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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, accidentalhippies.com 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!