ProMark Select Balance Sticks: Fine-Tuning The Feel
ProMark Select Balance Sticks: Fine-Tuning The Feel
Turning heads in the drumstick industry isn't easy (although, I suppose hitting them is). More often than not, drummers have already settled on their preferred model, and just aren't interested in trying something different. But what if a change could help them play more easily and comfortably?
Enter ProMark's Select Balance series. Focusing on five separate components — tip shape, tip material, wood type, diameter, and taper — the company devised a family of drumsticks that allow players to see how minor changes to those five elements affect the response of sticks that otherwise are exactly the same. It's an idea that not only lets players experiment with different shapes on a consistent model, but also helps them find the best stick design for their needs.
Lean Forward, Bounce Back
ProMark Select Balance sticks are fundamentally all the same. The series currently includes only 16" lacquer-finished hickory sticks with wood tips in a modified teardrop shape (although there are plans to offer different tip materials and shapes in the future). The main differences between each model are limited to diameter and, in keeping with the name, balance.
The "balance" refers to each stick's taper, or the narrowing contour between handle and tip. The Select Balance series features two distinct taper options for each size stick in the line: Forward and Rebound. The Forward Balance models have a short, fairly fast 2.25" taper ideal for increased attack and control. Conversely, the Rebound Balance sticks have a longer 3" taper with more weight toward the handle, for speedier response and more rebound.
ProMark launched the series with five different stick diameters, each available in either Forward or Rebound Balance, so drummers can find the size they're most comfortable with, then A/B the differences in feel between the two taper styles. Those sizes include .535", .550", .565", .580", and .595" options.
If those numbers don't mean much to you at first glance, they translate to roughly conventional thicknesses for 7A, ProMark's 5A, 5A, 55A (or 1A, 3A) and 5B models, respectively. Combined with a few other initialized indicators, those diameters are used as the basis for ProMark's new (read: longer) model naming conventions.
So, if you were to pick up a Select Balance FBH565TW, you'd be holding a Forward Balance (FB) Hickory (H) stick in a .565" diameter with a Teardrop (T) shaped Wood (W) tip. Makes enough sense, right? Well, while I understand what ProMark is going for here, I will say that the long names, coupled with the very small print on each stick's handle, make it a little harder to quickly differentiate between similar models when they're lying next to one another.
For instance, if I reached into my bag for a pair of RBH550TWs only to find them packed next to a pair of FBH580TWs, I'd have to take an extra second (and squint) to read the name and make sure I grabbed the right one. I rarely have to do that with something like a 5A or 101. If ProMark wants to continue using this kind of labeling, I'd recommend enlarging the model names at least a bit to make them easier to read on the fly — and that's coming from someone with borderline super-human vision.
So, how noticeable was the difference between the two tapers? In my hand, I'd say very much so. Both the Forward and Rebound shapes seemed to respond exactly as advertised. All of the Forward Balance models, especially the thickest of them, produced full, attack-heavy notes on drums and cymbals. They also felt much more natural with a tighter grip, as the short rebound helped keep the stick from feeling out of control.
On the other side, the Rebound Balance alternatives were fantastic for more relaxed settings, offering a very buoyant feel. The reduced weight up front allowed the sticks to bounce more freely, and helped get the most out of my Moeller strokes. Even the heaviest of the Rebound Balance options were significantly more responsive than their Forward Balance counterparts.
One really nice aspect of the Select Balance series was that finding the right balance didn't always mean picking one over the other. Personally, I really enjoyed the feel of the .550" diameter sticks, and found myself switching between the FB and RB versions in different situations. Each model featured the same length, material, tip, and diameter, but offered a slightly heavier or lighter feel, respectively. That made it easier to find the right tool for the gig without having to make the adjustments that would come from using an entirely different stick.
Beyond balance, the Select Balance drumsticks performed admirably all around. The elongated teardrop tip was broad enough to pull big tones out of toms, but focused enough to dial in clean notes on ride cymbals. They were also remarkably durable, surviving two months of rehearsals and gigs with no breaks, and only modest wear and tear. At every weight, the sticks were straight, even, and very satisfying.
On their own, ProMark's Select Balance drumsticks are well designed, expertly built tools capable of handling many different styles of play. But, as a series, they can do far more than simply offer new alternatives — they can help drummers find the best stick for their needs. Building a product line around a stick's taper may seem overly reductive, but I think it's an excellent way to teach players about how small changes in shape can affect (or improve) comfort and feel.
ProMark might really be onto something here.