Anyone use both Stevens and Burton?

Hey everyone!
So I'm going to be getting into more in depth vibraphone studies here shortly. I have done some vibraphone in the past but have spent much more time on marimba. Long story short my Stevens grip is much better than my burton grip. I have traditionally used Burton grip on vibraphone as I find it gives me more strength and makes the small intervals easier with the absence of raised accidentals. Am I better off to continue developing my Stevens grip and learn to use it properly on vibes or is using both common? Thanks!

Hi Wiesty,
I use both. Used Burton for 25 or more years. Then started working on Stevens. Now I use Stevens exclusively. There were three issues with Stevens for vibes (for me, at least) that I had to resolve before I could make the switch work. First was strength/volume, the second was having sticks that absorbed the shock but stayed straight, and third was handling bop lines. Here is how I resolved them:

1. STRENGTH: I have glued a 5/8 inch bead to the end of each stick. This adds incredible leverage, yet is not so large as to make the hands uncomfortable. I can get almost the same volume as with Burton, but retain the superior flexibility and mallet position of the Stevens grip. A downside of this bead is that the mallets must be cut to exact and differing lengths--for my hand, the inner mallets must be 3/4 inch shorter than the outer mallets in order for the mallet heads to line up correctly when the grip is in its neutral position. So, when making shifts from hand perc back to the mallet instrument, you have to be sure to get the mallets lined up correctly. I mark the short mallets with tape so I know which is short and long in case I put them down in a hurry and didn't prep them for my return to the vibe (from conga or whatever).

2. SHOCK: Most Stevens players use birch handles, because rattan warps. That's fine on marimba, but the density of aluminum and the power needed for public performance of vibes means (for me at least) that you need a flexible mallet shaft. Otherwise, with birch, I felt unpleasant shocks running into my hands/arms. Trouble with rattan is that even a small warp on the Stevens grip makes the mallet go out of alignment, and a disadvantage of Stevens over Burton is that Stevens seems (again for me) to require better aim. That little warp on rattan is enough to mess up any of the notes in the upper register of the vibe. I resolved this by making my own sticks using fiberglass rod. They flex almost exactly like rattan (they are more flexible than the musser "two step" mallets) but stay very straight--and they last longer than rattan or birch. You can see them in the video posted under Exotik a GoGo.

3. BOP LINES: Well, I really mean any weaving line. Most Stevens grip/marimba players use really long mallets. That's great for a huge marimba, but trying to play jazz lines with them is like trying to knit baby socks with baseball bats. I resolve this by making the mallets shorter. My short mallets are 14 1/4" from base of bead to tip of mallet. This still allows me to play open voices on the vibe while weaving bop lines.

Before I made these changes, I found that when playing live I'd last at most half a set with Stevens, and then go back to Burton. Even with mics, I could not deliver the volume needed in a noisy club when using Stevens. The bead was the first important change--I got the idea from vibist Roy Pertchik in NY, but the size bead he used was quite uncomfortable for me. Shortening the sticks and switching to fiberglass solved the other problems, although accuracy is still a major problem for me (has been my entire life). Making my own, I've also been able to construct them so that they are lighter than the norm but have large heads for voluminous fundamental. I keep them at about 34 grams per stick.

I've been using Stevens almost exclusively for at least five, maybe ten years since I made these changes. I can switch back to Burton easily, and sometimes do just to get new ideas. Only problem with that is Burton calluses are different from Stevens calluses, and I rip the heck out of my hands in two tunes when I switch back!

I really like the mallets I've developed, but that kind of taste is really personal. They wear like iron but flex like rattan, give a lot of volume, and are still light. They mean I can use Stevens on vibe.