Student Essentials - Building a Mallet Collection: Part 1

One of the most difficult challenges for the serious high school and even college level percussionist, aside from simply becoming a better player, is developing a comprehensive mallet collection without spending (read: wasting) a lot of money.  The number of mallets available on the retail market today is practically infinite.  Sorting through all the options and making a decision about what to buy can oftentimes feel like an impossible task, especially for the younger, less experienced percussionist whose budget, or whose parents’ budget, is likely limited.  When I was in high school, I remember conversations with my non-musician mother going a little something like this:

ME: “Hey Mom?”

MOM: “Yes?”

ME: (sheepishly) “I need to buy 2 more pairs of marimba mallets.”

MOM: (annoyed) “Why? Didn’t I just spend $80 on two pairs?!”

ME: “Well, yeah … but those were two pairs of the same ones.  Now I need to have a harder one for the top and a softer one for the bottom so that I can make a graduated set.  Ideally I would buy two pairs of each to have a full set of harder and softer mallets also, but I’m only asking for two right now.”

MOM: (reluctantly) “Well … OK.  But don’t ask for any more marimba mallets for the rest of the school year!”

ME: “OK.”

loooooooooooong pause

ME: “I also need a harder pair of timpani mallets …”


ME: “You said not to ask for any more marimba mallets!  These are timpani mallets!”

For many of you reading this, this conversation probably rings true.  It’s already challenging enough to get your parents to understand why you need a variety of different mallets for a single instrument.  That challenge is made even more difficult if you buy mallets that are inappropriate for your situation and they end up going unused, or worse, need to be replaced because you didn't take proper care of them.

Here are some things to keep in mind before purchasing mallets:

  1. Stick and mallet companies are in business to make money.  They make money by selling you things.  They sell you things by trying to convince you that their product is the thing you need or is best suited to a particular purpose, whether or not it really is.
  2. The newest thing is not always the best thing.  Just because a company comes out with a new something that, according to them, is a better alternative to whatever, it may not actually be a better alternative.
  3. More expensive may mean better, but maybe not better for you.  When it comes to mallets and percussion instruments, price is usually (not always!) a fairly accurate indicator of a product’s quality of materials and workmanship.  It is not, however, an indicator of whether that product is most appropriate for your situation.  Don’t fall into the ‘it’s more expensive so it must be better’ trap.
  4. You don’t need as many mallets as your teacher has.  I started playing percussion when I was 11 years old.  I am now 36 years old.  36 - 11 = 25.  That’s 25 years of playing percussion and collecting mallets.  Furthermore, I am a professional musician.  That means I make money playing music.  You most likely do not yet.  If you do, that’s pretty great, but please! .... Save that money for college.

In Building a Mallet Collection: Part 2, I will outline the stick and mallet models for snare drum, xylophone, glockenspiel, marimba, vibraphone and timpani that will provide you with the widest variety of sound options for the most reasonable amount of money and serve as a great starting point for building your ever-growing collection.  Stay tuned!