Friday, May 22, 2009

Factory Tuned Rubbers - are they right for you?

The latest craze in rubbers seems to be factory tuned rubbers. Despite being undetectable (for most tuners) by ITTF devices, tuning or boosting was deemed to be illegal under ITTF rules, as they change the characteristics of the rubber. However if the rubber is tuned at the factory, as part of it’s manufacturing process, it is quite legal, as long as the VOC content is low enough. VOC based glues are still used at the factory to attach topsheets to sponges, and as long as they are aired before they are shipped out, they are perfectly legal.

So ever since the ITTF ruling regarding tuners (or boosters) was clarified and put into action, some of the Chinese manufacturers have started working on rubbers pre-tuned at the factory, so that elite players can play with rubber that are close in performance with the former speed glued rubbers. These rubbers have tuned/boosted at the factory, and this effect is (to some extent) preserved by an adhesive layer and plastic sheet attached to the sponge.

I’m sure some of you have heard about some of these factory tuned rubbers, which have now made their way to the public as well. As soon as word gets out that the Chinese National team is testing or using some of these rubbers, there is an immediate demand for them. Haifu’s Blue Whale II was among the first, and more recently Tuttle’s Beijing II and DHS’s new tuned Hurricane rubbers have all been much talked about…

So the question is, are these rubbers worthwhile, and how do they compare to some of the latest glue effect rubbers? The answer is not so simple, as it really depends on your level, your budget, availability and whether you are going to re-tune the rubbers. So let’s discuss these issues one by one;

Level: These rubbers are designed for a fast attacking style game, giving you a high level of power and spin. The fact that these are usually only released in MAX thickness supports this. It is my opinion that these rubbers are really only suitable for the higher levels of table tennis, starting around the top club levels and upwards. I’m sure players below this level can enjoy playing with these rubbers, and if you’re playing mainly for enjoyment then perhaps you might like these, but otherwise you likely don’t have the skills to control these rubbers, nor can you take advantage of their full potential.

Budget: Although all the current factory tuned rubbers are Chinese made, they are not exactly cheap, and prices approach some of the Euro/Japanese made glue effect rubbers. Yes they are still cheaper, but the tuning effect typically only lasts 2-4 weeks, at which point you need to change them over as the effect has worn off, and re-tuning is illegal. Inbuilt glue effect rubbers would typically last 4-6 weeks, which makes them comparable, although a few more recent ones (eg Tenergy and Air Condle) last significantly longer than this. When these factory tuned rubbers are in their tuned state, they will most likely out-perform the glue effect rubbers, so for the top players, it’s most likely worthwhile. For those players that count performance as much more important then price (and you can afford it) then it’s most likely worthwhile as well. For the rest of players, I think it’s probably not worth it…

Availability: Up to now, these factory tuned rubbers have had limited availability, as most dealers seem to only carry small numbers. Only a few dealers carry them, who would normally get them from a distributor or manufacturer within China. I believe the pre-tuned rubbers have a limited shelf life, which is far shorter than a regular rubber, so dealers need to ensure they can sell the rubbers before they expire. I’ve read a few reports from players who tried these rubbers, and found the performance was not there… this may point to the rubber being past its shelf life, although it’s not proof.

Re-tuning: Perhaps you’re considering buying these pre-tuned rubbers, and include the re-tuning liquid as well to be used when the effect wears off? Although tuning is illegal under IITF rules, it is often undetectable and it’s become well known that it’s become very common at the elite levels. So if you don’t play competition or events that come under ITTF rules, or you simply choose to ignore this rule, then re-tuning is a definite option. Of course if you’re going to tune, you can tune ANY rubber with ANY of the tuners/boosters that are still available on the market, so you’re no longer restricted to using the factory tuned rubbers.

So would I recommend against buying these factory tuned rubbers? Not at all, I have nothing against them and think it’s a great innovation by the manufacturer, to come up with something that is legal and offer the high performance that speed glue used to offer. What I would say though, is that you carefully consider the issues discussed above, to see if they are worthwhile for YOU!

If you decide these rubbers are right for you, you need to carefully consider where you buy them as well. Shopping around for the best price is no longer the most important, as dealers may have these rubbers on special because they are close or past their expiry date. Ideally you want a rubber that’s fresh from the factory, so make sure you pick a dealer you can trust, even if their price is higher. It costs the dealer money to keep a constant supply of only fresh rubbers, so a higher price is justified.

Comments on this article are most welcome!

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