A quick overview on some of things you should be aware of before stringing with natural gut. Please consult the primary stringing page for further recommendations based on the natural gut I have in stock.
1 Treat the Cow(s) with Respect
Natural gut is a natural product. It takes about 3 cows and a fairly intensive labor process to produce 1 set (40 ft) of natural gut string. It’s never a good idea to leave a racket in the trunk of a car or in a damp garage but this is especially true for natural gut. Basically don’t ruin the string before you even have a chance to play with it.
String exposure to moisture (including high humidity) and dust/dirt (including clay) are unavoidable but do your best to keep your racket out of the elements when you’re not playing. If you’re playing on clay you may want to try and wipe down the strings after play especially where the mains and crosses overlap. The number one goal if you are stringing with natural gut is to prolong the life and playability of the string. Do not leave your racket in the car and be sure that the racket is covered when not in use (either in a racket case or tennis bag).
2 With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility
Natural Gut is POWERFUL. As far as I know there aren’t any professionals playing with a full bed of natural gut at this time and this is the primary reason. Be aware that for the vast majority of players a full bed of natural gut will be too powerful. If you have a history of arm problems, have very compact swings, and mostly play serve and volley doubles I would probably recommend a full bed but keep reading before making a final decision.
3 Hybrid Efficiency
About 80% of the playability in your string setup comes from the mains (vertical strings). Why is this relevant and why does this matter? Speaking practically unless you’re a professional, aspiring professional, or high level tournament player it does not make a ton of sense to spend $20 on a cross string. Obviously if you can find natural gut for cheaper or can justify the expense by all means go for it.
Many recreational and professional players (Roger Federer being the prime example) string natural gut in the mains and an unshaped smooth polyester (in his case Luxilon Big Banger) in the crosses. The polyester in the cross is designed to temper the power of the natural gut in the mains. For the majority of players opting to go with natural gut this is the blend that makes the most logical sense. You can justify the gut expense in the mains since it contributes so much to the playability and then temper some of that power (add some control) with a polyester or multifilament in the cross. You normally want to avoid shaped strings in the cross as they tend to bite into the gut causing more friction and faster string breakage. With a coated natural gut you may be able to get away with a cross poly that’s a little more rigid (shaped).
Lets say you’re the player I listed above (arm problems, needs power, compact swings, mostly serve and volley). You obviously can’t put a polyester in the crosses because it will stiffen up the string bed too much. If this is your situation I think it’s worth hybriding natural gut with a higher end synthetic or an arm friendly multifilament. If that’s too tough on the arm then go full bed natural gut.
Last but not least let’s examine a popular polyester/natural gut hybrid found on the pro tour. Andy Murray (and many others) need more control and less power out of their strings. Natural gut in the mains is too powerful and a full bed of polyester is way too stiff. The solution is to do the inverse of the Federer setup. This requires stringing a polyester in the mains and natural gut in the crosses. This is my ideal stringing setup. But here again we need to go back to that 80/20 string breakdown and even do a little cost/benefit analysis. It’s hard for me to justify the expense of natural gut in the crosses when it’s really only contributing 20% to the overall playability. Normally I use a synthetic gut in the crosses because I like the pop it provides. But for professionals every advantage matters so it makes perfect sense to go with natural gut in the crosses. If you feel it justifies the expense by all means go for it, whenever I play competitively that’s what I elect to do.
4 Is All Natural Gut Created Equal
Simple answer is no. There are thousands of variables. The actual process of taking cow intestine (serosa) and turning it into usable tennis string is complex and time consuming (many days in some cases). Every manufacturer will have a slightly different process and every manufacturer gets their serosa from a different source. Prices range from a little under $17 a set to upwards of $55 a set (40ft set). The cheaper uncoated gut usually can’t be strung much over 55 lbs.
5 Uncoated vs Coated Natural Gut
The additional process of adding a polyurethane coating to natural gut inherently makes it more expensive (Babolat VS touch is a good example). It increases the longevity, durability and makes the string resistant to moisture while reducing the amount of friction (burn) on the strings. If you buy a coated gut you don’t need to be as concerned about keeping your strings moisture free and/or you can use a coated gut in humid climates without needing to restring as frequently. The downsides are a higher price, a little less feel, and a little less power. For professional players a coated gut makes a lot of sense because a raw, uncoated, gut would probably be too powerful and not durable enough to get through a set. Most of the strings you see a player break in a match are natural gut strings. Stringing a coated gut is also much easier than stringing an uncoated gut. With an uncoated gut you’ll start to see your string slowly fraying away early on. Don’t be alarmed that’s the natural process of the string “un-binding.” Even if you’re not a regular string breaker your uncoated gut will break at some point.
6 Changing of the Seasons
Here in Washington DC we have cold winters and hot humid summers. If this sounds familiar to where you live I would recommend changing your gut accordingly. From fall to early spring your game will probably benefit a little more from an uncoated gut (more power) to help you hit through the stiffer conditions. Starting in the late spring and continuing on throughout the summer you should use a coated gut to increase durability. In addition you won’t need to worry about the moisture (humidity) as much as you would with an uncoated gut. If you use an uncoated gut throughout the summer there’s a good chance it will break at least once. Uncoated gut is powerful and on really hot days the ball will have the tendency to fly.
7 When to Restring
For most players the answer is to wait until it breaks. If you play regularly and the string hasn’t broken in 6 months bring it in for a fresh set of strings.