Like many drummers you might be wondering what the differences between 5A and 7A drumsticks are - and how they’ll affect your playing and your sound. You might also be wondering which stick is more popular, and for which music styles they are better suited.
A 5A drumstick is typically .565” in diameter and 16”-16.25” long, where a 7A is only .540” in diameter with 15.5”-15.75” of length. 5A drumsticks are heavier than 7As and they are great all-round stick for any music genre and a great choice for beginners. 7A sticks on the other hand have a lighter strike and can be great for softer styles like Jazz.
There are other parameters that can affect your decision so stick with me (pun intended) and you’ll have plenty of information so you can make an informed decision!
Before we go into the pros and cons of each stick here’s a quick overview of their physical differences. Note that all drumstick manufacturers create their product using a standard set in the early 20th century, and that has now been established as the standard guideline for sizing sticks.
This guideline is on a sizing scale from 1-9, but nowadays the most two common are 5A and 7A.
Simply put, drumsticks are sized in the same way that earring gauges or metal gauges are sized. The smaller the number, the thicker the drumstick.
Here’s a breakdown of the difference in thickness:
So, what do the letters mean?
Again, back to the early 1900s, when the sizing standard was created for drumsticks, they assigned a size with the number, and then they marked the type of playing this pair of drumsticks would be best suited for.
So, model “A” sticks are slightly lighter than model “B” sticks are.
To the best of my knowledge, all wooden drumsticks are made from hardwood.
This is definitely true of the most common wood species used for drumsticks - which are birch, hickory, maple, and oak.
I myself have only used oak and hickory sticks. Currently my stick bag only has hickory drumsticks though, both because of how easy I can find them, as well as having a nice pitch difference from different sizes.
There are of course aluminum, plastic, and hybrid or composite sticks as well. They come in every size a wooden stick is available in.
There is a time and place for them too, I’ve seen some amazing demonstrations using drumsticks that glowed in the dark for example.
Another benefit even I must admit about plastic or hybrid sticks is that they can be used for practicing rudiments on just about any hard surface, and then the tips changed out to play on a drum set. I would just prefer not to use them on a drum set personally.
In my personal preference, the best sound those make is the sound of them hitting the inside of the garbage bin.
5A is longer and thicker than 7A however when compared to the full range of drumstick sizes they are the middle size, and as such, the most chosen and used. 5A drumsticks are the “jack-of-all-trades” in the stick standard.
I have several pairs of 5As myself.
In fact, I recommend anyone just beginning to take 5A sticks and get comfortable with them, because as you branch out and discover different sticks in your playing, and even if you do you’ll see that there is a time and place to come back to the dependable 5A stick.
For me, those times are the times I’m not certain which sticks would be best.
5A is just a good go-to and doesn’t leave you looking into your stick bag like you’re not sure what mom packed in there.
If you have a set of 5A and a set of 7A drumsticks that are made by the same manufacturer and made from the same kind of material, there will be a difference in the way the sticks resonate, thus sounding differently.
As for tone and sound, 5A sticks are thicker and heavier, so they are not going to have as high a frequency as 7A sticks.
To put it another way, if you are in the dark, as often is the case between songs and before the set begins, you won’t be able to visually identify the sticks as readily as if you simply tap them together (however I wouldn’t recommend using this method for stick selection).
The most common times a drumstick sound is important are during a count-off, or count-in, or for rimshots during a song, so be sure you’ve got a nice sound from your sticks.
I would describe 5A sticks (from Hickory) as having a Tenor sound and a rich, full mid-bodied tone.
A 5A drumstick can be used with decent outcome in most drumming applications, from beginners to sponsored professional drummers, and in every genre of music, be it reggae, metal, pop, R&B, hip-hip, you name it, and a 5A can probably take on the task just fine.
Most of the durability from a stick comes from its material.
There are some different aspects to keep mindful of however when thinking about durability between different sizes of drumsticks.
5A sticks are in the middle of the size range, and they are the most common sticks used, and a lot of that has to do with the general longevity of this specific size.
This size seems to last me quite a long time before enough damage has been done that I have to switch out.
There is the occasional broken stick when you smash a rimshot or cymbal edge just right however.
Pro tip: if you do happen to break a stick just make sure that you’ve pitch match any stick you’re replacing it with. “Pitch match” is when you have two sticks that have the same tone and pitch. The goal here is to make sure there is no sound difference between your left and your right sticks.
The 5A would be best for a beginner drummer.
I wouldn’t say because of the stick itself tough - think of it like the well-seasoned horse that has an even temperament and isn’t going to give the beginner rider a rough ride but can still git-up-n-go with the best of them, including for the more seasoned rider.
Again, the reason I say this is because the beginner drummer has just started and is yet to branch out into more specialized sticks suited to them and their playing style.
I know that for around 20 years, Neil Peart used the Promark PW747 signature drumsticks, which are those dependable 5A size drumsticks that are capable of everything.
The late Mr. Peart proved that for sure, no question.
5A, like I mentioned, is the “jack-of-all-trades” stick, and so it is in the midrange to everything.
There is usually a better stick than the 5A because the other stick would be more ”specially designed” to suit the playing style or possibly the genre.
This is really the only downside of 5A over other sizes.
7A sticks have the larger “gauge” number, and are therefore thinner in diameter. This makes them lighter, easier to swing, yet they don’t strike the heads quite as heavy.
The 7A sticks have a rebound that is perfect for lighter, quick styles such as Jazz.
This size of stick is thinner, so it will resonate at a higher frequency than a 5A will. They are lighter and so they may change your hand shape while gripping them or cause you to use less arm and bit more wrist than playing a larger sized drumstick. It will also ring out at a higher pitch than the larger sizes.
I would describe 7A sticks (from Hickory) as having an Alto to Soprano sound and a light, airy, high-bodied tone.
As mentioned, 7A sticks are a great selection for jazz, or a quick swing beat.
I understand this is a common stick in R&B, rap, and hip-hip genres, as the transitions between pieces on the kit can be quite the challenge for a drummer. Having a lighter stick allows those milliseconds that matter during a song.
When speaking about size alone, 7A would be a bit less durable than the 5A.
It is thinner, so it wouldn’t take as hard a rimshot to split a 7A.
They’re not made of glass or anything, you can still strike them pretty heavy without having to switch out the stick.
The lack of durability due to the size difference can be balanced out in choosing a different material.
For instance, oak instead of hickory. Because the oak is denser than hickory it will be more durable (and slightly heavier) than its hickory counterpart.
For someone with shorter arms or smaller hands the 5A might feel like a baseball bat in comparison with a 7A stick - and so the 7A might be a better choice.
It’s important to remember that every drummer is different, so generalizing is hard. At the end of the day the right decision for one drummer may not be the correct choice for you or the music you play.
John Densmore of The Doors used 7A sticks for touring.
This was before he ever came out with his signature stick, The Doors Densmore, a 7A classic made from maple wood and styled to his specifications.
You can hear that speed and accuracy was much needed by his style - a lighter, jazzy style of playing.
A lighter stick means a lighter strike, easier to handle, and faster rebound, making it ideal to play quick tempo with fast transitions.
On the downside they don’t strike quite as heavy, so they may not cut through a wailing guitar or screaming singer quite as easily.
Note that there are always exceptions and even some heavy metal drummers like using 7A sticks.
Nylon tips are denoted by being marked with “N”.
Nylon is a durable plastic that can be glued to the tips of wooden sticks and, just as with wooden tips, can come in different tip sizes and tip shapes, depending on the genre, the drummer, and the desired sound.
Nylon tips give a brighter, louder sound from cymbals, and they don’t soften over time in contrast to wood drumstick tips.
Wooden tips often split, leaving a hard and sharp playing edge instead of the chosen shape for the sound you’re creating.
Having said that I prefer natural wood tips because I like the softer cymbal sounds from oak, hickory and maple tips, over the sharp and crisp ting left by the nylon tip.
Nylon tips also leave the cymbal sooner after its struck, causing a shorter sustain but heavier attack.
I’ve also had nylon tips fly off during performances, and I would hate to hurt someone who came to enjoy themselves!
I only use nylon tips if I need a very hard, crisp sound from the body of my cymbals. Otherwise, I use wooden tips.
In closing, there are so many choices for selecting drumsticks, many more than the two sizes I have covered in this article - however the 5A and 7A drumsticks are two of the most common sizes and used by many famous drummers.
There are different materials that add or take from things such as weight and durability as well.
If you’re not sure which size to get and you’re on a budget, my recommendation is to get your hands on a pair of 5As. They’re great “jack-of-all-trade” sticks - however if money isn’t an issue, then get both so you can experiment and develop your own preferences!
After you’ve tried 5A and 7A sticks try some 5B, 7B, or nylon tips.
Regardless, just make your art, well… your art. There is no right or wrong answer when it comes to music.
Jason Meinhart was born and has lived his entire adult life in Salt Lake City, Utah, USA. He has been a drummer for as long as anyone can remember, even to the point of tapping on anything and everything as a child.
He is also a natural writer, having been published in several print items over his lifetime, beginning with a poem published to a children's magazine before age ten.
He played drums in several garage bands and played in many local scene venues in his teenage years, was an amateur studio drummer for several more, and for the past ten years, has been playing on stage once or twice a month for three churches, in the Salt Lake Valley.
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