Beat With The Wheat!
A review of Wheatware’s drum sticks by Bernie Schallehn
Several weeks ago while attending a drum expo in New Hampshire, I came across a vendor who was selling drums sticks made from wheat. That’s right, I said wheat. At first glance, I wondered if I should boil up a pot of water and send out for some pasta sauce.
But the tree-free sticks—manufactured by Wheatware™, an eco-friendly company that produces a variety of interesting wheat-based products—are made for playing, not eating.
As a drummer and percussionist, I’m always interested in experimenting with new products. Additionally, although I’m not a hard-core eco activist, I do want my great-grandchildren to live in a world of green, not gray. So I purchased a pair of 5As and over the past 3 weeks I’ve put them through a rigorous field testing—in practice (individual), rehearsal (with bands and/or solo artist), and in live performances and the recording studio.
Appearance: Let’s start with a visual once-over. They’re a bright white; two audience members in one night club asked if they were made of plastic. These patrons also noted that the Wheatwares contrasted nicely with my jet black drum kit. (I wonder if the sticks might glow under black lights? If so, that would also add to their visual appeal).
Feel: After removing them from their package, I rolled the Wheatwares on a table top. Straight and true; no warping. The butt end has a hollow core that extends 4 inches up into the stick. (I’m guessing the core has something to do with the manufacturing process) I quickly found the balance point by resting a stick on one finger; the sticks balance nicely. Wheatware sticks have a smooth surface, although there is texture and certainly not slick so as to make them slippery should you be playing with damp or sweaty hands. There’s also a barely detectable seam that runs the length of the stick; it’s so slight you’d never feel it while playing. Unlike a traditional wooden stick, Wheatwares have a flex to them. That’s to say that I was able to grip a stick—a hand on each end—and it would bend in the middle with moderate exertion. More on that later.
Durability: Much to the dismay of a couple fellow musicians and a few faint-of-heart audience members, I’m a heavy hitter when it comes to drum kit. Without question, the sticks have held up. I’ve probably hammered in at least a thousand rim shots and I see very little denting on the sticks. There are chips and dings on the upper shaft—from playing hi-hat and crash cymbals—but no worse than what you’d see in a wooden stick after similar testing, Also, as with a wooden stick, or the newer banded dowel sticks, you will find a little residue—shavings, chips, slivers—from your drumwork on your practice room rug.
Tone / Sound: I compared the tone/sound of the Wheatware 5A to a traditional wooden 5A. My acoustic kit is a set of circa 1979 wood-fiberglass blend Pearls. I also use Hart electronic drums which have are outfitted with plastic mesh heads and have touch sensitive triggers. In other words, the harder you hit the drum pad, the louder the sound will come forth from the speakers.
On the acoustic Pearls I first played several songs that required a rim click—a sound that’s made by laying the stick across the head of the drum and bringing the butt end down onto the rim of your snare; it’s a sound often heard in tradition country music. After finding “the sweet spot”—where the butt end is slid up or down to produce the optimum, fullest click—I couldn’t detect any difference in sound between wooden rim clicks or Wheatware rim clicks.
However, on the acoustic Pearl set I did notice that the Wheatwares produce a slightly higher tone as compared to a traditional wooden stick. I heard this tone difference on snare, two rack toms, and a floor tom; it was not apparent on any of the cymbals. I don’t see this as a problem, merely a difference. This diversity was noticed in live situations as well as recordings using the Wheatwares and the wooden sticks. (My guess is that this distinction is due to the different densities of the Wheatwares vs. the wood stick)
Tonality variations don’t apply to the Hart electronic kit. As mentioned earlier, the Hart triggers are touch sensitive. If you hit an electronic drum pad with a pencil using enough velocity the trigger will signal the module to come forth with the requested sampled drum sound.
Now, here comes what I believe to be the greatest advantage of the Wheatware over a wooden stick. Earlier in the review I mentioned that the Wheatware can be a flexed. After my first use of the Wheatwares I noticed I could get this incredible “whip” or “snap” effect when playing. Imagine that moment when a bullwhip reaches the point in its execution when you hear and feel the “crack.” I found this to be quite appealing. Also, towards the end of the night on one particular gig, I was beginning to feel quite fatigued. For most of the engagement, I’d been switching back and forth between wood sticks and Wheatwares. During the final set, however, I used the Wheatwares exclusively and it’s my impression it was a bit easier to play the songs because of the flex, the “whip,” the “snap” afforded me by the Wheatware 5As.
In sum, I recommend Wheatware sticks as a welcome addition to any drummer’s stick bag. The player will enjoy the unique “snap” or “whip” feel while helping to save our environment.
In addition to being a drummer for more than 40 years, Bernie Schallehn is a published author of fiction, non-fiction, and self help, a produced screenwriter, and a filmmaker.