From "Catgut" To Zyex®
A Brief History of Badminton Racquet String
By Steve Crandall
Vice President, Sales & Marketing
Ashaway Racket Strings
The oldest known potential ancestor of badminton dates back to China in the fifth century B.C. The game of Ti Jian Zi used a shuttlecock, but the players kicked it back and forth, much like today's hackysack. Racquets, and therefore string, arrived about five centuries later. The games were called battledores and shuttlecock and were known to have been played in China, Japan, India and Greece.
Because synthetic fiber development was about 19 centuries away, some sort of natural fiber or filament material had to be used for the strings. The earliest strings were most likely natural gut (sheep or beef intestines mistakenly called 'catgut') or possibly silk.
Over the centuries gut string was typically manufactured from very thin strips of beef intestine, chemically treated and twisted together. To maintain strength and durability, gut strings were quite thick. Even so, the natural gut string had something really good going for it-the property of "resilience." Also known as rebound or the "trampoline effect," good resilience translates into more power.
The era of synthetic strings began shortly after 1939 when DuPont developed nylon to compensate for the shortage of rubber brought on by World War II. Nylon strings quickly replaced natural gut strings because they cost less, were stronger, more durable and did not tend to absorb moisture, which caused unpredictable loss of tension. However, players stringing with nylon sacrificed some of the feel and resilience of natural gut. On the other hand, synthetic strings could be made thinner, which reinstated a little of the lost resilience, and provided less wind resistance, offering better feel and power. From this time forward, manufacturers have sought to provide increasingly narrower gauge strings to improve this increased feel and power.
The first nylon string offerings were designed in a monofilament construction. They were strong, but not very responsive, and tended to stretch with a lot of play. In the late '40s and early '50s, Ashaway developed the first multifilament nylon strings known as Multi-Ply® and Pro-fected®. These strings gave much more responsive feel and control of the shuttle. And, although they could be made narrower than monofilament strings - 19 and 20 gauge (.85 mm - 1.00 mm) - their multifilament construction also made them stronger.
The '60s and '70s saw Ashaway continuing to develop thinner, stronger, and more responsive multifilament strings. From the 19- and 20-gauge string of the previous decade, the strings edged toward 21 gauge (.75 mm - .85 mm) as the diameter of choice. Ashaway's Vantage® string was the product name for the most popular version of these strings.
In the '80s and '90s, Ashaway perfected microfilament technology, and string girth shrank further with 21 and 21 Micro (.70 mm - .75 mm), becoming the standard gauges. The most common badminton strings from Ashaway in that era were Rally® and Flex®.
In the current millennium, schools continue to use 20-gauge string, and that is for cost purposes only. 21 gauge is still the most common in badminton circles, but 21 Micro, which is 10% thinner, is rapidly gaining in popularity due to the improved durability of microfilament technology. Strings such as MicroPower™ and MicroLegend™ are examples of micro-gauged, multifilament strings that offer excellent power without sacrificing durability.
Now, a half-century after nylon stepped in to offer benefits natural gut users couldn't turn down, players will be able to enjoy the best of both worlds. On the horizon are 22-gauge badminton strings made from new materials such as Zyex®. These strings will combine superior strength and tension holding properties with a level of playability that comes closer to the original "catgut" than any material has come before.
Zyex is a registered trademark of ZYEX Limited.
This article previously appeared in Badminton News / USA.