From the February 2017 issue of DRUM! | By AJ Donahue
I want to thank the good folks at Promark for setting up this review during peak summer swelter. I’m a big, sweaty, swamp monster and my hands need all the help they can get hanging onto drumsticks, so I’m always eager to check out anything that might help. Thankfully, the Texas-based stick maker’s new ActiveGrip finish is designed to tackle my very problem.
Promark shipped over two artist models designed with the help of Mike Portnoy and Rich Redmond, each featuring the ActiveGrip appliqué. We’ll dig into the particulars of each model in just a minute, but let’s start with the finish.
Per Promark’s description, the ActiveGrip coating gets tackier as the player’s body temperature increases. I don’t know how that works because I’m not a scientist or whatever, but what I do know is that it does, in fact, work to some degree. When the sleek, matte-black ActiveGrip is exposed to rising heat, it doesn’t get truly sticky like an uncured lacquer or anything, but instead shifts to a just slightly rubberized feel in hand.
Once “activated,” the sticks were still easy to shift within my grip, but less prone to slipping during normal play. I used each of the review models for about a month of practices and rehearsals and found the ActiveGrip finish to be durable, but not invincible. After some serious time in the field, stick shoulders showed signs of flaking and chipping, exposing some of the hickory below. Interestingly though, the rimshot contact zone about midway up the handle remained totally intact.
One other point of interest re: the ActiveGrip models. Promark shipped them with small rubber gasket rings around each stick. I assumed that was to prevent the sticks from fusing together if things got hot while not in use. So, I removed the gaskets and left the sticks in my hot car for a week. That was during mid-July, and despite regular exposure to 90+ degree outside temperatures, the finish showed no signs of gluing or sticking.
BLAZE IT, BRO
At .565″ wide and 16.5″ long, Mike Portnoy’s new ActiveGrip 420X signature stick measures up as a slightly beefier 5A with a larger and longer oval tip. I compared the hickory model to one of Promark’s Select Balance Rebound 5As (also .565″) and found Portnoy’s to be a hair thicker all the way from tip to tail. I assume some of that comes from the extra mass of the coating, but it was still a surprise to see.
In hand, the 420X is agile and well balanced. A bit of extra meat in the taper along with that large tip pulled plenty of extra punch from toms while rounding out cymbal tones for more dimension. This is a stick that can handle just about anything you throw at it — or I guess that you throw it at.
Nashville all-star/scientifically anomalous well of positive energy, Rich Redmond, designed a stick perfectly suited to his muscular yet musical style. The .595″ wide by 16″ long ActiveGrip striker was, much like the Portnoy sig, a little heftier than its 5B-adjacent dimensions would imply. That, combined with the short, stocky taper and jumbo oval tip created a stick that ripped fat, clear notes out of whatever was in its way.
Maybe that’s a bit of an aggressive sales job for this stick. It’s no less capable of nuance than a typical 5B, and felt very comfortable in hand even with the front-end weight load. I loaned a pair to a heavy hitting friend of mine who thoroughly enjoyed the feel and response when compared to his normal 2Bs. They’re plenty versatile, but built for big, room-shaking backbeats.
Promark’s new Mike Portnoy and Rich Redmond signature sticks play like beefed
up versions of conventional 5A and 5B models, respectively. They’re capable, comfortable, and versatile. But the company’s ActiveGrip treatment adds a lot of value here. The heat-activated finish was helpful in even the sweatiest situations, but never restrictive. It’s not the kind of treatment that will lock the sticks to your hands, but it definitely helps reduce grip slip. In the ActiveGrip finish, I think Promark has something genuinely special on its (or I guess our) hands.