I was able to figure out things like the tip shape, length and shaft size that I liked.  I just could never find a stick that put all these things together in a way that worked for me. Oh! sure I would get close but there was always something wrong.  The stick would feel ok to me but would not bring out the qualities that I like from my Ride Cymbal.  Or if the stick did bring out the qualities I like from my Ride Cymbal it wouldn’t feel right in my hand.

So, I just used whatever stick I could put up with for a while until I couldn’t take it anymore and had to move on to something else.  And that’s how it was for me until I went to see Tony Williams play in a small jazz club in San Francisco sometime in the late 70′s.  Low and behold the stick he was using looked a lot like the Dino Danelli model.  It had the same fat shaft size that got real thin just before the tip.  I was lucky enough to get a pair of sticks from Tony and I loved them.  He was using a Gretsch model 2B stick and I was going “hell ya, I can work with this” until I tried to get the stick.  As luck would have it no drum shop carried Gretsch drum sticks and nobody was really sure how to get them.  So there I was again, back to the same old drum stick dilemma.

Sometime in the late 80′s early 90′s I made a trip to LA to shop for a new drum set.  Of course I went to all the drum shops in LA.  But it was when I went to the Professional Drum Shop in Hollywood and was looking in their drum stick bins that I found the ever elusive Gretsch 2B drumstick.  Eureka I thought my drum stick problems are over.  When I started to inquire about them shipping me the sticks on a regular basis I was informed that Gretsch was no longer making drum sticks and that what they had left in the bins was it.  Of course I went through every stick and grabbed all the good ones.  However not many of the sticks were any good but I grabbed what I could.  I think I came away with about 4 or 5 pair.  The wood was dry, brittle and really didn’t hold up very well.  So there I was again, back to the same old drum stick dilemma.

The next thing that I became aware of was that Zildjian cymbals had got into the drum stick business and was now making the Tony Williams signature model.  I thought OK cool, Zildjian is now making the Gretsch 2B and calling it the Tony Williams signature stick.  I’m back in business….finally.  Murphy’s Law being what it is this turned out to not be the case at all.

The Zildjian Tony Williams stick was based on the Gretsch 2B but had been modified.  The neck was fatter which totally changed the weight and balance of the stick.  Well of course I tried it but I found that it was to heavy on the front end (tip) for me which made the stick kind of hard for me to use because it was a lot of weight to throw around.  The Tony Williams stick was great in every way except for the weight.  So there I was again, back to the same old drum stick dilemma.

Ok, so now we arrive at 2008 and I’m really fed up with the whole drum stick thing.  So I came to the conclusion that I’m never going to find a drum stick that I can be happy with unless I design it myself.  I contacted Zildjian about modifying the Tony Williams  stick and of course they said that the stick was designed by Tony (it was really just a modified Gretsch 2B) and that they were not willing to change it for me.  Ok, fair enough, I understand where they are coming from.  So it became clear that none of the major stick manufacturer’s were going to do anything for me unless I was in some flavor of the month band with a high profile.

So I thought maybe I would have to find some wood working guy who would be willing to give it a shot.  But first I went to Google and put in a search for “custom drum sticks” and lo and behold it came up with a company that made custom order drumsticks.  Wow, cool, so I went to their web site and what they had was a bunch of pull down menu’s that you could design your stick from.  I put together some sticks from the pull down menu’s and they were good but not anywhere near what I was looking for.  So I contacted the company and told them about what I wanted to do and they were game for it.

So, in 2008 I started working on my stick design.  What I wanted was a stick that was somewhere between a 5B and a 2B.  I was after that Dino Danelli thing where the stick got real thin before the tip.  Of course there was no Dino stick to work off of so I started working off of the Zildjian Tony Williams stick because it gave me the ride cymbal sound that I like.

As you might imagine there have been many failed attempts at getting the stick right.  Sixteen inches is a normal length for a drum stick and at the time I had got used to a slightly longer stick.  After 4 or 5 failed attempts I realized that what I was trying to do didn’t work very well on a longer stick nor did it work on a stick that was as thin as I tried to make it.  It took a while to get a new order of sticks because of things like equipment breakdowns at the stick makers.  They had a contract with a company that was supposed to take care of maintenance and repairs.  Well these guys didn’t hold up their end of the contract and so months would go by with no new sticks because of this, and when they did get back up and running there would be this tremendous back log of orders.  So you would have to wait your turn and it took forever to get sticks because there was only one guy making the sticks and he was putting in 15 hour days.  I actually began to worry about the guys health.  On top of all this if the company got an order for 4,000 pairs of sticks my little order got understandably put on the back burner.  I mention all this because it explains why this whole process has taken so long.  I believe that it was sometime in 2009 that stick making company went out of business.  The two partners in the company had a falling out.

So there I was again back to the same old stick dilemma, only this time I had a partially designed stick.  About a year later the company resurfaced with a new partner in a different part of the country.

Ok, so great I’m back in business and I go about the process of getting my stick design together.  I was running into all kinds of problems with balance and weight distribution on the stick.  I finally realized that that I needed to make the stick fatter to accomplish my idea.  There was a lot of experimentation with that with no success so I knew that I needed to do something very different and drastic.

So what I did was move up the taper (where the stick starts to get thinner) by 1/4 inch.  When I told this to the stick guy he said that I was going to have a balance problem but I didn’t care because nothing else was working anyway.  I told him thats what I wanted to do for my next order.  I think he thought I was nuts.

So he calls me up one morning to say that he was going to be cutting my sticks that afternoon and asked if I still wanted to move the taper up 1/4 inch.  I of course said yes.  He then said that he was going to lunch and asked me to really think more about it.  So I said fine call me after lunch.  When he called after lunch I told him that I wanted to stick to the plan.

The interesting thing about this was that it turned out that moving the taper up really started to bring the stick together for the first time even though he was trying to get me not to do it.  I think this say’s something about trusting your gut.  At this point the stick was starting to get good although I wasn’t getting enough volume on my ride cymbal and toms.  My next step was to change the shape of the tip and increase the size of the neck.

I put in my next order with the new changes.  And then the shit hit the fan.  He called me and said that him and his business partner were having problems with each other and that he may not be able to get my order done for me because the company was looking like it was going to fold.  You can imagine how I felt about that.

I waited a few months and I get a call from the stick guy, and he says that he has enough wood left to do my order and that I was getting the last order from the company.

Now right around this time I had started recording a song for someone.  It was fusion funk type tune that had a double time bridge that I decided to play as a straight ahead jazz thing.

The new order of sticks had not come in yet and I was using the previous version of the stick.  Fortunately I was in the experimental stage of developing my drum part when the new sticks arrived with the modified neck and tip.   So I grabbed a pair and had at.  This was the first time in 37 years that a drum stick felt right in my hands.  Not only did it feel great but it gave me great sounds from my drums and cymbals.  I was in a state of shock and bliss.

All my drummer friends and students love the stick and want to know when they can get a pair.  I have no idea when or if I will be able to get more sticks.  The really funny thing here is that I’m down to 2 pairs of sticks that I can’t use because I have to have save them to send to Dave so he can use them to make a pattern so the sticks can be duplicated.

So, even though I have my dream drum stick I’m still in the same position that I’ve always been in.  Trying to find a stick that I can use that won’t drive me nuts.  The good news though is that I’m almost there and I’m confident that when Nick (the drumstick guy) gets through all the legal problems he will get the company up and running again.

So, in the meantime I got some calligraphy pens and I’ll be working on making my signature look all cool and spiffy for my new stick.

And the saga continues…..






GrooveZoo- A Drummers Perspective

While I’ve been playing and teaching drums in the San Francisco Bay Area for over 30 years, I’ve learned a lot about recording and producing music while collaborating on GrooveZoo.

When I started playing recording was all analog and only available in professional studios. It meant taking your drums to the studio setting them up and then letting the studio guys go about setting up the mics. Then it was time to set levels. The engineer would direct you through each drum hitting one at a time and then moving on to the next one. Then the voice of God via the talk back mic would say “now play the whole kit” And then voila! the drums would be ready to record.

I learned a lot about hitting consistently, not overplaying and all the other things that go with playing in the studio. But I never really learned what was going on in the control room. Sure I would ask questions about mics and what this did or what that was., and I’d get answers that made sense but also made me scratch my head and go “huh?”.

I don’t think a person really learns something until he or she actually goes through the process of doing it themselves. So there I was, a seasoned session player that would be completely lost if I had to engineer the session myself.

The home recording scene was just emerging a few years later and was very different then than what it is now. I wasn’t involved in that whole scene as we would go to a professional studio to record. But on one particular occasion my band needed a demo to get gigs. We were broke and one of the guy’s had a Tascam 4 track cassette recording device. So we went for it on our own. The demo got us gigs and got into the hands of a record company who offered us a contract. Even a low budget recording can get you somewhere in the music business if the music is good – and trust me this was as low budget as you could get and the music was really good.

Thanks to computers and low cost, high quality hardware interfaces the digital home recording thing went mainstream. This was a good and bad thing as session drummers could no longer survive on just session work, so they had to generate income from other sources. So session drummers began to set up home studios where they could work anytime they wanted – on their terms. And then came online music collaboration.

GrooveZoo for me has been great because I can work with anyone at anytime out of my own studio. It’s been a huge motivating force for me to learn the ins-and-outs of recording my own drums. With the Secret of the Pros tutorials and a few months of trial and error I can now set up my mics, set levels and get the sound that I like. I’ve always enjoyed learning new things and recording my own drums is off-the-charts, satisfying and fun.

I still have a lot to learn about the recording side of things, but the help of the Producers on GrooveZoo and the Secret of the Pros video tutorials have bee a huge help.

And here comes the biggie…I learned all this stuff for free because GrooveZoo is FREE! Also, with my drum student schedule I don’t have time to take a course in recording. However there’s always time to do session work

Another great thing about Groove Zoo is that you can use your previous and new work as demos and post them to your artist page. Then you can send people to your artist page (example: name here) to check out your playing. Heck you can even put a slamin groove into an open session and invite players in to build a tune around your groove.

How freakin cool is that?

GrooveCrew Member