Which String Gauge Should You Use?
Every player’s needs and preferences are different. With this in mind, there are a variety of factors you can keep in mind when evaluating strings and determining which is best for you.
Types of String
The type of string your using frequently has an impact on the gauge that you choose. Here’s a brief look at the different types of strings:
- Natural Gut: high power, comfort, tension mantience, exceptional feel, prone to breakage, and susceptible to moisture
- Synthetic Gut: mid-range tennis strings offering well-rounded performance across the board, typically lack durability
- Multifilament: the synthetic alternative to natural gut, these strings offer power, comfort, and hold their tension well
- Polyester: low powered spin-friendly strings that are stiff and durable, but tend to lose their tension quicker than other strings
- Kevlar: the most durable strings that maintain their tension well
As you read the descriptions, it might begin to click why you might consider a higher or lower gauge for each.
As an example, you might string with a lower gauge (thicker) tennis string if you’re using synthetic or natural gut to help increase the durability or life of your strings. Whereas, if you’re using polyester strings, you may opt for a higher gauge (thinner) option to help maximize spin.
If you can’t afford to string your racquet frequently, I’d also recommend you string with a thicker low gauge string to help avoid breakage and increase the longevity of your strings.
Racquet stringing can be expensive, especially when you take into consideration the labor to string your racquet. You can go thicker, but 16 will usually do the trick while helping maintain solid playability and potential for spin.
If you want to play with a thinner gauge, but budget is a concern, you may want to consider the use of string savers to get the benefit of a higher gauge without breaking the bank.
Frequency of Play
Another factor to consider is your frequency of play. If you’re playing only twice a month, then you might not be as concerned with longevity, so you may be comfortable stringing with a higher gauge.
After all, you’ll still want to replace your strings on a semi-regular basis since strings naturally lose their tension and liveliness over time.
On the other hand, if you’re playing five days a week and you can’t afford to restring every week, then you might want to use a lower gauge to increase the life of your strings.
Level of Play
If you’re learning how to play tennis, then I’d recommend you start with a thicker inexpensive string like synthetic gut.
When you’re just getting started, you’ll unlikely be able to notice the subtle differences between a higher or lower gauge string. However, you will be more likely to appreciate the extra durability of a lower gauge string that doesn’t break easily and limits your restringing frequency.
As a result, for beginners, I’d recommend 16 gauge (1.26 to1.34 mm) to start. Over time as your skills develop, you’ll find your appreciation for strings do too.
If you’re intermediate to advanced, then I’d recommend you experiment with different gauges to get a feel for the change in performance. There’s no right or wrong answer – instead, keep the pros and cons in mind, and let your preferences drive your decision making.
Style of Play
Once you cross over to an intermediate level of play, you’ll begin to develop a style. Examples of different styles include Rafael Nadal’s aggressive baseline play or Roger Federer’s all-court fineness play.
In the case of Nadal, he hits with an incredible amount of topspin and uses a 15 gauge polyester tennis string from Babolat called RPM Blast.
Federer, on the other hand, doesn’t hit with as much topspin, but has an impressive arsenal of shots and regularly plays from all areas of the court. He strings a hybrid setup with 16 gauge natural gut in the mains and 17 gauge polyester in the crosses, which brings us to our next point.
There aren’t rules when it comes to hybrid stringing, where one type of string is used for the mains and another for the crosses.
However, it’s common for players to use a different gauge for each based on the characteristics the strings offer, as Federer does.
When it comes to gauge and stringbed stiffness, which impacts comfort, studies have been inconclusive. In other words, different strings will offer more comfort at higher or lower gauges.
With that said, you’ll have to be the judge when you find a string you like and experiment with different gauges. However, if you’re after comfort, the type of string you’re using, and the tension you’re stringing have a material impact that is worthy of consideration.
How Do You Know What You’re Buying?
String manufacturers always label their strings with the gauge or measurement in millimeters. Here are a few examples of string packages with the gauge of the string highlighted.
Sometimes you’ll see the millimeters expressed as a whole number, i.e., instead of 1.30, you’ll see it shown as 130, as you’ll find with many Babolat string packages.