Thin Is In
By Steve Crandall
Vice President, Sales & Marketing
Ashaway Racket Strings
Sporting goods manufacturers understand that every player has his or her own unique style and preferences. So we generally offer a spectrum of choices and try not to offend anyone by pushing too hard for our favorites.
That being said, I have to break with precedent here on an issue where I previously held to a neutral party line. It has to do with the thick string versus thin string controversy. I used to hedge my bets by saying that thin strings provide more trampoline power and deeper ball penetration, and offer lower wind resistance and weight-while thick strings offer greater control, stiffness and durability. Take your pick.
Today, I've changed my tune. For most players, I say, "Thin is in!" And I'll tell you why. But first, a little background.
Thick string-16 and 17 gauge-was all we had until about 15 years ago when a new high temperature, engineering grade polymer known as PEEK (polyetheretherketone for short!) entered the marketplace. Marketed as Zyex®, this material offered resilient, yet compact fibers that allowed for the manufacturing of thin and energetic cores for squash racket strings. Unfortunately, the early manufacturing process for Zyex was difficult to control, resulting in fibers with inconsistent thickness and strength. It was possible to make a good string from this material, but not a great one.
Technological advances over the past few years have resulted in vast improvements in the quality of Zyex, making it even easier for string manufacturers to take full advantage of this unique material. For example, Ashaway developed a multifiber process to manufacture second generation Zyex racket string cores for PowerNick® 18 strings. The improved "packing density" of the Zyex core designed by Ashaway yielded the thinnest strings yet, while "packing" in more Zyex filaments per cross-section (for better strength) than ever before.
Playing Out the String
Some of the benefits of super-thin Zyex strings include the following:
Plays Like Natural Gut. The new Zyex strings feature playing characteristics closest to natural gut. The best scientific measure of playability is called "dynamic stiffness," and low dynamic stiffness equals better playability. Gut still has the lowest dynamic stiffness, but Zyex is close. Low dynamic stiffness means the strings continue to stretch throughout more of the stroke, forming a pocket around the ball-instead of flattening it. This equals more power, as the ball is catapulted off the strings.
More Bite. Because the super-thin strings present less surface area, they bite into the ball better making it easier to re-create your signature shot. This bite results in more control over spin and direction.
Minimal Tension Loss. When nylon (or gut) is strung into a racket, it loses up to a quarter of its original stringing tension before the player makes it onto the court. Zyex does not lose tension so quickly, so a racket has to be strung at 10-15% less initial tension than nylon to achieve the desired result at playing time. Now for the amazing part-after some initial tension loss, the Zyex string will maintain its tension for years. So as time goes by, players will have to make few, if any, adjustments in their playing style to accommodate changing string tension in their frame.
Weatherability. Heat and moisture are enemies of racket string. Amazingly, high humidity-and temperatures between 60°F and 300°F-have virtually no effect on Zyex strings. For an indoor sport like squash this may not seem like big advantage. However, anyone who has stored their racket in the trunk of their car on a hot, humid day, or in a damp basement during the off-season, will appreciate this quality immensely.
Thicker squash racket strings aren't going away anytime soon. Some players simply prefer the way they play and feel. But, lower weight and wind resistance, maximal tension holding, minimal weathering, better bite, and power and playability tip the scales, for me at least, in favor of the right thin string.
One more thing. The new Zyex strings even sound better. No joke. High-end instrument manufacturers use the material for strings on their violins and violas. If we did not add a sound-dampening step into the manufacturing process, some of us would be making more lively music on the squash court as well.
||The improved "packing density" of the Zyex core designed by Ashaway yielded the thinnest strings yet, while "packing" in more Zyex filaments per cross-section (for better strength) than ever before.|
Zyex is a registered trademark of ZYEX Limited.
This article previously appeared in Squash Magazine.