Stringing machine review: Wilson Baiardo
The features and benefits of the top machines in the industry with a unique focus on ergonomics.
By Dave Bone
Let’s start this review with the machine’s name, because it is consistent with what makes this machine unique. “Baiardo” is the name of a mythical horse that can change its size to match its rider. You could say it made any rider as comfortable as could be.
The Baiardo stringing machine doesn’t have riders, but it does automatically change its height to match its user and is designed with ergonomic features designed to make its users more comfortable than any stringing machine ever built.
The Wilson Baiardo is the biggest thing to happen to stringing machines in quite some time. It is the ultimate extension of Wilson’s campaign to demonstrate how committed it is to being the leader in the field of strings and stringing. It utilizes almost all the features available on the most expensive machines in the industry and a long list of features that can’t be found on any other stringing machine ever invented.
Wilson spent four years developing the Baiardo. Wilson explained to us that it didn’t want to develop a machine that merely matched the capabilities of the best and most popular machines in the market. Instead, it decided to re-invent the stringing machine. The big result of this re-inventing development was a focus on ergonomics that has never been matched in the industry.
Wilson understood that there are several things every stringing machine must do. It has to hold the racquet securely and safely, it has to pull tension on each string, and it has to hold the tension on each string as the user moves on to the next string. Wilson believed that there are already many machines in the market that do these things well. So, the company decided to focus on the comfort and convenience of the user (stringer).
It worked with experts in the field of ergonomics and design to study the interaction between stringers and their machines. What it discovered was that stringers were exposed to a great deal of repetitive activity in positions and processes that were not as ergonomically friendly as they could be. It is this study that resulted in most of the unique ergonomic features on the Baiardo that we will cover in this review. Wilson even came up with a clever acronym for this ergonomic focus: BEST, for Biomechanically Efficient Stringing Technology.
Pro Tour Stringing
The Baiardo is now the official stringing machine of Wilson’s international stringing team (made up of many of the best stringers in the world), which strings for many tour events each year (over 20 in 2009), including the Australian Open and US Open. So, you could certainly say it has been “tested under fire” like almost no other machine in the world has ever been tested. In fact, Wilson is so pleased by how the Baiardo has held up under these intense stringing conditions that the company offers a three-year warranty on the whole machine. Then, to ease the minds of anyone who is worried about having so many motors and sensors in a machine, Wilson extends the warranty to five years on the motors and sensors for the up, down, tilt and pull features.
But, it’s probably the long hours these stringers spend in front of their machines at each event that helped Wilson understand the importance of ergonomics. Perhaps the biggest endorsement of Baiardo’s BEST is how quickly these world-class stringers chose to use the technology. The machine offers the stringer the option to use BEST or to work like a more traditional electronic machine.
Because this machine is brand new, none of these world-class stringers had ever seen a machine with this type of technology, much less used one before. Wilson tells us that during the first event at which the team used the Baiardo, the vast majority of stringers chose to use BEST. This is impressive when you consider that these stringers all have extensive experience working with traditional electronic machines.
Assembling the Baiardo was a breeze, but it is a two-person job because of the weight. With two of us, we had the whole machine unpacked and assembled in about 20 minutes. It arrived in two boxes: One weighed approximately 75 pounds and the other weighed about 50 pounds. Inside one of the boxes we found an illustrated poster with 16 steps for assembly.
We had no trouble interpreting the illustrations and found all of the parts and supplies in the boxes as expected. Also included in one of the boxes was a professionally-written operator’s manual in six different languages (English, French, German, Spanish, Chinese and Japanese). And assembly tools were included.
Stringing tools included (starting clamp, diagonal cutters, needle-nose pliers, bent needle-nose pliers, awl) have different color handles to help find each when stacked in the tray.
By the time we finished assembling the machine, we were excited to turn it on and try it out.
The first thing you notice is the “ooh-aah” factor. The machine has a very clean, sleek, professional look that would make a great focal point in any stringing operation. When we turned the machine on, parts of it started moving on their own as part of its diagnostic check. This initial diagnostic process is guaranteed to cause customers’ heads to turn. The machine even comes with a nice cover, to hide and protect it from overly-curious customers when not in use.
The Baiardo features three separate motors, more than any machine before. One motor controls the tension head. This feature is common to all electric stringing machines. Another motor controls the height of the machine, which is adjusted automatically based on the height of the user that is entered into the machine’s computer. This is convenient because you don’t need two people or any special tools to adjust the height of the machine when one stringer takes a break and another takes over.
But, as part of Baiardo’s focus on ergonomics, the machine actually changes height for different phases of stringing. It’s one height when you’re mounting the frame. Then it raises a little higher when you’re installing the mains. Finally, it raises even a little higher when you’re installing the crosses. The Baiardo’s automated height adjustment is designed for users between 4-foot-11 and 6-foot-5 in height.
But, that’s not all. The third motor is a very important part of the ergonomic design. It causes the unit to tilt to different angles for different parts of the stringing process. It sits flat like a traditional machine when the user is mounting the racquet. It then tilts the entire upper unit toward the user at the same time that it raises for installing the mains. This is designed to move the stringbed into a position that reduces the user’s need to bend and twist. Finally, it tilts forward even more at the same time that it raises again for installing the crosses. This again reduces the need to bend and twist while bringing the stringbed closer to the user’s eyes for the fine detailed work of weaving the crosses.
With three separate motors, you might expect the Baiardo to be extremely heavy. But Wilson found ways (like building the machine out of molded aluminum instead of steel) to reduce the weight of the rest of the machine to make up for the weight of the extra motors. So, while we still wouldn’t call the Baiardo lightweight or a portable machine, it does weigh about the same amount as other premium machines (around 124 pounds).
The tilt and height positions for the three stringing modes (mounting, mains, crosses) are determined by formulas based on the height of the user entered into the system. These formulas are based on the average dimensions of the human body. But, realizing that not everyone is average, Wilson even built Baiardo to let the user customize these settings. So the user can adjust the height and/or tilt in any mode to make the machine feel as comfortable as possible.
This brings us to the next big pro for Baiardo. The machine can remember all the settings for up to six different users. This means when one user is done on the machine and another takes over, there is no need to re-enter all the settings. The stringer taking over simply selects himself from the system and the machine recalls all his customized settings. Then, as a stringer uses the machine, he can continue to make adjustments to his settings until he finally finds the perfect set-up.
The Baiardo features a multilingual touch-screen display. This is another feature we haven’t seen on any other machine and feels like working with an iPhone or iPod touch. The touch screen can be set to display in six different languages (English, French, German, Spanish, Chinese, and Japanese) and it is where the user can set his 13 different customized settings. The menu system is icon-based, fairly intuitive, and easy to remember when you’ve used it once or twice. The user increases or decreases each setting by touching the top or bottom of the numbers on the touch screen. This allows for quick changes in tension (though not quite as quick as a full keypad). As a redundancy, or for those who just can’t seem to get comfortable without buttons, the Baiardo also offers buttons around the touch screen display that can be used to make selections as well.
All the users’ customized settings are stored in an onboard computer. But, that’s not all this computer does. It also offers security settings that can be controlled by one manager with a password. It also logs string pulls by each user. Managers can use this feature to make sure their stringers aren’t double-pulling and are remembering to record all the racquets they string.
Finally, the computer also performs another calculation that is becoming increasingly valuable these days. More and more players are playing with different tensions between their mains and crosses. The Baiardo lets the user set the differential percentage between the mains and crosses. Then, when the stringer switches from mains to crosses, the machine automatically changes the tension accordingly. This is a great feature that will be appreciated by any stringer who has ever installed half the crosses in a racquet before remembering that they were supposed to change the tension for the crosses. The computer also allows the user to set the machine to beep (or not beep) each time a button is pressed or the desired tension is reached.
Another ergonomic-based feature of the machine is its angled stand. Instead of a traditional stand that goes straight from the bottom of the machine to the ground, the Baiardo’s stand tilts forward from bottom to top, creating more room for the user’s feet under the machine so he or she can stand closer. We were concerned about what this tilt would do to the machine’s stability. But, the Baiardo feels as stable to us as any other machine. And it even has leveling pads on the base for use on uneven surfaces.
Those of you who have read this far may be amazed to note that we still haven’t talked about the mounting, tensioning, or clamping systems yet. That’s because these features are world-class, but they aren’t unique as are the features we’ve discussed so far. But, don’t worry, we’re about to cover all of these systems and more.
The Baiardo features a six-point mounting system with 360-degree rotation. We found the mounting system to be very sturdy and one of the quickest and easiest to use that we have ever tested. It features two adjustment knobs at each end. One knob on each end adjusts the 6 o’clock or 12 o’clock mounting post. The other knob on each end adjusts both side arms simultaneously, which conveniently makes it much easier to ensure each racquet to be strung is centered. With the included adapters, the Baiardo is very capable of professionally stringing racquets for tennis, racquetball, squash and badminton. We were able to mount and string virtually every tricky racquet we’re aware of. Baiardo was able to accommodate the widest frames and smallest frames we could throw at it. The only two frames we came across that did not fit in the mounting system were Gamma’s Big Bubba and Head’s Ti.S7. However, the adapter that Head produced for the Ti.S7 should be all a stringer would need in order to string either of these frames on the Baiardo. Also, Wilson tells us they are producing an adapter of their own for this purpose. Once it is made, they will send one to every current Baiardo owner and start including it with every new Baiardo purchased.
The mounts at 2, 4, 8, and 10 o’clock are very sturdy and made of material that should not damage the finish on any frame. They feature a horizontal lower edge upon which the racquet sets and an angled upper edge to hold the racquet in place. These mounts also have rounded edges and are angled to allow easy access to grommets even if they are right under the mount. Like many of the best machines in the world today, the Baiardo’s towers at 6 and 12 o’clock are stationary with adjustable mounts. We really appreciate this feature in a machine because it eliminates the risk of forgetting to lock these towers in place. Forgetting to lock these towers on other machines is the easiest way to break a racquet during stringing.
We were especially impressed with the Baiardo’s turntable lock. It is very stable and has a positive lock. With a lot of professional machines, the turntable lock is controlled by tightening a knob, so you don’t know how tight to turn the knob and you frequently end up seeing the turntable move even though you think you’ve activated the lock. When we activated the lock on Baiardo’s turntable, there was no doubt about how tight it needed to be because it was like flipping a switch. And, because of the position that the lock grips the turntable, it takes very little pressure to hold the turntable completely still. This feature is really handy when working on racquets (like Prince O3 frames) that require you to lock the tray.
Another feature of the mounting system that especially impressed us was the turntable speed control. A user can turn this feature on or off. It offers very slight resistance to the rotation of the turntable. This feature comes in very handy in conjunction with the tilted turntable when using the BEST technology. It stops the handle of the frame from spinning back toward the user each time he lets go of the frame. Wilson even includes extra replacement brake pads for the turntable brake with each machine.
We also found Baiardo’s tensioning system to be world-class. It uses constant-pull tensioning that we found to be accurate and quick to make adjustments as our strings stretched. It features a linear-pull tensioner that requires less string length than a rotational tensioner. The tension head includes a nosecone to help reduce the amount of pressure the tension jaws need to apply while tensioning.
The tension head also features tapered ridges above the tension jaws designed to self-guide the string into the tension jaws. We found this to be a convenient feature. It allowed us to focus on other things and know that our string would enter the jaws smoothly each time. The tension jaws feature diamond dust to reduce the risk of string slipping in the jaws.
The tension head also has a jaw plate limiting screw. This is located at the end of the jaws and can be set to limit the amount of force that the tension jaws will apply to the string. This is a popular feature with a lot of stringers, but it can be a little risky when combined with diamond-dusted tension jaws. If the user sets the limiting screw excessively, then the tension jaws don’t squeeze the string tight enough to avoid slippage. Then, when the string slips, the diamond dust can scratch the surface of the string. We feel like the limiting screw is an unnecessary redundancy. But, the good news is you don’t have to use it if you don’t want to and you can use it if you are a big believer in them.
We found the tension head activator to be conveniently located and easy to trigger. This also allowed us to focus on other parts of the frame while tensioning. However, one of our stringers felt that it was a little too easy to accidentally press multiple times, which meant the head would start and stop, requiring him to press it again.
Baiardo’s tensioning system features multiple pull speeds, a popular feature with tour stringers when working with different materials and gauges of string. It also features a pre-stretch setting that works as well as any we’ve seen on a machine. We’re not big fans of using machines’ pre-stretch settings, for too many reasons to go into here. We still prefer to do it the old-fashioned way to spread the pre-stretch pull evenly over the whole length of the string. But, we like the way the Baiardo pulls tension then drops below the reference tension and then re-pulls to reference tension. We believe this is closer to the real definition of pre-stretching.
Baiardo also features knot tensioning, a practice that seems to be growing in popularity. Again, Baiardo does this as a percentage of the reference tension, which just seems to make the most sense to us. We also liked how Baiardo has lights that come on to indicate the desired tension has been reached. This is especially handy when you choose to work with the beeps turned off.
The modular construction of Baiardo makes it a little easier to pack up and take to a tournament. But, the best part of this feature is that it means you don’t have to send the whole machine back to Wilson if something goes wrong. The most common problems with electronic machines are in the electronics. Realizing this, Wilson made it easy to remove the electronics and replace them without having to send the whole body of the machine in.
The most unique aspect of Baiardo’s tensioning system is how the user can manually adjust the calibration. Like all the top machine manufacturers, Wilson is confident that it should not be necessary to adjust the calibration of Baiardo. However, unlike many of the top machine manufacturers, Wilson has made it possible and even included the instructions in their operator’s manual. On top of that, they’ve made it simple, quick, and logical. Instead of trying to adjust some tiny screw with tiny adjustments to try to make the machine’s tensioner match the calibrating device, the user simply enters what the calibrating device says into the computer. The machine then makes all the necessary adjustments. Another nice aspect to this is that Wilson has also included an option to return the machine to factory settings.
Baiardo’s clamping system is another strong feature. It uses dual-swivel dual-action clamps, which allows stringers to handle any stringing pattern out there. The clamps use dual rollers to apply even pressure across the width of the clamp. Wilson even applied its ergonomic focus to the clamps by angling the handles, and giving them positive lock bases. The bases automatically release when the clamp heads are dropped. The clamp teeth are coated with diamond dust. This is an extremely popular feature because it allows the teeth to hold the string with less pressure. But, it can be a little risky for the same reason described in the tensioning system. This makes it important for stringers to consistently adjust the pressure of his clamps. We found Baiardo’s clamps easy to adjust with no tool necessary. We also found the spacing of their teeth to be convenient for working with most frames from tiny badminton racquets all the way to the biggest tennis racquets.
We were impressed that the clamps flexed very little when releasing the tension head and that (when locked) the bases did not move at all even at the highest tensions. When the bases were not locked, we were especially impressed with how smoothly they slid along their tracks. But, we were most pleased by the positive lock bases, which lock like turning on a switch. This eliminates the concern of how tight to tighten the bases that we experience with most machines. We’ll talk a little more about the auto-release feature of the clamp bases later. But, for now, let’s say we are also pleased that they offer a button to manually release the bases when necessary.
Finally, the clamping system offers another relatively new feature that we really appreciate. At one end of each track that the clamps move in, Baiardo has a pop-out plug that makes it quick and easy to remove the clamp base(s). There are numerous situations where this feature proves very helpful.
Another big pro isn’t even part of the machine. Wilson has a dedicated website. Here, prospective buyers can learn about all the features and functions of the machine, see where the Wilson stringing team is stringing on tour, contact Wilson to arrange a demonstration, etc. After purchase Baiardo owners can go to the site for a copy of the manual as a pdf, find troubleshooting tips, see FAQ’s, send in a question, etc. Eventually, Wilson plans to post a library of short videos showing how to fix or service Baiardo.
As is the case with most premium machines, the biggest drawback is that it is expensive. With a retail price of $6,000, it may seem to be out of the budget of most shops and stringers. However, Wilson tells us it is able to bring that cost down as low as $4,000 for buyers who are buying certain amounts of other products from Wilson.
Baiardo is electric, with three motors. This means it is not very light or easily portable. But, most premium machines are electric and Baiardo weighs about the same as they do.
The mounting adjustment knobs present two concerns. First, the gearing of the knobs creates such leverage that it is easy to overtighten the mounting. If the user is not careful, this can change the shape of a racquet or make it difficult to remove the racquet when finished stringing. The second concern is only a small potential inconvenience. The knobs do not taper, so it is possible for string to become caught around them. But, Wilson was ready for this possibility. They built a hex screw in the center of the lower knob (which controls the outer supports). If the frame pressure does become great enough to “lock up” the knobs, a user can use a hex wrench (included) to release the pressure. This sure beats using a pipe wrench and scratching up the knobs like we’ve seen stringers do on other machines.
The auto clamp base release can be a little awkward when preparing to make the first pull on a racquet. If you don’t maintain a small amount of tension on the string by hand, the clamp can fall and release the base. Also, during stringing, we found that if you don’t align the clamp just right when clamping the string, it doesn’t want to fall when you open the clamp. This means you have to pull the clamp down by hand. But, if you pull the clamp down by hand with the base still locked, the clamp’s diamond dust can scratch the surface of the string. This is why we were happy to see the button that allows you to manually release the clamp base. By manually releasing the clamp base first when the clamp does not drop on its own, you can move the clamp so that the diamond dust won’t scratch the string.
We also found that the clamp bases moved so smoothly that when the machine was tilted, they would occasionally slide downhill toward the stringer. This meant that occasionally, the clamps weren’t exactly where we expected them to be. But they were moving toward us, so they were never hard to find.
For portability reasons, we would have like to see a table-top option allowing stringers to take the machine with them and string on a table. However, we do realize that this would go against some of the machine’s best features. You probably wouldn’t be able to tilt the unit or adjust the height perfectly.
Several premium machines come with a foot-pedal tension activator. We don’t see many stringers who actually use this feature, but it would be nice to give buyers the option.
There seems to be one disappointing trend among premium stringing machines, which the Baiardo follows. The tool trays seem to be getting smaller on premium machines today. The Baiardo’s tool tray isn’t even big enough to conveniently fit all the tools that come with it. So, we only kept the tools we used most frequently on the tray and then kept our other tools in a toolbox nearby.
The other small problem with the Baiardo’s tool tray is that it has a pad glued to the bottom. This is nice because it keeps the tools from scratching the paint on the bottom of the tray. But, because this pad is glued in, it makes it tough to clean out dust, string scraps, and grommet pieces. But Baiardo does offer one clever extra feature: a small well in which a user can keep a mobile phone or iPod. At tournaments, we’ve seen Wilson string team members keep their tournament credentials in this well with their phones. Wilson also tells us they built in an option to attach a tray expander to the tool tray. They are working on developing the expander. It wasn’t ready for this review, but all Baiardo owners will receive the tool tray expander for free once it is available.
One of the decorative side panels on our Baiardo was loose and tended to rattle a little. But this could probably be easily fixed by wedging something soft in between.
Finally, as we mention previously when discussing the tensioning and clamping systems, the diamond dust on the clamps and the tension head can be hard on strings with soft outer coatings if you’re not careful to keep them adjusted correctly.
Overall, we are extremely impressed by Baiardo. It’s hard to believe this is the first stringing machine developed by this team at Wilson. You would really think these guys have been building machines for a long time. But, then again, Wilson probably did spend more time and money developing Baiardo than just about any other machine. And, perhaps it is because this was their first machine that Wilson was able to truly start from scratch, think outside the conventional rules, and develop a unique machine that does so many things no stringing machine has ever done before.
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.