Everett “Vic” Firth, who grew up in Sanford and became known as a pioneer in the music industry for developing high-quality drumsticks and mallets, has died.

He was 85.

The announcement of Firth’s death was posted Monday on his company’s website.

“Vic was an inspiration to all of us,” it read. “He was a visionary, a mentor, a leader and a friend. He always said he surrounded himself with the best people, but the truth is he brought out the best in all of us. His boundless passion for music and musicians drove every decision he made.”

Firth died Sunday of pancreatic cancer at his home in Boston, The Associated Press reported.

Nancy Smith, principal percussionist with the Portland Symphony Orchestra who studied under Firth, said he will be remembered for the drumsticks that bear his name, but he was a world-class musician first.


“He set his own standards high and he set the bar high for his students, too,” Smith said. “He was really one of the finest (percussionists) in the world.”

Firth was born in Massachusetts, spent his childhood in Sanford and graduated from high school there in 1948.

He was introduced to music at a young age by his father, a trumpet player and music teacher, and eventually settled on percussion.

Firth joined the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1952, not long after graduating from the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. He later became its principal timpanist.

A little more than a decade into his tenure with the symphony, Firth began to develop his own drumsticks because he was dissatisfied with what was available at the time.

“I started making drawings and designs,” Firth told the Sanford News in 2000. “I found a wood turner in Montreal to make the sticks.”


In addition to pursuing his career as a musician, Firth became a sought-after teacher as head of the percussion department at the New England Conservatory of Music and the Tanglewood Music Center, a summer camp in western Massachusetts that’s affiliated with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

“I’m sure there are many people who don’t know him as a player or even as a person,” Smith said.

His custom-made sticks quickly became popular with his students, which gave him the idea to start a business.

Vic Firth Inc. grew into the world’s largest producer of professional drumsticks and mallets. His name became synonymous with drumsticks, and he is credited with inventing or standardizing several key manufacturing processes used today in the drumstick world, including centerless grinding, pitch-pairing and weight-sorting.

Firth’s Boston-based company merged with another major drum company, Avedis Zildjian, in 2010, but the drumsticks are still produced at a factory in Newport.

His drumsticks are widely used throughout the music world, including by Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts and the drummers for Lou Reed, Elton John, Jimmy Buffett and Anton Fig on “The Late Show with David Letterman.”


Condolences about Firth’s death flooded social media Monday, from aspiring musicians to rival companies.

“When Vic Firth retired from the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 2002, his place in the BSO’s pantheon of legendary figures was already firmly established,” said Mark Volpe, Managing Director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, “His singular musicianship—which resulted in exquisite and inspiring playing time after time over his 50 years with the BSO—will live on in the memories of all of us who were so lucky to hear him play during his illustrious tenure with the orchestra.  Yes, he is legendary to all of us who knew his playing and bigger than life personality, but beyond that he was somehow the heartbeat of the Boston Symphony Orchestra–and one never forgets that.”

Reverb, a Chicago-based online marketplace for musicians, tweeted that Firth was “one in a million.”

Alan Vater, owner of Massachusetts-based Vater Percussion, posted on Facebook about Firth’s passing.

“Having spent my life in the drumstick business, I had the opportunity to get to know Vic over many years of business, trade shows, industry events, and countless personal conversations,” Vater wrote. “He was a man of convictions, a strong business leader and a world-class musician.”

Chris Dealaman, who owns the Drum Shop in Portland, said Firth’s sticks were, and are, unique because the density of the sticks always matched and because they were kiln-dried and less susceptible to breakage.


“Their slogan is ‘the perfect pair,’ and they are,” Dealaman said. He said he sells more Vic Firth sticks and mallets than any other brand.

Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:


Twitter: PPHEricRussell

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