Tensioning Outer Mains: Raise Tension or Not?

Much has been written and discussed around the issue of whether or not extra tension should be added to the outer mains when stringing.  In short there are two camps.  Inside camp #1 reside a group of people who believe the outer mains never come in contact with the ball, are the shortest of the mains and see absolutely no reason to add tension.  In camp #2 are those who are concerned that the loss of tension on the outer mains can be perceived as shoddy work, want to achieve as much uniformity as possible and believe it is desirable to reduce the limpness of the outer mains.

Those in camp #1 will argue long and hard that since the outer mains rarely if ever touch the ball that some movement of those strings in no way impacts play.  They will also argue the extra movement is inevitable because unlike the other mains it does not have a string on each side with alternating weaves to help hold it in place.  In essence, this camp takes the stand of  “don’t worry, be happy!”

At Guts and Glory Tennis we fall into camp #2.  We are obsessed with providing as close to perfect of a string job for each and every racquet we string.  If a few customers are going to judge our work as inferior due to some string movement in the outer mains, that bothers us whether the perception is accurate or not.  In fact, it makes us crazy so we strive to reduce or eliminate it whenever practical.  This blog will detail the steps we take to achieve this goal.

We  use a one piece ATW pattern whenever possible.  Obviously this is not possible to achieve in a hybrid situation.  We also avoid the one piece method on most Head frames due to manufacturers recommendations and their less than ideal drill patterns.  By implementing the ATW method Liam made famous in the UK, we are able to pull full tension on the outer mains, tying off on the top cross or one of the two bottom cross strings, depending on pattern.  By using our trusty Stringmeter we are able to measure the results and they are dramatic.  Often, the use of this pattern alone will improve tension on the outer mains 100% or more.

By tying off on the top and bottom crosses we are tying off on the shortest runs of a racquet.  We increase tension before tying off by 10 pounds.  Even though we take great care in using knots that leak the least amount of tension possible, much is lost in the tie-off process.  More than most stringers realize or will admit.  Even with the added 10 pounds, the tie offs are slightly looser than the rest of the stringbed.  However by placing at the top and bottom, you are effectively placing the loss at the point of least impact and where it is least noticable.  Also softening the tip of the racquet is rarely a bad idea…in fact it is the goal of proportional stringing and can lead to a more responsive stringbed…but that is another topic for another blog on another day.

With hybrids and racquets whose mains end at the head, using Liam’s method is not possible.  For racquets where mains end at head, we extend the short side and use it to finish the first cross, add 10# tension and tie off.  The long side then continues down the crosses.  In many instances we skip the second to last cross and then come back and fill it in and that is where we tie off.  This also keeps the bottom main a little firmer and gives the tie off point the advantage of being sandwiched between two strings which helps it to experience less tension loss.

Hybrids are trickier.  On port-style Prince frames we often measure enough string length for the mains so we will have enough to add one additional cross.  On one outer main we finish and tie-off on the top cross.  On the second, we finish and tie-ff on the second top cross.  We then install the rest of the crosses using a 50/50 method. While this method works well with the drill pattern of the Prince port-style frames, it does not work as well on most other frames.  As a result we are forced into the least desirable option for us…tying off on the outer mains.  Some sources believe that increasing tension a few pounds helps compensate for tension loss.  I argue, a few pounds is a drop int he bucket and makes no real difference.  Use a Stringmeter and check for yourself.  Anything less than 8 pounds is probably a wasted effort as it accomplishes almost nothing.  10 pounds is usually safe and is generally our default compensation.  This may seem high to some people, but in reality I believe 20 pounds would be a better default.  We do not use currently use 20 pounds, but do intend to explore it on our own frames and discuss it with some racquet design engineers.  I would not rule out the possibility of moving to this standard sometime down the road, if it is determined it will do no structural damage to the frame.

So what camp are you in?  We are believe our camp is the place to be on this issue.

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One Response to Tensioning Outer Mains: Raise Tension or Not?

  1. RBG says:

    Camp #2
    Two points:
    1) Be consistent…if you increase the tension to tie-off… do it consistently.
    2) Better Stringing Machines…newer machines have better mounting systems and use digital settings for tensions. Many machines have a specfic button for increasing the tension for pulling a tie-off main or cross string.

    I understand why camp #1 takes their position to not recommend increasing tension for their guidelines specifically for novice stringers. However, camp #1 should consider updating this specific paragraph in their literature to more accurately meet current standards used by a broader range of stringers. Also, camp #1 should consider newer stringing machines that are being used by many stringers.

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