by Colin Triplow, aka Colin the Stringer
Want to know what types of string there are, what they’re made from, and how they can affect your game? Here’s where to find out.
Types of String
Basically, there are two types of strings–those made from natural gut, and those made from any other material. Those made from anything other than natural gut are generically termed synthetic strings.
Natural Gut strings are made from beef or sheep intestines. The intestines are spun out to microscopic thicknesses, and then several individual strands are wound together to form a single string. A single tennis string will contain between 1,200 and 2,000 strands depending on its overall thickness. Natural gut strings made from beef intestines generally give greater durability, while those made from sheep intestines give a touch more resilience and control, (and cost more). Natural gut strings have always been the yardstick by which other strings are measured. As recently as 12-15 years ago it was unusual to find a professional who played with anything other than natural gut, such was its generally accepted superiority over synthetics. A lot of this has changed now.
Gut has a resiliency, (ability to flex and the spring back), which no synthetic has yet been able to equal. It also offers better touch and control, and has the best shock absorbing properties of any string. Why aren’t we all using natural gut, then? Firstly, there͛s the cost. A restring with gut will cost at least $50.Gut is also very susceptible to damp and wet weather, absorbing moisture and losing tension easily, and losing its performance. If you use gut you either must have another racket with synthetic strings for wet conditions, or accept the fact that you͛re going to have to restring far more often if you play in the wet. Finally, gut is very difficult to string with, and most stringers will not make a very good job of it. If gut is mishandled or mistreated it will not perform anything like as well as it should do. So, think carefully about using gut. It will give you great performance if strung by a competent stringer, but has limitations if badly strung, or used in damp or wet conditions.
Synthetic strings are made from a variety of materials. At one end are monofilament, (one solid piece), strings, and at the other end are multifilament, (many individual pieces joined together), strings, which mimic the construction of natural gut. In between are all manner of strings, some made with exotic materials like aluminum and titanium, some monofilaments with one or more spiral wraps to add power or feel, and some with rough surfaces which, the manufacturers claim, help add spin to your shots.
Anyone who thinks that all synthetic strings are the same needs to think again. There͛s never been a greater variety of quality synthetics around, and many of them are now being used by players on the professional tours. Grand Slam winners such as Rafael Nadal, Juan Martin del Potro, Francesca Schiavone, and Ana Ivanovic all use synthetic strings, while others, including Roger Federer, use a combination of natural gut and synthetic string in their rackets. These players wouldn’t be using synthetics unless they offered world class performance, so let͛s look at synthetics in more detail.
First, there are a number of different types of construction, ranging from monofilament–one solid piece of string–to multifilament–loads of very fine strands, (1,540 in Tecnifibre’s TGV string), wound together to produce one string. In between these two extremes are all sorts of variations: solid core with one or more wraps, multiple cores with wraps, strings with raised or rough coatings–the list is endless.
Multifilaments are the nearest thing in construction to natural gut, so it͛s no surprise that they play the closest to gut in terms of performance. They are great for absorbing shock, so anyone with tennis elbow or other arm problems should give them serious consideration, and offer great touch and control. Power-wise they are very adequate, although some of the newer monofilaments do give more. If you’re after the best possible touch and control, or if comfort is of prime consideration, multifilament strings could well be for you.
Monofilaments are the exact opposite to multifilaments, in more ways than one. They are composed of a single strand, which may be of one type of material, or a composite of two or more. They are tougher than multifilaments, but do not provide as much touch. In fact, monofilaments are all about one thing–power, and the names the manufacturers give them reflect his–Babolat RPM Blast, and Luxilon Big Banger Alu Power being two examples.
Monofilament synthetics are now the most popular type of string on the pro tours, with players such as Rafa Nadal and Francesca Schiavone using RPM Blast, and Robin Soderling and Tomas Berdych using Big Banger Alu Power. Alu Power, as the name suggests, is a string with an element of aluminum in it, and Luxilon claims it gives the string more power–hence the name.
Monofilaments are also more durable than multifilaments, (given the same string thickness), but tend to feel somewhat dead in thicker gauges, so that while the string might last a long time it doesn’t perform well. An aspect regarding monofilaments that is not always appreciated is that they lose tension much quicker than natural gut or multifilaments. In effect, the performance of the string gives up well before the string itself breaks, so you͛ll need to restring regularly to benefit from monofilaments.
Lastly, monofilaments are very poor at absorbing shock, and tend to send any vibrations straight up the arm. Those with arm problems should look elsewhere, or string at much lower tensions (28-45 lbs), which is becoming wildly popular on the pro tours. In summary, if power is your main requirement, you͛re not overly bothered about touch, and you don͛t have tennis elbow or other arm problems, a monofilament may be your answer.
Wrapped Strings. Rounding out string construction are strings referred to as wrapped strings, whereby a center core of either monofilament or multifilament construction is surrounded by one or more wraps of the same, or a different, material. The idea of this type of string is that it gives a blend of performance; eg: the durability of a monofilament with some of the control of a multifilament, or the control of a multifilament with some of the durability of a monofilament. The thinner the central core and/or the more wraps, the more the string is control orientated. While they offer neither the overall control of a multifilament nor the durability of a monofilament, they do provide a good compromise between the two. Wrapped strings tend to cost a bit less than either monofilaments or multifilaments, but can still provide excellent performance.
Photos of Maui Country Club Tennis Pro, Max Watson