When picking updrum brushes, you enter a world completely different to that of regular wooden sticks. From new techniques to the diversity amongst the brushes themselves, they can be used for far more than just playing quietly.
Types of brushes
Most common are metal wires. They make for a bright snappy sound when hitting the drum and a crisp and present swish when sweeping across the head. One variation on the traditional brush design is the Steve Gadd signature drum brush from Vic Firth. These are standard metal wires but their tip is bent upward slightly. This puts a greater surface area of the wire in contact with the head making for a smoother, fuller swish sound and less chance of the tip of the brush getting caught on the head of the drum. Another variation are the Vic First Live Wires which have small beads on the tip of each wire to create a snappy sound on both drums and cymbals.
More recently brushes with plastic or nylon wires have made an appearance. Their sound is noticeably more subdued, duller and warmer when sweeping, and when striking the drum more plasticky (obviously). The plastic brushes are also bendier and so get “left behind” more when sweeping. However they readily spring back into shape so are less likely than wire brushes to be permanently bent.
Retractable Or Fixed
Retractable brushes have a metal rod at the rear of the stick that can pull the wires back inside the handle. This is useful as by changing precisely how far out the wires are you can alter the spread of the fan, how closely grouped the wires are, and allow for different playing styles and sounds. Over time the moving parts in the retractable brushes can get jammed and damage the wires, so in this sense the fixed brushes can last a little longer. However as the fixed wires can’t be hidden away for storage you need to be very careful not to bend them, easily done in a busy stick bag.
Though the handle of the brush doesn’t greatly affect its sound, it does change how they feel to play. The most common types are rubber, plastic, wood and aluminium. The rubber handles are usually slightly soft to the touch and very grippy. The others generally move around in your hand more freely and to my taste are more natural to play. The choice however is purely down to what feels best for you.