In a series of articles
Steve Crandall, Vice President Sales and Marketing of Ashaway Racket Strings
in the USA, gives an insight into the complex subject of stringing.
STRINGS THE THING
Players may spend hours
arguing the relative merits of one racket versus another and agonise for
weeks before spending £100 or more on a new one, but surprisingly little
attention is paid to string, which is really the most important piece of
equipment from a competitive point of view. After all, you don't hit the
ball with your racquet (at least, not intentionally); you hit it with the
Certainly, the racquet is
important, because it holds the string. But the string provides the majority
of the power, control, and "feel" to every stroke. String is to
squash as tyres are to motor racing or sails to sailing: you won't get far
without them, and quality makes a difference. The more knowledge you can
bring to bear when selecting equipment, the more competitive you will be.
Squash string is a
surprisingly technical product, even though differences may not be easy to
see. The primary variables are gauge (or thickness), materials, and
construction. There are also differences in stringing tension and racquet
design, both of which influence how the string performs. Then throw in
different player preferences, styles of play, and budgets, and it becomes
clear that selecting the right string is no simple matter.
Despair not, however, for
while it may not be a piece of cake, neither is it rocket science. During
this series of articles we'll be looking at these issues, separately and in
combination, to help you choose the best string for your game. We won't
compare brands, but we'll try to provide enough information so you can
analyse manufacturers' claims and decide which strings are worth trying.
trying" is key. No matter how much information you have, the only way
to know if a string is right for you is to play a few matches with it. So my
main advice is: restring frequently and try different strings until you find
the one that suits you best. You may be surprised how much your game
String gauge is the basic
factor. Every player should know the gauge of the string in his or her
racquet and how it affects performance.
In general, thin strings
are more powerful but less durable than thick ones. We'll be addressing the
subject of power at some length in later columns, so for now we'll simply
state that thinner strings stretch further on impact with the ball. As they
recover from stretch, they propel the ball forward: the more stretch, the
There are two main causes
of string breakage. The first is notching. During a match the cross
strings (the shorter, horizontal strings) are pounded hundreds of
times against the main strings (the longer, vertical ones). That
repeated pounding cuts notches into the mains and eventually one of the
notches becomes so deep that the string snaps. (Its almost always the
mains that break.)
The second major cause of
breakage is overstretching, or tensile failure. While notching occurs
gradually, tensile failure is sudden and catastrophic. Overstretching occurs
most often on poorly hit shots, when the ball contacts the stringbed near
the frame. The string wants to stretch equally on both sides of the ball,
but in this situation theres not much to work with on one side. The
string stretches beyond its elastic limit and simply snaps.
Obviously, thicker strings
are more resistant to breakage than thinner ones. But because thick strings
tend to be less powerful, each player must decide for him- or herself which
factor is more important.
Packages of string indicate
thickness with a gauge designation; some list the diameter in millimeters as
well. As shown in the table below, each gauge covers a range of allowable
sizes, with thicker strings having lower gauge numbers. Weve shown only
the gauges of interest to squash players (the scale actually goes up
to 15 for tennis strings and down to 22 for badminton).
String thickness can be
measured with a wire gauge or a micrometer, but make sure this is done with
the string off the racket. Because string gets thinner as it is stretched,
you cant get an accurate reading on a strung racket.
Squash strings are made in
only two sizes: 17 and 18 gauge. An 18 gauge string will deliver more power,
but less strength and durability, than a 17 gauge. Weve included 16 gauge
in the table not as a suggestion but as a warning. Strings this thick are
intended for tennis or racketball, and cannot deliver adequate power when
strung into the smaller head of a squash racket.
stringers dont want to be bothered carrying a separate line of string
just for squash, and they often get away with selling tennis string to
squash players because many players dont know the difference. But now you
know better; string matters. Demand 17 or 18 gauge, and take your business
elsewhere if you dont get it.
SQUASH STRING DIAMETERS
1.06 - 1.15 mm
1.16 - 1.25 mm
1.26 - 1.34 mm
YOUR STRINGS GIVE YOU THE CREEPS?
Choosing the right string
tension is one of the most important equipment decisions a squash player can
make. It used to be a relatively easy one in the old days when all
rackets were made of the same material (wood), all racket heads were the
same shape and size, and there were fewer types of string to choose from. At
that time, all rackets were strung between 30 and 40 pounds of tension. In
other words, there was a spread of just 10 pounds, so you couldnt go too
But rackets now come in a
wide range of sizes and shapes, made by different methods using a variety of
high-tech materials. Action ranges from ultra-stiff to quite flexible, and
recommended stringing tensions range from 20 to 40 pounds. The spread has
increased to 20 pounds, which means theres twice as much room for error.
Or, to look at it in a positive light, theres greater opportunity to
tune your racket to suit your playing style by adjusting the string
The basic equations are
these: Higher Tension = More Control; Lower Tension = More Power. Strings at
low tension stretch more when they contact the ball, and then quickly snap
back to their initial length. This trampoline effect (also known as
resilience or rebound) adds power to the shot. If the racket is strung at a
higher tension, theres less stretch left in the string to provide power.
On the other hand, tighter strings remain flatter, so its easier to
control the direction of the ball and to impart spin to it.
But long strings stretch
more than short ones under the same loads. This is the main reason why the
new long-head rackets have more power than the old round-headed ones. Thus
string tension should be in proportion to head size. In general larger heads
call for tighter tension than smaller ones to achieve comparable
A racket loses roughly 10
percent of its tension by the day after it was strung and thats if
its not used. The tension continues to drop gradually over time, and more
rapidly if its used
Loss of tension is due to creep, or stretch at the molecular level,
and its a fact of life; work with it, dont fight it. Think of
stringing tension in terms of initial or reference tension. Learn what
reference tension works best for you and go with that.
The construction of the
string also affects tension and performance. Nylon monofilaments are
relatively stiff, but are subject to a fair degree of creep. Multifilament
strings are more flexible, but may be even more subject to tension loss.
Strings made of Zyex® fibres are both highly resilient and creep-resistant
which makes them very good, but not necessarily the best for every
player. Well examine string construction in more detail in future issues.
The main point Id like to make here is that your choice of string and
tension should be guided by many factors.
Its always a good idea
to discuss your needs with a professional stringer who understands squash.
But remember that much will depend upon your personal preferences. If
youre a power player, you might want to add control to your game by
stringing tight. Or you might want to make your shots even more powerful by
stringing loose. Or you might choose something in between for a balance of
control and power. If youre a finesse player, you can use string tension
to maximize your advantages, minimize your liabilities, or strike a happy
THROUGH THICK AND THIN
Much of the power in a
squash racket comes from the trampoline effect the rapid stretch
and rebound of the string bed as it contacts the ball. The more resilient
the string bed, the more power it generates. Thin string is naturally more
resilient than thick string; and string strung at low tension can stretch
more than string strung at high tension. So if you want to increase power in
your game (and who doesnt?), there are two ways to approach it: use thin
string, or have the racket strung at the low end of the tension range.
The other side of the coin
is control. The more the string bed stretches on impact, the harder it is to
control direction and spin on the ball. This is especially the case on off-centre
hits, where the strings stretch more on one side of the ball than the other,
making an off-centre trampoline.
Control is also affected by
a second phenomenon: what I call dwell time. The more the string
stretches, the longer the ball remains in contact with the racket face. With
a stiff string bed, the ball bounces off the racket face at a single
instant. The player can anticipate the instant of contact, and adjust the
racket angle accordingly. But with a stretchier string bed, the ball is
carried by the racket as it swings through many degrees of arc. Its
difficult for the player to know exactly when the two are finally going to
part company, so its harder to make the proper adjustments.
Using thicker string or
stringing at higher tension will produce a stiffer string bed and enhance
control over the ball just the opposite, naturally, of the recipe for
But heres another factor
to consider: at the same tension a thin string is stretched more than a
thick one, so the thin string behaves as if its tighter. If youve been
playing with 17 gauge string, strung at 27lb tension, and you switch to
thinner, 18 micro-gauge, to obtain more power, youll probably want to
reduce tension to 24lb or so. At 27lb the thinner string would feel too
tight, and youd actually sacrifice power compared to the thicker string.
(For jargon junkies, well call this phenomenon relative tension.)
By changing the tension,
you can adjust the amount of power or control that you get from any string,
thick or thin. But that
doesnt mean that thick and thin strings can be made to behave
identically. Thin strings penetrate the surface of the squash ball a bit
deeper on impact, and this tends to enhance control. And thinner strings
generate less resistance through the air, so the racket can be swung a bit
faster, for more power. Neither of these factors has a big influence,
however, and generally only highly skilled players can detect them at all.
On the other hand, thicker strings are more durable and they hold tension
longer, so they can save you money.
Thin or thick strings; low
or high tension; each variable affects the way your racket performs. Pick
the set-up that best suits your needs.