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Bopworks Drum Sticks

The Drum Shop by Sean Mitchell // October 04 2013
Bopworks Drum Sticks

Austin, Texas, is not only the live music capital of the world; it is also home to a tremendous amount of talented drummers. Chris Bennett, a local educator and player, has given Bat City yet another reason to be proud of its musical sons. Bennett is the owner and founder of Bopworks Drumsticks. In a city with as much talent as it has bats (seriously, you have to see the bat bridge!), Bopworks offer drummers the creme de la creme of wood and design. Chris has taken vintage design and brought it into the new millenium. His attention to a stick that plays as well as it is priced has garnered some attention from many in the industry. Chris's no-frills approach comes with the player in mind and pays respect to the traditions of the stick makers who have come before him. So if and when someone says to you "They don't make them like they used to," just let them talk to Chris about that. 

Chris, how did Bopworks get started? What’s the back-story? 

Completely by accident. I had purchased a dry complex ride and failed miserably trying to use it on a jazz gig. The guitarist was flinching (not that that's always a bad thing), and we weren't playing loud at all.

The next day, I was lamenting the money spent on a cymbal I couldn't play. For no reason other than to make myself feel better, I pulled out some small Roy Haynes 60s Ludwig sticks and tried them. There was a large "duh" from the heavens. I pulled out more vintage sticks and observed the same result. I called my friend and mentor Rick Connell and asked if he'd go in on 100 pair with me. The Roy Haynes stick became the basis of the Birdland model. I gave some to local jazz guys and they seemed to like them. 

Our sticks are made primarily by Kingfield Wood Products in Kingfield, Maine. They made sticks early on for Vic Firth before he expanded and set up his own factory. To Vic's credit, he really put them through the paces getting their stick-making together. I sent Kingfield vintage models for prototypes, and we tweaked them from there. 

Quite a few of the smaller stick lines have their sticks made by a larger OEM (original equipment manufacturer) company. It's really expensive to get an operation like that going. 

What, in your opinion, makes for a good stick? How difficult is it to get a good pair? 

A good stick is one you like. We drummers are fortunate to have great stick companies making so many varieties of sticks, matched and pitch paired—it boggles the mind. Put much of it down to technological advancements. Prior to the late 70s the difference between models was somewhat … umm … more drastic. 

Take me through some of your top selling models. 

Well, since we only have seven models, they all seem to have similar popularity, at least according to the stats. The Birdland and Art Blakey seem to be the flavours of the month—interesting because they are the largest and smallest models. Anyone playing any type of music can use these guys. Drummers playing other types of music (it doesn't have to be "jazz") can use them in low volume situations and get a sound they like. Really, it's in the hands of the drummer to create the sound, so we offer another set of "tools." 

You are marketed as a jazz drumstick company. What makes a stick a “jazz” stick? 

Basically, all older sticks marketed as drum set models were a bit shorter and had longer tapers. That meant you didn't get the wash on the old K's and A's for the guys playing in the 50s and 60s. Given many of the jazz gigs suffered from less than optimal acoustics, small sticks worked. If you had a louder gig, you'd go to a 5A, or something similar, like a Gene Krupa or Buddy Rich model. Also remember, even in rock or RnB bands the amps and PAs were vastly underpowered by today's standards. 

Companies putting out hand-hammered cymbals in such profusion created a "boutique" market for drummers. A great market with amazing choices that make your head spin. 

The larger stick companies need to cater to their markets and the music requirements. That's simply smart business. That's rock and its derivatives. 

I'm going to be blunt here. Some of the large chain music stores sell space on their stick walls to the stick companies. When you have 100 stick models in your catalog, and the other three or four stick companies matching that, how can a dealer find space?

Everyone makes jazz models—all are good, and offer the drummer a billion choices. All we did was recreate models that we thought drummers would like. In the real world we all play music in really horrendous acoustic environments. Some of the signature jazz sticks work great in nice clubs and concert halls. In your concrete coffee shop? Not so much. 

Tell me a little about the artist models you have. Are these replicas of what Manne, Lewis or Blakey used? If so, how did you go about getting the specs on them? Why did you choose these artists? 

We have a very large collection of vintage sticks. The Blakey and Lewis and Manne are exact replicas. 

They're some of my favorite guys, and finding and negotiating with the estates takes time and legal fees. Also, when you pick someone like Buddy, you have so many endorsements and stick models it's impossible to pick one brand. Not to mention Vic Firth makes a Buddy Rich stick. 

What types of wood do you use and where do you source it? 

All hickory, out of respect to tradition. Also, I'm not sure a maple Birdland would work. 

What are the differences between the types of wood with regard to playing? 

That one, I'm gonna leave to drummers. Everyone has their favorite. 

What can drummers do to improve upon the longevity of their sticks? What are some common mistakes that make a stick break? 

Gee, man, I have to leave the breakage thing to the wood. Wood is obviously organic and despite the high quality of everyone's production, you're going to get variance. 

One tip I got from a veteran (sorry for the pun) was to use clear nail polish on your wood tips to slowdown chipping. The polish is primarily nitrocellulose lacquer, and a few coats with adequate drying time really does make a difference. (Great—now I shot myself in the foot) 

What are your plans for Bopworks? Are you looking to be the next Vic Firth, or are you choosing to keep it at a national level? 

We just want to stay visible, add more models, and make our sticks available to more drummers. We've shipped individual orders to Japan, South America, Europe, and Canada. There are some more vintage designs we want to implement that will be great for rock and RnB. 

How does one go about ordering your sticks? Are you strictly online or are you in music retail stores? 

Both. But I urge all drummers to support their local drum shops. Seriously. I don't care what style you play. These guys are the most knowledgeable, service-oriented individuals you're going to get. Our online thing originally was to get our stuff out there and show dealers there was an interest. We'd much rather have people going to the dealers if they can find the sticks. 

Do you ship outside of North America? 

We do; the website cart figures the shipping.




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About the Author
Sean Mitchell

Sean Mitchell has been an active participant in the drumming industry for over 20 years. He has studied under Crash Test Dummies drummer Mitch Dorge and Drumming's Global Ambassador Dom Famularo. Sean is also a songwriter and regularly performs with his wife (and singer) Jill Mitchell. Sean proudly endorses Aquarian Drumheads.



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