By JJ Jones
One of my favorite parts of the NAMM show this year was meeting up with the awesome peeps from D’Addario and Promark who showed me some of their new gear, including the just-released FireGrain drumsticks, as well as their ActiveGrip sticks introduced in late 2016. I took home a FireGrain Classic 5A pair, and a pair of black ActiveGrip Rebound 5A, to try out.
FireGrains are literally “flame hardened” hickory sticks – an ancient Japanese heat-tempering process of slowly heating wood with a flame to remove moisture and make the stick more durable.
ActiveGrip hickory sticks have a black grip coating that adjusts to your body’s temperature and gets more tacky as your hands heat up and sweat.
My usual go-to drumsticks are Vic Firth SD4 Combos, which are a small maple stick known for being lightweight and fast. The weight distribution and the flexibility of the SD4s are perfect for my smaller hands and lighter touch. That said, maple is the least durable stick material, so the harder I dig in and play, the more the sticks shred and splinter.
I found the FireGrains to have a dense and heavy feel compared to untempered hickory sticks (more like oak), and certainly compared to my maple SD4s. While the FireGrains are great for harder playing, I know their heaviness would start to fatigue my arms after a long set, especially because their higher density meant more stick vibration transferred to my wrists (caveat: many players feel the FireGrains have less vibration). FireGrains also have a shorter taper, which adds to their forward, front-loaded feel. (To be fair, I was given a pair of Classic 5A, so it’s likely that a pair of the Rebound 5As would have suited me better, having a more rear-weighted feel).
But, Promark’s claims of increased durability with the FireGrains are right-on. I was fully bashing my cymbals and hi-hat for a solid half-hour to see how the sticks would hold up, and while there were a lot of dents that went through the glaze and exposed raw wood underneath, the tips stayed intact, and there were virtually no splinters (unlike my SD4s!).
I did the same hard bashing test with the ActiveGrips and surprisingly found their durability to be almost better than the FireGrains due to their coating, which prevented the dents from being as deep. There was less exposed wood and splinters, and their tips stayed intact. I additionally liked the feel of the ActiveGrip Rebounds better, having a medium taper, and a more rear-weighted, less dense feel than the FireGrains.
The coating on the ActiveGrips is awesome too. I’ve been doing a lot of pad and hand-speed work for the last year and have started using drum wax to prevent stick slippage. With the ActiveGrips coating I didn’t need the wax when my hands started to heat up.
In sum, if you are a hard hitter and use a common stick size (7A, 7B, 5A, 5B, or 2B), you like a dense feel and want greater durability – all in a very unique and cool-looking stick – by all means try the FireGrains. They may be just want you’re looking for.
If your drumsticks have a tendency to slip and you want a tackier grip, and you love black sticks with a lot of durability (and use a common size like I specified above), definitely check out the ActiveGrips.
On both types of sticks, be sure to try both the Forward and Rebound versions to see which weighted feel you prefer.
Check out Tom Tom’s Instagram account for pics and stories of us at the NAMM show!
JJ Jones is a Berklee trained, internationally-touring drummer and educator. She has played with folk-pop darlings Girlyman, comedian Margaret Cho, Egyptian revolutionary Ramy Essam, and LA’s riot-pop band WASI, among many others. JJ is the founder of EmpowerDrumming.com, the only drum education company in the world exclusively for women.