While the bodhrán was originally (and still can be) played by hand, modern Irish bodhrán playing favours the use of the bodhrán beater – also known as a tipper, stick or cipín.
The increasing popularity of the modern Irish bodhrán playing style has seen a huge increase in the variety of bodhrán beaters available. Like bodhráns, beaters now come in all shapes and sizes, with different beaters producing different sounds.
So where do you start if you’re in the market for a new bodhrán beater? How do you choose the right one? Which stick will create the sound you’re looking for?
Well the good news is, you can ever own too many bodhrán beaters. There’s simply no such thing. Variety is the spice of life after all.
That being said, I’ve put together this short guide to help you make an informed decision. Keep reading to learn about just a few of the many bodhrán beaters available today – what sound they produce and which style will best suit your playing.
Unlike with musical instruments, the choice of material has a limited influence on the sound the bodhrán beater produces. The choice of wood does however influence the feel and grip of the tipper, which will in turn influence how comfortable it is when you’re playing it.
Some of the most popular woods used include ebony, snakewood, maple, ash, and walnut – though my own personal preference is usually rosewood.
While the shape and weight of the stick can influence the way in which a player strikes the drum, and the movement in their hand, mostly it dictates how comfortable it is to play. A comfortable bodhrán player is a happy bodhrán player.
Years ago, short, thick, heavy tippers, were all the rage, but these days trends have moved towards long, slim, well balanced tippers.
What’s the difference?
These tippers produce a more traditional sound, synonymous with an older style of bodhrán playing. They typically produce a strong, powerful, clear tone. Personally, this is my favourite style of tipper to play as it best suits my style of playing and I prefer the sound and feel of them.
As with all bodhrán beaters they come in many different shapes and sizes. Some are curved with wide bulbous ends. Others are slim and straight. Some have weighted ends, while others have different notches or grips for comfort and ease of play. It’s the shape of the head however that has the most influence on the sound:
Large Round Head
The larger head means that the beater has a larger impact surface, delivering slightly less attack than other sticks. It produces a soft, warm tone with a lot of low end sound. The sound can be considered muffled or muddy compared to smaller sticks however.
Tear Drop Head
This smaller head still has a relatively large impact surface, but offers a more refined sound with a better balance between the low end and high end. It delivers a strong attack and allows the sound to resonate.
These beaters are lightweight and particularly useful for fast playing.
This a thinner head that offers the same advantages as the tear drop. It offers a relatively large impact surface for its size but with added weight.
The ellipsoid head produces more low end sounds than the tear drop however, again creating a clear, strong, resonant tone.
These thin sticks are usually made with particularly hard wood, to make them more robust.
As the name suggest, weighted beaters have small metal weights fixed inside the tip of the beater.
The weights are added by drilling a hole in both ends of the beater, and inserting either brass or steel, using glue to hold it in place.
The weights help the beater to swing effortlessly in the hand, reducing pressure on the wrist. Some players can find them too heavy however, and may find that they place too much pressure on their stick hand. It’s important to try out as many bodhrán beaters as possible to find the one that’s right for you.
Hot Rod and Dowel Tippers
Hot rod tippers have become incredibly popular in recent years. These beaters produce a much softer sound than hard tippers. They also offer a percussive click when striking the bodhrán.
In their most basic form, they’re simply thin dowels of wood, held together by tape. Hot Rods cover the same impact area as most hard tippers, but deliver more attack per impact point creating a full, warm, resonant tone.
Many bodhrán players like these beaters for their versatility. Most hot rod beaters come with a means of tightening or loosening the dowels allowing for a variety of sounds. The wider apart the dowels, the softer the sound, with more audible click. The tighter or closer together the dowels, the closer the sound will be to that of a hard stick.
You can also get hybrid beaters that are a mix between dowel tippers and hard tippers:
Split tippers are hard tippers where, as the name suggests, the wood has been split at one end of the beater creating a dowel like effect. While the tone produced can vary depending on the shape of the head, it is typically a strong, resonant tone with the added percussive click characteristic of the hot rod beater.
You can also get another sort of hybrid called a Hi Hat Mix.
This is where you have a light hard stick in the middle of the tipper, surrounded by dowels around the outside. This mixed beater offers the benefits of both the weight and strong sound of a hard tipper, while also offering the warm percussive slick of the dowel sticks. The best of both worlds.
Brush tippers produce a soft, mellow tone. Due to the low volume they produce, they’re not ideal for session playing, but they do create a great atmosphere in the right musical setting.
Like hot rods, brush beaters are adjustable. You can play with the bristles fully extended for a gentle swishing sound, or push them in for a more pronounced attack. Either way, the sound produced will be a soft, gentle one.
This type of beater can also be used as an effective snare. Observe Rónán Ó Snodaigh using it for just that purpose.
Here at McNeela Instruments we always recommend buying a selection of beaters or tippers to try out for yourself. That way, you can decide which is best for you. For a little extra guidance check out this handy video below where expert bodhrán player Neil Lyons will guide you through some of the best McNeela bodhrán beaters: