Yellow Birch

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44 LOOPS
5 IMPROVS
AMBIENCE
ONE-SHOTS REEL
192 KHZ 32 BIT
2 MIC CONFIG
SIZE – 1.8 GB
TEMPO – 83
TIME SIG – 4/4

The sound and feel you get from a drumkit are to some degree affected by the tools you use. That is the drumsticks, the brushes, the mallets, and such implements of primitive percussive noise making. Just as the instrument is made up of different parts combined to form a unit, the combination of drummer and tools should also unify similarly. There must be a wholeness, connectivity between the player and the tools. This oneness is necessary for the music to speak in its most pure form, effortlessly . . . at least for me that’s how it feels. 

Turned on a lathe from long square chunks of wood, the modern drumstick has a natural cross-grain structure. Many chunks of wood were milled from the trunk of a tree and every one of them has a cross-grain pattern, except the very centerpiece. Taken from the middle of the tree, this piece has a circular grain pattern with a solid core. This is important because the grain of a drumstick affects how it feels, and how it sounds. 

The drumstick with the circular grain (which is basically an anomaly in commercial sticks) has more flex to it. This natural “give” has a subtle rubbery feeling – especially when playing on hard surfaces like bells of cymbals, or laying into rimshots on the snare. The experience is more immersive. You feel like you’re going into the instrument instead of just controlling it from the outside. It’s perhaps similar to swimming in water instead of just looking at it. I’ve heard horn players make comparisons like this when talking about reeds. The difference between natural reeds vs. synthetic is a similar discussion. And I suppose we could point out other parallels about many things in life regarding the organic vs. the fabricated, but we’ll save that for another day.

Feel is important, but there’s also a difference in sound when using circular-grained drumsticks. The tip is softer, so it sounds different, especially when playing cymbals. It has a more subtle, warmer, woodier tonality. There’s more “tick” and less “ping” (which jazz drummers have always preferred). You can also hear a slight difference when playing rimshots, rims, and cymbal bells. Again, a more mellow tone, not so bright, not so up-front. These are characteristics I’ve gravitated towards over the years. Especially when recording with calf-skinned drums in a creative context, as is the case with this project. 

Now as I mentioned, circular-grained tools are anomalies, they basically don’t exist . . . unless of course you make them yourself . . .

I use straight trunks from young trees that are slightly bigger than the diameter of a drumstick. I then turn them into 5/8″ dowels using a chair maker’s rounding plane. It’s sort of like a big pencil sharpener, but instead of sharpening to a tip, it pushes through a dowel on the narrow end to the diameter set by the tool. Once the dowel is fashioned I then taper one end to a flat tip using a carving knife. The stick is then roughly finished with some sandpaper and its good to go. It’s not a quick process. To make one stick takes about an hour and a half, not including the tree selecting phase.  

To find good material is not super easy and usually involves a solid day hike into choice areas. I’m looking for a specific species of tree. Maple is nice but has a spongy core which is a problem for the tip of the stick – the same for ash. Poplar is abundant, straight too, but has a very spongy core. Oak and beech are nice. They’re super durable but a little heavy, and nearly impossible to find a straight section in younger trees. White birch is also typically crooked and full of knots. You can probably assume by now that the material of choice is yellow birch. I suppose the title of this session gave it away. 

Yellow birch is not a commonly available wood in the lumber industry. Lucky for me, this species is widespread here in Northern New England. The cores in young trees are solid, not spongy. The trunks are crooked, but not all of them, and the knots are few and far between. The finished stick is durable, holds its shape well, and feels amazing. It’s worth noting that every loop and sample from this site has been created using these handmade tools. As you can see from the video above, the sticks, brushes, and mallets were all handmade . . . from yellow birch. 

It was fitting to find myself in a grove of yellow birches when on this session. These beautiful trees have generously provided for me over the years. I was grateful to give back in a way that felt genuine – a drummer in nature doing his thing. The trees helped inspire the grooves, and now the grooves will hopefully inspire you. In the end, it’s all connected. The trees, the drummer, the music producer . . . we are all one. 

I talk more about this session and include some voice-memo notes from the tent if you’re interested, over here.

Cheers,
Bill

Yellow Birch

to download please login or register
44 LOOPS
5 IMPROVS
AMBIENCE
ONE-SHOTS REEL
192 KHZ 32 BIT
2 MIC CONFIG
SIZE – 1.8 GB
TEMPO – 83
TIME SIG – 4/4

The sound and feel you get from a drumkit are to some degree affected by the tools you use. That is the drumsticks, the brushes, the mallets, and such implements of primitive percussive noise making. Just as the instrument is made up of different parts combined to form a unit, the combination of drummer and tools should also unify similarly. There must be a wholeness, connectivity between the player and the tools. This oneness is necessary for the music to speak in its most pure form, effortlessly . . . at least for me that’s how it feels. 

Turned on a lathe from long square chunks of wood, the modern drumstick has a natural cross-grain structure. Many chunks of wood were milled from the trunk of a tree and every one of them has a cross-grain pattern, except the very centerpiece. Taken from the middle of the tree, this piece has a circular grain pattern with a solid core. This is important because the grain of a drumstick affects how it feels, and how it sounds. 

The drumstick with the circular grain (which is basically an anomaly in commercial sticks) has more flex to it. This natural “give” has a subtle rubbery feeling – especially when playing on hard surfaces like bells of cymbals, or laying into rimshots on the snare. The experience is more immersive. You feel like you’re going into the instrument instead of just controlling it from the outside. It’s perhaps similar to swimming in water instead of just looking at it. I’ve heard horn players make comparisons like this when talking about reeds. The difference between natural reeds vs. synthetic is a similar discussion. And I suppose we could point out other parallels about many things in life regarding the organic vs. the fabricated, but we’ll save that for another day.

Feel is important, but there’s also a difference in sound when using circular-grained drumsticks. The tip is softer, so it sounds different, especially when playing cymbals. It has a more subtle, warmer, woodier tonality. There’s more “tick” and less “ping” (which jazz drummers have always preferred). You can also hear a slight difference when playing rimshots, rims, and cymbal bells. Again, a more mellow tone, not so bright, not so up-front. These are characteristics I’ve gravitated towards over the years. Especially when recording with calf-skinned drums in a creative context, as is the case with this project. 

Now as I mentioned, circular-grained tools are anomalies, they basically don’t exist . . . unless of course you make them yourself . . .

I use straight trunks from young trees that are slightly bigger than the diameter of a drumstick. I then turn them into 5/8″ dowels using a chair maker’s rounding plane. It’s sort of like a big pencil sharpener, but instead of sharpening to a tip, it pushes through a dowel on the narrow end to the diameter set by the tool. Once the dowel is fashioned I then taper one end to a flat tip using a carving knife. The stick is then roughly finished with some sandpaper and its good to go. It’s not a quick process. To make one stick takes about an hour and a half, not including the tree selecting phase.  

To find good material is not super easy and usually involves a solid day hike into choice areas. I’m looking for a specific species of tree. Maple is nice but has a spongy core which is a problem for the tip of the stick – the same for ash. Poplar is abundant, straight too, but has a very spongy core. Oak and beech are nice. They’re super durable but a little heavy, and nearly impossible to find a straight section in younger trees. White birch is also typically crooked and full of knots. You can probably assume by now that the material of choice is yellow birch. I suppose the title of this session gave it away. 

Yellow birch is not a commonly available wood in the lumber industry. Lucky for me, this species is widespread here in Northern New England. The cores in young trees are solid, not spongy. The trunks are crooked, but not all of them, and the knots are few and far between. The finished stick is durable, holds its shape well, and feels amazing. It’s worth noting that every loop and sample from this site has been created using these handmade tools. As you can see from the video above, the sticks, brushes, and mallets were all handmade . . . from yellow birch. 

It was fitting to find myself in a grove of yellow birches when on this session. These beautiful trees have generously provided for me over the years. I was grateful to give back in a way that felt genuine – a drummer in nature doing his thing. The trees helped inspire the grooves, and now the grooves will hopefully inspire you. In the end, it’s all connected. The trees, the drummer, the music producer . . . we are all one. 

I talk more about this session and include some voice-memo notes from the tent if you’re interested, over here.

Cheers,
Bill