BY PHIL HOOD
Most of the acoustic instruments we know today have been around for hundreds of years. And yet, serious inventors keep pushing the edge of what kinds of sounds we can create. Dave Rundle of Headhunters Drumsticks is one of those inventors. The first time I saw a pair of Headhunters’ Monster Hybrids I knew I was in the presence of madcap genius. Or at least madcap musical innovation. His inventions — the Tublitz, the Fat Bastard, the Dreamcatchers, and many other flat-out-weird-looking sticks, brushes, and mallets — put new drum and cymbal sounds at your fingertips.
Rundle has been in the music business since starting in retail in 1977. But it was in 1993 that he bought the Powertip drumstick company, getting the name, the inventory, and stick making tools. At the time his day job was as a sales rep for a music distributor; he built sticks on the side.
Before Rundle took over, Powertip was making Canadian Kirkwood maple models. “The notable features of those sticks were long tapers and grooves in the gripping area,” he says. “All through the ‘60s, ‘70s, and right up to 2000, there were other companies in Canada making similarly styled sticks, so these designs were not an exclusive to any one brand.” Rundle began to put his stamp on drumstick design in 1995 when he started expanding with hickory sticks. He also changed the name to Headhunters, with the slogan “Stick With The Groove.”
Getting A Taste For Innovation
The first radical design he released was the Foam Core Multi Rod Drum Stick, which he patented in 2006 and built for Vic Firth. Vic marketed it as the Steve Smith Tala Wand. That came about because Rundle was working on a Steve Smith clinic for Sonor at a Toronto drum store. “Steve was playing with a tabla player so I gave him a pair of the prototypes to try,” Rundle recalls. “He loved them and recommended to lengthen the grip to accommodate and satisfy traditional grip players. We did that and then over the next few months Steve and I — mostly Steve — managed to convince Vic to add this model to their lineup. It was quite successful and gave me a taste for developing other ideas I had.”
As the number of new stick concepts grew, several friends recommended to Rundle that he brand Headhunters as the leader in this line of alternate striking designs. He created a new category to identify them as unique in the drumstick world, coming up with the tagline “Sticks and Creations” to add to the Headhunters name.
Today Rundle has sorted all of his creations into standard categories and subcategories including standard bundles, performance bundles, hybrid bundles, flat sticks, hybrid sticks, brushes, hybrid brushes and monster hybrids. “I always try to explain to drummers that every idea or design has a dynamic range and a feature that helps obtain a certain outcome or a sound within its inherent physical properties,” he says. “For example, standard bundles in any brand are not rim shot or cross sticking friendly but if that is not a requirement, they are a perfect choice. When they need something to bounce more for buzz rolls and low dynamics, our performance bundles have built in features that allow that to happen.”
Rundle’s favorite bundle is a hybrid. The “Crossovers” he patented in 2014 are a multi-task drum stick design. They are turned on a lathe such that the profile has a “bead zone,” the end is drilled and very strong bamboo rods or other variations of rods are epoxied in to the hole. This combination gives the drummer all the options and dynamics of a drum stick and a bundled rod combined.
Many of the other designs are quite practical as well, and are an amazing amount of fun to play. “Some of these were a no brainer to patent, or begin the process as patent pending designs,” Rundle says. One of these is his hybrid brushes. The first drum brush patent was granted in 1913 and the design has been fairly stable since then. But as Rundle points out, “Drummers demands, styles and approach to the drum-set have evolved since the brush was introduced. The ideas behind the hybrid brushes are to add dynamics clear cymbal tones and bring a more even sound distribution between cymbal and drum without compromising tradition or the drummers technical brush skills.”
Sometimes A Fluke, Sometimes A Plan
When it comes to designing new stick sound creations, Rundle says, “Sometimes things are a fluke, sometimes it’s a plan.” The hybrid brushes got their start because Rundle would use tape or zip ties to add different material to his own brushes. The idea started working for him so he worked on making them more cosmetically and commercially viable. Today there are seven variations within the two basic hybrid brush designs. Rundle describes the process:
“We slot the sides or top of the brush tube and insert the feature like the hoop on the Dreamcatchers. But really the Dreamcatchers were initially the Saber-Tooth, two rods on opposing sides of the brush, each with a bead. Those sound killer, but one day I thought ‘What would happen I cut the rods longer and inserted each end in the opposing slots and created a hoop?’ I went into my drum room and played them for an hour the whole time laughing and wondering why did I not think of these before, they are perfect! At the first trade show they were an instant hit.”
Today, there are three models of Dreamcatchers with plenty of variations in materials to add different sound dynamics and focus. The beauty of them, Rundle says, is that you can use all your favorite snare drum techniques and get traditional cymbal wash sounds, plus big fat backbeats and a clear cymbal ping when you need it.
Check out this demo of Dreamcatchers below:
Rundle has hybridized sticks as well. The hybrid sticks involve tubes or rods fitted into or onto the end of a traditional drum stick. Ninja Tips and Tublitz play incredibly fast with rapid rebound and dynamics. “The Ninja Tip are so quiet you can talk to someone while you play, and cymbals sound gorgeous,” says Rundle. “The Tublitz are more durable, incredibly fast and have no resistance when executing buzz roll and double stroke rolls on drum head surfaces. I have had professors and educators say they are the easiest stick to execute these strokes.” His flat sticks introduce more fun ideas of slapping, rapping or scrapping type sounds in which the stick can air drum or play right onto the drum itself. Depending on the material and its thickness determine whether it will have multiple rebounds and to what extent.
Check out the Headhunters Castaways below:
The Stars Weigh In
Some flukes and crazier ideas started coming about from requests from top drummers that Rundle has worked with, like Jim Keltner, Shawn Pelton, and Mark Kelso. “Drummers will have ideas to [make the stick] rattle, pop, lower the pitch, [stay] super quiet, or some other description that makes me think about how to arrive at the sound,” says Rundle. “I have to add material to a stick getting the sound they are asking for, and still have it resemble a stick-like object when it’s finished. And it has to be balanced. This is a real challenge and it’s very gratifying when drummers of this caliber call me to say ‘Rundle, you nailed it.’” He adds that these drummers have inspired designs that will be released in the near future as Thunderclaps, Drumclaps, and Spring Shakes, but he’s going to keep us guessing on their function and look.
LAST CHANCE TO WIN A RADICAL CREATION
This month I’m giving away a different Headhunters stick each week. Prizes include:
- The Dreamcatchers Wired, which add weight to brushes making them backbeat-ready
2. The Crossovers II Bamboo, a stick combined with rods to deliver fast response and real rimshots
3. Fat Bastards, which are cross brushes with rods to deliver fat sounds perfect for train beats and slow ballads
4. The Headhunters Standard 5A with the Black X handle
To enter, leave a comment at the end of this article or enter your email below to sign up for our Drum Week newsletter: