Jon Levey answers your equipment questions in Gear Q&A. Click here to submit your question.
In many of the reviews I’ve been reading lately on this site, there have been numerous references to frames being good candidates for customization. Most often it has something to do with adding lead tape to the head. I’ve been playing tennis for quite a while, but that’s something I’ve never bothered with. Can you tell me how this is most often done, and what purpose it serves?—Grant T.
Using lead tape is a simple way of adding small increments of weight to a frame. Depending on the position on the frame the tape is applied—a clock face is the most used analogy—it can have a differing impact.
Lead tape is usually either ½ or ¼ inch wide. The latter is a more versatile size since it fits nicely in between the grommets and the edge of the frame. A four inch strip of the ¼ inch tape weighs one gram. There’s no rule against using longer strips, but it’s easier to work with whole numbers. If more weight is desired, it’s generally done by adding another strip right on top of an existing one. Pete Sampras was known to have several layers of tape on his frame.
Here are the main lead tape areas:
3 and 9 o’clock
This is the staple position. When players first start experimenting with lead tape, this is typically the location they start with. The perks are more stability on off-center hits and extra pop. Many frames come with a dot, or even ruler markings, to show where the 3 and 9 o’clock positions are. If not, find the middle cross string—it varies depending on the string pattern—and center the middle of the lead strip with that grommet. That way, you have two inches of tape above and below center. Putting tape here can affect swingweight and tip the balance more toward the head. If you want to keep the balance the same, you need to offset the weight by putting same amount in the handle.
2 and 10 o’clock
The further you move up the clock face, the more power you add. Putting the tape at these positions can raise the sweetspot, which is helpful for players who tend to make contact toward the upper part of the frame. Adding weight here will definitely increase the swingweight and make the frame more head heavy. There’s nothing you can do about the former, but adding the same amount of weight to the handle can offset the change in balance. Unlike the 3 and 9 o’clock positions, racquets don’t generally come with indicators on where to find these points on the racquet. You either have to make your best guesstimate, or find a knowledgeable racquet tech.
The very top of the frame is where you’d put the tape if you’re looking for power and a more head-heavy balance. If you find that your racquet feels nice but is too whippy or doesn’t have enough weight of shot, putting tape here is a good option. There’s usually a dot or some sort of indication of where this location is on the frame. Many professionals, however, have the tape placed under the bumper guard to hide and protect it. Even though a few grams doesn’t seem like a lot of weight, putting them at this location will certainly increase the swingweight and make the frame less maneuverable. Weight can be added to the handle to as a counterbalance, but when players put lead tape at this spot they’re usually seeking a heavier swinging frame.
It's not as common as the above spots, but applying lead tape to the throat is a way to add to the overall mass without messing much with the balance or swingweight.
As mentioned above, if you want to maintain around the same balance, the amount of tape that gets put on the head needs to be put under the grip. A lot of players simply unravel the top portion of the grip and wrap the tape around that part of the handle, then re-wrap the grip. Some players undo the entire grip and wrap the tape around the handle near the butt cap; or even lengthwise across the bevels. The positioning usually mirrors the positioning of the lead tape on the head to recreate the balance—the closer to the tip of the frame, the closer to the butt of the handle.
However, if a player simply wants to add mass for more stability and shock absorption without increasing swingweight or a more head-heavy balance, then putting weight on the handle is the way to go. Besides lead tape, a player can use a replacement leather grip, which can add almost a half ounce of weight to the frame. This may also increase the size of the grip.
If that’s not desirable, or you like the feel of a more cushioned grip, another option is to pop open the butt cap and insert weight in the hollow graphite tubing. This may require a few tools (awl, staple gun, etc.) and a little more ingenuity, but it’s not difficult. It can’t be done to racquets that already have a vibration dampening system in the handle; but most frames are hollow or filled with foam that can be scooped out with a thin screwdriver. Ball cotton and stuff it down the handle to prevent whatever weight you chose (pieces of lead tape, fishing weights, etc.) from entering the throat.
If you don’t want the possibility of loose weight in the handle, another option is to fill it with clear silicone. Any hardware store will have tubes of this in various sizes. Just squeeze the desired amount of weight into the handle and let it dry for at least 24 hours before stapling back the butt cap. Putting silicone in the handle is popular on the pro tours as it’s also somewhat of a shock absorber. However, once in place, it’s a bear to remove. So it’s not a great choice if you’re still experimenting with different weights.
Those are just a few of the options when it comes to adding weight to the frame. There are certainly others. One of our racquet testers even likes to do it by adding length to his frames. If you’ve experimented with any of these options, or have some ideas of your own, please leave in the comments below.