16 vs 17 Gauge Tennis String Explained (What’s the Difference)

As technology has evolved in the tennis world, rackets and strings have become more fine tuned. There is so much customisation available with tennis equipment nowadays that it can actually become a bit overwhelming knowing what to choose. Tennis strings are of course a very important piece of equipment that can make a huge difference to our game. However, whilst the brand, colour, material and playing characteristics of strings are usually the most highly considered elements when tennis players choose what to put in their rackets, gauges are often forgotten. The gauge of your tennis string can actually play quite a major role in how it feels in your racket, so let’s take a look at two of the most common ones, the 16 and 17 gauge.

What are Tennis String Gauges?

The gauge of a tennis string effectively refers to how thick or thin it is.

The gauges available on a specific model of string will depend on how it is manufactured, including the materials used, for example whether it is a natural gut, polyester or multifilament string.

The thickness of a string will impact how flexible it is, how much it weighs and how much spin or power it will produce.

Whilst there may not be a huge amount of difference between one string gauge up or down, there are a wide variety of gauges to choose from. They go as low as 22 (the higher the number, the thinner the string is confusingly), and as high as 13.

16 and 17 tend to be the most common gauges that most mainstream tennis string manufacturers will carry, as they sit roughly in the middle but towards the thicker end of the overall range.

Most strings sold to recreational tennis players will often be on the side of durability rather than playability, which is why you won’t often see extremely thin (high gauge) strings being sold over the counter.

Generally speaking, a higher gauge (thinner string) will offer more flexibility. This also means it will be more powerful, lighter weight and move around the string bed more.

This makes it a more lively string type to gauge with, as you’ll get more spin and responsiveness.

Whereas, with a lower gauge (thicker string), you’ll naturally get better durability as there is more material for the strings to rub against.

Lower gauges are also less flexible, so they are more control oriented and offer a bit more of a ‘dead’ feel, rather than the more lively response of a higher gauge.

What are the Different Gauges?

Whilst the most popular tennis string gauges tend to fall between 15 and 18, here is the entire list of gauges available. These are the standard U.S. specifications for tennis strings:

  • Gauge 13: 1.65 – 1.80mm
  • Gauge 14: 1.50 – 1.65mm
  • Gauge 15: 1.41 – 1.49mm
  • Gauge 15L: 1.33 – 1.41mm
  • Gauge 16: 1.25 – 1.34mm
  • Gauge 16L: 1.22 – 1.30mm
  • Gauge 17: 1.16 – 1.24mm
  • Gauge 18: 1.06 – 1.16mm
  • Gauge 19: 0.90 – 1.06mm
  • Gauge 20: 0.80 – 0.90mm
  • Gauge 21: 0.70 – 0.80mm
  • Gauge 22: 0.60 – 0.70mm.

You’ll notice that there is a range of around 10-15mm within each gauge. This is because tennis string manufacturers will guarantee a string is produced within this range, but due to processing tolerances, they can’t often offer an exact thickness for each batch of string produced.

16 Gauge

Arguably the most commonly used string gauge out there, 16 gauge covers strings with a diameter of 1.25mm to 1.34mm. As it is slightly thicker than a 17 gauge, you’ll get a more solid feel, better durability and control.

There is still plenty of touch on offer when using a 16 gauge, but it is more geared towards being robust than tactile. 16 gauge strings are also more control oriented, thanks to their slightly more dead feel.

Most recreational players will be offered a 16 gauge by default, as the thought process is that a string lasting longer will be a higher priority than having the optimum feel on the string bed for most players.

However, there is still a nice balance between durability, comfort and feel with a 16 gauge, which is why it is so popular.

17 Gauge

On the other hand, a 17 gauge string offers a more lively and responsive feel compared to a 16 gauge.

With its thinner 1.16mm to 1.24mm profile, 17 gauge strings are more powerful, offer more spin and are better at transferring the vibrations of the ball from the racket to your hand, giving you a more connected feel.

All things being equal, the same string with a 17 gauge will offer slightly more power, feel and plushness than a 16 gauge, due to its thinner profile.

If you are looking for a more responsive, powerful and comfortable gauge, 17 is the one to go for.

Which Should You Choose?

The string gauge you choose pretty much depends on what you are looking for in terms of playing characteristics, as well as what type of strings you are using.

There are pros and cons to both the 16 and 17 gauges, so there isn’t necessarily a right answer here.

If you are looking for more feel, comfort and power, then the thinner 17 gauge is the way to go. This would be appropriate for a player using a polyester string, but wanting to soften it out a bit to make it more of an all rounder.

Equally, if you are using a multifilament or natural gut string and want the most feel and power possible, without minding about the reduced durability, 17 gauge would also be suitable.

Conversely, if you need a bit more control and durability, regardless of string type, then 16 gauge would be preferable.

Conclusion

Overall, the string gauge you choose can actually have quite a big impact on string performance, despite it being an often overlooked factor when choosing what to put in your racket.

String gauges don’t have to be confusing, and we hope this simple guide has helped you make the right decision for your next tennis string purchase!

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