Well it’s apparent to anyone who knows me that I have a rather errmm… ‘special’ view on drumsticks. Check out the first part of my Drumsticks “All you’ll ever need to know” article elsewhere on the site to find out how much I value the wood (or whatever) we use for our job. It is therefore completely natural that when I get given a new product to try, I get all excited. But not usually this excited…
The Pro-Mark Broomstick is a 356mm (13.99”) ‘stick’ with similar build to Hot-Rods. The black matt grip houses around 250 lengths of straw. Now, I’m no farmer, but this straw is top grade stuff, it even smells great. They, at first glance, appear to be a cross between a brush and a stick, but further playing opens up so much more possibility than this implies. Like the Zildjian Z-Lites, it has two strong rubber bands that can be moved up or down the ‘stick’ to control the strength (in a tonality sense) of the stroke.
These sticks (and I’ll refer to them as that for the rest of the article, despite the fact they’re not actually sticks) are the brainchild of Mr. Jack Martin. Jack hand makes these sticks in the USA, and the idea came about after much research for his wife, Blues singer, Dee Fisk. Dee was participating in a civil war re-enactment, and through researching musical performances of the day, they found that bones or small bundles of broom straw (taken from actual brooms) were often used to keep the beat. Jack Martin is actually a drummer and a third generation broom maker, so I can think of nobody more qualified than him to make such a product.
The first 130mm of the stick makes up the grip. A black wrap (almost) around the bundle of straw gives you a sure-footed (excuse the pun) grip to the tool, the matted surface having a ‘tacky’ feel so you won’t loose grip no matter how sweaty your hands get during playing. The very butt of the stick is a rubber cap, similar to those found on the Hot Rods, meaning you can do lovely cymbal swells with them, if that’s what you fancy. The two rubber bands that bind the straw shaft of the stick together are totally movable, both up and down the entire length of the stick, and can even be taken off if you want (but they are a bugger to get back on, so I wouldn’t recommend it). The further down the shaft towards the handle the two rubber bands are, the looser the tension of the straw is. This makes a lighter stroke with more ‘spread’, (meaning when impact is made, the straw spreads out further).
When played like this, the Broomstick is a wondrous tool to play. It is a very low volume stick that plays very quickly due to the point of equilibrium in the handle. The fact that the straw spreads out when you make a stroke means more head contact is made, giving a really ‘fat’ sound despite the fact that the volume is so significantly reduced. You can use these as conventional brushes too. Sweeping with these offers much more volume and a rather different feel. On cymbals, these sticks are something to behold. Riding softly on the surface of a crash (remember, these are to be played quietly!), the wash over the fat sounding groove really is something else. Totally inspiring. Great stuff.
When the rubber bands are moved towards the tip of the stick, it focuses the sound significantly, but keeps the same character of sound. The volume is increased a little, but these are still relatively quiet tools. This leads to a more stick-like feel, but the sound is something quite different. Not as loud as the dowels in Hot-Rods, but a little louder than a brush, the weight distribution means it has a very fast action whilst keeping volume levels to a minimum. Work on cymbals with the bands closer to the tip displays a surprising amount of definition; despite the fact that several hundred pieces of straw are involved. Grooves are a little more precise sounding with the bands in this position, and backbeats a little stronger (if that’s what you are looking for). Something interesting to experiment with is putting the bands as far forward as possible and playing the drums and cymbals with them. You get a rather unique sound and substantially more volume. A slight change in stroke or grip means that this can be achieved with the bands further down the straw anyway, meaning you’ve got somewhere to pull extra volume from if you should need it. The fact that there are two rubber bands also means that you can move one up the stick and one down to change how tightly the straw is bound, again changing the sound and feel of the stroke. The possibilities are really quite endless.
Needless to say, I completely loved these. Among other things, I play in a small acoustic band, (an acoustic guitar, acoustic bass and un-miked drums) and the results were great. As well as the obvious volume aspect, the fact I was playing with such a groovy tool meant that I played and though quite differently about my approach to the music. Due to the fact that much of the sound generated is the actual stick (the straw shifting together on impact) means that these can be used on a whole number of levels. At one point, I took these out from behind the kit and played on the stage and my legs, squatted down next to the two other guys in the band, something I did again in a studio the next day on some overdubs. The reaction was great. If rhythm is inside you (and if you are a drummer I’m guessing there is some somewhere), these will make you sound great on any surface you apply them to. The only limitation is your imagination. Buy them, borrow them, do whatever you have to do to get them, but make sure you get some!!!
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