Racquet Stringing – When, Where, and Why It is Necessary?
Keeping a racquetball racquet strung using the right string with the correct tension is very important. Why? For one thing if the string is strung too tightly or loosely on the racquet it will affect ball flight and could leave the player wondering why the ball is not going where he hit it and intended it to go; i.e. either not enough power, or too much power for instance. Secondly, if the gauge of the string is too thick or too thin, or is a mono-filament or multi-filament type string, that too may affect ball flight. So if a player has already selected what he feels is the best racquet for his style of play, the next thing needed is to get the best stringing done on his racquet with the type of string that works best for his racquet stroke. If these steps are not taken he may fall into an all too common trap and think the racquet is not right for him, that it is the racquets’ fault why his game is not what he feels it should be. There’s no question that sometimes the racquet is the problem. Players have different strokes and body mechanics. And their swings all differ slightly based upon interrelated variables like balance, foot work, and the ability to set-up correctly before striking the ball. So occasionally the problem could be the type of racquet being used. But most times it’s due to the strings. Nearly 100% of the time the racquet’s fine. It’s just not strung right.
Stringing one’s racquet is oftentimes under-rated. Many recreational players who play the game at their local racquetball clubs think if their racquet has strings on it and none are broken then everything’s OK. But more often than not this is not the case. Instead, it could be other things like fatigue, setting up improperly before striking the ball, diet, or any number of issues. But improper racquet stringing is usually one of them. A player could be using the wrong type of string, or the right string with the wrong string tension, or the wrong gauge strings, or all of these! Few players, whether they are recreational participants of the game or iron-clad tournament competitors, take the time to investigate and learn about this significant issue; i.e. string type, tension, and gauge. Instead, they just keep playing until a string breaks. Then they get it re-strung at a local retail store not knowing what strings to buy, which string works best for their game, or what string tension to even ask for. The result is that when they get their racquet back they oftentimes play worse than they did before they had their racquet restrung. They wonder what’s wrong with the way they are playing, why they are not hitting their shots, and losing games they usually win. Rarely is the problem thought to be the re-stringing job. Some even seek to receive racquetball lessons to correct ‘the problem’ not realizing it is a string issue and nota playing problem.
To avoid a situation like this, everyone who plays racquetball should become very acquainted with what strings work best on their racquet for their style of play. And they should make it an on-going requirement to use those same strings with the same tension on their racquet at all times. To accomplish this they should make certain to tell the stringer what strings and what tension they want for their racquet whenever getting their racquet restrung. Sound simple? It is, but unfortunately most do not do it.
Some racquet manufacturers have the recommended string tension printed on the frame of the racquet. That’s what tension they are strung at from the factory. Hence, the term ‘Factory Strung’has been widely adopted. But players should know that this is only a ‘recommended’ tension. That’s all. The racquet can be strung at any desired tension and with any kind of string. Being unaware of this further accents why players should learn what type of string, string tension, and string gauge feels and works best for them. All the racquets today have a factory string tension range of 28-34 pounds and are strung with a simple synthetic mono-core string. The problem is that when one buys a racquetball racquet off the shelf he has no idea what the tension actually is. Further confusing the issue is that some strings are 16 gauge while others are 17 gauge, which we will address further in this article.
Not knowing the importance of racquet stringing is not limited to recreational club players. Tournament players sometimes make stringing errors too. For example, some unwittingly use the wrong strings, the wrong string tension, or the wrong string gauge on their racquets. What’s worse is that even though some tournament players have not figured out what strings, tension, and gauge works best for them, in a positive attempt to be better prepared for a tournament, they inadvertently go another step further that only compounds the situation and making things worse. To ensure the strings on their racquets won’t break during tournament play they get all their racquets re-strung before competing. Players know they are expected to play several matches at a tournament. So they think that by getting their racquets re-strung they are avoiding a potential string from breaking during play. And this may well be true; however, now they are going to compete in a tournament with string tension they have not practiced with or are accustomed to. And this can, and usually does, have an adverse effect on their play.
Professional players, the ones who are competing to earn money and a higher ranking, take stringing very seriously! In fact, they have their racquets strung with the care one might put into stringing a violin. This is because they have taken the time to determine what strings they can hit best with, what string tensionhelps them to play better, and what gauge of string gives them the most feel for the ball. Pros don’t fool around. They know that proper stringing is absolutely paramount in order for them to play their best. Many Pros—as has been noticed by spectators—have four or more racquets in their bag. What most people do not know, however, is that every single one of those racquets has been strung exactly the same way; i.e. with the same strings, the same tension, and the same gauge. And while we’re on the subject, all of their racquets are typically the same kind as well. Same racquet, same strings, same tension, same gauge! Same, same, same! This is one of the reasons why they are so consistent.
There are many effects of stringing. When a racquet is strung too tightly, say 38 pounds for example, and has now been strung tighter than the owner expected or was previously using, the player may discover he has to swing much harder to achieve the same results. Also, his ‘touch’ shots, if he incorporates them into his game, may seem to be more difficult to execute, as many may fall short of the mark. Conversely, if the same racquet is strung more loosely, say 30 pounds, the player may find that he has to slow down his swing else over-hit the ball during rallies. He may find he has to do this while he is serving as well. Further, if the strings used are sixteen gauge after the racquet has been restrung when the player was formerly using seventeen gauge, he may discover the ball feels differently on his racquet. He may discover he is not able to hit ‘his shots’ the way he could before. In a similar way, if the strings used are seventeen gauge when sixteen gauge had previously been used he may in a like way discover the ball feels different on his racquet. And he may miss shots he ordinarily executed easily. It all depends. Players play differently. They all have a slightly different swing arc. And body mechanics and balance must also be considered. Still, with all these variables, one thing is clear—having a properly strung racquet can make a BIG difference in performance on the court.
In an article titled ‘Proper Racquetball String Tension’ the effects of string tension is summarized very well. “When string tension on your racquet is higher, the strings are tighter and you have more control. With lower tension, your strings are looser and you have more power. This makes sense if you imagine jumping on a trampoline. If the trampoline is stretched too tautly, you don’t bounce very high. But if you loosen it so it becomes more springy, you bounce higher. A lower tension setting can be an advantage because it creates less stress on your arm.”1 The strings on a racquetball racquet act much the same way as a trampoline. In fact many have described the ball bouncing off of racquets strings as the ‘Trampoline Effect’. Thus, string tension can make a big difference in the way a player executes his shots on the court since the ball flight can be drastically affected and change due to how it bounces off the strings. Hitting with racquets that have different string tensions (30 pounds, 32 pounds, 34 pounds, 38 pounds, etc.) can help a player decide what string tension feels best for him.
Nylon string is synthetic gut and this type of string material is what makes up the vast majority of the strings sold today. These strings provide a combination of power and control at an affordable price. These strings can also be quite durable. Nylon strings are good for beginners and top-level players alike. They are the best value for the money.Once the string tension has been determined, the next thing that is needed is figuring out what type of string—what type of string material—feels best and best compliments how the player strikes the ball. Again, this is best determined by hitting with racquets strung with different types of string. And there are many different types of racquetball strings to select from. The following provides information about the main types of material used today that composes the different string types:
Kevlar string is the most durable string available. It is very stiff and when restrung is typically very tight, so much so that it is usually combined with nylon to reduce the string bed stiffness (Kevlar main strings, nylon cross strings). Still, Kevlar hybrids are the least powerful and least comfortable strings currently available. Players trying Kevlar hybrids for the first time (from nylon strings) are recommended to reduce tension by 10% to compensate for the added stiffness. And like Polyester strings, Kevlar strings are not recommended for beginners, or players with arm injuries.
Zyex string offers more rebound efficiency, i.e. gut-like dynamic stiffness, than other synthetic strings, particularly when strung at low tensions. This gives it playability that is more similar to natural gut than other synthetic materials. It also has low overall stiffness. The drawback of Zyex is that the outer wrapping materials in Zyex racquetball string tend to be much less durable than the Zyex filaments inside the string and do not bond with them. This can lead to the outer wrapping wearing away, leaving the inner Zyex filaments exposed.
When strings are manufactured utilizing the aforementioned materials, they can differ significantly from one to another. One manufacturer, for example, uses three primary types of manufacturing methodologies when making strings. They are strings made with a multifilament core, with a monofilament core, and with a Zyex fiber core. There are others, but these compose the majority of strings made by string manufacturers that are available to the public today. This image (to the right–>) clearly shows the end-result difference between these three types of produced strings.
The gauge of the string also plays an important role in the type of string used. String gauges are delineated by numbers; i.e. 16, 17, and 18. The higher the number gauge the thinner the string. The lower the number gauge the thicker the string.
Once a player has determined the string type, tension, and gauge of the strings he will be using on his racquet, it is important to know when one’s racquet requires restringing. Actually there is no written rule for this, but typically the number of hours played per week serves as a guide for what will eventually be the number of times it may be necessary to restring a racquet in a year. Players that spend three hours a week on the racquetball court, for example, should look to restring their racquet every four months or so. This number could be higher if a player’s strings are deeply notched at the cross sections, or if there is a loud crunchy sound when the strings on the racquet are moved. Further, if one plays four or more hours per week, as well as tournaments, the number of times a racquet may need restringing will increase exponentially.
Another issue one must consider when restringing a racquet is the time the ball spends on the strings of the racquet. Certainly this is a very quick split second amount of time and mathematically a very small number. But this can also affect shot-making and general all court play. As we have seen, the tighter the strings are (higher tension) the better control. The looser the strings are the more power. Think of it this way. The tighter the strings are the less flex in the strings there is and, therefore, the less time the ball sits on the string bed. Less flex means that there is less energy springing back off the strings. Less time the ball spends on the string bed also means that the ball will be directed at the angle the ball contacts the string bed and that the arc of the player’s swing as it changes the angle will have less impact on the direction the ball travels. The opposite is true for power. Think of the trampoline again. A very tight trampoline doesn’t allow one to bounce very high. But loosen it up some and one is bouncing higher than a house. The same holds true for a string bed on a racquetball racquet. The loss of control is due to the ball sitting on the strings longer. As a player swings through the arc before striking the ball, he doesn’t know exactly when the ball will release from the string bed. The result is that there is less control. And finally, the longer one plays with the same strings the looser they become. And the longer the ball sits on the string bed.
Remember, all strings stretch. In the beginning, new strings seem full of life with a lot of spring. The thing is springs wear out with repeated use and continued stretching. Over time the tension in the strings decrease and they begin to move; however, after a while they don’t snap back into place and players find themselves fixing them—realigning them—after each rally. This is a signal that it may be time to get the racquet restrung. If we think about it, once strings start to move and do not move (or snap) back into place, there is little one can do except getting the racquet restrung.
When most racquetball players look at their racquet, or anybody else’s racquet for that matter, they see the obvious; i.e. a hard framed racquet with strings and a handle. When a Stringer looks at a racquet he sees something completely different. He sees something that looks more like this.–>He sees string patterns, which is yet another thing players should be aware of when getting a racquet restrung. Stringing mains and crosses at different tension can affect a racquet’s performance. Probably the only time using different tensions should even be considered is if a two piece stringing pattern is used. A one piece stringing pattern will work its’ way to varying tension conditions. While different tensions do change the feel slightly the string bed remains relatively similar to the average tension of the strings. The two tensions, however, cannot vary by that much else there would be a great deal of string breakage. And it is questionable whether the racquet would even play well. Stringers are well aware of this.
The only time varying tensions are used is when there is a player who for whatever the reasons continually breaks strings. Typically the mains are Kevlar (to get any response the tension needs to be lower) and the crosses are normal 17-gauge at a higher tension. But this can of course vary based upon several additional variables not the least of which are wearing grommets. What’s a grommet? They are the plastic pieces around your racquet that protect the top of your frame from the wall. They are also the little pieces seen coming through the holes of your frame that the string actually comes through. They keep the strings safe—those are those little round things that rest snugly in the frame providing space between the frame and the strings. They are necessary, because they prevent the string from vibrating on the frame and breaking. Regarding string patterns and incorporating different gauges, some have been experimenting with increasing the tension on the mains of long string racquets (with strings through or around the handle) and then less tension on the crosses.
Many racquets today have complicated string patterns, which help cut down on breakage and in many cases offer more power, or more control. As a result, more racquetball racquets lean toward the two piece stringing method over the older one piece method. The two piece method cuts down on extra string that would be on the outside of the racquet. This in turn cuts down on tension loss. It also eliviates overlapping problems in the grommet string channel. Remember those grommets?
There are various types of strings that can be purchased for racquetball racquets.
NOTE:There are a variety of different strings that racquetball players should use when getting their racquet restrung. It is not recommended, however, that any kind of tennis string be used.
There is more to getting a racquet restrung than most think. Hopefully this article has provided some insight to the many issues that are involved. When it’s time to get your racquet restrung remember the following suggestions before spending the money to do so:
1. Strings – There are many different kinds to choose from. Test them hitting with racquets that have different strings on them and make a determination which type of string feels best for you. If possible, play a game with a fellow player using racquets strung with different strings. Don’t just hit the ball around by yourself. Playing a game will force you into those playing situations allowing you to see how the strings react to making your shots as you play. Select the strings that are right for you.
2. Tension – All racquets purchased are ‘factory strung’ and not necessarily the tension that works best for everyone’s hitting or game style. Any racquet can be restrung to any desired tension. Again, test different tensions with other racquets strung at different tensions and select the one that provides you the best feel for the way you hit the ball and play the game.
3. Gauge – Strings are thick and thin and each plays differently. There are 16, 17 and 18 gauge strings. Refer to the chart in this article (Page 4) when deciding what gauge string to use based on your style of play. Also, always keep in mind that the higher the gauge number, the thinner the string, and the lower the number gauge, the thicker the string.
4. String Patterns – Stringing mains and crosses at different tension can affect a racquet’s performance. While different tensions do change the feel slightly the string bed remains relatively similar to the average tension of the strings. String patterns and tension changes apply mostly to higher skilled players (Elite, Open, and Pro).
5. Materials – The main types of material used today to make racquetball strings are Nylon, Polyester, Kevlar, and Zyex. There are strings made with a multifilament core, with a monofilament core, and with a Zyex fiber core. There are others as well.
6. Timing– Know when it’s time to get a racquet restrung. If you play three hours of racquetball a week on average plan on getting your racquet restrung three times a year (every four months or so). If you play five or six hours per week, and also play tournaments the number of times you will need to restring your racquet(s) will increase exponentially.
7. String Providers – There are several string providers—Head, E-Force, ProKennex, Ektelon, Wilson, Gamma, Gearbox, Gosen, Tecnifibre, Ashaway. And they all come with different price tags ranging from about $10.00-20.00. Select one that works best for you!
The racquet that players choose to play racquetball with is very important. But remember, it is from the stringsused on that racquet that can oftentimes influence play more than the racquet itself. Pay attention to the strings you use and you will have a good chance of becoming a better more consistent player!
U.S. Open Singles and Doubles Champion
U.S. National Singles and Doubles Champion
U.S. National Masters Single and Doubles Champion
World Singles Racquetball Champion
French Open, Irish Open and Dutch Open Singles Champion
1 Summer 2011, How Tension Effects Your Play, located at http://www.livestrong.com/article/333047-proper-racquetball-string-tension/, p.1.