behind the scenesBY PHIL HOOD

Meinl is well-known for its cymbals and hand percussion in North America. In Europe, it’s also known as one of the leading distributors of brands ranging from Tama drums to Mesa Boogie amps. The company formerly worked with D’Addario in Europe, too, but when that relationship ended a couple of years ago Meinl set to work fulfilling its dream of making a full line of drumsticks. Now, the new Meinl sticks are making way to the US stores. Earlier this month I interviewed Gabriel Harris, who had a big hand in designing them.

Drum!: What was your goal when you started designing these sticks?

Gabriel Harris: The first thing we decided was that we wanted to limit our selection. When talking to drum shops we understood that drummers have a lot of choice for sticks, but they kept going back to the most common models. Additionally, we thought that our sticks should always sound good on our cymbals. We make cymbals, we play cymbals, we listen to cymbals all day. So that connection came very naturally to us.

Wouldn’t you say sticks already are optimized for cymbals? 

Yes and no. If a stick is too heavy at the tip, it can distort a cymbal, and the tips make a big impact on the tonality based on highlighting or decreased certain frequencies. The tips specifically can result in a lot of wash or overtones, sometimes unwanted. We experimented with changing the taper, balance points, and tips to get to the end results, and we understand that what we landed on will not appeal to everyone’s taste, but we wanted it to be generally pleasing and good for the real cymbal lovers out there. After all, the stick is the tool between the player and the cymbal that brings out those beautiful and mysterious tones.

You said you limited the number of designs in order to make it easier for drummers to buy. What is the approach?

We based the new line around a few diameters: 5A, 5B, 7A, and 2B. But then we used those as a springboard to broaden the assortment based on other criteria. We felt most drummers could find a fit with those models starting as building blocks.

So, you have 16 sticks but they are based on those models?

That’s right. If you prefer a 5A, then you can use that as a starting point. We have a Standard 5A that is 16” long, with a traditional sort of acorn tip and a medium taper just like most drummers would expect a 5A to be. We then added a .5” of length to create the Standard Long 5A. To create the Hybrid 5A we made it 16.25” long and altered the tip by cutting the acorn down to barrel length. It has a little bit longer taper and by changing the tip just slightly you get a different response. Finally, there is the Heavy 5A which is beefed up a little. 16.5” long with an acorn tip, and we increased the diameter and thickened the shoulder with a short taper, so it has more durability. If you already know you like 5As, there are four sticks that are all 5As, but each a little different so that you will find one to match your flavor.

What kind of research did you do for the project?

We talked to a lot of drummers about their stick choices, and we spoke to drum shop and music store owners and employees. We learned that sticks are very personal, but overall a lot of drummers are open to trying new sticks. However, the classics remain the classics simply because they are classic. So, our goal was to have some familiarity and some new things within our line, and we wanted it to be easy to understand since it is new. Additionally, we learned that maple sticks make up around 15 percent of the total market. So we made sure to have some maple models available, but with a few of our own twists—rules of our own to follow.

What about signature sticks?

The reviews were mixed, but there is a place for them, and some signature sticks do really well. A lot of that has to do with the artist and why drummers are buying that artist’s stick. Right now, we have launched our line without any signature sticks. The future is open for that, though, when we feel like it is the right time.

Tell me about the rest of the line.

There’s only one 2B, which is in our Heavy Series. We wanted it to be slightly undersized so it does not feel like a baseball bat, but still has plenty of meat on the bone for the guys that want a big stick. And drummers who’ve tried the stick really love it. They say “Wow, that’s a 2B I could play.” There is a Standard 7A and Hybrid 7A which match the descriptions above for the same modeled 5As.

Big Apple Swing Stick

Big Apple Swing Stick

Then, there are two specialty sticks made from lightweight hickory, and the name is a nod back to our cymbals. The Big Apple Ride and the Big Apple Dark Ride, especially the un-lathed 24” dark ride, have been very popular cymbals. So, we used the name “Big Apple” for these two stick models: Big Apple Bop and Big Apple Swing. The Bop is modeled after some old-school jazz sticks. It’s a 7A with a slightly enlarged diameter paired with a really long taper, so the stick does a lot of work for you if you’re playing a really fast ride pattern. Then, we put a giant acorn tip on it. Usually small jazzy sticks have a small tip, but we thought if you’re really playing jazz and the cymbal is driving the beat, let’s put a bigger tip on it to let the cymbal speak. We loved it. It’s got a real light feel, great rebound, and you are not losing articulation from the tip. The Swing is actually the reverse. It’s a 5B shaft with a very small acorn tip and balanced really well. This is for a jazz or small venue drummer that wants a bigger stick, but without over-driving the ride cymbal. The smaller tip helps to sweeten the articulation too.

There are already many good stick makers. Why do you think your sticks will have an edge?

Agreed that the other brands make really good sticks and have loyal followings as such. Our goal was not to “re-invent” sticks, but rather to step back and approach them from a fresh perspective since we had no history. And we did come up with something which we feel like gives us a unique selling point. We weigh each raw dowel, and sort the dowels based on what we want the models’ final weight to be. Each model has a narrow final weight range so that, when you find your favorite model, they should feel the same every time you buy a pair. This method ensures that the heaviest dowels always wind up in the heavy series, and so on. The wide range of weights within a single model was a complaint we heard from some drummers. This means you can buy a brick, and each pair should feel similar in weight and density. Finally, we make our sticks in Germany. That is something the Meinl family is very proud of, and because of that, they are very keen on making a high quality drumstick.

Meinl's bamboo brushes

Meinl’s bamboo brushes

Meinl already was in the stick business on the percussion side. Are there any changes there? 

Yes, we were making timbale sticks, bamboo multi-rods, cajon brushes, and others before. The brand is Meinl Stick & Brush, so it’s a full line of tools that drummers need. We make birch multi-rods, bamboo multi-rods, bamboo brushes (instead of wire), husk brushes, and percussion mallets that won’t damage a bongo head. Also, we are making mallets specifically designed for drum set players so they can switch to mallets for those thunderous toms or cymbal swells when needed. These mallets feature a 5A shaft and an overall length of 16” with three mallet head types: hand-sewn super soft, medium felt, and hard felt. Our goal here was to create a mallet that feels like a drumstick. So many drummers use a mallet designed for something else, myself included, and I felt this was missing for drum set players.