What kinds of bodhrán tippers are there?
Different types of bodhrán tippers
There are many, many different types of bodhrán tippers, and they are also are known by many different names! Tippers, beaters, drumsticks…part of the reason I think the bodhrán is such an interesting instrument is that no two players seem to do things exactly the same, whether with their chosen bodhrán and sticks, technique, playing style, or really any other aspect of playing the bodhrán.
Tippers are much the same; as with everything, I think a lot of it is down to personal preference. I also believe though, outside of personal preference, there are three main types of tippers and they all have qualities to their sound that can make them more suited for certain types of playing.
For the purpose of this post and discussion in general, I would like to break down all tippers into three different categories:
- Hard tipper
- Hot rod style/dowel tipper
- Brush tipper
As far as I have seen, all tippers would fall into one of these three categories. When I was planning out this post, I was thinking of ways to best describe the sounds of each stick, and then realised that clearly the best/easiest way to do this was on a video. So I’ll go more in-depth to each kind of tipper below, with a video of me playing each so that you can get a better idea of how they can sound.
These tippers, as they all can, come in many different shapes and sizes. You’ll find most commonly they can have weighted/thicker ends or be completely straight and any variation in between. Some of them have splits in the end like this one by Seamus O’Kane, some of them have different notches or grips in the middle of the stick with the idea of being more comfortable to play, and some will be completely straight and rounded at the ends with no alterations.
The most traditional and longest-played of these three styles of sticks, this type of stick gives a harder, firmer and clearer sound than using hot rod style sticks. There is a lot of clarity in the top end of the bodhrán and with all of the tones in general when you use a harder stick. Depending on your tipper, it may be lighter and smaller than a hot rod style of stick too.
*If you can, please listen to the videos through headphones*
Here’s a demonstration of me playing with my (personal) favourite hard style of tipper.
I find hard sticks are better for using when you want a very striking, clear sound. Sometimes people will find that it is more common to start out with a hard tipper that has weighted ends, but then find they need to change sticks as their learning progresses. The weighted ends can pull on your hand and put pressure on your stick hand/arm if it’s too heavy, and therefore slow down your playing and cause you to get tired more easily. So if you find this happening to you, it’s maybe time to have a look around and try out some new tippers!
2.Hot rod style/dowel tipper
This style of tipper has become more popular in recent years. In their most basic form, they’re basically barbeque skewers held together by tape. As they can be easy to make in their most basic form, I’ve more often seen players try to make their own tippers like this. 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.
Hot rod/dowel style tippers have a much softer sound than hard tippers, and give a nice soft ‘clicky’ texture that you can hear when they’re being played. They come either with half the tipper covered by a grip meant for single ended playing, or with a grip more in the middle of the tipper which can therefore be used for either single or double ended playing. They often also have some form of tightener (a small elastic or section of the grip) which enables you to change the tightness of the dowels, so that they can be wide open (very clicky sounding and also vibrates a lot in your hand), or completely shut (closer to a hard stick sound).
You can also get a sort of ‘hybrid’ between the dowel tippers and hard tippers, which is where you have a light hard stick in the middle of the tipper with a round of dowels around the outside. With this kind of stick, you have the benefit of the weight and harder sound of a hard tipper, while also getting the nice click from the dowel sticks. My favourite stick for about the last 5 or 6 years has been one of these.
Here’s a demonstration of me playing with my (new!) favourite hot rod style/dowel stick:
I feel these are probably the least used of all the style of tippers. Brush tippers have a very quiet, understated, mellow tone to them. It’s probably not something you would play in a session or another loud environment like that, as it can be hard to be heard when you’re playing them! They do sound absolutely beautiful though.
Again, there are a wide range of different brush style tippers you can get. You could use soft drumsticks pushed in most of the way, or even a pastry brush. I have a lovely soft brush tipper that I typically would use for slower/quieter tunes as well as songs. They give such a soft, gentle quality to your accompaniment.
Here’s a demonstration of me playing with my favourite brush tipper:
What kind of tipper do you like best?
As you can see, there are a few different types of tippers you can expect you’ll probably see when you’re learning the bodhrán! There are many different ways you can use them, and your preference for what you like to use them for will be as personal as your preference for what kind of stick and drum you like to use. It’s worth bearing in mind also that your sticks will sound a little different depending on the skin of your drum too.
I’ve amassed a small collection over the years, some bought and many that have been given to me by friends and other players/makers. I tend to really like one stick and use that same one most of the time for several years before switching things up, apart from changing sticks to use something that I think will better suit a specific tune or song.
What’s your favourite kind of tipper to use? Add a photo below of your collection if you’d like to share; I would love to see how many you have and what your favourite kind of tipper is!