It’s giveaway time!
Well, kind of.
This is Part 1 of a FOUR PART series of Headhunters Drumsticks (how great is that name?) reviews to be posted over the coming weeks. When I post the final review, I’ll be sharing instructions for how you can enter to win a selection of these awesome products at no cost to you. So, check back, read the reviews, and stay tuned.
Reviewing drumsticks is never easy. I’ve spent a good bit of time doing it between this site and the reviews that I’ve submitted to DRUM!, but it’s always been a struggle. It’s hard to communicate the feeling of something that you really need to hold in your hand – something that’s subject to so much personal opinion that it’s almost impossible to peg it “good” or “bad” (although, I don’t really do that anyway). Of course, you can address flaws in production, like straightness, cut quality, finish application, and all of that, but modern tools are so good that there simply isn’t a lot of bad product floating around. So, rather than a real review, these write-ups often read like a simple list of features.
Like I said, it’s difficult.
However, the occasional product comes across my desk (Okay, I don’t have a desk – I work at a kitchen table and it bums me out) that’s far enough afield of the norm that it warrants some real dissection. The sticks I received from Headhunters certainly fall in that category. I wouldn’t say that they’re revolutionary in anyway, but they’re different. And they’re cool. Very cool, actually.
Quick note before we move on: this is only a very small sample of what Headhunters has to offer. Visit their site to see the company’s full catalog.
Get in the Groove
What is it that makes them cool? Well, just about every stick Headhunters has to offer is available in two different varieties: standard-cut Classics, and Grooves, which feature a series of spaced, full-circumference canals cut into the handle. All of the Grooves models HH shipped over had between six and eight grooves cut into the handle in a few different configurations (more below). Per their literature, the grooves are designed to replace the tapes, rough sandings, and tacky top coats drummers have used to increase traction on the handle. Short version: they improve grip.
To tell you the truth, I’m not sure if I think the concept works or doesn’t. On one hand, I know my grip has changed if I feel my fingers slide away from the grooves, but I’m not entirely sure they help me hold the stick any better.
There’s another factor at work here too. Seven of the eight models I received from HH HQ are made of Canadian Rock Maple, and that maple is finished more smoothly than any surface in the known universe. It’s like newborn skin smooth. To be clear, I mean that as a positive. The feel in hand is absolutely delightful. The finish is so soft and silky that the sticks just kind of float between your fingers. I really loved it.
Normally, a finish like that could be so slick as to counteract the stabilizing grooves upon which Headhunters makes their hay. However, the sticks tack up just a little bit with sweat, making them easier to grip. That, coupled with the grooves, seemed to solidify my hold. But, for me, the real benefit of the cut-outs was actually their use as a guiding tool.
I have a terrible, terrible left-hand grip. It’s weak and sloppy, and I always have difficulty making sure my grip is uniform between hands when playing matched. The ‘hunter grooves helped alleviate a lot of that problem though. Because each pair has a set of matched grooves, they kind of operate like the marks on a ruler. I know that if I grab each stick three grooves down, I’m holding each stick in the exact same place, and I’m more likely to play with an even grip. That was a revelation.
The grooves obviously have a different value to some players though. I’m not sure they served their intended purpose for me, but I know other drummers who love them. And at the very least, they weren’t any more mobile in my hand than other sticks. I think it’s just one of those things you have to try to see if it works for you.
Big Ol’ Butts
Another interesting characteristic you’ll find on some of the models in the Headhunters catalog is the slightly exaggerated butt end. The company’s A and C model sticks follow a very, very gentle reverse taper from the midpoint of the grooves down to the butt, so they feel just a little fatter on the bottom end (just like I like ‘em). The B series taper, on the other hand, runs top to bottom. It’s subtle enough that I actually didn’t even pick up on it until I’d been playing the sticks for about a week. I just assumed the top taper was cut in such a way that it made them feel heavier in the rear.
That little bit of extra padding on the back end did take some getting used to. The sticks felt light up front at first, and they rebounded frighteningly fast after each stroke. After a little time in hand though, I really enjoyed the feel for two reasons: first, the combination of the lighter weight and darker tones of maple and the almost buoyant feel created by the unorthodox balance turned out to be really helpful for quieter, more nuanced play. Second, the extra mass just felt nice in my hand. I’ve always really enjoyed thicker maple sticks with small beads (usually orchestral sticks) because they feel large and comfortable, but play like a much smaller stick. It’s a great combination.
Rubber for Extra Protection
So, say you try the regular Headhunters sticks and the grooves aren’t doing it for you. Don’t sweat it. The company offers optional rubber Grips on every model. Instead of the conventional latex or rubberized top coat, Headhunters’ Grips utilize an ultra-snug sleeve fitted over slightly less than half of the stick. The sleeves have a soft rubber base with a slightly harder and thicker series of x-pattern raised sections to further improve traction. They add a good bit of extra diameter in hand, and feel very secure under a tight grip. It kind of feels like wearing a glove but you don’t have to look like a dork for wearing a glove.
I love the Grips. The material is thick enough to help better fill out my hand, but thin enough to keep the grooves just slightly perceptible to the touch. I found them extremely comfortable and a tremendous help for long sets. I didn’t reach for the Grip models when playing light or low-volume material often, but found myself counting on them for more intense play. Really enjoyable.
There were eight pairs of sticks in the big box I got from Headhunters (more on the rest of that box in future reviews). Only one was made of hickory. Headhunters doesn’t make many hickory sticks. Most of their models are made of maple which is selected for its tone and stability. However, the company does offer a few hickory alternatives, including the:
HC 5AS Extreme Grip Hickory
~16.22” x 0.55”
Just a touch longer than the company’s standard 5A, the Hickory Classic Extreme Grip model reminds me a lot of an extended Vic Firth 5A. It’s a very evenly balanced stick with a moderate taper and a large tear drop tip. The tip is maybe a bit rounder than a standard tear drop, which helps bring out some nice extra lows, especially from toms. At its core, it’s a very playable stick that wouldn’t have a problem handling any style.
But the 5AS I checked out came equipped with Headhunters’ Extreme Grip sleeve – an even heavier version of the company’s regular Grips. Here, those criss-crossing textured sections are more pronounced, sitting higher on the soft rubber section. Plus, they’re like blood red so they look dope and fit the Extreme moniker well.
I really liked the Extreme Grip addition for long practice sessions. I didn’t spend a ton of time with 5AS Extreme Grips on the kit (because I want them to be in good condition so I can give them away to you), but I spent a solid hour on a practice pad them. After working on some pretty rigorous figures for the better part of that hour, I was really surprised by how loose and comfortable my hands were. I never felt like I had to really clamp down on the sticks, so my fingers and joints were in great shape. There’s some real magic here.
Now let’s move on to Headhunters’ bread and butter: maple (and now I’m hungry).
All of the Maple models I received for review came from the company’s Grooves line, and each featured some variation of a small-ish ball tip up top.
MG A Maple Grooves / MG A Grip Maple Grooves
~16.73” x 0.59”
The A Maple Grooves were one of the models cut with that reverse taper at the butt end mentioned above. They’re fairly thin along the main body of the stick, so that extra bit of mass near the back really helped them match the natural curve of my fingers. They have seven grooves cut into the handle area, with an eighth groove right near the butt which serves as a nice stabilizing marker for the back of your palm.
The A series features the least ball-shaped of the ball tips with the bottom side (taper side) sloping gradually down to meet the taper like the neck on one of those guys that doesn’t really have a chin. These had the most rebound-heavy balance of all the models I checked out, and I think that diminutive tip contributed to that. They were exceedingly mobile, springing back up from every note like they couldn’t wait to get to the next one. I used them at a rehearsal for a low-volume folk thing, and they pulled a beautifully dark tone out of each of my cymbals, and gave me a tight, popping note on each drum.
The Grip-enhanced A Maple Grooves felt just a little heavier, and I think that made me play a tad bit harder. I could still feel the grooves beneath the sleeve which was really nice. They were exceedingly comfortable, and had a great whipping feel on the down stroke. I think these would absolutely kill on long bar gigs where navigating high and low volumes is a must.
MG B Maple Grooves
~15.95” x 0.65”
Man this is a great stick. It feels really fast at just under 16”, and that end-to-end taper only increases the speedy response. There are only six grooves on the handle here, but they’re a little wider than those found on the A series. You’ll also find two more grooves down at the bottom for extra comfort.
The ball tip is a little more defined on the B line, and that, coupled with the thicker shaft, gives them a bit more punch – especially when the volume goes up. To me, this stick is like some bizarro world 5A – it’s a stick just as capable of handling anything and everything, but in a slightly different way. A darker way. Like the As, they’re a little back-heavy, but once you get used to the feel, they’re a total joy to play.
I really don’t want to give these away because I like them so much, but I’ll (reluctantly) recommend them to any reader who wins. I do this because I love you.
MG C Maple Grooves / MG C Grip Maple Grooves
~15.95” x 0.61”
Big boys! Well, not really, but they feel a lot bigger than they actually are. Despite being just a hair thinner than the Bs, the C Maple Grooves play like fatter sticks. That’s likely because of the short curved taper up top. That adds some extra meat on the shoulder, so they play a little heavier on the down stroke. They’re still maple sticks with ball tips, so they’re not going wreck your tone or anything, but they feel great on a fat back beat.
The Cs have six grooves on the handle, each about the same width as those on the Bs. But, there are no grooves down by the butt. Instead, bottom of the handle has a super short taper to the end. If you’re a player who holds the stick closer to the butt than the fulcrum (as I often do when playing rock and louder stuff), that little curve should tuck very nicely into the crook of your pinkie finger. Cool touch.
The Grips felt perfectly suited to these sticks. Big and comfy in hand, they were yet another offering from Headhunters ideal for long sessions.
MG B Bop Maple Grooves / MG B Bop Grip Maple Grooves
~15.75” x 0.61”
With their abbreviated length, slightly elongated ball tip, and medium width, the B Bops felt like a combination of the Cs and Bs. There were again six grooves on the handle with two more at the back end. They don’t quite feel like a classic “jazz” stick, but they certainly didn’t have any trouble handling jazz-style play. The balance was smooth and even, and the tips supplemented every note with a beautifully warm bed.
I wasn’t too keen on the Grip-ed B Bops, but that’s no fault of theirs. I just preferred the natural feel of the handle on such a small stick. I’m sure I’d feel differently if I were playing up-tempo burners for extended periods of time though.
The only thing I would change (I’m not suggestion – simply stating what I would adjust were I making these sticks for myself) is the size of the bead. I’d actually shrink it down just a bit to get even more of that rich, woody note out of thin cymbals. That said, I know plenty of players who don’t like tiny tips, and would love a stick with this shape. Different strokes for different innuendos I guess.
This review is already around 2400 words long, so I’m going to close with something simple. These sticks are different and they’re rad. If you don’t win any of the giveaways in a few weeks, do yourself a favor and order a few pairs. This is only a small selection of what they have to offer, so go explore their site.
Speaking of giveaways, check back soon for another look at more REALLY inventive stuff from Headhunters, and see how you can enter to win a selection of everything I’m reviewing!