Tennis Strings – To Gut or To Hybrid? That is the Question.

Head Youtek Extreme MP.

Head Youtek Extreme MP.

So for those that have been following my journey to find a new tennis racquet after twenty years of playing with my old Yonex, you’ll be happy to know that I finally decided on, drumroll please, the Head Youtek Extreme MP.

Now you’d think that my quest would be over and all I had to do was just order the stick and start playing. Not so fast. Strings, from their gauge, material and even where they are placed in a racquet, seem to be more improved and more complicated than ever before. So how do you know what strings to use for your game?

Far be it from me to shell out advice on this, I’ve asked Todd Curl of The Daily Stringer to offer some sound advice on this topic. — ATN.

“It’s a bit of a misnomer to say that strings have improved over the past twenty years. Manufacturing processes have improved and become more streamlined. The materials of the newest synthetics have gotten more diverse, but actual improvement? That is quite debatable; however, the assertion that they are more complicated is indeed true.

From my experience, Natural Gut string, made from the actual intestinal tract of cows and/or sheep, is still the best playing, best feeling string available – and it has been around for hundreds of years. First used in stringed classical instruments, it was then adopted for tennis racquets in the late 19th century. While the manufacturing process for Gut has improved, it is still the quintessential string for professionals and pseudo-professional wanna-be’s alike. The main drawback is price. The best quality Gut, typically considered Babolat VS, goes for around $35 US per set. Add the cost of stringing and one is looking at up to $60 US.

What has become popular among many pros of today is to use what is called a mono-fillament (usually constructed of single fiber polyester) for the main strings, while using Natural Gut for the cross strings. This gives a very playable, yet durable hybrid. There are many different types of hybrids available; not to mention the endless number of hybrids one can create on their own. I happen to use Babolat Pro Hurricane for the main strings and Tecnifibre X-One BiPhasefor the cross strings. The Babolat Pro Hurricane is a co-polymer polyester with (a bunch of convoluted terms thrown in) a bit more playability than pure polyester strings. The Tecnifibre X-One is a newer generation multi-filament (also referred to as synthetic gut) that plays somewhat similar to Natural Gut, though that is up for debate depending on who you ask. This combination, or hybrid, works quite well for me and is about half the price of Natural Gut.

Another issue to take into consideration is the gauge, or thickness, of the string. 15 gauge string is typically the thickest available — the higher the gauge, the thinner the string. I believe there are now some strings available in 20 gauge. Typically, 16 gauge is a good all-around size for most recreational players. The thinner the string is, the lower the durability; though with the more durable polyester strings, 18 gauge can outlast a 16 gauge standard quality synthetic gut. The general rule of thumb is going with a thinner gauge with the mono-filaments and a thicker gauge with the multi-filaments. This is of course contingent on the style of game you play and the durability versus playability you are looking for. A heavy hitting advanced player, who goes through strings in 2 – 4 hours, might want a more durable string at a thicker gauge, unless of course money is not a concern – unfortunately that is not the case for most of us. The occasional recreational player, who hits flat, might want to try a thinner string, possibly a 17 gauge synthetic (multi-filament) which will give a better feeling than a thicker string. I should also note that it is typically a good idea to restring after 3 months (at most) even if you do not break a string. Once in the frame, strings lose tension and playability very quickly, even if they are not used.

The bottom line is there is a plethora of strings available, some making absurd claims of making you play like a pro or curing that disease you have. Try to find a stringer who is familiar with the actual, proven results of a variety of strings – not just the marketing hype. Let them know your style of play; whether durability is an issue and your price range. Typically, if you are an average (3.5 NTRP) player who plays maybe 3 – 4 times a week, you probably don’t need to break the bank with Natural Gut or an exotic Hybrid. Standard synthetic gut strings that range from $5 to $10 US, plus the cost of stringing, are generally a safe bet. If you have deep pockets and several frames, try different strings and different hybrids – eventually you’ll find the right string. Above all, find the right stringer who will take a little time to get you exactly what you need.

I never even got into a discussion of tension. That will have to wait until next time – bring your physics and calculus books as that might get intense.”
— Todd Curl

Todd Curl moderates The Daily Stringer, a unique, diverse and entertaining resource for racquet stringers who think outside the frame. If you have your own stringing questions for Todd, email him at dailystringer at gmail.com.

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