Decided to take a punt on some b-stock sticks. Typically I play VF American Classics in sizes ranging from 7A to 5A: not that I'm not happy with those, but like most people I'm kind of skint these days so wondered if budget sticks were a good bet or in the long run a false economy.
Anyway, I found a dealer who sells Pellwood sticks - whom I'd not heard of until recently. Apparently they are a Czech company who make sticks out of either hickory or hornbeam. Again, until recently I didn't even know there was such a tree as hornbeam - but I was curious enough to check them out. I was told that hornbeam is a European hardwood that is said to be like a "stronger maple stick". I haven't played anything other than hickory for over a decade but I believe that maple sticks are supposed to be a little lighter (?) than their hickory counterparts so I was intrigued.
Pellwood's B-Line is exactly that - and for 3.25GBP a pair (plus postage which worked out at 4.13GBP a pair) for their b-stock hornbeam sticks I figured I couldn't go far wrong. I bought 4 pairs of their hornbeam B-Line 5As. The sticks are 407mm (16.02") by 14mm (0.55") which I believe are the same dimensions as the VF 85A - a stick I have been using quite a bit recently. I wanted to try their 5B [407mm (16.02") by 15mm (0.59")] but the dealer only had that in the hickory . . . maybe next time. For what it's worth, I believe the hickory B-lines are currently going for 3.75GBP a pair plus postage. All of these prices are based on sales of packs of 4 pairs.
When the sticks arrived I could tell that they weren't A-grade just by looking at them and the feel of the lacquer confirmed this. That said, these sticks are a great deal better than I thought they would be. When I got all 4 pairs I noticed that, when played on a pad, none of the sticks seemed close to matching their other half tonally: however when I jumbled them all up I managed to pair them up myself and found that I actually did have 4 pairs that were pretty closely matched.
I spent about 30 minutes with one pair on the kit and overall am happy with them: the hornbeam does feel lighter than hickory and felt especially boingy - if I can put it like that - on my ride (20" Sabian AAX Dry Ride - a heavyish cymbal as far as I'm concerned). The wood tips gave a good crisp rebound on the hats and snare. Snare rim-shots did not disappoint.
Once I've lived with these sticks for a while I may update the thread to report what their longevity is like.