Tennis vibration dampeners – they're the accessory of choice for countless pros and thousands of recreational players across the globe but do they actually do anything to your racquet? Or are they purely cosmetic?
Not only that, do they help your game? Will they improve your strokes? Will they prevent tennis elbow?
And if they are a must-have piece of kit, is there such thing as the best vibration dampener for your racquet?
All that and more in this in-depth guide to vibration dampeners. Let's take a look.
What is a Tennis Vibration Dampener?
Let's start with what it is. A vibration dampener is a small piece of silicon rubber that is inserted into a tennis racquet’s string bed near the throat of the racquet.
If you shift your eyes to the left of the picture above, you'll see she Julia Goerges has one on her Babolat Pure Drive.
These mini shock absorbers first made an appearance way back in 1964, when Rene Lacoste produced the very first vibration dampener called the Tanti-Vibration Dampener as an aid for injury prevention.
Naturally, other brands followed suit to create their own versions of dampeners, and it's become a widely used modern-day tennis accessory.
Today they go by many names, and you'll hear them called vibration dampers, absorbers, dampeners, worms, damps, rubber bands, shock absorbers, and doughnuts.
Manufacturers even like to put their own spin on it with terms like “Pro Damp” which is designed to make you think you're getting something better than a standard one 😀
Regardless of how they're named, all of these terms describe the same thing; a product designed to reduce the amount of vibration from the strings after you make contact with the ball.
What Does a Dampener Do On A Tennis Racquet?
If you surveyed one hundred players on why they use vibration dampener or what it does, you'd get a range of responses from changing the way it feels, curing tennis elbow, reducing vibration and general injury prevention.
However, the purpose most players have when they use vibration dampeners is because it changes the “ping” sound after the ball makes an impact with the racquet.
The rubber dulls or muffles the sound, and for most players, this is for mental/auditory wellbeing than a physical purpose.
From my experience, they do make a big difference on the sound, and if you've ever had one pop out during a rally, you instantly know it's not in there when you hear that pinging sound on the next shot.
Some players hate that sound, which is why dampeners are so prevalent on tour and across tennis clubs worldwide.
Do Tennis Vibration Dampeners Prevent Injury or Tennis Elbow?
So if these shock absorbers reduce vibration, they must prevent injury or help ease tennis elbow right? Well, many players believe this is the case, but the answer is no.
Dampeners do not help tennis elbow, change string tension, increase string durability, boost power, add spin or any of the other benefits you may have seen touted elsewhere.
The reason this misconception has spread is due to manufacturers using terms in their marketing to make you think playing without a vibration dampener is leaving you open to all sorts of elbow problems.
It then only takes one respected club member to put a dampener in their racquet, sing it's praises and before you know it every other club member is using one 😆
However, numerous pieces of independent research have shown that string dampers do not reduce the amount of racquet frame vibration that you will feel in your forearm, they only reduce the amount of vibration of the strings. Hence the acoustic effects.
Research from Taiwan to England shows that the dampening device is too small to actually reduce frame vibration. String dampers do not reduce the amount of racquet frame vibration received in the forearm, They remain a popular accessory among tennis players because of their acoustic effects and psychological support, rather than any mechanical advantage. Dr. Francois-Xavier Li, University of Birmingham School of Sport and Exercise Sciences.
The reason why there's no reduction in vibration from the frame is that vibration dampeners are simply too small to have any sort of effect.
Despite this research, the myth that vibration dampeners will reduce frame vibration and prevent tennis elbow still persists.
From my own experience of playing with and without a dampener, I found zero difference to the arm friendliness.
The only explanation I can give is that some players find that ping sound more jarring, which probably translates into thinking their elbow is having to soak it up.
Putting on a dampener muffles the sound and likely creates a placebo effect.
However, no matter what vibration dampener you put on your stringbed; if you're using a frame that’s too heavy, too stiff or a string that’s harsh like polyester, this all has a significant impact on the shock and vibration your arm endures which no small piece of silicon can impact.
If you’re suffering from tennis elbow, I'd recommend looking into arm friendly racquets and the type of tennis string you’re using.
Most manufacturers produce a line of racquets that have built-in dampening properties to their frames that give better shock absorption.
Where Do You Put a Vibration Dampener?
Given there aren't many areas on a racquet you can install a dampener without it negatively interfering with the ball, you wouldn't think there'd need to be any rules on it.
However, according to the USTA's Official Rules of Tennis and the ITF rulebook, a vibration-damping device “may only be placed outside the pattern of the crossed strings” (Rule 4, Case 3).
Therefore, legally it can only be fitted in one of three places.
- At the very top of the racquet, however, there's rarely enough room there.
- At the extreme left or right of the frame, which doesn't seem very logical. Although a dampener only weighs ~5g and probably won't affect the balance of the frame dramatically, having it in the middle of racquet head just looks weird. I also think you might keep seeing it in the corner of your eye during the shot.
- Near the throat of the racquet before the first cross string as per the picture above. The only logical spot.
There are no rules on the shape, but it has to be a reasonable size.
What Other Impact Can a Dampener Have on a Racquet?
Aside from the impact on the sound of the ball at contact, the only area a dampener can affect is the feel of the racquet.
The loss of feeling is perhaps one of the downsides of having a vibration dampener on a tennis racquet as you don't feel the ball as well on your strings.
This boils down to purely personal preference though; some players love a muted response, others really want to feel the ball on the strings so whether it's good or bad is for you to test and decide.
Personally, when I play with a dampener on, I think you get less feedback on how well you hit the shot.
You get a somewhat muted sound regardless if you hit a screamer in the middle of the sweet spot or you hit off centre, so I generally play without one. The sound is different and is slightly more grating on the ears, but you get used to it.
What Are The Different Types of Vibration Dampener?
Vibration dampeners come in three main styles:
- Elastic Band
Button dampeners are usually circular (sometimes square or cut out like a brands logo) like a button and are the more commonly seen compared to the worm style.
Most pros go with these as they're easy to fit, which means removing and putting one in a freshly strung racquet before a ball change is a job you can do walking back to the service line.
Popular button dampeners include the Djokovic dampener from Head, Dunlop's spider dampener, to support the marketing efforts around their popular Black Widow poly string and the Sampras Tourna Dampener.
The only negative is that button dampeners do fly out during play from mishits. They are only held in place by two main strings, so if you make contact near the throat, then you'll be having to search around the court for it. So remember to keep a couple of spares in your bag.
The other common type of vibration dampener is known as a “worm” dampener. This type of dampener is long and thin, and it is fitted by weaving it between several strings.
As a result, it is in contact with more of the stringbed and produces more of a dampening effect on the sound.
Compared to button dampeners they are a bit faffy to fit, but once they're in, usually they won't come out.
Popular worm dampeners include the Gamma Shockbuster and the Head Smartsorb.
If you were a fan of Andre Agassi, then you’re likely familiar with his DIY dampener – the elastic band.
Agassi tied a rubber band to his strings, and it has the same effect as a rubber dampener. It might not look as cool, you can't get one with a logo or smiley face on, but they do the same job.
The dampening isn't quite as severe as you get from a button dampener, but the thicker the band, the more significant effect it has.
Andre apparently used a band as he didn't like the way rubber dampeners felt so instead used a size 64 rubber band.
If you want to use a rubber band dampener, here's how to fasten it to your racquet.
How To Install a Vibration Damper
The denser the string pattern, the harder dampeners are to fit, but generally they're simple to install. The only time I find them annoying is on a freshly strung racquet with stiffer strings as they do require a bit of force to budge.
The button dampeners are easier as you just push the slot of the damper into one of your main strings as far it will go, then either bend the dampener or pull the opposite main string until it slots into the other side. Then slide it up onto your first cross string.
The worm ones can be slightly fiddly and are best explained in this video below.
Do Professional Players Use Dampeners?
Hundreds of professional players use vibration dampeners; however, there are two notable absentees. Roger Federer doesn't use one, and neither does Serena Williams.
Federer did use one back in the day, but it fell out once, and he never put it back, saying the sound annoyed him at first, but he got used to it.
He does, however, use Power Pads which have a similar, although not quite as dramatic effect at nullifying the sound.
If we look at the current top 20 on the men's side, 60% use a dampener; the other 40% don't. You can see the breakdown in the table below.
|Player||Uses a Vibration Dampener?|
|N. Djokovic||Yes, Head Djokovic Dampener|
|R. Nadal||Yes, Babolat Custom Damp|
|D. Medvedev||Yes, Tecnifibre Vibra Clip ATP Vibration Dampener|
|A. Zverev||Yes, Head Zverev Dampener|
|M. Berrettini||Yes, Head Xtra Damp|
|G. Monfils||Yes, Luxilon Legacy Dampener|
|F. Fognini||Yes, Pete Sampras Tourna Vibration Dampener|
|R. Bautista Agut||No|
|A. Rublev||Yes, Pete Sampras Tourna Vibration Dampener|
|K. Khachanov||Yes, Kimony QuakeBuster|
|S. Wawrinka||Yes, Yonex Vibration Dampener|
|C. Garin||Yes, Luxilon Legacy Vibration Dampener|
|F. Auger Aliassime||Yes, Babolat Custom Damp|
6 Recommended Vibration Dampeners For 2020
Below I've highlighted six of the most common vibration dampeners used on the ATP and WTA tours, and they're all solid choices.
I've had a couple of emails in the past from people asking if I can recommend the best dampener available, but it's impossible to give any product the crown of ‘best vibration dampener'.
All you're getting is a piece of silicon, so they're entirely interchangeable.
In the grand scheme of things, it's a relatively trivial thing to get right on your racquet, so my recommendation is just to pick your favourite design.
Just remember the button style muffles the sound less than a worm style as it covers fewer strings.
Wilson Pro Feel Dampener
The Pro Feel dampener takes the shape of the iconic W logo and is one you will see used by a number of pro's who are sponsored by or using Wilson racquets.
Simple to fit/remove and it comes in several colours to complement your racquet or string job.
Head Pro Damp
This is Novak's dampener of choice although his version is orange and comes with the Serbian eagle on one side.
You can also buy a Djokovic version with the Djokovic “D” logo on. They are usually sold in packs of two and come in a variety of colours.
Pete Sampras Tourna Vibration Dampener
The dampener made famous by Pistol Pete is the Tourna Dampener. It's also where the nickname for the product ‘doughnut' comes from.
A straightforward design and one you see a lot of pros using alongside TournaGrip overgrips.
It has “Pete Sampras” printed along the sides, and they usually come in black, red or white.
Tecnifibre Vibra Clip ATP Vibration Dampener
The Technifibre Vibra Clip is one of the more unique designs of vibration dampener and it's used by a number of pros including Daniil Medvedev.
Weighing in at just 2 grams, it's incredibly light and has a slightly different fastening system which locks it in place.
Babolat Custom Dampener
The dampener of choice for Rafael Nadal to match his racquet is the Babolat Custom Damp.
This one is an excellent choice for players who want to play around with the level of dampening as you can remove the clear rubber piece in the middle for more ball feel or keep it for extra dampening.
Gamma Shockbuster II Vibration Dampener
The Gamma Shokcbuster II is a vibration dampener with a new twin-tube design which was created to contact more area of the main strings for an increased dampening effect.
Not my favourite but for those who like to nullify the sound of the string, this is a good choice.
Luxilon Legacy Dampener
Used by several pros like Gael Monfils, the Luxilon Legacy Dampener has a dense silicon construction, this provides a very smooth and dampened feel.
This is very similar to the original Vibra Stopper O dampener that used to come bundled in with Luxilon strings for many years but sadly no more!
What About Some of the Different Dampeners To Hit the Market?
In recent years I've seen quite a few new style dampeners hit the market, some have even tried to raise money via Kickstarter and various other crowdfunding sites.
However, my problem with these is they all make outlandish claims and don't offer anything different to what is already out there.
Take for example the ADV Dampener pictured above. You get three in a pack to experiment, but they're marketed as a feat of engineering. While they look cool enough, they're no better than a simple button dampener.
The other issue with this style of a dampener is that they're not a universal fit and will not work on specific string patterns or spacing.
While I don't think it is a bad product, I just can't see the price tag justification compared to the dampeners that have been available for years.
Should You Use a Vibration Dampener?
Dampeners are all about personal preference. Some players like them, other's don't. But given the relatively low cost of buying one, it's worth testing out.
Ultimately they're somewhat of a misnomer as they dampen string vibrations, not frame shock, and so do not prevent injury.
So while It's not a product that is going to improve your game, it may produce more of a pleasant sound to your ears and if you enjoy the aesthetics of adding them to your racquet, give them a try!
Remember if you are a player who likes the ‘pock' sound then use a worm dampener, players who only want a quieter ping should use a button dampener and those who want a loud ping should use nothing.
What are your thoughts on vibration dampeners? Let me know in the comments.