String of Advice
Make sure you know how to help your customers find the string that works best for them.
By Dave Bone
Typical tennis players don’t give their strings the respect they deserve. Far too often, a player spends hours talking with professionals to pick a racquet, only to settle for putting in just any string. But a racquet can only play as well as the strings in it.
Since the strings are the only thing that touches the ball, you need to emphasize their importance to your customers and students. You also need to be aware of some basic string characteristics that players “feel.”
- Stringbed stiffness refers to how hard or soft it feels when the racquet contacts the ball. Players may describe a stiff stringbed as “like hitting with a board,” or a soft stringbed as “mushy.”
- Spin potential refers to how much spin the string can impart on the ball.
- Durability generally means how long before a string breaks. Players won’t really “feel” the durability of a string, but for some, it’s an important characteristic when choosing a string.
All strings have different levels of stringbed stiffness, spin potential and durability. These three characteristics are affected by specifications such as materials used in making the string, gauge, type of construction and string tension.
- Materials: The four main materials used today are natural gut, nylon, aramid and polyester. These materials have a big effect on stringbed stiffness and durability, but generally little effect on spin potential. Natural gut is considered the softest, then nylon, polyester and aramid as the stiffest. For durability, the order is reversed: aramid is the most durable, then polyester, nylon and natural gut. Nylon strings are still the most prevalent among recreational players.
- Gauge: Strings get thinner as the gauge number increases. An “L” after a number means the string is on the thinner end of that range; for instance, 16L is slightly thinner than a 16-gauge string. Tennis strings range from 15L to 19, but 16 and 17 are the most popular. Gauge doesn’t so much influence stringbed stiffness, but it is important in spin potential and durability. Thinner strings can bite into the ball more, increasing spin. But thinner gauges are less durable.
- Construction: There many different constructions, and how a string is made affects all three characteristics. The two extremes are monofilaments, made of one thick fiber of string, and multifilaments, made of many fibers twisted and bonded together. Strings with more fibers tend to feel softer, and they also tend to be less durable. Strings with textured or geometric shapes can also increase spin potential.
- Tension: Generally, a player should start with a tension in the middle of the manufacturer’s recommended range, then decide if they want to change when they have the frame restrung. As tension is increased, stringbed stiffness will increase, too. But how tension affects spin potential and durability is still a source of debate among experts.
The Power Question
The power that strings provide is a complicated and misunderstood concept. Very precise lab tests show that while a racquet and the speed at which it is swung have a big effect on the speed of a ball, the strings have almost no effect. A ball leaves the strings at virtually the same speed regardless of tension, gauge, material of the string or type of construction.
Research suggests that while power may not change with the specs, depth of shots will change with stringbed stiffness mainly because of the trajectory of the shots. Simply put, the ball will travel farther at the same speed because it leaves the stringbed at a higher trajectory. Looser strings-a looser stringbed-will cause shots to land deeper in the court, which some players may interpret as giving them more “power.” So, instead of the old adage “looser for more power, tighter for more control,” you really should say, “looser for more depth, tighter for less depth.”
Stringing It Up
Most players probably have a string they’re pretty happy with and are looking for a new string that is close to it yet can provide added benefits. Ask your customer what they want to achieve with a new string, then don’t try to change all the specs at once, just change one at a time and see how they like it.
All of this may seem complicated and involved, but once you start working with your players, using the tools we provide both on the following pages and at racquettech.com, and keeping accurate records, you’ll find it’s not that difficult to keep your players satisfied.
See all articles by Dave Bone
About the Author
Dave Bone is the CEO of the U.S. Racquet Stringers Association, and co-publisher of Racquet Sports Industry magazine.