Barrel 5A and 5B Drumsticks, Split Brushes, and Tala Wand Bamboo Slats
Clarity, balance, and control are what’s up with these new implements.
Always looking to fill voids in its catalog with products that drummers need, if not demand, Vic Firth has put out a handful of new items that are destined to become standards in many players’ stick bags. Let’s take a look.
5A and 5B Barrel Drumsticks
Some of Vic Firth’s most popular sticks feature round barrel tips instead of the company’s standard teardrop tip. Yet the highest-selling models, 5A and 5B, weren’t offered with anything but teardrop or nylon tips until earlier this year.
To make the 5A and 5B Barrel models, Firth shaved off the top of the teardrop tip, rounded it, and added a bit of length to the butt end so that the stick still measures 16″ in length. (The 5A is .565″ in diameter; the 5B is .595″.) The result is a very balanced, light-feeling stick that has great rebound and more focused, clearer articulation. The 5A is a great choice for fans of that size who often have to sacrifice comfort by dropping down to a smaller model, like a 7A, when playing quieter gigs. I had no problem articulating very soft ride cymbal patterns and super-delicate snare parts. Musical theater percussionists, jazz drummers, singer-songwriter supporters: Check these out!
The 5B Barrel stick is as articulate and balanced as the 5A, providing a bit more power without sacrificing control or clarity. I’ve often switched between a 5A and a 5B for different gigs, depending on the volume and amount of articulation I need from my cymbals. A 5B-diameter stick feels most comfortable in my slightly larger-than-average hands, but the bigger teardrop tips on standard versions often elicit a wider tone than I want, especially on the thinner ride cymbals I often employ. As a result, I end up grabbing a 5A. With the 5B Barrel, I have another option that’s the same size as my ideal stick, but with the added clarity and control I often need. Big thumbs up!
Tapping the expertise and specialized needs of German brush master Florian Alexandru-Zorn, Vic Firth created the Split Brush, which is a retractable model featuring two rows of different-length medium-gauge wires and a crimped pull rod that allows for three playing positions with different spreads. The goal with the two tiers of wire lengths was to create a fuller, louder sweep sound that’s more dynamically balanced with regular taps and accents. When you sweep the Split Brush, the tiers make contact with the head at different places; the lower tier sits about an inch below the longer wires.
I was skeptical that this design would actually create louder sweeps, since it’s still the same number of wires brushing the head as with a regular model. But the difference was significant; the Split Brush sounded almost like two brushes sweeping at once. And I didn’t have to adjust my playing technique to accommodate the unique design. The tiered wires also thinned out the tap sound a bit, which helped to balance the volume between taps and sweeps. When striking the center of the drumhead with a firm wrist snap, I felt myself missing a bit of the full-bodied shell tone that I get from traditional wire brushes, but for situations where you’re dancing all over the head with various combinations of sweeps, slides, taps, and trills, the Split Brush provides a noticeable and effortless increase in dynamic headroom.
Tala Wand Bamboo Slats
Rounding out fusion great Steve Smith’s signature low-volume Tala Wand lineup, which includes birch and bamboo models that feature a foam center wrapped in dowels and PVC, are Bamboo Slats. These are different from the other two in that they feature four flat pieces of bamboo surrounding a rectangular foam core. (The birch and bamboo Tala Wands have round foam cores and small, round dowels like those used on other multirods.) Also, the tips of the Slats are covered in PVC to create a denser, deeper tone with less of the wood-on-wood “slap” you get from regular rods. Firth and Smith’s goal was to create a new model that performs closer to sticks, but at a softer dynamic level that’s a bit louder than the other Tala Wands.
I preferred using the Slats to regular multirods. I was able to get a wider variety of tones from them, including some nice mallet-like cymbal accents by striking with the center PVC-covered section, and they didn’t have the thin, pervasive click sound of most regular rods. The Slats also produced a bigger sound on toms, and I could play buzz rolls with them fairly easily. Again, for ultimate dynamic control in situations where you might vacillate among thin drumsticks, rods, and brushes, consider adding the Tala Wand Slats. I wish these things would’ve existed back when I was doing a lot of local musical theater productions. They would’ve made playing those pianissimo two-beat shuffles a cinch!