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Tuning your racquet: swingweight, balance, lead tape adjustments, polarized/ depolarized setups.

After my years of fiddling with lead tape, I would like to share what I know on tuning a racquet by altering the weight and balance.


First off, you should determine the swingweight of the racquet. Swingweight is different from overall weight. It is possible to have a very light racquet which swings heavy. Manufacturers do this by placing all the weight in the head and not much in the handle, so it will still perform. Avoid these racquets because the shock produced by these racquets can hurt your arm.


You can measure the balance of a racquet by balancing it on a rod or hanging it off the side of a table until it leans. Measure the distance from the balance point to the butt cap. Then subtract that number from 13-1/2 inches (the midpoint of the overall length). Let's say you get 12-5/8. That would make it 7/8 inches away from the midpoint. Every 1/8" is 1 pt head light, so you have a 7pt HL racquet.


Baseliners generally like a racquet between 3-6 pts. HL. Serve and volleyers generally like 8-10 pts. HL. But this is a matter of taste.


Let's say you have a 7 pt. HL racquet and you want more power out of it. You can balance it to 4 pt HL by placing lead in several locations.


Putting lead at 12 o'clock will change the balance the most. It will also give you more spin because it pulls the tip around faster on strokes. It is said Federer puts about 3-5 grams of lead on the tip, Nadal 6-8 grams. They put it under the bumperguard. The average club player can just put it inside the rim to good effect. This setup is called a polarized setup. Think "pole" as being "top of the globe", like "North Pole". (However, Federer's balance point is said to be around 8 pts. HL/ 32 mm from the buttcap)


Putting lead at 3 and 9 o'clock will change the balance less, per strip, but substantially also. This setup will give you more solid volleys, because the racquet will be less likely to twist on off centered shots. It will also make flatter groundstrokes more dependable for the same reason. Sampras was known to put gobs of lead along the side inner rim, which suited his flat loop forehand and volleys.


Let's say you wanted an 9 pt. HL racquet instead. You will have to put weight in/on the handle to make this change. You can either remove the grip and place the lead horizontally or vertically down the handle. The problem is that it will make your grip size bigger.


To avoid this problem, you can put the lead tape near the top of the handle and layer it there. Or you can take off the butt cap, by removing the staples, or open the trap door of the buttcap. The handle is hollow, and from there, you can place cotton two inches or less, and put in a known amount of silicone or fishing weight, or poster tack. Measure the material first, so you will know or be able to arrive at the desired balance point later.


I have found that putting lead at the top of the handle works better, because you do not have a reduction in power as you do when putting weight in the bottom of the handle. It is also much easier to put lead at the top. When putting lead at the bottom, I have had too much reduction in power where the racquet feels substantially less responsive.


A mysterious racquet customizer, John Cauthen, advocated putting 50 grams of lead at the top of the handle. I have put 24 grams and feel the difference already. It makes the racquet much more maneuverable, yet produce a noticeable increase in power. Cauthen's claim is that Agassi and Muster had their racquets customized in such a way and thus, rose to number 1 in the world when they did. I do not know if that is true, but I can speak from my own experience only.


Remember, a 4 inches of a 1/4" wide lead is 1 gram. So if you want 3 grams at the tip, multiply that by 4 and so you will need 12 inches of lead. So if you wanted to do a polarized setup, take 6 inches on one side, and 6 inches on the other side of the rim at the top of the frame. It doesn't take a genius to lay it in there, just put it in there nice and neat, then go out and try it.


If the swingweight feels too heavy, either reduce the size of those strips or counterbalance the weight you put at the top, with an amount in/on the handle. Then tune according to your taste. My taste is 8 pts. HL. with 24 grams at the top of the handle. What's yours?


Note: I achieved 24 grams by using 3/4" wide lead tape, using 8 inches length, wrapping the top of the handle twice. I found this tape at the Racquet Doctor for $1.75/ ft.

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Do you have this application Patrick? I am wondering if it is truly accurate.

I tried the TW forum swingweight tool, which uses the same principle, and didn't find it to be very accurate after counting the time elapsed for 10 swings. It could've been anywhere between 330 to 420 SW.

This is some really good info, Tim.  A question though: when you refer to the HL balance, do you mean strung or unstrung?  I have my Prince EXO3 Graphite MP racquets balanced about 5-6 pts. HL, strung (stock was 2 pts. HL).  I used a whole pack of lead (18 g.) added to the middle/top of the handle.  I am a spin player, apparently, with a good amount of topspin on the FH.  The problem is my BH swing is a bit slow.  Do you think I would benefit from changing to 7-8 pts. HL by adding more lead to the handle, or should I just practice my swing?  Will I lose too much power by doing so?

I always refer to the HL balance strung. Different strings will shift the overall balance differently. So I see you have it at 5-6 pts HL.

Here is a possible problem moving it to 8 or 9 pts, when it was originally 2 pts HL and you've moved it to 5-6 pts. already. The racquet may begin to play lacking in power the higher the headlight balance. The manufacturer, say Prince here, designed the racquet's playability at certain specs. If you change the specs too much, it may play badly with little response. 

Gasquet likes his balance to be 10 pts. HL on a Liquidmetal Instinct MP. I like mine to be 9 pts. HL on Youtek Prestige Mid. You could add another 18 grams to the handle and see what happens. Or you could put on a leather grip plus an overgrip, the classic one handed backhand player's solution. A one handed player likes more head speed and "whip". 5-6 pts HL is more of a baseliner two handed player's racquet.

You might like trying a different racquet more suited to a one handed player with a smaller head, and more headlight balance. There's a reason why Federer does not switch to a 98 or 102 head. It's this reason: he wants more HL balance and more precision out of a smaller head size, especially on his slice backhand and his 3/4 topspin backhand.

If you want to increase the speed of your backhand swing, without resorting to all of this, start taking your racquet up higher, above your shoulders. You can also experiment with rolling your shoulders and having a rolling heel to toe action too.

Taking back the racquet straight back requires more strength. I prefer to use gravity and potential energy rather than jerk the racquet out through a straight plane. I don't have big forearms or shoulders. I have a relaxed arm which speeds up through supination (the opposite of pronation). You maybe using little supination as well.  Using more supination can greatly increase racquet head speed. 

That makes sense.  I'll probably leave it as is.  The power is still good, but I worry about playability.  It's too bad not many manufacturers make a green racquet, he he he!

I was not visiting this place for very long time and I'm sorry about but meanwhile I played a hell lot of tennis :) I changed my racket moving from Aero Pro Drive GT to the latest Roddick Pure Drive and this season I was using just this one with a Signum Tornado Pro string at 25 kg tension... Totally the racket weights around 344 grams... And now came the problem... After 10 months of playing without any problem I was insisting more on service power plus too many hours on court and I start having pains in elbow... I love my Pure Drive Roddick rackets but because of stiffness and stringing I have pains currently while serving... Meanwhile I bought a Wilson BLX ProStaff 95 16/19, 11 oz/ 313 gr (not stringed) .... So, I like the control on this racket but is too slow for my style and even usually I hit hard and with a lot of spin (semi-western) with this racket the ball just slowly flies away in comparison with my usual Roddick PD :) So, I want to add some lead tape and some weights in handle to increase the power while keeping the balance quite similar to current one... I want to keep this Wilson as good as it is at the net but just to increase plow through and power a little bit... So, if I add weight in handle, around 15-20 grams plus another 15-20 grams in "head" around 10 and 2 o'clock area do I get what I want? What do you advice me? Anyway, first of all I will work at strings but I want to add some consistency to this racket for baseline hits... For me looks wipy, meaning that you can easily accelerate the head of the racket, but inconsistent...

If you add 15-20 grams to the hoop and the same amount to the handle, you will get alot of static weight. You will also really increase the swingweight. The balance will change also depending where you put the lead exactly.

Question is, do you want more maneuverability (more lead in the handle) or do you want more stability (lead at nine and three o'clock for volleys)? Do you want more power (lead in the hoop) or do you want more control (lead in the handle)? Do you want more spin (lead at 10 and 2 o'clock, or lead at 12 o'clock)?

Any case, I would try 2 grams at a time in the hoop, 4 grams at a time in the handle. Putting lead in the hoop has a more measurable effect the closer it is at the tip. I would not merely try to match the overall weight of the Pure Drive on the Wilson. I would rather go gradual and build up, rather than waste a bunch of lead, having to peel off the layers. 

hi, long time I was missing from here but what I did was to tune up my Prostaff so I added 4 grams, 2 at 3 o'clock and 2 at 9 o'clock so somehow the racquet become much more stable and faster but overall was not a pleasure so I stayed with my Roddicks till today when I got 2 brand new Volkl V1 Pro ;) I played already 4 hours with these new ones and overall I like the feel and power you get... somehow the balls are "heavier" and slice plus top spin looks great... the only problem is backhand as far as I have a one hand backhand... if I hit flat and fast the ball is very fast but accuracy is missing... So, now as far as i like the feel and control of this 2 new toys I will add maybe 4 grams as I did with ProStaff plus extra 16 grams in handle... initially I will add the tape under the grip for easier tuning and after I will find the right setup I will place it inside the handle... overall I want the same heavier,HL balance like Roddick with feel and control of Volkl :D sure, I will lose some speed but i hope that playability will be better... what do you think? now the Volkl is 1 point HL, where will go after this setup?

Word of warning: You can't make one racquet model feel the same to the other model by simply changing the balance. 

I doubt you can make the Roddick perform like the Volkl V1 because of varying stiffness, beam width and composition.

The Volkl V1 has 1 pt. HL for a reason. The overall mass is lighter so it needs to have more mass in the hoop. Unlike the Prostaff, where the overall mass is heavier, a headlight balance is used because there is 1) already enough mass to propel the ball, 2) the racquet is for advanced players who don't need the help of power. 

I understand the desire for more playability and maneuverability for the one handed backhand. But I would just switch to a racquet with a more headlight balance. 

Good points. Actually I like the feel and touch you get from Volkl but sometimes on some hits is not so consistent... On the other side with current setup the frame looks for me faster than Babolat. Actually is a different way of being faster, much more catapult style on Volkl case. So, I want to keep that feel and touch but to slow down a little bit the frame. So, for sure I cannot go to a similar balance of a Roddick but I need it to make it a little bit more heavier. That's why I would like to add that things. Currently without anything the frame is 205 grams and Babolat is around 325 grams (without anything)... so, I have 20 grams to play with and I was thinking to put 16 grams in handle and 4 grams on head at 3 and 9 o'clock. In this case the overall mass is increased and torsional stability is a little bit better. I played already 6 hours with it and I like some things on this new frame, things that I don't want to alter (as I said feel and touch) but there are some others that can be better like plow through and stability... I have 2 Volkl so I will change one until I find the right setup and after that I will copy for the other. By the way, I have MSV Hex on one (thinnest version) and Signum Tornado Pro (thinnest version) on the other and even this 2 strings looks similar MSV is much more comfortable and playable, Signum is stiffer. 


    I just want to throw out the idea that you can try using copper wire instead of lead tape to weigh and tune a tennis racquet. This is cheaper, or could be used to try out a weight before applying that amount of more expensive lead tape.

    Just use 14 gauge solid copper wire, the size or diameter used for house wiring -- if none is lying around, you can buy some at any hardware store that sells it by the foot, and then strip off the insulation with a knife. Copper wire bends very well, so wrap the wire around the racquet frame, between the strings. Or around the neck. Then put any kind of tape over it, or you could even try a dab of solder to secure the end.

    I've calculated that weightwise, 1 gram is 2.13 inches of 14 gauge solid copper wire ... 2 grams is 4.26 inches ... 4 grams is 8.53 inches.  Or one foot (12 inches) is 5.64 grams.

    This is based on 14 gauge solid copper wire weighing 12.43 pounds per 1000 feet, 16 ounces to a  pound, and 28.35 grams to an ounce. For your info, copper is only slightly less dense than lead, at 8.96 grams per cubic centimeter, versus lead at 11.34 grams per cubic centimeter.

    I welcome hearing your comments or feedback on your experience

Very interesting choice of copper!


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