Types of Tennis Strings
A comprehensive guide
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If you’re in the market for a new set of tennis strings or buying your first set, it pays to be familiar with the different types of tennis strings.
By understanding which strings are available and the common attributes associated with each, you’ll be able to narrow your options and confidently select a string that meets your needs. Furthermore, the right string can improve your performance, help you avoid or improve nagging arm injuries like tennis elbow, and save you money.
In this guide, we’ll provide you with an overview of the different types of strings available, including common materials and construction. We’ll also discuss the pros and cons of each and review the topics of string gauge and tension to help you learn which string type is the best for you.
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Types of Tennis String Video
For a visual walkthrough of the different types of tennis strings, be sure to check out my video below.
Here are timestamps within the video if you’d like to jump to a specific section:
0:21 – Why Strings Are Important
1:01 – String Families
1:44 – Natural Gut
2:40 – Synthetic Gut
3:25 – Multifilament
4:02 – Polyester
4:47 – Kevlar
5:22 – Hybrid Stringing
5:44 – Wrapping Up
You’ll find extra detail that pairs well with the above video in the sections of this guide that follow.
The Two Categories of Tennis String
We can categorize all tennis strings in one of the two following buckets:
- Natural gut
Back in 1875, Babolat introduced the first natural gut strings, and for decades they reigned supreme as the only string available.
However, in the 1950s, the first synthetic strings were developed and today represent the largest share of strings on the market.
In the following sections, we’ll review these categories in-depth. Keep in mind that as we discuss the advantages and disadvantages of each string that we’re speaking in generalities.
As with most things, there are exceptions to the rules. Moreover, the qualities of tennis string, such as feel, are subjective, so we’ve done our best to provide an accurate representation of what you can expect from each category.
Natural Gut Strings
To the surprise of many, manufacturers create natural gut strings from a complex process that transforms cow intestine into tennis strings.
At first, this may sound like a shocking material to use in the creation of tennis strings. However, if you consider the fact that they were introduced in the 1800s before modern textiles existed, then it starts to sound a bit more reasonable.
Due to their highly elastic properties, natural gut strings offer superior power, feel, and comfort. Beyond that, this category of tennis string does a great job of maintaining tension longer, which to date has been difficult to match even with advanced synthetic materials.
However, compared to some synthetic strings available, they’re not nearly as durable, they’re susceptible to moisture, and by far the most expensive due to the complex manufacturing cost.
As a result, you won’t typically find many club or recreational players using natural gut strings. Instead, they’re more frequently used by advanced players who demand the best and can afford the cost of maintaining them.
Luckily, there are a wide variety of less expensive synthetic gut strings on the market that offer similar characteristics.
Natural Gut Advantages
- Tension stability
Natural Gut Disadvantages
Natural Gut Advice
If you can afford them, natural gut tennis strings are a fantastic option for a wide range of players, but for most, they’re overkill.
As a beginner, it may be tempting to purchase the best or most expensive gear to improve your performance. However, when first starting, you’ll be hard-pressed to notice the difference between natural gut and an inexpensive synthetic alternative, as string performance is relatively nuanced. Instead, developing sound technique and practice will primarily influence your results.
Similarly, if you play casually or infrequently, then natural gut most likely won’t be worth the expense, but it won’t hurt either.
On the other hand, if you’re a highly competitive player working intensely on all aspects of your game and looking to find the edge anywhere you can, then natural gut tennis strings might be an excellent fit. With a high level of skill and experience, you’re likely to recognize and appreciate the added feel of these types of strings, as long as you can afford to maintain them.
Natural Gut Picks
If you’re looking to give natural gut a try to enhance your performance or perhaps because you want to experience what the strings have to offer, then we’d recommend the following for you to try.
|Babolat VS Touch|
|Wilson Natural Gut|
|Luxilon Natural Gut|
Synthetic Tennis Strings
Natural gut strings can be a fantastic option for some players, but most will find the variety and price of synthetic strings more appealing.
As the name implies, this type of tennis string uses various synthetic materials to provide players with a wider range of options.
When creating these strings, manufacturers control the material as well as the construction or makeup of the strings. The result is the ability to design strings that enhance virtually any feature, such as comfort, durability, spin, and power.
Within the synthetic family, there are three primary materials in use to create tennis strings:
We’ll start by reviewing each of these materials, and then we’ll walk through the different construction in use across them.
Without a doubt, the most popular member of the synthetic string family is nylon. You’re likely familiar with nylon from its use in clothing. However, it’s a diverse material that comes in various grades and is in use across a wide range of commercial products.
Synthetic gut and multifilament strings are both typically made with nylon, but the quality of nylon and construction are what differentiate one type of string from another.
Don’t let the name fool you. Strings labeled as synthetic gut are low-end tennis strings that provide moderate all-around performance at a great price. For most casual or recreational players, synthetic gut is the string of choice purely based on cost.
Within the realm of synthetic gut, there’s substantial variety. For the most part, you’ll find these strings feature a solid core construction with one or many outer wraps. Typically, the more outer wraps, the higher the durability and cushion or comfort provided by the string.
We’ll cover this with some visuals in the construction section of this guide, but it’s worth noting here to help understand where much of the price variance comes into play with synthetic gut strings.
Synthetic Gut Advantages
- Moderate all-around performance
Synthetic Gut Disadvantages
Synthetic Gut Advice
If you’re new to tennis or you play casually and infrequently, then synthetic gut tennis strings are a great option. They’re also ideal for players or parents who are on a budget.
If you’re an intermediate player who has been using inexpensive synthetic gut strings as you’ve been learning the game, then they’ll still serve you well. However, you’re likely approaching the stage where your skill-level will allow you to reap the benefits of the specialized strings we’ll cover in the rest of the guide, and we’d encourage you to begin experimenting with them.
Synthetic Gut Picks
Here’s a selection of our favorite synthetic gut tennis strings.
|Prince Synthetic Gut with Duraflex|
|Goosen OG Sheep Gutt|
In many ways, multifilament tennis strings are the big brother to synthetic gut. These strings were born out of the desire to make a better synthetic tennis string that had more of the qualities of natural gut, but with fewer of the drawbacks, i.e., increased durability.
As technology and materials evolved, manufacturers were able to build better synthetic strings by using a new construction method that weaves together thousands of fibers to mimick natural gut. The result is a popular string that offers terrific power, comfort, and greater durability due to the synthetic materials put to use.
As with synthetic gut, there are varying degrees of quality in both material and construction used for multifilament tennis strings, which is why you’ll see much of the price variance from string to string.
An area that draws confusion for new players to the game is that multifilament refers to both a type of string and, as you’ll learn later in this guide, a type of construction. I’ve found sharing this seemingly insignificant detail helps clear things up.
As a beginner, multifilament tennis strings are a great option. However, with one exception, my advice is the same as I gave for natural gut, in that it’s most likely not worth spending the extra money when you won’t be able to notice the difference from one string to another.
The one exception would be for adults who are picking up the game later in life and have struggled with any sort of arm injury. Due to their makeup, multifilament strings are high on comfort, so even if you can’t tell the difference between these strings and synthetic gut, your arm will thank you.
Where multifilaments shine is as a step-up for intermediate players that are currently using synthetic gut and looking for more performance out of their tennis strings.
These days, you’ll find more options for multifilament tennis strings than you will for synthetic gut, so it can be tricky to identify quality strings that you can trust. Here are a few of our favorites.
|Tecnifibire X-One Biphase|
Polyester tennis strings were introduced around 1997 when Brazilian Gustavo Kuerten strung his racquet with the first polyester from Luxilon. The strings allowed him to hit harder and with more topspin, and he battled through the field to win the French Open that year.
Fast forward a few decades, and tennis has evolved substantially. Players are stronger, and they’re using more extreme grips that allow them to swing harder to generate topspin without sacrificing control. Tennis strings are part of the equation that makes that possible.
Polyester strings are low powered and durable, which allows players to take huge cuts at the ball to generate high levels of topspin without sacrificing control or breaking the strings. They also exhibit a unique snapback effect that studies have shown to enhance topspin.
Due to their stiff, more durable construction, polyester can be hard on a player’s arm, so they’re frequently combined with natural gut or multifilament strings to provide players with durability while maintaining a more forgiving, natural feel.
These days, they’re one of the most popular strings due in large part to professionals like Rafael Nadal, who strings with a full bed of polyester to generate massive amounts of topspin, but they’re not for everyone.
Many polyester tennis strings feature additives to alter the properties and playing characteristics of the string. You’ll typically see these strings marketed as co-polys.
- Tension stability
To truly reap the benefits of polyester tennis strings, players must possess proper technique and a high level of skill.
One of the main factors that dictate topspin is the speed at which a player swings their racquet. Assuming the right grip is in use, a faster swing will result in more topspin.
When players are starting, they won’t possess the skill to swing a racquet with enough speed and accuracy, and therefore in most cases, the low power of polyester won’t be of any benefit. Furthermore, while polyester string to exhibit a snapback effect, this won’t happen unless a player strikes the ball hard enough to deform the strings.
With that in mind, we’d recommend against polyester for beginners and early intermediate players who wouldn’t benefit from the advantages the strings have to offer but would also have to deal with the disadvantages of low comfort and feel. If you suffer from arm injuries or discomfort, we’d also recommend you steer clear.
Players that will benefit are intermediate to advanced who have developed the technique and racquet head speed necessary. If polyester strings are of interest, you may want to consider this string as part of a hybrid setup – more on this to follow.
Here are a few of our favorites from three different tennis brands:
|Luxilon ALU Power|
|Babolat RPM Blast|
Kevlar or aramid fiber strings provide players with maximum strength and durability, but they are subsequently the harshest strings on the market. This type of string is most frequently used by chronic string breakers in combination with nylon strings to reduce the harsh feel.
While still in use, these strings have been primarily replaced by polyester strings, which have only become more and more popular.
- Tension stability
Most players will steer clear of Kevlar due to their harsh feel, but chronic string breakers are a niche that appreciates them.
Not only are Kevlar strings incredibly durable, but they do one-up polyester tennis strings in one area, which is tension stability, or their capacity to maintain a specific tension longer.
If you are a chronic string breaker, you know how expensive stringing can be. Growing up, I fell squarely into this camp.
One option would be to use polyester tennis strings, but if you’re looking to save money by avoiding breaking strings, then this might not be the best route. That’s because a drawback to polyester strings is that they tend to lose their tension quicker and go “dead,” which means they’re relatively high maintenance and need to be restrung more frequently.
If you’re a chronic string breaker with a healthy arm that needs each string job to last, then Kevlar can be a great option when strung as a hybrid. You’ll want to use Kevlar in the mains.
|Prince Pro Blend|
Synthetic String Construction
Now that we’ve covered the three main types of string materials, let’s dive into the most common string construction.
Solid Core & Outer Wrap(s)
A traditional string construction used heavily with synthetic gut strings is a solid core with a single layer of outer wraps.
Often, players describe these strings as having a crisp feel, especially when compared with multifilament (more on these to follow) or natural gut strings. In most cases, the quality of this type of string is a direct result of the grade of material used, which most frequently is nylon, such is the case with Gamma Synthetic Gut pictured above.
Although not as typical, solid core strings with multiple outer wraps provide many of the same characteristics with the added benefit of increased durability and a slightly softer or cushioned feel.
Monofilament, which consists of a single solid filament, is the most basic construction of the bunch. Typically, manufacturers make monofilament strings with polyester. The single larger filament combined with the stiff properties of polyester makes them some of the most durable strings on the market.
The vast majority of monofilament strings are low powered and provide a level of control well beyond what other stings offer. Pictured above, Babolat RPM Blast is an example of a monofilament polyester string.
Due to their stiffer feel, you’ll often find players combining monofilaments with natural gut, a multifilament, or synthetic gut.
If you’re a player suffering from an arm injury, you’re most likely not going to find the comfort you’re looking for in a monofilament.
Multifilament tennis strings have become popular over the years and are considered by some to be the top category of string construction after natural gut.
Multifilament strings are created through a process similar to natural gut – by weaving hundreds or thousands of microfibers together, as you’ll find with Dunlop’s Silk Pro tennis strings.
The result is a string that provides a soft, almost cushion-like feel. As a result, these strings have become an excellent option for players suffering from arm injuries.
Some players might be surprised or slightly turned off by the fraying that occurs with multifilament strings as they wear down, which is a result of the breakage of tiny fibers used to create these strings.
Due to their added durability, multifilament strings are also frequently found as part of hybrid strings sets, such as Wilson’s NXT Duo II.
More recently, companies like Babolat have experimented with the shape and texture of monofilament strings, and such is the case with RPM Blast Rough shown above.
Textured strings may also be constructed through the addition of an outer wrap or by incorporating a larger wrap within the outer layer, which creates a raised band and gives texture to the strings.
In some cases, manufacturers flip this approach by adding grooves to strings, which produces a similar effect.
Composite tennis strings are a result of combining multiple types of materials or grades of materials in an attempt to create a string that shares the benefits of each.
With that said, composites are less a construction and more a method of combining materials to achieve certain playing charatersitcs, but we’ve included them in this section for simplicity.
As such, the construction varies among these strings. Wilson NXT Control is an example of a composite multifilament that features polyester and nylon in its creation.
Hybrid stringing combines the benefits of two different types of tennis strings by using them both within a racquet – one set for the mains and another for the crosses.
As an example, a chronic string breaker might use durable strings as the mains (the strings that run from the bottom of the racquet head to the top) and then incorporate a softer, more playable string as the crosses, which experience significantly less friction and movement.
The result is a combination that seeks to find a balance between a comfortable feel and control while providing players with the durability that would be hard to come by through the use of a softer string type throughout the entire racquet.
One of the most popular examples of this type of string is the Wilson Ultimate Duo II Hybrid strings. It’s also common to combine natural gut strings with synthetic as a more affordable and durable option, such as Wilson’s Champions Choice Hybrid does.
When using a hybrid setup, keep in mind that the string in the mains will tend to dominate the overall feel of your racquet.
Tennis String Gauge or Thickness
Now that you have a good understanding of the materials and construction used to build tennis strings, there is one last variable worth considering when buying or testing a new set of strings.
In most cases, different styles of tennis string will come in various gauges or thicknesses, providing players with even more options.
Below you’ll find a list of currently available string gauges.
|Gauge||Min (mm)||Max (mm)|
For most players, the main benefit of a thinner string such as 18 would be to increase the potential for spin on their shots.
It’s important to note the distinction between the potential for spin and the ability to produce more spin. For example, if you hit flat with little spin, then you may not notice much of a difference with thinner strings.
On the other hand, if you hit with a ton of topspin and move from a 15 gauge string to 18, there’s a high likelihood you’ll notice that you have the ability to generate additional spin. The spin results because the strings embed more easily and, therefore, “grab” the ball, helping produce more spin.
Beyond the increased potential for spin, players will often go with a thicker string, such as a 15L gauge string for added durability. Hard hitters and chronic string breakers will often opt for a higher string gauge to help prolong the life of their strings.
Similar to string gauge, the tension at which you string your racquet has an impact on each type of string. However, regardless of which type of string your using the same general truth will apply.
When stringing your racquet, you’ll first want to refer to the recommended tension ranges printed on your racquet, as this will provide you with a good starting point. If you’re not sure where to start, use the halfway point of the recommended tension.
From there, you can experiment with dropping your tension for more power or increasing your tension for more control.
If you’re looking for more spin or durability, you’d also want to look at dropping the tension. As you might imagine, this is a rather involved topic, which you can learn more about in our string tension guide.
Finding the Right String
As with selecting a tennis racquet, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to tennis strings. However, here are some things to consider to help you find and choose a great set of strings.
Your Level of Play
If you’re just getting started with tennis, then it probably won’t make sense to spring for an expensive set of tennis strings. When you’re just starting, it can be tough to recognize the benefits that a more expensive set of strings like natural gut provides.
As a result, synthetic gut strings with a solid core and single or multiple wraps are a great option, since you’re likely to find a great string that’s durable at a price that makes sense.
Frequency of Play
The more you play, the more quickly your strings will lose their tension or break. If you’re competing at a high level, you may be able to justify the higher cost associated with a more expensive set of high-quality strings. However, most recreational players who step out on the court frequently may opt for a more durable set of strings that will hold up and provide great feel and playability without breaking the bank.
Multifilament and hybrid strings can be a great option for people who hit the court frequently.
If you’re experiencing discomfort or arm injuries, such as tennis elbow, then the best set of strings will be natural gut, multifilament, or if it’s not a major issue, a hybrid that incorporates a softer string.
These string setups will help reduce the stress on your arm while still providing you with a string that is durable and plays great.
Style of Play & Personal Preference
It can also be highly beneficial when selecting a tennis string to consider your style of play.
For example, if you spend most of your time on the baseline hitting big groundstrokes with a ton of topspin, then you may want to consider a low gauge polyester string for increased spin potential.
An all-court player may want to go with a hybrid setup that offers them a blend of spin for their groundstrokes without sacrificing the feel they enjoy up at the net.
Ultimately, there is no right or wrong answer to which types of strings you should use. However, by spending the extra time to ensure your strings complement your style of play and meet your personal preferences, you can gain an edge over players who overlook them.
Nothing beats trying a string for yourself to develop your own opinions on how a string performs and feels. As such, we’d recommend that you use this guide to narrow down your options and then pick a few that you’d like to give a try.
If you have multiple racquets, you can try a different string in each to gain a more direct comparison. Although it takes a bit of effort to work your way through a few different types of strings, the effort can pay dividends once you find a string that works well for you.
Restringing Your Racquet
Before we wrap up, we wanted to touch on restringing as it relates to the different types of strings. There are two factors to consider:
- Tension loss
Durability is a bit more straightforward. The more durable your string, based on the material, construction, and gauge, the less frequently you’re going to be to break them and be required to restring.
Regardless of the type of string you use, you’ll need to replace them periodically, even if they don’t break. Over time, the constant beating causes them to lose tension, and their properties become less apparent. The elements such as the sun, humidity, dryness, and debris all play a role in tension loss as well.
High power strings lose their resilience and don’t offer as much power, comfort-oriented strings lose their cushion and become rigid, and even stiff strings like polyester lose their elasticity or ability to snap back and provide you with the level of topspin you demand.
However, some string types do a much better job of maintaining their tension than others. Here’s a stack ranked list of which types of strings do the best job at keeping tension:
- Natural gut
- Synthetic gut
Keep in mind that strings that lose their tension faster will require more frequent replacement to maintain their performance.
As you can see, there are many different types of tennis strings which, while daunting at first, provide every player with a wide range of options to find something that suits their preferences and style of play.
Keep in mind that when it comes to strings, it’s all about give and take, so if you first determine what qualities are most important to you, then it will be easier to find the type that works best for you.
While it can be frustrating to have to pay to restring your racquet, the silver lining is that it gives you opportunities to try different strings, and you should take advantage. If you make a selection and they don’t work out, or they’re not your favorite, it won’t be too long before you can give it another shot.
If you are experimenting with strings, be sure you have plenty of time to test and get comfortable with them before a tennis match. Even if you like your new strings, it may take you a while to dial in your game.
Have questions or looking for a specific type of tennis string or recommendation? Let us know in the comments below. We’d love to help.
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