On the Spot: Frank Kincel

by Nick Pittman

Frank Kincel laid the back beat for bands like The Bluerunners, The Fusebox and Modern Jazz Movement. Now he’s turned his knowledge of the skins into LA BackBeat, making drumsticks out of a shop in Freetown.

When did you get started making sticks?
I started designing [lathe] knives and working on the machine for making sticks about two and a half years ago. After a short period of trial, error and understanding the lathe, I made my first sticks a little over two years ago, January 2014. The first sticks were fairly rough around the edges but looked and played like a drumstick and received good reviews on balance, weight and feel from the drummers who first played them.

Why did you start?
A passion for drums and it seemed like a logical step. Originally the plan for sticks was considered a future endeavor, something I could do as I got older and the drum making business got off the ground. Drumsticks seemed like a good addition to a drum-making business. The plan was to start this pursuit around 2017 as I would be weening my performance career from the road work of touring. Out of an inquiry on a lathe three and a half years ago, the opportunity presented itself to take acquisition of a lathe and after a year of negotiating and contemplating, I pulled the trigger. Carpe Diem ... I had to seize the day ... an opportunity was in my lap. Nowadays, drumsticks and their development have moved to the forefront of the business with drum building slowly pulling back up alongside. Even before I received my first drum, I was passionate about rhythms and percussion. I put that same passion into the sticks I make.

What is the difference between what you make and what can be bought in the store?
I believe one of the main differences of LA BackBeat drumsticks, compared to the major manufacturers, is the wood itself. Most, if not all, of the major makers bleach or irradiate the wood to create a jolie blonde baton (pretty blonde stick). The bleaching and irradiating of the wood weakens the integrity thus reducing the lifespan of the product and also creates hazards for the worker and the environment. Drummers that use LA BackBeat sticks have commented on the feel and good balance along with the durability, claiming they last two to three times longer than other sticks. The past two years have seen rapid refinement through research and development in the shop yielding a few trade secrets that others are not incorporating, at least that I am aware of, and I have developed a few techniques for making sticks with building specialized jigs, making lathe modifications and building machines.

What are the characteristics of a good stick?
Characteristics of a good stick starts with good wood. Along with some prototyping with woods exclusive to the region, all LA BackBeat sticks are made from hand-selected straight grain hickory and hard maple from the Mississippi Delta. Straightness, weight, balance and feel are definitely characteristics drummers should look for in a stick and these are qualities that have been incorporated into LA BackBeat drumsticks. From the start of square stock to the finished product, the weight of LA BackBeat drumsticks is closely monitored to provide a consistent weight range for every model. All finished LA BackBeat stick models are rolled for straightness and fall within a 5-6 gram range and paired both by weight and pitch. Sticks that do not meet the quality standards become B stock product. These B grade sticks are still good, economy sticks. Since every stick maker has some unique subtleties in their product, I designed the tooling for LA BackBeat drumsticks to make unique sticks as well. Drumstick design hasn’t changed in decades and in creating LA BackBeat drumsticks I looked to the modern drummers who are playing more aggressive and the music they are playing demands a powerful yet responsive stick, so I changed the balance ever so slightly to accommodate. The feedback from drummers playing LA BackBeat sticks has been very positive on balance, weight, feel and durability. Making drumsticks is definitely artisanal and I should note that there is no manual on making sticks and there are secrets not shared. I have taken 35-plus years of drumming experience, playing many different drumsticks and combined it with the trade skills I was taught as a youngster, developed through life, to create a quality, long-lasting drumstick.

Do you think you could pick your sticks out of a line up of others?
Visually, yes I could pick my sticks out of a line up. All the sticks I make have inherent grain qualities not found in most of the major stick makers’ products. Every LA BackBeat drumstick is as unique as the drummers who play them.

How about by just hearing it?
That could possibility be a trick question. Are we listening to the stick itself or the object it is striking? When getting into the crux of a drumstick, it is wood and therefore most sticks, made of the same material, will sound eerily similar. However, when we start to combine the anatomy comprising a drumstick and how it contacts the object being struck is when we start to hear the subtle differences. For instance, different tips and their angle of impact, the shoulder or taper into the shaft, the weight of the stick as well as the length and girth of the drumstick will all effect how the object being struck responds and sounds. Objects included but not limited to could be drums, cymbals, stop signs, hand rails, park benches, pots, pans, dash boards, and desks ... to name a few.