I recently sat down with Richard Alston, the Pro-shop stringer at El Dorado Park in Long Beach, to talk about the details of racket stringing, sprung from my need to re-string two of my rackets. Mr. Alston has been playing tennis for 35 years and stringing rackets for players of all types for the past ten. Hoping to get back into the game some time soon, Mr. Alston has actively played in several team tennis tournaments as well as the Senior Olympics (when they were held in Long Beach, CA).
He gave me great insight on the stringing process to give us TM'ers some better knowledge on the who, what, when, where and why's of stringing. Not surprisingly, this has definitely made me understand stringing a bit better and am excited to experiment.
How often should you string your racket?
Mr. Alston - If the strings don't break, you shouldn't go more than a year without re-stringing. Despite your playing habits, the response of the strings lasts longer if the strings sit, which occurs the longer you use them.
How do choose the gauge of your tennis strings?
Mr. Alston - The higher the gauge the thinner the string. 15 is the thickest and 19 is the thinnest. 19 gauge strings has a better playing response, however the life of the string is less than desireable. Thinner strings allow more contact on the ball and are great for players that have more control over their shots.
How do you determine the tension of the strings when getting your racket restrung?
Mr. Alston - the lower the tension the more power, the higher the tension the more control you have. The more power you can generate on your own the less power you need from the strings. On a mid-plus racket the tension should be no lower than the midpoint (recommended by the manufacturer, labeled on the racket). On an oversized racket tension should be a the top of the range to take advantage of the trampoline affect.
What are the main differences between natural gut, synthetic gut and polyester strings?
Mr. Alston - Natural Gut: Is firstly natural animal gut. Natural gut is top rated in playability and also most often the most expensive. This is not necessarily the best choice for everyone. When playing with natural gut, the softer the better. Synthetic Gut: This type of string comes in mono and multi-filament. Synthetic gut has even play and durability. It is generally the most quality for your buck! Polyester: Comes in monofilament, has even play and durability similar to the synthetic gut, but is less durable, often the cheapest choice.
What's the deal with hybrid stringing?
Mr. Alston - Hybrid stringing was developed by the pro's to enhance durability and playability by mixing up the strings. The combinations generally consist of: natural gut/polyester, synthetic gut/polyester and polyester/polyester. The polyester strings are the main ingredient for durability and are combined with other choices depending on player's preference for strings. Using a hybrid solution is generally friendly and forgiving and great to experiment with.
Do you have a brand preference for strings?
Mr. Alston - Yes. Wilson Champion Source is a great hybrid string as well as Babolat strings which are very soft, similar to natural gut. For synthetic strings: Wilson NXT and Gamma Livewire.
Mr. Alston's final words - Experiment with strings, it is not difficult to get a good combination. Your choice of strings really depends on what the player wants to recieve from the strings: control, power or durability.
There we have it folks, straight from the stringers mouth. The more I think about it, the more I want to purchase my own stringer to learn how to string and get deeper into my love of tennis. Stay tuned, I will let you know when I get it down and will be happy to string for anyone who needs it in the future :).
p.s.: If you live near West Hollywood, Plummer Park is a great place to get your rackets strung. Its either $14 if you bring your own strings or the cost of the strings if you choose one of theirs (they don't really have much of a selection); In Long Beach head over to El Dorado park for the same deal. Sports Chalet will string your racket for the cost of the string only and has a wide variety of strings to choose from.