By Eric Kamm February 2008
Lets face it – we live in a culture that values looking good over feeling good. That’s usually a bad thing, except for those rare times when it’s possible to have both. Such is the case with Hornets drum sticks.
Appropriately named after the insects they resemble, Hornets are some of the coolest-looking sticks you’re ever likely to come across. I never thought it was possible for the aesthetics of a simple drum stick to compete with its function. A drum stick is all about function, after all. But Hornets has managed to do something really special – create an entirely unique, interesting-looking stick that functions as well as any I’ve used. With their creatively ergonomic design and beautiful, vibrant colors, the sticks approach the level of art. Faced with the prospect of mercilessly bashing these beauties against heads, hoops, and cymbals, I balked. I would sooner destroy a Picasso, or take down the toilet hanging on my wall. But then I got over it, and set to work putting the sticks through their paces.
OUT OF THE BOX
Hornets sent me four pairs of sticks: a pair of 7As, two pairs of 5As, and one pair of 2Bs. If these sticks are art, than the grip-end is the canvas, painted in one of six colors (including one that’s unpainted), while the business-end is left au natural. Right away, I appreciated that I wouldn’t have to worry about paint transfer onto any of my drums or cymbals, which can be a problem with fully painted sticks.
In addition to holding the color, the grip portion is shaped like a vase, or a cylinder wearing a tight belt. But it’s the butt-end where these sticks really diverge from the norm. The bee-hive shaped swelling that adorns the end is painted a mustardy yellow and holds three, evenly spaced, black rubber o-rings that give the end the distinct appearance of a Hornet’s abdomen. And in that brilliant marriage of form and function I mentioned earlier, the rubber o-rings serve two other purposes besides just looking cool: they act as both a shock absorber and a handy mallet when you flip the stick around. As for the other end, each model features a large rounded bead, which is great for drawing hefty pings out of ride cymbals, and thick meaty notes from snares and toms.
While some people decorate their practice spaces with Salvador Dali posters in order to aid their entering into a creative mindset, all I had to do was glance at these cheery, quirky sticks to feel inspired. I grabbed the 2Bs first and began warming up at a very slow tempo. My initial impression of the sticks was that they felt very solid. They were drawing sturdy notes from my snare, which I’ve come to associate with sticks made of high-quality wood. I wasn’t sure at first whether or not the sticks’ interesting grip was helping, but I appreciated a little variety in my practice routine anyway.
I often slide my grip back near the butt of my sticks when I start hitting harder. As I did this, my hand came to rest against the first rubber o-ring. Because I was using a non-conventional grip, it occurred to me that the Hornet’s unique shape could be a very useful tool for beginners trying to remember to stay near the stick’s fulcrum point while using standard match grip. My bad habits are a little more ingrained, however, and I was able to get nice and comfortable when I moved the sticks’ rounded back ends into the palms of my hands.
I took out the 5As for a Marco Minnemann exercise on four-way independence, beginning with a simple ostinato between my left hand and left foot. As I banged away, the thinner sticks felt just as sturdy as the thicker 2Bs. Moving to a doubles pattern between my right hand and right foot, the sticks still felt great. Then onto a paradiddle variation between my right hand and foot, and I suddenly found myself in The Zone. As I was moving my way around the kit playing the slickest tribal rhythms I could conjure, I flipped the sticks over in a flash of inspiration. Suddenly I was Elvin Jones in the “Pursuance/Psalm” movement of “A Love Supreme” as the “stinger” end of the sticks laid into my toms. They sounded like hard timpani mallets, and offered a great, mid-fill variation from the traditional wooden tip sound. They sounded even better when I started throwing in cymbal swells, where their rubber surface created smooth crescendos on my ride and crash.
The thinner but similarly shaped 7As felt just as good as I continued to pretend I was a jazz drummer. It was around this time that I switched over to traditional grip. Anytime I see a uniquely shaped drum stick I’m always curious whether they’re going to feel good while playing traditional. They did indeed. I moved back to match grip just as quickly, and picked up my normal sticks just for a reference. I have to admit – after playing with the Hornets for a while, their shape was starting to feel completely natural – better, even, than the sticks I normally use.
BAND PRACTICE A stick’s endurance is always important to me since I can’t afford to buy new sticks for every practice session. After four hours of solo playing, I had only marginally succeeded in splintering the wood on one of the 5As. By the time I took out the 2Bs for band practice with my group, Setoff (a progressive punk outfit that requires some heavy hitting), I was determined to break these things in two. Throughout the three hours of practice, the Hornets defiantly held together. Toward the end of practice some of the wood on one of the 2Bs started to crack a little, but it still had plenty of life left in it.
I think the people at Hornets were wise in designing a single, solid stick model, and then making it available in different standard sizes. Their unique grip is extremely comfortable, and surprisingly accommodating to traditional and matched grip, as well as some of the more creative ways in which I tend to hold my sticks. Using the o-rings for a mallet effect is enjoyable and convenient. Although the sticks are a little on the pricey side, their high quality, durability, and unique properties justify their price. Oh yeah, and they look awesome, too.
MODEL Hornets Sticks
FEATURES Large bead tip, swollen butt-end with rubber o-rings, unpainted playing surface, ergonomic design.
SIZES 5A, 5B, 7A, 2B
Hornets Drumsticks, LLC
6635 N. Baltimore Ave.
Portland, OR 97203