LAX-1, SF-1, and MATT-1 Drumsticks and KDB-2 Cloud Beater

Versatile drumset sticks and a modern take on the fluffy thumper.

Nashville-based Innovative Percussion—one of the leading manufacturers of symphonic and marching sticks, mallets, and accessories—has been steadily growing its catalog of drumset products via strategic additions to the Signature and Innovation drumstick series, as well as high-quality kick drum beaters. IP’s most recent releases include signature models for top Nashville drummers Shannon Forrest (Toto, sessions) and Matt Billingslea (Taylor Swift), the versatile LAX-1 LA Session stick, and the puffy, vintage-style KDB-2 Cloud beater. We received samples of each to review, so let’s take a look.

KDB-2 Cloud Beater ($21.95)

KDB-2 Cloud Beater

The KDB-2 Cloud beater was designed to replicate the soft beaters that were commonly used in the mid-twentieth century. This beater is great for studio or live use when you require a rounder attack with greater low-end punch.

The KDB-2 features a polyester cover that’s more durable than standard fleece or traditional lambswool, so it can withstand more aggressive playing and louder dynamics. The core is made of cork, which is lighter than the wood or polymer cores used in some beaters, but it’s not too light to prohibit playing with a full, hefty stroke. The steel shaft is finished in black and measures 8 1/8″ long. This beater has enough length to strike close to center on 24″ bass drums, and it retains a balanced feel when shortened to use with 18″ drums.

I personally love the rounder, lower tone of vintage-style beaters, especially when playing quietly on unmuffled bass drums. But they often lack the durability and projection required for everyday use in more contemporary situations. The KDB-2 fills that void, producing the warm, round tone you expect from a soft beater plus the additional punch and volume needed to cut through louder mixes. And the polyester cover withstood several hours of use with nary a scratch. I often carry two beaters to every gig or session: one with a felt top and an alternate made with hard plastic or wood. The KDB-2 just bumped up my essentials list to three.

MATT-1 Matt Billingslea Stick ($9.95)

MATT-1 Matt Billingslea Stick

Taylor Swift touring drummer Matt Billingslea’s signature MATT-1 white hickory stick has a diameter between a 5A and 5B (.580″) and is a half inch longer than a standard 16″ stick. Even though it’s oversized a bit, the stick is perfectly balanced and has great rebound, thanks to the extended gradual taper. The teardrop bead provides great articulation and tonal variety from cymbals and full, rich tones from drums.

Of the three stick models reviewed here, the MATT-1 surprised me the most. I expected it to be heavy and cumbersome, but the results were the exact opposite. It felt completely transparent, providing excellent rebound coupled with a full, powerful sound, and it afforded more precision and control when playing along to a metronome. I could maintain my fulcrum right at the sweet spot a third up from the butt end while also being able to reach every drum and cymbal in my setup from a more relaxed and centered position. If you’ve never tried 16.5″ drumsticks before, these excellent Billingslea signature models would be a great place to start.

SF-1 Shannon Forrest Stick ($9.95)

SF-1 Shannon Forrest Stick

Shannon Forrest has been a top session drummer in Nashville for many years, and he spent the past few touring the world with legendary pop-rock band Toto. For his signature drumstick, the white hickory SF-1, Shannon went with a slightly beefed-up version of his hero Jeff Porcaro’s classic 8A model. (Porcaro’s stick was .555″x16″, while Forrest’s is .565″x16 1/8″.) The SF-1 is designed to have a perfect combination of finesse and durability. It has a quick taper, which gives it a heavier front-leaning feel while retaining balance and control. The quick taper also has increased durability by retaining a thicker diameter farther down the shoulder. The small barrel bead, another hallmark of the Porcaro 8A, produces a clean, articulate sound across the drums and cymbals.

Whereas the MATT-1 has an evenly balanced feel that provides a transparent touch, the SF-1 is a bit more front-loaded, which produces a heavier and more accelerated stroke. Yet the small barrel tip produces a very clean and articulate attack. Having had the good fortune to experience Shannon Forrest’s superhuman sound from close proximity onstage and in the studio, I understand the high-level expectations he has when it comes to tone production. Nothing less than surgical-like precision, crystal-clear articulation, and arena-filling power will suffice.

While no drum, cymbal, or drumstick will get you to Shannon’s level of control without years of meticulous practice, the SF-1 is an excellent tool with which to start yourself on that journey. If you can’t produce a clean ride pattern and a guttural backbeat with these, then you’ll know you still have plenty of work to do. I liked these sticks a lot, especially when recording tracks that required a very high-fidelity sound with crisp highs and punchy, focused mids.

LAX-1 LA Session Stick ($9.25)

LAX-1 LA Session Stick

The LAX-1 is a new addition to IP’s Innovation series. This white hickory stick measures .580″x16 1/8″, which is right between a standard 5A and 5B in diameter, plus it has a little more length. This is an ideal stick for players looking for something with the big, full sound of a 5B and the lighter, faster feel of a 5A.

Designed with the all-around session drummer in mind, this stick is a great choice for situations where you’re jumping from one style to another, even as big a leap as delicate acoustic jazz to aggressive modern rock and pop. It has an elongated teardrop bead, which provides a larger contact area for creating darker and fuller sounds across the entire drumset. It’s also perfectly balanced to feel light and transparent in the hand while maximizing speed, dexterity, and durability.

After testing the more specialized SF-1 and elongated MATT-1, the LAX-1 felt surprisingly light, fast, and, dare I say, short, even though it’s thicker and longer than the typical 5A that I use the majority of the time. Once I got acclimated, however, the LAX-1 proved to be an overall winner in terms of sound, feel, reach, and response. If you need a one-size-fits-all-genres drumstick, this is an excellent choice.

By Michael Dawson