Natural Gut Tennis String Comes From Cows

Natural Gut Strings: Ultimate Buyer’s Guide with Top Picks

All Your Questions Answered

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If you’ve been around tennis for a while, you’ve likely heard of natural gut tennis strings, but you may not know a whole lot about them.

As the most expensive type of string on the market and a favorite choice among professional tennis players, natural gut is often considered one of the highest quality strings available. In this article, we’ll cover everything you need to know about natural gut strings.

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Our Top 6 Natural Gut Picks

Today, the selection of natural gut is somewhat limited compared with other string types. However, there are some fantastic options available to players.

The following table outlines our top six natural gut picks, and the section that follows covers why we’ve selected each of these six strings in detail.

RankStringPrice
#1Babolat VS Touch$$$$$
#2Wilson Natural Gut$$$$$
#3Luxilon Natural Gut$$$$$
#4Volkl V-Icon$$$$
#5Pacific Tough Gut$$$$
#6Pacific Classic$$$$

Babolat VS Touch

Way back in 1875, Babolat produced the first set of natural gut tennis strings. Since then, it has grown into one of the most dominant manufacturers of tennis equipment, and its world-renowned natural gut strings have set the bar for quality and performance.

While Babolat VS Touch and the manufacturing process has evolved over the years, the essence of the string has remained relatively unchanged.

However, one enhancement VS Touch has received is BT7 technology, which is an improved coating aimed at increasing durability and longevity while also enhancing the strings’ ability to resist humidity. For most players, this was a welcome improvement that works to combat some of the downsides commonly attributed to natural gut.

All in all, with Babolat VS Touch, you can expect massive power, top-notch playability, and a high level of comfort that players with tennis elbow and other arm injuries will appreciate.

ManufacturerBabolat
NameBabolat VS Touch
String TypeNatural Gut
MaterialSerosa fibers
Available ColorsNatural off-white and black
Available Gauge15L, 16
String LengthSet: 40 feet (12.2m)
Price$$$$$

Players Using Babolat VS Touch

  • Andy Murray – Crosses
  • Jelena Jankovic – Crosses
  • Caroline Wozniacki – Crosses
  • Johanna Konta – Mains

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Wilson Natural Gut

Founded over 100 years ago in 1913, Wilson Sporting Goods is one of the most popular tennis brands on the market, so there’s no surprise that it produces world-class natural gut tennis strings.

When it comes to Wilson Natural Gut, they make it super simple by offering a single product produced from high-quality serosa. As you’d expect from natural gut, this string delivers on power – the feature highlighted by Wilson. However, at the same time, you can count on excellent playability, tension maintenance, and comfort.

If you’re in the market for natural gut, then you can’t go wrong with this set from Wilson that’s trusted by some of the biggest names in our sport.

ManufacturerWilson Sporting Goods
NameWilson Natural Gut
String TypeNatural Gut
MaterialSerosa fibers
Available ColorsNatural off-white
Available Gauge15, 16, 17, 18
String LengthSet: 40 feet (12.2m)
Price$$$$$

Players Using Wilson Natural Gut

  • Roger Federer – Mains
  • Kei Nishikori – Crosses
  • Grigor Dimitrov – Mains
  • Serena Williams – Mains
  • Andrea Petkovic – Mains

Pacific Tough Gut

If you’re not familiar, Pacific is a German company that’s family-owned and operated and has been around since 1972. Within its line of three natural gut tennis strings, Pacific Tough Gut stands out from the pack to compete with Babolat and Wilson.

Similar to other top natural gut strings, Pacific uses beef serosa to make Pacific Tough Gut, and they do a fantastic job with it.

As the name suggests, this natural gut aims to deliver durability above and beyond Babolat and Wilson with the brand’s triple seal technology, or a series of coatings that help reinforce the strength of the natural fibers while reducing exposure to the elements and increasing longevity.

While their unique sealing helps with durability, it also makes the strings play slightly stiffer, which allows for the use of lower tensions without sacrificing control.

Of course, Pacific Tough Gut still delivers enormous power, fantastic playability, control, and top-notch comfort.

ManufacturerPacific
NamePacific Tough Gut
String TypeNatural Gut
MaterialSerosa fibers
Available ColorsNatural off-white and black
Available Gauge15L, 16, 17L, 17
String LengthSet: 40 feet (12.2m)
Price$$$$$

Pacific Classic Natural Gut

Without a doubt, one of the biggest disadvantages of natural gut tennis strings is their high price, which limits accessibility for a broad range of players.

However, Pacific Classic Natural Gut helps break down this barrier for players looking to benefit from the advantages of natural gut with a price that is within reach of a wider range of recreational players.

Similar to Pacific Tough Gut, this version of Pacific’s natural gut string uses its unique triple-seal technology to increase durability and limit the exposure of natural fibers to humidity and other elements.

If you’re looking to test the waters with a budget-friendly natural gut tennis string that won’t break the bank, then Pacific Classic Natural Gut has the potential to be a fantastic option at a lower cost.

ManufacturerPacific
NamePacific Classic Natural Gut
String TypeNatural Gut
MaterialSerosa fibers
Available ColorsNatural off-white
Available Gauge15L, 16, 17L, 17
String LengthSet: 40 feet (12.2m)
Price$$$$

Volkl V Icon

Last in the list of our favorite natural gut is Volkl V Icon, from another German company that has been around since 1923. You may know the company for its racquets used by legends like John McEnroe and Boris Becker, but it has also developed an excellent reputation for its tennis strings.

Similar to the other natural gut we’ve discussed, V Icon is composed of beef serosa fibers woven together to produce a lively string. The resulting string comes with power, an inherent resiliency that provides excellent tension maintenance, and a high level of comfort and shock absorption.

Perhaps one of Volkl V Icon’s best attributes is its price, which is on par with Pacific Classic Natural Gut and gives players yet another terrific cost-effective option when they’re looking to play with natural gut.

ManufacturerVolkl
NameVolkl V Icon
String TypeNatural Gut
MaterialSerosa fibers
Available ColorsNatural off-white
Available Gauge16, 17
String LengthSet: 40 feet (12.2m)
Price$$$$
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The History of Natural Gut Tennis String

While little is published on the history of natural gut, we can trace its roots as far back as 3750 BC in the Papyrus of Ebers, an Egyptian medical papyrus of herbal knowledge. Of course, at this time in history, tennis hadn’t even been invented, but natural gut was found referenced as a surgical suture for stitching wounds.

Over the years, natural gut has also carried a different name, often referred to as kitgut or catgut. However, rest assured, there has been no evidence found that cats have ever been used to create catgut for surgical suture or natural gut tennis strings.

As referenced in “The Story of Catgut,” by Dr. Eldred Holder, “the name [catgut] can be traced back to the Arabic cither, an early stringed instrument. The same root is seen in the old name for the dancing master’s fiddle, a kit. From kitgut to catgut is an easy etymological step.”

Natural gut was also found in use as a bowstring. That is, the bowstring of a bow and arrow dating back to 1350 BC in the tomb of King Tut or Tutankhamun, an Egyptian pharaoh, and said to be made out of three strands of sheep gut.

Fast forward a few thousand years, and natural gut was first found to be used in a tennis racquet in 1875 after Pierre Babolat developed the first tennis string made from sheep gut. Today natural gut tennis strings mostly come from cows. If this is your first time reading about natural gut, that might come as a shock.

What Is Natural Gut Made of?

Yep, you read that right. Originally, natural gut tennis strings were primarily made from sheep gut, or more specifically, the innermost layer of sheep intestine called the mucosa.

Today most natural gut tennis strings are produced from cow gut, or the outermost layer of the cow intestine called the serosa. The advantages of using cows include less intestine required to produce a set of natural gut strings and a higher tensile strength of the intestine, which ultimately leads to greater durability.

As gross or unusual as it may sound, natural gut tennis strings have remained one of the top choices by tennis players around the world and can also be found in other products, such as musical instrument strings.

How is Natural Gut Made?

The process of producing natural gut tennis strings is rather complicated. Here’s a quick overview of the steps required to produce natural gut tennis strings:

  1. Strands of cow intestine arrive at a string production facility in large barrels.
  2. The strands of the intestine are removed from the barrels and washed to remove salt, which preserves the intestine en route to the facility. At this stage, the intestine is gently washed in a series of baths, where a softening detergent is introduced.
  3. Once washed, the gut moves on for a thorough inspection where fatty or discolored strands are removed to ensure the utmost in quality.
  4. After being inspected, the strands are then layered together by a specific predetermined number to produce a particular gauge of string.
  5. The strands are then measured to ensure the appropriate length necessary for tennis strings, which must be 42 feet long. Roughly 2 feet is lost throughout the remainder of the production, and it takes approximately three cows to produce one set of natural gut tennis strings.
  6. Next, the gut is sent to a curing tank where chemicals are introduced to sterilize, whiten, and cure the gut. It’s natural for gut to have an orange hue, which is mostly removed at this stage.
  7. Once cured, the strings are spun together a specific number of times, which depends on the desired string gauge.
  8. The gut is then sent to the drying room, where it is dried at a controlled level of humidity for up to three weeks. During this time, the gut has twists applied regularly. This step is considered to be one of the most critical for producing a great set of strings.
  9. After being dried, the gut undergoes a second stage of drying for up to two weeks to ensure the strings are completely dry.
  10. At this stage, the strings are typically rough, so they are sent through a grinder to produce a smooth even finish.
  11. Next, the strings are given a protective coating for added durability.
  12. Lastly, the strings are checked for quality, packaged, and shipped.

As you can see, the process is somewhat labor-intensive, which is part of the reason natural gut tennis strings are more expensive than their synthetic counterparts

For a complete visual overview of how natural gut tennis strings are made, check out the following video for the production of Bow Brand natural gut strings:

Why Natural Gut?

At this point, you’ve learned about the origin of natural gut tennis string, what it’s made out of and how it’s produced, but why do we go to such great lengths to create natural gut tennis strings in the first place?

To gain a better understanding, we need to take a closer look at the raw material itself. As we now know, natural gut is most commonly made from serosa or cow intestine. This outermost layer of a cow intestine consists of collagen, which is perfect for cows since it can expand and contract during and after a large meal.

Upon a closer look, each collagen molecule is composed of three strands, referred to as a triple helix. This unique construction produces an elastic material with an extremely high tensile strength, which means it can withstand high stress when stretched.

This natural elasticity allows natural gut tennis strings to produce more power than your typical string while holding a consistent tension for a considerably longer period.

Additionally, the tension of natural gut does not increase as much upon impact as synthetic string, which lends itself to a softer impact and less stress on a player’s arm.

Another beneficial side effect of the soft elastic feel of natural gut tennis strings is what’s commonly referred to as ball pocketing, which is the sensation of the ball sitting on the strings for a longer period and providing players with a greater sense of control when hitting.

For these reasons, natural gut makes an excellent material for tennis strings that are not easily replicated by synthetic strings.

Natural Gut Quality

Since natural gut tennis strings come from a living animal, the quality of string can vary significantly based on a variety of factors.

As crazy as it may sound, even natural gut tennis strings produced from certain types of cattle have shown to produce different kinds of characteristics. Furthermore, the process and quality control used to create strings can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.

In most cases, you’ll typically find that the price tag follows the quality and vice versa, which is worth considering when you’re purchasing natural gut tennis strings.

Natural Gut vs. Synthetic Gut

Now that you’ve learned all about natural gut, you’re probably wondering what the difference is between natural gut and synthetic gut.

Synthetic gut tennis strings are most commonly produced from nylon and generally aim to replicate the performance of natural gut. Over the years, manufacturers have significantly improved the quality and performance of synthetic tennis strings. However, it’s challenging to make a blanket comparison of natural gut to synthetic.

The quality, material, and construction of synthetic tennis strings vary greatly depending on the different types of string. However, there are certainly some fantastic options for players looking for synthetic strings that compare to natural gut.

Perhaps the closest synthetic string to natural gut are multifilament strings made from high-grade nylon. Multifilament strings are produced by weaving together thousands of microfibers, which results in a string with similar characteristics to natural gut, including excellent playability and a soft feel.

While natural gut is still considered by many to be the best type of tennis string on the market, it depends on your personal preferences.

Natural gut strings tend to have superior playability and consistent performance over time, but they also tend to be prone to breakage and come with a high price tag.

Synthetic strings, on the other hand, present players with a wide range of options, affordable prices, and durability, while arguably offering lower playability.

Advantages of Gut

Now that you have a good understanding of where natural gut strings come from, how manufacturers produce them, and why natural gut is a fantastic material for tennis strings, let’s walk through the playing characteristics that have made natural gut so famous.

  • Power: Hands down, one of the most prominent features of natural gut strings is their power. Again, this is due to the naturally occurring triple helix composition of serosa, which results in a high level of elasticity. As a result, natural gut tennis strings consistently set the bar for the power potential that is possible with a tennis string.
  • Tension maintenance: Another key advantage of natural gut is the ability for the strings to maintain their tension over an extended period. As you can imagine, if the tension of your strings drops during a tennis match, it can lead to unforced errors as the response of the strings changes. Compared with other tennis strings, natural gut has a unique ability to maintain a consistent tension that provides players with a consistent hitting surface.
  • Comfort: Players have also turned to natural gut strings over the years because they are incredibly easy on the arm. As you may recall, the tension of gut does not increase as high as other strings upon impact, which results in a more forgiving feel. The strings also do a great job at absorbing vibrations that result when striking the ball. For these reasons, players with arm injuries like tennis elbow tend to enjoy natural gut as well as players looking to reduce the harshness of strings like polyester by stringing them together as a hybrid.
  • Feel: Last but not least, natural gut strings have a fantastic response, which provides players with excellent touch or feel that can be useful, especially when at the net.

Disadvantages of Gut

Of course, no type of string is perfect. Let’s walk through some of the most common disadvantages of natural gut.

  • Spin: Frequently, one of the complaints about natural gut tennis strings is that it can be harder to generate topspin compared with other strings like polys. As a result, natural gut is frequently combined with polyester strings to form a hybrid setup that aims to give players the best of both worlds.
  • Durability: While natural gut provides players with strong tension maintenance and, therefore, consistent play over a more extended period, they are not nearly as durable as other strings. First, while they possess high tensile strength, they are prone to breakage and, over time, begin to fray due to the friction caused by the strings moving back and forth. Many players find the latter more of an annoyance, but it’s worth considering. Also, they are susceptible to moisture, which can lead to a loss of tension and reliability. It’s important to note that manufacturers have worked to reduce durability issues with coatings that effectively seal the strings and reduce some of these problems.
  • Control: Since gut provides players with an impressive level of power and a less than desirable amount of spin potential, it’s not incredibly surprising that players report a lack of control when using natural gut. Again, for this reason, natural gut strings are often combined with other low-powered strings like polys.
  • Cost: Last but not least, one of the biggest disadvantages to natural gut is their price point, which is easily double the cost of the best synthetic strings and simply makes them impractical for many recreational players.

Stringing With Natural Gut

Due to the composition of natural gut tennis strings, you’ll want to take extra care to make sure you string your racquet properly because breakage, weak points, and unraveling may occur.

If you don’t consider yourself an experienced stringer, then you may want to work with a certified stringer that you can trust with your strings. Of course, if you’ve been stringing for a while and you want to install your natural gut, then you just need to jump in.

Here are ten tips to help you get it right the first time.

  • Take your time: Perhaps the best advice I can give when stringing with natural gut is to take your time. Compared with synthetic strings, natural gut is considerably more fragile during the installation process. Make sure you give yourself plenty of time for installation and don’t rush. It can be the difference between breaking your strings and a job well done.
  • Check your grommets: The grommets of a racquet can easily be damaged over time, so you should always check them before stringing and take extra-special care with natural gut. Imperfections such as grommets with rough edges due to contact with a tennis court or normal wear and tear can quickly destroy your natural gut strings as you pull the string through the grommet. If the grommets are in rough shape, consider replacing before you string.
  • Clamp your racquet: If you’re racquet shifts during the stringing process because you didn’t make sure your racquet was fully secure before stringing, you may end up regretting it. The jarring shift of your frame during your string job could easily lead to a string break that most synthetics would survive.
  • Carefully uncoil: Generally, you shouldn’t have much of any issue uncoiling natural gut. However, you should be extra careful. A kinked string can easily lead to breakage while stringing or very likely reduce the longevity of your strings with a break caused during your first few hours of play. Again, don’t rush. Take your time.
  • Pre-stretching: As the manufacturing of natural gut strings has evolved, the necessity to pre-stretch has diminished. At the same time, many players believe that you can maximize the tension maintenance of the strings by taking the extra step. Again, just be extra careful during this step and grab a friend to help if possible. I’d also recommend that you do a straight pull from one end to the other end of the string rather than wrapping the string around a pole or similar object to avoid unnecessary stress.
  • Adjust your string clamps: As you normally would when stringing a racquet, make sure you adjust your string clamps. A great tip for doing this is to test the tip of the end of your natural gut string before you start your string job. Insert one tip of the string and close the clamp. If it’s too tight, loosen the clamps until the string is snug. You don’t want it to slip, but you also don’t want to crush the string because that can reduce the durability of that portion of the string.
  • Weaving and pulling the string: You shouldn’t have to change much of your process with weaving. However, you should take extra care when weaving the crosses. A quick pull that generates too much friction can easily notch the string and produce a weak point, which can lead to breakage.
  • Protect your turns: With natural gut, it’s all about protecting the string throughout the string job. Gut performs fantastic once it’s in the racquet, but little hiccups along the way can cause problems. With that in mind, watch your turns through tight corners, edges of your stringer, and racquet clamps as you go. If necessary, form a barrier as you make your turns with a small piece of leather. For example, you could cut a piece from an old belt or use power pads if you have them on hand.
  • Keep a sharp tip: Natural gut is made by weaving together several strands of beef serosa and can come untwisted when the tip of your string frays. Advancements in string coatings for natural gut have made this less of an issue, but it’s worth keeping in mind. To avoid any problems, clip the tip of your string anytime the tip becomes weak or frayed.
  • Watch your step: Most synthetic strings can withstand you accidentally stepping on the string as you move around the stringer, but natural gut can crush easily with an unfortunate misstep. If you’re taking your time as you string, this is much less likely to result in any problems.

Natural Gut and String Tension

Selecting the right string tension is unique to each player, the racquet they’re using, and the string they choose to put in their racquet. However, as you move from one string to another, it can be important to consider the specific characteristics of that string and how the tension will impact the performance of that string.

With natural gut, one of the most important considerations is the power level of the string, which is higher than that of virtually every other string on the market.

For example, if you’re using natural gut primarily for the comfort and feel and you’re moving from a synthetic gut, you may want to increase the tension of natural gut by two or three pounds to reduce the power level.

Natural gut is unique in that it’s still comfortable and performs very well at higher tensions, so you shouldn’t have to worry about an increase of a few pounds affecting the playability of the string.

Accessories for Natural Gut

When it comes to natural gut, there are two accessories you may want to consider: string savers and power pads.

String Savers

String savers are small plastic inserts that you add between a main and cross string to protect the strings by reducing string movement and friction as they brush against each other.

Some suggest that they increase the roughness of your hitting surface, which can aid in spin and control, similar to the concept of a shaped polyester string.

With durability being one of natural gut’s greatest disadvantages, string savers can be a fantastic option to help extend the life of your strings.
They come in a convenient dispenser that allows you to separate the strings at each cross-section so that you can insert them.

Pete Sampras was famous for his use of string savers, keeping extra in his back pocket that he’d add even quickly between points.

Power Pads

A power pad is a small piece of leather placed on the outer edge of the racquet between two string holes to prevent friction and extend the life of the strings.

With advancements in racquet and string technology, power pads have become unnecessary, but some players will still use them.

Today their use tends to be slanted toward altering the feel of the racquet and strings rather than protecting strings from breakage.

When inserted between two string holes for the main strings, they dampen the feel of the strings, acting similar to vibration dampeners.

Wrapping Up

Selecting the perfect tennis string for your racquet involves understanding the differences in tennis string and weighing the pros and cons of each. What works for you may be completely different than another player, so it’s important to learn as much as you can so you can make the best choice for yourself.

Have you played with natural gut tennis strings? What did you think?

Photo Credit: John Bennett

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2 replies
  1. Benjamin Herron
    Benjamin Herron says:

    Used gut back in the days of wooden racquets and the power and feel was fantastic but had to be careful to keep my strings dry. Now I use a soft string like Wilson Sensation.

    Reply

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