Finding the Perfect Strings
Many people are focused on finding the perfect racket, but forget that it’s the strings that have actual contact with the ball. With this said, it is equally important (if not more so) to find the right strings for the player. When looking to buy strings, it is good to figure out what you like in these four categories: gauge, material, construction, and tension.
This is the easiest thing to decide— whether to go thicker or thinner. Thicker strings have lower gauge numbers, and thinner strings have higher gauge numbers. Some strings add an “L” at the end of the number which means that it is slightly thinner than a string marked with just the number (i.e. a 15L is thinner than a 15). Most players use the thinnest gauge of their favorite string that doesn’t break too quickly. Thicker strings are more durable because there is more string to cut through, and feel stiffer because they stretch less on impact. There is, however, better tension maintenance because it is harder to stretch the strings out. Thinner strings, on the other hand, offer more spin potential because they can bite the ball better. The thinner strings are also softer and more comfortable because they offer more stretch on impact.
There are four different types of material: natural gut, nylon, aramid, and polyester.
Natural gut, as the name implies, comes from the intestines of cows. There’s a rumor that natural gut breaks too fast, but if treated properly, they will last about as long as its synthetic brothers. It is the most popular type of string among the world’s top pros for a reason. Comfort. Natural gut strings provide the most comfort for the arms upon impact than any other string available. With this said, however, it is expensive, and sensitive to humid climates because of its make up. It also has a limited shelf life and is more difficult to install into a racket. For people who play tennis competitively, though, it makes sense to care for the health of your arms that enable you to play.
Nylon is the most widely used type of string. Called “synthetic gut,” it is less expensive than natural gut, isn’t humidity sensitive, softer than durability-oriented strings, and available in different colors. It isn’t as soft as a natural gut though, and isn’t as durable as aramid or polyester.
Aramid is the same material bulletproof vests are made of. It is popular among players who break strings frequently because it is known for its durability. Players can even use thinner gauges for more spinning potential with this type of string because of its durability. This allows for more control over the ball. Because of this, it is ideal for players with lots of power and spin in their style of play. Aramid is, however, very hard and stiff on the body as its tension rises more during impact than any other material. For this reason, it is usually used as a hybrid, and because main strings break before the crosses, many use aramid in the mains, and a softer string in the crosses. Aramid is also usually more expensive than nylon.
Polyester is second only to aramid in durability. It is inexpensive, so players can afford to break strings a little more often, and humidity doesn’t prove to be a problem. It isn’t as comfortable as nylon, but the comfort level isn’t that much different. There’s less availability, but that is changing as it is becoming more and more popular among players. There are also fewer constructions to experiment with in this type of string. They’re usually made into monofilaments.
In regards to the construction of your string, you really just want to know how many individual fibers are used to make the string. Some will actually be made from just one single piece of string (monofilament) while others are made from thousands of tiny fibers twisted or woven together to make one piece of string (multifilament). These, however, are the two extreme ends of the spectrum. There are many different variations in between. Most can be classified into one of 5 categories: monofilament, solid core with wraps, multi-core with wraps, multifilament, and textured.
Monofilament strings are made from one single piece of string. They’re the least expensive because they’re the easiest for the manufacturer to make. They are also the most durable because it is a single, thick piece of string that takes longer to cut through, and tends to maintain tension better than strings with more fibers. This string will not fray as you start to wear through them because it is just made with one string, but they are least comfortable because it gives less upon impact than a string of many fibers.
A string made up of a solid core and wraps are made up of a single string at the core (which is pretty thick, but thinner than a monofilament) that is wrapped around by smaller fibers which create outer layers. The number of outer layers vary, but usually, the more layers of wraps, the thinner the core of the string. The core makes the string more durable, and able to maintain tension better. Outer wraps give more on impact, and make it a little softer for the arms. Though they are usually more expensive than the monofilament constructs, the solid core and wrap construct is relatively inexpensive because there aren’t as many fibers being put together as say a multifilament construct. As the core gets thinner (or as there are more layers) it will tend to get weaker, and easier to break. There is more comfort provided by the wraps, however, the comfort level isn’t as enhanced as it can be with more fibers.
Multi core with wrap constructs are made up with multiple fibers in the core (made smaller to fit in the same space as the single string in the solid core and wrap construct) with the same wrap construction as the solid core. As the number of fibers in the core goes up, the thickness of each string within the core goes down. As the total number of wrapping fibers goes up, the string becomes more comfortable for the arms, but the durability of the string goes down, and the cost goes up.
Multifilament strings are made of many small fibers twisted and bonded together by a resin. These are the most comfortable constructions because they will stretch the most on impact. This is great for those who are concerned about tennis elbow. Using this softer string that provides more ball cushioning can enable more depth of shots during play. These are also, however, the least durable of string constructs because the tiny fibers are easy to break through, and is less effective for tension maintenance. For this reason, many stringers actually pre-stretch the multifilament strings before installing them to take some of their stretch out before being tensioned.
Textured strings will be similar to the other strings, but one or more of their outer wraps will be bigger than the others, which creates a rough surface on the string. This is designed to increase spin potential enabling the string to “bite” the ball better on impact. With this said, it does enhance ball spin, but these strings are difficult to install because they will bite into the other strings they are crossed with. There is also not much availability for these strings.
Now that you finally have your string, it’s time to decide what tension to put them at within your selected racket. Tension is like a gauge: you just have to decide whether to go up or down. Racket manufacturers recommend tension ranges for each of their rackets, and generally you want a tension in this range. Looser tension reduces shock, which is good for those suffering from arm problems. These looser tensions also translate into deeper shots, and create a bigger sweet spot to hit with. Tighter tensions, however, provide a crisper feel with each hit and gives more spin on strokes, which helps to keep the balls from flying long. Go for what’s best for you, and if you don’t like it, you could always find a different option and restring.
If you would like more information on this topic, please feel free to read these articles:
United States Racquet Stringers Association Article “Picking the Right Strings” by Dave Bones. December 2000