Tennis String Gauges
When choosing a tennis racket, there are many factors to consider. Apart from selecting a tennis string, which can be a tedious and complex process, you need to pick the string gauge as well. A gauge is one of the main attributes of tennis string.
Believe it or not, the string gauge’s thickness and thinness can significantly impact the player’s performance.
Most players ignore the gauge, and that’s why they are unable to string their racket correctly.
This can have a big impact on their performance because the size won’t fit their individual preference and needs.
Given the critical role string gauge plays in a player’s performance, let’s explore what string gauge is, how it is measured, and what string gauge you should use.
What is a String Gauge?
The various thickness of a tennis racket string is called a gauge. The string diameter and gauge thickness are responsible for the racket’s durability.
The thicker the gauge, the more control and durability the racket will offer, while the thinner the gauge, the more comfort and power the player will enjoy.
Check out this video to learn how string gauge impacts a player’s spin and power.
As far as gauge measurements are concerned, there is no upper or lower limit. The only thing to note is that it should fit the grommet hole of your racket.
Typically, tennis string gauges range from 1.05 mm-1.41 mm. Generally, you will find a gauge between 1.20 mm-1.30 mm, and the millimeter measurement measures the string’s thickness.
In the US, the lower the number means the thicker the gauge will be, while conversely in Europe a higher number means the gauge is thick.
In some cases there will be an ‘L’ next to the gauge, which stands for ‘light’. So, when a gauge indicates L, it means it is thinner. For example, a 15 L gauge is thinner than a 15 gauge but not as thin as a 16 gauge. Similarly, a 16 L gauge is thinner than 16 but not as thin as a 17.
Watch this video to understand the difference and a comparative analysis between 16 and 17 string gauges.
Usually, 15 and 16 gauge strings come in slightly thinner or light versions (15L and 16L). There can be overlap between the measurements of string gauges.
There are cases when manufacturers pick the gauge to market their strings. Each gauge indicates a range of measurements in mm (millimeters). For example, a 16 gauge string refers to a string between 1.26 mm and 1.34 mm thick.
Lately, string gauges have become more standardised to ensure maximum player convenience, but there is still a range of measurements used. Some measurements are slightly more common than others, for example, a 16-gauge string is usually 1.30 mm thick.
Different strings from different brands may have the same gauge, but their thickness will be different in terms of the millimetre measurement.
Therefore, apart from the existing overlap between measurements, players also need to pay attention to the string’s thickness in millimetres. This should be easy to find as it is usually printed on the packet.
String Gauge and Performance
Selecting the correct string gauge depends on several factors, the most important being how you want it to impact and improve your performance.
A player’s performance is impacted by three main factors:
- Spin potential,
While many factors can impact a string’s life and longevity such as tension, pattern density, construction, and the material itself, the bottom line is that thicker strings will last longer. This should be a rule of thumb to follow when selecting a tennis string gauge.
In simple terms, a heavier gauge and thicker string will be more durable and long-lasting and is the ideal choice for players who like to hit hard and move the strings a lot.
If your preference is maximum control and durability, then go for a thicker, robust, and heavier gauge. Conversely, if you select a thinner gauge, you will have to compromise upon the durability factor a bit.
This shouldn’t impact the racket or your performance too much, unless you like to blast the ball as Rafael Nadal does! Nadal uses a 1.35 gauge RPM blast. Watch its review here.
If you stick to 1.15 gauge, you may not find any significant durability issues if you are careful about hard-hitting. For most players, a thinner 1.15 Luxilon Alu Power gauge with a soft or hybrid string will do the job well.
On the other hand, if you regularly break strings then thicker, more durable strings like Solinco Confidential are better options. Or else, you can stick to a thicker gauge of the string you are currently using.
One thing you should keep in mind is that a thicker gauge will increase the string’s stiffness.
When playing, the string produces friction at the cross-section where they overlap. You’ll notice that the strings start cutting into each other instead of overlapping and start to notch with time.
This is why the thicker the string, the more durable and the greater its capacity to withstand impact.
The main rule to follow regarding spin is that the thinner the string, the more potential to spin. In contrast, the thicker the string, the less potential for a spin.
This is because thinner strings can bury themselves deep into the ball, which results in a better spin. Conversely, the thicker string cannot bury themselves in the ball, so there will be lesser spin potential.
A thinner polyester gauge generally has the most spin potential compared to all other types. The best polyester string gauge is one that doesn’t hurt your arm and also doesn’t break quickly, such as after 4 or 5 games.
A thick string will hold the tension longer because it doesn’t stretch as much as a thinner string does.
Therefore, a thicker string gauge will feel at a higher tension even if strung at the same tension as a thinner gauge.
However, it’s important to note that the gauge doesn’t influence spin potential, and having thin strings doesn’t mean that you will effortlessly generate more spin.
Your technique, grip, racket head speed will all influence the spin more than the string.
The feel of the strings will change with the gauge. Thinner strings usually offer an enhanced feel to the players. So, you may find the sensation of a 17-gauge string better than a 16-gauge string. But the problem is that you may break them easily.
Which String Gauge Should You Use?
There’s no definitive answer to this question because every player’s preferences and demands are different.
However, the first and more crucial determining factor is the string type and material. Check out the different types of strings below.
Types of String
String type impacts the gauge of your choice more than anything else. There are five commonly used types of strings, which includes:
The natural gut offers power, comfort and enhanced tension maintenance. The feel is exceptional, but the material is prone to breakage and may get damaged when exposed to excess moisture.
If you want to learn more about natural gut strings, watch this video.
This is a mid-range material that offers well-rounded performance. However, one downside is that it lacks durability. Check out why synthetic guts offer superior performance on the court in this video.
This is a synthetic substitute for the natural gut. The strings offer more comfort and power and can hold tension well. If you are confused about multifilament strings, check this guide with pros and cons analysis.
Polyester strings are spin-friendly and low-powered. These tend to be very durable and somewhat stiffer but lose tension faster compared to other strings. Here’s how polyester strings revolutionised tennis.
This is one of the best options if durability is your primary concern. Kevlar strings are capable of maintaining tension well.
With these options in mind, you can select the string gauge thickness or thinness that’s right for you. If you opt for natural gut or synthetic material, you can go for a lower gauge, which would result in a thicker and more durable tennis string.
On the other hand, if using polyester strings, you can opt for a higher gauge for better spin. You can keep experimenting until you find the right combination of tennis string and gauge.
Remember that the type of string you use will eventually play a defining role in your performance. So if you are breaking natural gut strings just after five games, choosing to move down on the gauge won’t help you much. In that case, you will need to switch to a more durable string. So, select the thickness accordingly.
Check out the tennis string gauges used by the pros in this video.
String Gauge Measurements Overview:
Here is a brief overview of the kind of impact a particular gauge measurement will offer for your convenience.
15/1.40mm: This is a thick gauge suitable for those who want maximum control and durability.
16/1.30mm: This is medium thickness. It is suitable for those who break strings frequently.
16L/1.28mm: This offers medium thickness and is suitable for players who require a balance between power and control.
17/1.25mm: This is a medium-thin gauge. Players who want more power and comfort should choose this gauge.
17L/1.20mm: This gauge is on the thinner side and is ideal for players who need better touch and feel.
18/1.15mm: This is the thinnest gauge you can get. Despite being vulnerable to wear and tear, a thinner gauge will offer maximum feel and touch.
A 17-gauge string is best for beginners because it has a feel and touch that is well-suited to learning to play. Performance matters more than durability and a thinner gauge will help improve your performance for the better.
Here’s why thinner strings are a better choice for beginners.
However, if you are prone to breaking strings more frequently or are on a budget, go for thicker string and lower gauge. Ideally, you should opt for 16 gauge. You could test 18 gauge to check if the superior comfort, feel, and power that it offers impacts your performance positively or not.
For more information on the String Gauge chart, watch this video for more precise guidelines.
Should Budget be a Consideration?
There’s no doubt that stringing a racket is expensive. If you cannot afford to string your racket frequently, it’s better to stick to a thicker or low gauge string to avoid breakage and improve your string’s life.
If you go thicker, choose 16-gauge as it will help maintain solid playability and generate better spin. For a thinner gauge, you may have to pay a higher cost.
If budget is one of your concerns, consider using string savers to get a higher gauge without burdening yourself financially.
Can Frequency of Play Impact String Gauge?
Playing frequency should be one of your key concerns when selecting a string gauge. If you play tennis twice a month, you may not need to worry about the longevity and invest in a higher gauge.
You will ultimately need to replace your string on a semi-regular basis because they naturally lose their liveliness and tension over time.
Conversely, if you play five days a week and don’t want to restring every other week, it is better to use a lower gauge to enhance the strings’ life.
Does Level of Play Influences String Gauge Choice?
If you are a beginner player, we recommend that you start with a thicker and inexpensive string such as the synthetic gut, because when you start playing you’re less likely to notice the subtle differences between a lower and higher gauge.
At this stage, durability is more important than spin potential or feel.
If you have just started playing tennis, start with a 16-gauge. You can find a broad range of strings at this thickness.
Moreover, it is roughly a midway point between other commonly used gauges. So, you can have enough room to move up or down in thickness as per your experience. For instance, Prince Synthetic Gut is an inexpensive string available in a range of gauges, from 15 L to 17 and 16.
A lower gauge will allow more durability as the strings won’t break easily, and you won’t need to restring your racket again and again.
As mentioned above, for beginners, a 16-gauge string, which will approximately be between 1.26 mm to 1.34 mm, is a good choice. Over time, your skill level will improve, and you will benefit from higher gauges.
On the other hand, intermediate or advanced players should focus more on the gauge’s feel and opt for a higher gauge.
How Does Style of Play Impacts String Gauge Selection?
As you transition to an intermediate play level, you will start developing a definite style of play. For instance, Rafael Nadal has an aggressive baseline play while Roger Federer prefers all-court fineness play.
Nadal hits with an excessive topspin, which is why he generally opts for a 15-gauge polyester tennis string.
His preferred choice is Babolat RPM Blast. In contrast, Federer doesn’t like to hit with so much topspin – he showcases an impressive range of shots and plays from all sides of the court.
Therefore, he requires a hybrid setup and uses a 16-gauge natural gut when playing in the mains and a 17-gauge polyester string in the crosses.
So, a player’s style of play is an important consideration when it comes to string gauges. A thicker gauge is more suitable for beginners because they develop a specific style after they upgrade to the intermediate level.
That’s when the confusion between a thicker and thinner gauge comes into play.
What is Hybrid Stringing?
Hybrid stringing means using one type of string for the mains and a different type for the crosses.
It’s pretty common for intermediate to advanced level players to use a different gauge for each area on the court as per the strings’ inherent characteristics.
Should Comfort be Considered?
Stringbed stiffness and gauge can impact player comfort level, but there’s no definitive answer as to the direct effects of comfort on performance.
The comfort of your tennis racket strings fluctuates as per their gauges’ thickness.
Which Tennis String Gauge is Suitable for Arm Friendliness?
For arm friendliness, we recommend thinner gauges.
But with regards to arm comfort, the type of string you use will have a more significant impact than the gauge. So, it would be better to check out the string type rather than the gauge if arm friendliness is your preference.
However, if your wrist, elbow, or shoulder are in bits, switching to a polyester-based thinner gauge won’t help you much.
A better option would be to choose a softer poly or a multifilament.
Changing the gauge will be a good option if you want a slight adjustment only, such as if after a long-hitting session you start feeling pain in the arm, then you can switch to a thinner gauge.
Hopefully, this guide has given you a pretty good idea of how string gauge impacts playability.
Generally, gauges create subtle differences. So, it would help if you used the thinnest string that still offers reasonable durability and playtime.
There will be a slight drop in durability with a thinner string, but it shouldn’t be a big deal if comfort and spin are something you don’t want to compromise upon.