Multiply Your Options With Hybrid Stringing
By Steve Crandall
Vice President, Sales & Marketing
Ashaway Racket Strings
We've discussed hybrid stringing a number of times in this space. Hybrid stringing, simply, is using one string for the mains and another for the crosses. It's been recommended for many years as an option for chronic string breakers or for finesse players who want more touch or control. But longtime coach and seniors champion Tom Travers has a different take on hybrid stringing: he recommends it for all players.
And if anyone should know about hybrid stringing, it's Tom Travers. For those of you who may not know Tom, he's been on the racquetball circuit for the past 35 years, playing, coaching, teaching, and stringing. Now 58 and a well-known figure in Master's tournaments, he has 21 National and World Titles in Singles and Doubles age group divisions. To his credit, he has written a book, Real Racquetball; produced two popular instructional videos; and was inducted into the Ohio Racquetball Hall of Fame in 1999.
According to Travers, hybrid stringing can benefit any player, regardless of their playing style or the tension at which they normally string. The benefits, he says, include more string durability, a racquet that has a softer feel, and a string bed that delivers better control and improved power.
Hybrid strings can come ready-made, like Ashaway's Killfire® XL and Killfire Pro which combine a tough, Aramid fiber string for the mains and a softer, SuperKill® nylon string for the crosses. But, says Travers, you can just as easily make up your own combinations. "I like the new Zyex-based UltraKill® 18 for my mains - which for me is just stiff enough - then a softer, 18-gauge nylon string for my crosses."
Either way, the key, he says is to combine a stiffer string for the mains and a softer string for the crosses. Most players break their mains first, so a stiffer string there adds durability, while using softer crosses improves playability. "Combined, the strings have more resiliency. They let the ball sit on the strings a bit longer, so you have more feel. And because the ball sits on the strings longer, you have more power as well. The ball compresses more as the strings come back. To my mind, stiff cross strings make the whole racquet feel stiff. Soften up the crosses, and you soften the whole racquet."
Another benefit of hybrids is that the strings don't move as much, according to Travers. "With the combination of stiff and soft, the strings tend to lock together better and don't abrade against each other as much." A more stable string bed improves playability and also increases string life. "And you don't need those little spacers people sometimes use," he adds.
As for who should use what gauge for hybrid stringing, Travers has it pretty much down to a formula. "Generally speaking players who hit the ball harder - above 140 mph, for example - should use a 16 gauge for both mains and crosses, but still with the stiffer main and softer cross combination. For moderate hitters with speeds between 120 and 140 mph - and this includes most players - a 17 gauge stiff/soft combination should work. Light hitters, those who hit under 120 mph should go for an 18 gauge combination."
But it doesn't end there. Players who really want to fine tune their racquets can mix gauges by half-steps, using a heavier string for the mains and lighter string for the crosses. "It depends on exactly what you're working for. The thicker the gauge, the more durable the string. The thinner the gauge, the more feel you get. Just because you're a hard hitter and need a thicker string doesn't mean you don't still need to feel the ball. Mixing gauges lets you do that."
What combination you use also depends on how you hit the ball. Irrespective of power, strings last longer with experienced players who tend to hit on the sweet spot of their racquets. Players who hit all over the face, go through more strings. Those players should opt for a heavier main combination.
How to find the best combination for you? Here's what Travers recommends. "Tournament players generally have several racquets. Let's say you're happy using 17/17 and you want to get a bit more playability. Have one racquet strung 18/18 and another strung 17/18 and count the number of matches you get out of each. See which lasts longest. That will give you a good, objective criteria."
To sum it up, hybrid stringing offers you more choice of string type, and more options for string gauge. Hybrid string beds provide more feel and control, and better string durability than traditional stringing. Travers believes all players need control to win without giving up power. Hybrid stringing helps accomplish this goal.
This article previously appeared in Racquetball Magazine.