We started small, and now we are going big.
A couple of months back, we began our racket customization series by discussing weight in the handle. Many people play with a racket too light for their game, so starting with a static weight increase made sense to ease ourselves into the world of customization.
The handle of the racket is the least consequential area to customize; that means you can add the most weight with the lowest total impact.
To The Hoop
Now we move on to the hoop, the area where weight has the most consequential effect on racket playability.
The reason is quite simple. Adding weight to the hoop has the most effect on swingweight.
Swingweight is the weight of the racket felt while swinging through the air; in scientific terms: inertia. A racket with more weight concentrated in the hoop will swing relatively heavier than a racket of the same weight with that weight concentrated in the handle.
Imagine yourself holding two ten-foot poles. Add a kilo to the end on one and a kilo to the end you are holding on the other. The one with the kilo at the end furthest from you will be near impossible to hold, while the other won't feel significantly different. That's the idea behind swingweight.
Why increase swingweight?
Whereas an increase in static weight mostly affects the racket's stability, swingweight affects much more. Stability, yes, but also power, spin, feel, and even comfort. In this article, we'll discuss where to add the weight, how much, and how each area affects playability.
Beware: adding a little weight to the hoop goes a long way.Swingweight increases in points on a scale. Small amounts of weight can drastically increase your racket's swingweight points, especially the closer you get to the top. Unless you want your racket to swing like Novak Djokovic's sledgehammer (you don't), play around with two to four-gram increments, and not dozens of grams like you might in the handle. You'll have a far less extreme experience.
Think of the racket's hoop like a clock face.
At the top, you have 12 o'clock. Adding weight here will have the highest effect on swingweight and the least on other playability aspects.
You are only increasing the power and spin potential of your frame. So that makes adding weight at 12 o'clock the perfect place to increase swingweight in isolation.
The power and spin increase are fairly straightforward. You have more force to crush the ball with a higher swingweight, so naturally, the effect on the ball will be higher. RPMs and shot depth will increase. It's also important to note that adding weight to 12 o'clock will move the sweet spot up the stringbed (more on that later).
If you like the feel of a higher swingweight, try adding a bit more weight. Keep in mind that you will only increase your power and spin if your racket swings at the same speed. If the higher swingweight slows you down, the effect could be reversed. In that case, take off some lead. If you want to increase stability, forgivingness, and comfort, move on lower down the hoop.
12 o'clock is also the best place to add weight when matching rackets. Because you are almost only affecting the swingweight, you will have matched rackets with the fewest playability differences.
Which rackets might work for 12 o'clock customization?
Before you go and add thirty swingweight points to your racket, be sure to know what you're getting yourself into. Rackets have what I like to call a "swingweight sweet spot"—a swingweight spec at which they play best.
Most rackets come stock within that spec, meaning customization won't usually increase your overall experience. However, some frames react much better to customization in the hoop. I found that the Wilson Blade 98 V8.0 and Head Auxetic Extreme Tour reacted particularly well to a sizeable increase in swingweight. When playtesting these two frames, weight at 12 o'clock was the key.
3 and 9 o'clock
Adding weight to the 3 and 9 o'clock positions will most affect your racket's overall playability.
Like at 12 o'clock, you will increase your frame's power and spin potential—albeit less—but you will also increase other important factors. Earlier I mentioned that adding weight to the top of the racket will move the sweet spot up the stringbed. Adding weight at 3 and 9 will expand the sweet spot outwards towards the edges of the frame, effectively increasing its size. A bigger sweet spot means a more forgiving frame, so adding weight to the 3 and 9 will make your racket more forgiving.
This comes at a slight maneuverability cost. Adding weight anywhere in the hoop will make your racket feel clunkier, but especially on the outside edges of the frame, your racket won't feel as easy to adjust mid-swing. Finding the right balance here is key.
You also increase stability with weight at 3 and 9 o'clock. Here, you are raising the static weight more than you would for the same increase in swingweight at 12 o'clock. A higher static weight always means a more stable racket. The expanded sweet spot is also important in increasing stability; there is less dead space for the frame to flutter when you mis-hit the ball.
Comfort will also increase when adding weight at 3 and 9 o'clock.
This may sound counterintuitive but a racket with a higher swingweight will always be more comfortable on impact because the racket absorbs more of the shock than the body. The impact transitions from the arm to the racket with more racket mass behind the ball.
There is an important balance to strike here. Too high a swingweight will weigh heavy in your hand and cause you to strain your muscles when you hit. Cut back on a little weight if you aim too high on your first go.
Which rackets might work for 3 and 9 o'clock customization?
The Ezone 98 and Vcore Pro 97 from Yonex played well for me with weight at 3 and 9 o'clock. Those of you who might not be used to playing with Yonex frames may also appreciate this bit of customization. Expanding the sweet spot outwards on an Isometric head shape can make the racket feel more like other brands' frames.
I also found stiff but maneuverable rackets like the Wilson Ultra 100 V4.0 are ripe for weight at 3 and 9. This customization will make them more comfortable without going too extreme in swingweight.
The most common reason to add weight at the bottom of the hoop is to counter-balance the weight you added at 12 o'clock. And the only reason you would want to do that is to move the center of the sweet spot closer to where it was before.
You will make the racket more forgiving by expanding the sweet spot upwards and downwards with lead at 6 and 12. One interesting little fact here: Yonex racket users may like the combo at 6 and 12 on any other brands' frames. The Isometric head design stretches the sweet spot vertically, essentially the same as adding weight here.
Which rackets might work for 6 o'clock customization?
While I'm not a big fan of adding weight at 6 o'clock alone or even at 6 and 12, I have gone a bit wild and added weight at 12, 6, 3, and 9. This drastically changes the playability of a racket and should only be done on true "platform rackets". In this video we review a true platform racket in the Dunlop CX 200 Tour 18 x 20, and how I customized it during my playtest.
I also found the Pure Strike VS I play tested to have an exceptionally low stock swingweight. While I preferred this frame with lead at 12, 3, and 9, it also played well with the lead throughout the hoop. Generally, thin beamed rackets like the CX and Strike VS respond best to high swingweights and lots of lead. It helps stabilize the frames and also gives them a slight extra bit of ball pocketing, something we all love from thin-beamed frames. Go down that rabbit hole at your own risk.
The 6 o'clock area on the racket face is right underneath where a dampener usually goes. Remember that any material will increase your racket's swingweight and playing characteristics, including the dampener. Don't be surprised if you find your racket plays differently with and without one, which leads me right to my preferred testing method…
Testing what works: The Dampener Method
I've eluded to trial and error being the best way to customize your frame in the hoop. Try a little more, then a little less weight, until you hit the perfect spec.
Unfortunately, meticulously adding and cutting off tiny strips of 1/4 inch lead is not the most practical solution for most, but over my years customizing rackets, I've found a solution; the dampener method.
Dampeners weigh between two and three grams—closer to two for smaller ones and vice versa. This makes them the ideal weight to add to the stringbed to test different weight positioning combos. It might look weird, and I wouldn't go into a match with multiple dampeners scattered throughout your racket face, but try putting them at different positions at 12, 3, and 9 o'clock and see what it gives.
Once you're happy with a spec, weigh the dampeners, and add that back as lead tape throughout the frame for a more permanent setup. Remember: 4 inches of 1/4 inch thick lead tape weighs 1 gram, so two, 4-inch strips at 12 o'clock only adds 2 grams of weight—right around the same as that small dampener.
How do you add the lead?
For those of you who want to add the weight yourselves, remember to wash your hands after working with lead. There is debate about whether lead tape can harm you, but it's better not to take the risk.
We always recommend working with 1/4-inch strips in the hoop. They are easier to apply, work with all frame thicknesses, and will stop you from adding too much. Remember, a little goes a long way up there.
Never be afraid to play around with the specs of your racket.
But be warned that customization can be a slippery slope. Adding 4 grams of lead at 12 o'clock won't make you a better tennis player. Customization can help your racket complement your game and better unify you with your weapon of choice, but remember that it's the long hours of training on-court that will make you a better player.
If you'd like to leave it to the professionals, we are always here to help!