Do It Yourself Stringing
By Christopher Chung, Associate Editor TENNIS Magazine.
Attention, string-breakers: Want to save some cash? Read this stringing machine comparison and lace up your racquet using one of the stringing machines reviewed here.
In this sport, a hundred-dollar tennis racquet can last for years, a can of balls costs less than three bucks, and free outdoor courts can be found at every turn. Tennis really is a budget-friendly game—until you get to the small problem of strings. If you play often and hard, you may cough up $30 for a string job four times a month. that's over $1,400 in one year.
Here's your solution: Buy a stringing machine. We've reviewed four here. They vary in the three major aspects of stringing: Mounting the racquet, pulling the strings, and clamping the string to hold the tension. But they all do the same thing: Help you string your stick while keeping your wallet closed.
If you have no stringing experience (for a primer, see "racquet stringing explained" below), the manuals included with the machines make it relatively easy to learn the basics. But don't kid yourself—your first racquet could take a couple of hours, and you'll need to do several frames before you begin to feel even somewhat comfortable with the process.
After you get good at it, you can string for your friends and teammates—perhaps for the low price of $20 per job.
Having doubts or feeling lazy? Think about it this way: If you save $15 for every string job you do yourself, even the most expensive model here will have paid for itself in two years. After that, everything is gravy.
The perfect machine for beginners, the Klippermate has great customer service and does a fine string job. Now that's value.
Profile: Drop-weight machine • Two-point mounting • Lifetime warranty
Mounting: Mounting a frame is a hands-on process. For those used to six-point systems, two support points might seem inadequate, but the racquet stays secure on the Klippermate.
Stringing: The string-tensioning system requires virtually no strength to operate, and gripping and releasing the string is easy.
Tools: High-quality floating clamps, good awl to punch through closed grommet holes, and pliers. Plus, the starting pin makes the beginning of a string job, usually a pain with floating clamps, about as
reliable and easy as with fixed clamps.
Alpha Pioneer DC ($399)
This machine is great for players who have more money to spend on fixed clamps and a more secure mounting system.
Profile: Drop-weight machine • Six-point mounting • Five-year warranty
Mounting: It's simple. Large knobs make it easy to adjust the mounting points, and the frame feels more secure on this machine than any of the others here. But the support points occasionally get in the way of threading the string.
Stringing: The parallel string-gripping jaws and ratcheting action allow you to tension strings without much effort—but the learning curve is slightly steeper than on the Klippermate.
Tools: The swiveling fixed clamps are a nice upgrade from floating clamps. Plus, the machine comes with excellent cutters.
Gamma X-ES ($949)
This electronic machine is a great option, especially if you want to move up from the manual work of drop-weight machines.
Profile: Electronic machine • Six-point mounting • Five-year warranty (one year for string clamps and electrical components)
Mounting: The six-point system is similar to the Alpha's, but ensuring that the frame doesn't slip takes more time and effort.
Stringing: You wrap the string around the gripper and simply push a button to
pull it tight. Or, even better, you can use the foot pedal, which frees your hands to thread the next string while the current one is being tensioned.
Tools: The knobs used to tighten the clamps were hard to turn. But Gamma provides a cool Pathfinder awl, which creates a tunnel for threading string through a blocked hole.
Prince Neos 1000 ($1199)
It's a lot for an amateur stringer to spend, but it's worth every penny. This industry standard makes stringing painless.
Profile: Upright crank machine • Two-point mounting • Five-year warranty
Mounting: This two-point system held the racquet securely and was the easiest to use of the four machines here.
Stringing: It's a breeze. The crank lets you tension strings with little effort. One bummer: The turntable can't rotate a full 360 degrees because the racquet handle bumps into the crank mechanism.
Tools: The sliding fixed clamps are as fast to operate as floating clamps, but you have to make sure to keep them clean with rubbing alcohol so they slide smoothly. Two floating clamps are also included if you need some added help or prefer to string with those.
Racquet Stringing Explained
The stringing machines featured here have either two-point or six-point mounting systems to hold the racquet in place while you string. (Some machines out there have four-point systems.) Typically, the six-point setup is more secure, but it also depends on the machine's quality.
This refers to the process of lacing the string through the grommet holes. Main (up and down) strings are done first, then cross strings. The racquet maker's website will tell you (a) how many main and cross strings there should be, (b) which holes are good for tying off the string when you're done, and (c) which holes you should skip when you're doing the mains because they're reserved for cross strings.
There are three kinds of tensioning systems. Drop-weight machines are the most hands-on (and slowest), using a weight and gravity to pull the string; crank machines use a spring-loaded mechanism that you have to operate but requires little effort; electronic machines use an AC-powered tensioner that lets you tighten a string with the push of a button. With all three machines, you tighten one string at a time, first the mains, then the crosses.
Clamps hold the string tight while you remove it from the tensioning system and start to lace up the next main or cross string. The most basic are floating clamps, which are unattached to the machine; they hold tension by clamping onto two tensioned strings at the same time. Fixed clamps, which are more reliable (and expensive), are attached to the machine and require you to grip only one string at a time.