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The wonders of natural gut

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Playing with natural gut is for many, the ultimate tennis experience. The power, feel, ball pocketing, liveliness are the properties that many synthetics (excepting poly-based strings) attempt to emulate. Natural gut is extremely resilient and there is probably nothing better at absorbing shock which makes it ideal for those with a tendency toward tennis elbow.

So, why then, don’t more people play with it? First off, gut tends to be expensive compared to synthetic string products. Secondly it can be temperamental. It does require some extra care. However, properly taken care of, it will outlast synthetics in terms of overall playability many times over. Thus the added cost may be justified, except for when it is finicky.

While friction durability is pretty solid, and the newer sealed coatings have reduced moisture issues, natural gut is still more prone to snapping while sitting in ones tennis bag. The main reason, as I perceive it, is because of temperature variations. Natural gut does not like and will not tolerate extreme heat or extreme changes in temperature. Thus during the summer months those using it must not leave it in the car, (even if just running to pick up a few groceries), or even leave it in your tennis bag that is sitting in the sun. These are no-no’s.

Amazing that I have already babbled as much as I have without even getting close to the original point of today’s blog entry. I started this entry to share a tip/observation. I have noted through the years that natural gut users tend to experience breaks at the knot. This pattern occurs much more frequently with natural gut than other strings. The main reason, I suspect, is because the knot is really nothing more than a controlled kink. Kinks are weak spots and natural gut is more prone to break at this weak spot than man-made string products. That said, I am wondering about another possibility. While I observe many breaks at the knot area, just had a racquet yesterday with this exact issue, I have noted that very few of my customers ever have a break at this point. Why is that? My knots are not much different than others…just a basic Parnell knot. BUT, I do take one extra step. Does it make a difference? I am not at all sure, but will describe and look for input.

After the string job is complete I always take a drop of “hard as nails” clear polish and dab it on each cut end of natural gut. I started this for cosmetic reasons. I did not like how the cut ends would expand, unwrap and fan out over time. This step prevented that from occurring. But the question is, has it made the knot less prone to breakage? I suppose without the polish there is no active sealant and moisture could attack the knot area further weakening it. As the moisture attacks and the fibers get looser, it is possible the knot area weakens and becomes more susceptible to breakage. While I do not have any research to support this theory, I have not that disputes it either. I wonder of this little cosmetic touch actually protects the knot area? And that, my friends, is the point of today’s entry. Please let me know what you think. Does the dab of “hard as nails” polish decrease chances of premature breakage at the knot area? I wonder???

4 thoughts on “The wonders of natural gut

  1. Jonathan on said:

    I don’t know about the nail polish idea but with natural gut I always hand tighten my knots. I have never had a break at the knot with gut, I don’t know if it is because of this but it seems to be working.

    Also, I think natural gut is the most misunderstood and underutilized string out there. I think more people should be using it. If you take care of it, it is very durable and of course it retains its playability for a long time.

  2. PKS on said:

    a drop of “hard as nails” clear polish and dab in on each cut end of natural gut is easy to do, and Im on it! thanks for the tip ohhh tennis string master

    by the way, i use tonic + feel and have always tightened with my bab star II at 44lbs, and never had a problem.

  3. Tim Strawn on said:

    Gut is more expensive primarily due to the manufacturing process. It’s very laborious and time consuming to say the least. I visited the Bow Brand factory in England at their invitation after completing my work at Wimbledon one year and witnessed the process from start to finish. It’s quite a process and one that is best experienced with a mask or nose plugs–the smell is not pleasant!

    The issue of snapping in the bag is not due to temperature changes although I agree with John that keeping the string in a controlled environment is best, not just for gut but for any string. String expands when it gets hot and contracts as it cools just as most anything would. I recommend my clients never leave their racquets in the cab or trunk (boot) of your car during the warmer seasons of the year as temps can rise to ridiculous heights and the strings just don’t like that.

    Natural gut has a rather high dynamic stiffness and therefore, does respond well to angular forces. When players mis-hit balls part of the ball can collapse over the inner portion of the frame, creating an angular force, and if you think about it, this usually occurs in two places. If looking at a clock face this would be the 7 & 5 and 11 & 1 o’clock areas of the frame, both of which lie very close to the tie-off areas. Once the mis-hit happens the string can snap immediately or, as John has mentioned, later in the bag. The last scenario happens because the damage has already been done but the string has just not snapped yet. Because it’s always under tension that means that there’s continued stress at the point where the mishit occurred. If it doesn’t break immediately it will eventually break, usually after the player puts it in their bag and leaves the court. That’s why stringers get comments from players that say “Hey, I paid a lot of money for this natural gut string. The last time I played it was just fine, I put it in my bag, and the next time I went to play I pulled the racquet out of the bag and the string was broken–YOU OWE ME A NEW STRING JOB!!!! This, IMHO, is why it pays stringers to know and understand the products they sell and recommend. I make sure my clients know exactly what to expect from gut and I rarely recommend it to lower level players who might be prone to mis-hits more than others. Natural gut is also more responsive with hard hitters so players with a “softer” game may not realize the full potential or benefits of natural gut.

    Nail polish on the tie-off string was first suggested primarily to keep the gut from coming unravelled. This typically happens because stringers use inexpensive cutters that don’t actually cut the string as much as they “crush” it. If the cut is not clean and smooth there’s a good chance that the gut is going to start to unravel so the best solution here is to use a quality cutter for trimming your knot ends in the first place.

    Babolat used to make a product called Babol which was a polyurethane based product designed to be lightly applied to the string as small strands begin to unravel from normal wear from playing. The nail polish could be used instead of a product like Babol but should be used sparingly–a light coat will do the trick. Another solution is to recommend string savers and instruct the player on how, where, and when to apply them.

    I hope this information is helpful!


  4. ggtennis on said:

    Extremely helpful!!! Thanks Tim for your contribution which outshines the original post by 1 million percent. 🙂

    For those who are not aware, Tim Strawn is a titan in our field. He and John Gugel run the new Grand Slam Stringers Alliance web site where they share a wealth of impressive information. Please check it out for yourself at


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