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What’s in my favorite stick bag?

what's in my favorite stick bag

Let’s get real about sticks and mallets. There are thousands of INCREDIBLE products! There is a huge variety, and we all have our absolute favorites. But let’s be honest; not everything can make it to every gig.

I have approximately 10 stick bags. One of them is huge, and has an obscene number of sticks and mallets crammed in there. Another hangs on my vibes, another on my drums, a few more are in storage containers.

And then there’s the holy grail: the stick bag that literally goes everywhere, and to every gig.  It never leaves my car, unless I NEED it.

What’s in my favorite stick bag?

Let’s find out.

They all fit in there like this:

Holy Houdini, that’s a lot of stuff!

Before the nitty-gritty, please notice the high fidelity ear plugs from Vic Firth. I have several pair of these, one in every stick bag, and some in my wood shop at home.

They are great, comfortable, durable, and cheap. Not a lot lost if you misplace them, and the benefit of properly protecting your ears, and advocating that your students do the same is INCALCULABLE.

Seriously, you’re a musician, and you’re going to ram notes on a kevlar head, or a 5 piece kit, or a glockenspiel, in an enclosed space, and not protect your ears? Really?

1.) First, the stick bag:

I love these round stand up stick bags. The one I have is by Humes and Berg/Galaxy, and holds an incredible array of implements in a small package. This stick bag has banged around in my vehicles since 2010, and shows no signs of wear.

I once found it in the cab of my truck with a truck chain, a pile of dirt, and some plywood on top of it, and everything brushed off. For more on that, check out my wife’s blog about our house, and you’ll understand why there was so much junk in my truck!

Pro tip: keep your brushes away from your timpani mallets.

2.) Sticks: They’re what the bag is for!

As you can see, there are a variety of sticks available, should the need arise.

Orchestra concert? You can’t beat a pair of Graham C Johns #1 from Cooperman as a go to stick, with a pair of Firth SD2s as a back up.

Marching rehearsal? Tom Aungsts from Vic Firth feel great…and are some of the longest lasting marching sticks I’ve encountered. I have actually preferred the feel of Ralph Hardimon and Jeff Queen sticks, as well as the old Scott Johnson stick, but when I buy, I want my sticks to last, and those Tom Aungsts keep taking a beating. Your mileage may vary, and that might be a product of my individual experience.

Drumset? No problem. Harvey Mason, Firth 5A nylon, heritage wire brushes, and a pair hot rods/rutes, take care of business.

Pro tip: the rubber end tips found on most hot rods double as rubber mallets on wood blocks and other items.

3.) Timpani, remember, away from the brushes!

That’s a serious warning. I was in a hurry after a drumset gig one night, and didn’t make sure the brushes were fully closed, and far away from my timpani mallets. As you can imagine, when I went to teach lessons the next day, I had shredded a pair of T1 generals.

That cost me, for sure, but it also gave me the impetus to make a change; you’ll notice no T1s in my bag.

I actually prefer a pair of Firth Ultra Staccatos, and T3 staccatos. The round cartwheel mallets are from a brand that I don’t remember, but are this weird combo of soft and articulate. If anybody knows what they are, I’d appreciate knowing; they were old stock at a music store that I picked up for like $10, and promptly threw away the package, and of course, the writing is long gone.

Those three pair of mallets do just about everything I come across, and I do have a pair of cartwheels at home, but the general last minute call is almost always sol-do, and at least semi articulate.

4.) Mallets: for mallets!

Believe it or not, I have found a number of times when I needed four matching mallets during random concert band/pick up type gigs, even four matching glockenspiel mallets.

Much less often do I need matching xylophone mallets, which is why there’s only one pair of BB34s (Becker Blues, all time favorite xylo mallet), though I do have a match in my gargantuan stick bag, should the need arise.

Those glock mallets? They’re Firth M142s, which aren’t as harsh as brass, and are much more general. They tend to be a little light, but most pick up gigs for me are on the small ensemble end, and thus, these are perfect.

Mallets are rounded out by some nice general mallets for vibes and marimba–M25 Gary Burton and M112 Robert Van Sice from Firth. Both are nice general mallets on their instruments, and the M25s can be a harder choice on the upper end of a marimba, while the M112s also are nice cymbal mallets.

Pro tip: sand the ends of those M112s for Stevens grip playing.

I can’t stand finish on mallets, just too slippery for me, but to each their own.

5.) Tools: They’re how rehearsals actually happen!

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve arrived at a rehearsal, and found that some part isn’t being played because “their instrument is broken” “their carrier doesn’t fit” “the pedals jump” “we haven’t had time to change a drumhead!”

I find these statements incredibly disappointing. In the vast majority of cases, 30 seconds to 5 minutes of effort will allow an ensemble member to perform, a part to be heard, a student to contribute.

I really get it, percussion instructors and band directors are busy. I’m both, and sometimes it’s overwhelming. Sometimes students just have to make do…and sometimes the director or instructor has to sacrifice a moment to either fix it, or teach someone how.

I will admit, there are instances where these things are unavoidable: back-ordered heads/sticks/destroyed instruments for various catastrophic reasons, but most cases are simple fixes.

To that end, I developed the habit of carrying a few common tools, just so that I could fix simple issues. Flat drums dirty? Well, younger players tend to have issues if the carrier is in the wrong place, whether that’s a reach thing, or whether the belly plate is cutting a hole in their hip bone. You get the idea.

Of course, there are drum keys: concert snare, snare T-key, timpani key. Did you know an emergency fix for lots of timpani pedals slipping is tightening a clamp along the mechanism, and that it uses a regular size key?

Pro tip: buy a pack of concert keys, and give one to a student after teaching them how to use it. You’ll have a friend for life. Also, ratchet keys are fun, but sometimes wear out. Do you know what never wears out? A T-key. Same one for 15 years.

Next, adjustable wrench, small. You don’t need a big one, and if you do, find a band roadie/parent. I tend to carry a multi-tool in my pocket, which can double in a pinch for the other bolt/nut. Carriers, drums, everything has bolts and nuts in pairs.

Hex/allen keys-standard and metric-especially for those falling apart carriers, and a multi bit screw driver, because yeah, you’ll need that, and for all the things.

Pro tip: don’t get a hex key that is all together, get the kind that has individual keys.

There are instances where you can’t reach/access what you need with the other kind. Keep hex keys in a mic bag–not pictured. A tape measure is essential, in case you don’t have every single drum size memorized, or if you can’t remember that you add two inches for extended collar timpani heads, in comparison to bowl sizes.

6.) Sundries-because anything’s possible!

Ever been at a gig, sunny when you load in, and pouring when you load out? Yeah, suddenly that small umbrella makes a lot of sense. Pro tip: the small one can be left in your car once wet, and will eventually dry out.

Everyone needs a metronome/tuner…kind of. I honestly almost never use this anymore, because my smartphone is better, and handier. On the other hand, that Korg TM 40 (the link is to a TM50–they don’t make the TM40 anymore!) has got to be the most durable met/tuner I’ve ever had–it’s ridden in various stick bags for over a decade, which is longer than any of my “doctors” ever lasted. Maybe I’m just too hard on things…it’s possible.

I still carry a lighter in my stick bag, just in case I need to melt some bar cord, though I also carry electrical tape, and find taped cord much easier to thread through a bar.

Pro tip: dip the ends in super glue for a really great thread action, and durability…but don’t keep super glue in your stick bag, it travels POORLY.

Last, but not least, I’ve had several occasions where the only thing that salvaged a mostly botched re-head was my lithium grease. It never fails that someone, somewhere, didn’t dry their drum, put it in the case…and then left it for 5 years, and now the ensemble needs it. That’s the same tube I first bought 15 years ago, and that grease is still going strong. It doesn’t take much, but when you need it, nothing else works!

Pro tip: clean out your stick bag on occasion. I didn’t realize that triangle clip was in there until I unpacked. It’s useful…but if I’m playing triangle, I bring my accessories case, which is a totally different post!

Please let me know what you think. Am I CRAZY, or does your stick bag look like this too? Let me know in the comments below!

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5 Best Types of Vehicles for Gigging

Your vehicle choice is critical to your success and well being as a gigging musician.

Having a great fit for your instrument, gig type, and physical health has a direct impact on your success at the gig.  If you have to rent a truck for every gig, you’re not going to accept gigs as often.  On the other hand, if you are in physical pain because of how tall your truck is, or how many times you banged your head leaning into your sedan, you won’t perform as well at your gig.  We all know what a bad performance means for your future, so here’s my comparison of the 5 Best Types of Vehicles for Gigging Musicians.

It’s true, I do know a guy that used to haul his kit around with a two door car, but he was more the exception than the rule.  He was never happy at load out!

I’ve had experience with several types of vehicles, as well as experience buying vehicles “with the goal in mind.”

When I shop for a car, I bring a tape measure!

Salesman always ask what happens if the car doesn’t “measure up.” When I tell them that I won’t buy the car, they start listening to what I want really quick!  Many salesman seem to be intimidated by the thought of an informed customer.

Here are my pros and cons for the “5 Best Types of Vehicles for Gigging.”

5.) The Four Door Sedan


CHEAP! We once had a ’99 Corolla, and not only was it inexpensive to buy, but it got 35mpg on AVERAGE!  Beyond that, I think we could have replaced any part of the car for $3.

I mean, not really, but close enough.

Easy to park.  Parking lots are designed for sedans.

Great trunk space.  The interiors of trunks are way bigger than expected on economy sedans, because they just omit the finish materials.  This is great for percussionists, as the extra couple of inches make a big difference!


Limited height.  Some instruments just do not break down far enough to fit in a sedan.  For instance, it is very difficult to get more than two timpani in a sedan.  It’s possible if the drums can be disassembled, but still difficult.  Bowls are a certain size, and that’s why you bring the tape measure.  Forget trying to get a 5 octave that has folding resonators in a sedan.  On the other hand, 5 octave marimbas that have resonators that break into pieces certainly fit in a sedan.  Hear that, manufacturers?!?!?!?!

Limited overall space.  Sedans are designed to move five four people in reasonable comfort.  They are not designed to move material.  Given this, they have a low height, causing unnecessary strain during loading.  They also have funny shaped doors that are great for people, but not great for bulky items,

Limited towing capacity.  Some performers will eventually choose to have multiple sets of equipment.  This will allow them to leave their gig set loaded in a ready to go trailer.  Their other equipment is used for teaching and rehearsing, and is never moved.  This is especially common in bands that need sound reinforcement, or those that play a lot.  Most sedans are limited to towing the weight of the vehicle, and that doesn’t allow for much of a trailer.

4.) Truck


You can haul anything.  It doesn’t matter what it is, a pickup truck can handle it.  Whether you’re talking towing, bed space, or height, that truck can take it.  You can’t overload the thing, and even if you somehow manage to, just drive slow, you’ll be fine!

They run forever.  Most trucks last longer than most cars.  There are many theories about this, but I’ve had a couple trucks well over 200k, and no cars over that.  I tend to think that no one is embarrassed by a beat up truck, but that a beat up car is just sad.

Safety.  It’s true that trucks tend to rollover and fishtail, especially if you drive them improperly.  Slow down, and you’ll eliminate most of those issues.  In every other instance, a truck will be safer than other vehicles, and will protect your gear better.  Ever seen a truck after a collision?  Yeah, still looks like a truck.  How about that sedan?  Usually looks like a crushed tin can.  Personal experience plays a part in my bias as well–my car accidents have been way more terrifying than my truck accidents.  Your mileage may vary on this one, so choose carefully.


EXPENSIVE.  Trucks are expensive.  The tires are bigger, there are more spark plugs, the gas mileage sucks.  16mpg was a GOOD day in my last truck.  Bigger brake pads, bigger rotors, bigger whatever costs more to replace.

Too tall.  If you’re lucky, you have one of those trucks from the ’80s or ’90s with a sensible height, and simple mechanics.  Both of my trucks were after the year 2000.  I’m still fairly spry, but there were many times I struggled to get in and out of the bed.  Newer trucks are made so that their tailgates are almost at loading dock height.  That is WAY too tall for anyone to easily load in and out of their beds, unless everywhere they go has a loading dock.

The bed.  The bed is awesome.  You can put anything in there.  But anything can also go in there.  Including rain, dirt, logs, road debris, etc.  If you put a cap on the truck…you have to strap your gear in at the back, or crawl to the front of the truck bed every time you want to unload.  Regardless, you have to strap things anyway, or you’re sending god knows how many dollars of equipment sliding around your truck bed on every turn.  We’ve already talked about how the bed height is too tall anyway–complicate that with a cap that you have to dodge when you’re jumping in to your truck, and you’ll understand why I was always rubbing my forehead when I got to a gig!

3.) Van

There are two types of vans–a large panel/passenger type van, and a mini van.  The panel/passenger van is an enclosed truck, and has exactly the same pros and cons as a truck, but with much easier access to the cargo area.  For some reason, their load heights tend to be more sensible than trucks, and you can just walk to the back from the front to access gear.  Vans also tend to have handy side doors, which makes them better than a truck.

Large vans are even worse in terms of safety than trucks, though, as they generally steer as well as a drunken whale at a packed Christmas party.

A mini van is kind of a combination of a truck, sedan, and station wagon.  They’re generally awesome, run forever, and get better gas mileage than trucks.  My main problem with them is that they’re minivans.  I know.  That’s silly, but I just don’t want to be a soccer mom, ok?

2.) Station Wagon/Hatchback


They are huge, but still a car.  I had a station wagon once, and I could fit 4 timpani, a xylophone, a vibraphone, bells, and most of my drumset in it.  At once.  As a bonus, with the seats down, I could sleep in the thing without hitting my head or feet on anything, and I’m 5’10”!  I also once hauled all the students in a drumline with me to an event, at once.  It was a small drumline, but we still had 8 people in the car, all with seatbelts!  Gas mileage wasn’t as good as a sedan, but it was close.

Long! Those folding 5 octave resonators?  Yeah, no problem.  Plus I had a passenger with me.


Height.  Station wagons on the inside suffer from a lack of height.  They are REALLY LONG, and kind of short.  This is an issue if you have to turn a one-piece frame on its side.

Blind spots.  GEEZ!  I had to turn my head so hard so many times.  I don’t understand why someone makes a car way longer than the sedan version…and then puts the same size mirrors on it!  You would think vans or trucks had larger blind spots, while my experience is exactly the opposite.  I could see anything anywhere in my truck, and almost nothing anywhere in my station wagon.  The bubbled off windows of my station wagon didn’t help, and this whole rant may be model specific, but still!

They’re old.  Take a look around.  To get a decent sized station wagon, you have to buy an old car, or a Volvo.  Everyone will gripe that a Subaru is a station wagon-no.  I went to buy one, and took my tape measure.  That thing was a sedan with a hatchback trunk.  Seriously, I looked at an Outback and a Forester, and they both barely out-measured my old Dodge Omni.

1.) SUV


SUVs have all the advantages of a large van, but with better handling.  Most get almost the same mpg as a minivan, though there are some exceptions.  Buyer beware.

Height.  SUVs tend to have a great load in/out height, and have plenty of interior height.  For instance, I also got 4 timpani, a set of vibes, and a bunch of drums into my escape.  I didn’t have room for a passenger, but I generally only take me to the gig anyway.

Access.  You can reach anything from anywhere in an SUV.  It’s kind of crazy.  My two favorites are the escape and the explorer.  The escape for the mpg, and the explorer for the increased room and towing capacity.  Small SUVs are iffy on towing, though they can handle much more than a car, loaded properly.


Gas mileage.  My current escape gets between 24 and 30mpg, which is way better than most of my cars, but still not as good as that Corolla we had.

Expensive.  Kind of.  They tend to be larger than cars, and so suffer from some of the increased size cost, but this varies wildly from model to model, and from year to year.  For instance, my current Escape is slightly more expensive than that Corolla to maintain, but not by much.

Rollover risk.  Just slow down.  They aren’t cars, so don’t drive them like they are.

There you have it, my 5 Best Vehicles for Gigging!

Please take a look at my entry in Sheet Music Plus’s Holiday Contest: Mary, Did You Know? For Steel Drums. It’s an awesome arrangement, and I could use some validation of my “New Direction!”  Also, check out the score video here.

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My Favorite Timpani Gauge

Ever wonder what the pros use when the time comes to buy gauges? I’ve seen lots of options, but the Ludwig Standard remains My Favorite Timpani Gauge!

The Ludwig Standard Timpani Gauge is a pressure activated gauge, which means the lever is moved by the motion of the rim above it. In other words, moving the pedal moves the tension rods, which moves the the rim (hoop), which moves the gauge and the head; changing head tension and of course, pitch.

Here’s what the gauge looks like:

This 28″ Ludwig Universal Regular Collar Timpano is getting the gauge:

The first step was to gather the materials and tools that I’d need: gauge and parts, timpani key, adjustable wrench, and my multi tool for a screwdriver.  I usually carry all of this in my stick bag.

To attach the gauge, it’s necessary to remove the head.

When removing a timpani head, two main things need to be taken into consideration; the head tension, as well as the pedal tension. To take care of these things, you must remove the head by loosening tension rods in a criss-cross pattern, making sure to do it evenly, perhaps a quarter turn each time around. Before loosening any of the rods, though, you must make sure your pedal is not going to jump and throw your spring out of adjustment. If you have timpani with clutches, make sure the pedal is at the lowest tension position, and that it is locked. If you have balanced action pedals, like me, block the pedal from moving like so:

Do that before moving any tension rods. Notice the “block” is actually an old, cracked woodblock! Everything has a use!

On older model Ludwig drums, gauge mounts were pre-drilled, with screws provided. This means that I didn’t have to drill through the bowl, and that I didn’t need the provided backer with the gauge. Once the head was removed, was to unscrew the bolts on the drum, and insert the bolt through a washer, then the gauge, then the bowl, and then a lock washer and a nut. Pretty simple.


Check out the Gerber multi tool.  If you don’t have something similar, this is an excellent resource for all freelancers. You never know when you’ll have to fix the instruments you’re performing on!

Notice how the square nuts lock against the inner rim, which means that you can adjust the position of the gauge without removing the head.

This is handy, since the gauge operates off of the pressure/positiion of the hoop. Here’s how that looks with the head re-mounted.

Many timpani purists may ask why I even installed a gauge.

Frankly, these are portable drums which must be de-tuned to be portable. I have these drums for a set of general timpani. Mostly they are used for musicals, pageants, or band literature. They are not used for solo performance, or high art music. On those gigs, I generally have access to better drums!

Especially in shows, quick tuning is an issue. Are gauges ever exactly on the pitch? No. But when your tuning time might be as little as 1-2 counts @ 160 bpm, a close approximation for the first note, with fine tuning for the next few has to be good enough. Also, realize that as long as your drums are balanced, maintained and setup correctly, proper use of the gauges can easily get you within 10 cents (or less) of pitch. Considering the inherent variances in pitch of whatever ensemble you may be performing with, 10 cents to being in tune is pretty good. Again, realize fine tuning is always done after the quick change. With these drums, I once  performed the Hallelujah Chorus with an organ that read at A=438!

Why don’t I use “better” timpani, and “better” gauges?

First, the Ludwig Universals are what I am able to acquire. I’d love to have the funds to buy a full set of Majestic Prophonic Timpani…but I don’t have that kind of cash.

Second, these gauges are my absolute favorite. Sure, other gauges are easier to be more accurate with, and there are other gauges that are almost as simple. However, the simplicity, the durability, and yes, the accuracy, of the Ludwig Standard Timpani Gauge is everything I need.

When installed, these gauges become an integral part of your drums–no extra rods, cables, and no additional complications to transportation. With many other gauges, this is simply not the case. Most other gauges work off of the pedal, and add all kinds of extraneous parts–cables, rods, protrusions, etc. The simplicity of the Ludwig Standard Timpani Gauge is great in my book.