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Drum Brushes and Mallets

Brushes, and Mallets

The purpose of this article is to give a general overview of the different types of brushes, and mallets and explain how each varies in sound, feel, and durability. Subjects are: Brushes, Butts, Bristles, Mallets, Choosing Brushes, Choosing Mallets and Specialty Sticks.

Brushes come in a very wide variety, some believe that there is a different brush-type for every style of playing, just like different drum sticks for different applications, brushes are yet another tool in a drummers arsenal that can be, and are successfully used in practically any musical style. Jazz to Hard Rock, World to Rock and Roll brushes can be heard every where.

Brushes create specialty sounds and add a musical texture not possible to reproduce with drumsticks or mallets, the popular swish sounds are only possible because of the thin wire used to manufacture drum brushes.
Recommended manufacturers: Vic Firth, Pro-Mark, Zildjian, Regal Tip, Vater.

Telescoping Models
Telescoping brush types are the ones that slide in to itself allowing the bristles to be hidden or closed for protection, such a design also adds a feature where drummers can control the length of the fan to be adjusted to the players preference.

Non-Telescoping Models
Non-telescopic brushes are the ones that dont retract the wires. Non-telescopic brushes usually have a wider variety of handles and butts compared to telescopic ones. It is advised to store all non-telescopic brushes in a tubular container for protection, note that some non-telescopic brushes are sold with specially designed protective tubes.

The handle or The Butt can be used to create different sounds like mallet-type rolls and different types of butts effect the overall brush balance and influence playability.

Loop end.
Loop end is popular on telescopic models and can be used for glissando sounds on cymbals.

Ball end.
Ball end brushes feature a ball at the end of the handle, such design can provide a better balance than those with loop ends, additionally, ball ends can be used for mallet type of rolls

Clayton Cameron-style.
Clayton Cameron-style brushes are perhaps the most universal as they feature a rubber covered body, hard plastic tip and a metal cap, this provides for playing glissando effects on cymbals, cross stick technique and cymbal rolls.

Handles are usually build from wood plastic or aluminum, and with or without rubber covering. Wood, plastic and aluminum are most commonly used on non-telescoping types and aluminum rubber covered handles are most popular with the telescoping ones.

Bristles are manufactured from wire, nylon, or plastic, each material effects the sound feel and playability of the brush.

Wire bristles are the thinnest from the group and because of that produce fuller bodied smoother sounds that are most popular.
Nylon bristles are a little larger and stiffer than wire ones, with less wires per brush and because of that they produce a darker sounds.
Plastic bristles are the largest and stiffest in the group, one of the most common uses are the unplugged pop style beats.

Fan Adjustment
Sound can be influenced by fan adjustment, wider spread fan will produce a fuller-bodied sound, while narrowing the spreads will give a snappier one. As noted before, the telescopic brush models have the natural ability for fan adjustment.

Choosing Brushes
There is no right or wrong when choosing brushes, but it is always advised to have or at least try both wire and plastic types in order to understand what fits you more. Having both types in your stick bag also makes one prepared to face practically any situation that may require a "touch of brushes" in a composition.
Recommended manufacturers: Vic Firth, Pro-Mark, Zildjian, Regal Tip, Vater.


Mallets come in many different shapes, sizes and can be produced from wood metal and plastic. Mallet heads made from even a wider variety of materials like wood, felt, cork, spun, plastic, etc and can vary in hardness, shape, and size to accommodate different applications. Usually each mallet type is designed for a particular application, but some mallets can be successfully used on more than a single instrument.
Recommended manufacturers: Vic Firth, Pro-Mark, Zildjian, Regal Tip, Vater.

Timpani Mallets
Timpani mallets shafts are usually made from wood or aluminum. When wood is used, bamboo, maple or hickory are the most common types. Timpani mallets heads come in a variety between soft, medium and hard. The three types of hardness allow for legato, staccato and forte notes to be executed.

Keyboard Mallets
Keyboard mallets come in a great variety depending on the application and the particular instrument played. Most of the time keyboard mallets feature birch, synthetic, or rattan handles. The heads also vary and can be produced from a number of materials ranging from spun yarn, rubber, wood, brass, synthetic, etc.

Cymbal Mallets
Cymbal mallet shafts are usually build from wood plastic of aluminum, with heads made from spun yarn, rubber or wood. Harder heads produce a brighter sound with compressed loud attack, softer heads produce mellow sound with less attack. Primary use: suspended cymbals.

Bass Drum Mallets
Bass drum mallets come in two variations: Symphonic and Marching. The heads feature materials for soft, medium hard and extra hard attack and wood or aluminum handles. Most common heads used for symphonic are build from felt and are designed to be soft to medium hardness as they produce a full body tone, and harder heads build from harder felt and sometimes wood are preferred for marching as they produce maximum projection with a consistent attack.

Multi-Tenor Marching Mallets
Tenor Marching Mallets usually feature heads made from acrylic, rubber, solid felt, or covered felt and aluminum or wooden shafts with grips for slip-resistance. Acrylic heads are designed for maximum attack and projection while rubber and felt heads give a warmer tone.

Gong Mallets
Gong mallets are very similar to bass drum mallets, although they are generally larger. Usually they feature round felt covered heads with aluminum, maple or hickory handles.

Chime Mallets
Chime mallets most of the time come in a dual-head hammer design featuring a softer and harder sides and hickory or maple handle. The softer side of the hammer provides fuller body tones, while the harder side is designed to give more attack.

Pipe Band
Pipe band tenor mallets come in 3 different weights and different colors. For the bass tenor, a heavier, fleece covered, foam or cork heads are generally used.

Drum Set Mallets
There are no mallets dedicated specifically for drum set, however, drummers use many different types of mallets on drum sets depending on the needed sound effect or application. Practically any mallet with a medium to hard head will serve its purpose well on a drum set. As a general rule mallets with harder heads will give a louder compressed attack, while mallets with softer heads will produce a fuller body medium to low end tones with mellower attack. On a drum set, it is advised to experiment with mallets that feature dual heads, as those are capable to produce different tones depending on the head being used.

Conga Mallets
Conga mallets were designed to simulate the human hand striking, thats why they feature felt or leather covered flat heads.

Choosing Mallets
Although some mallets are made to be multipurpose, generally mallets are produced for a single instrument or application. The best practice is to use mallets specifically designed for the application or instrument you're playing. It is advised to get as many mallets as necessary to cover all dynamic levels and timber variations.
Recommended manufacturers: Vic Firth, Pro-Mark, Zildjian, Regal Tip, Vater.

Specialty Sticks
Specialty sticks are the ones that were designed to produce an additional sound besides the sound of the instrument being struck. Examples: Regal Tip Jingle stick, tambourine sticks, hollow sticks with seeds inside, etc.

Bundle Sticks
Bundle sticks are designed to provide player with alternative sound and feel, they consist of small rods made from plastic or wood, bundled together and attached to the handle. Basically bundle sticks are brushes that allow to be played with drum stick technique but with a reduced volume. They are often used in the "unplugged" performances. Bundle sticks with thinner bristles offer a sound closer to brushes, while the ones with thicker bristles have a louder, snappier sound. Additionally, some models of bundle sticks feature an adjustable ring to help alter the sound for the specific effect needed.
Recommended manufacturers: Vic Firth, Pro-Mark, Zildjian, Regal Tip, Vater.

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