Yoyo design has changed dramatically and rapidly in the past 15 years. Yoyo shapes have gone through rapid evolution and increasingly this simple toy is pushing the boundaries on precision and balance. We’ve gone from the simple yet elegant wooden hand carved toy to the precision balanced metal machine with large ball bearings. Some have weird H shapes, hubstacks, and even undercuts. Yoyos have gotten wider, adopting the butterfly shape as standard and morphing it into something almost unrecognizable from its origin. When someone asks, “is that a yoyo?” they genuinely are not sure. The only recognizable trait from their grandparent’s up and down past time is the string.
Unlike everything else about a yoyo, the string itself has seen the least amount of change. The modern yoyo string starts out as a type 8 (4×2) 100% cotton string. The next large trend in string was the Slick 6 (3×2) 50/50 cotton/poly blend. Now the gold standard is the type 6 (3×2), 100% polyester string. It has not been until recently that small indie string companies have opened up, trying out different things. The vast majority of yoyo string, however, fall under the above three types, and over 95% of them come from the same factory too.
Unlike bearings, string have better defined uses.
Type 8 Cotton: You might call this old faithful, or if you are a strict modernist, Old Yeller. This type of string is thick and rough. For the longest time, this is all there was. For 2013, this type of string is only useful for wooden yo-yos like a TMBR Irving. The reason being that wooden yo-yos with a wooden axle create a lot of friction. With high RPM, a wooden axle can melt through 100% polyester string with ease. Slick 6 fairs a bit better but is still weaker than 100% cotton. Cotton doesn’t melt, it burns, so while you will get more life out of your 100% cotton string, eventually it will burn through if you play hard, but still last far longer than the low melting point of polyester. If you do burn through a cotton string you can see the frayed ends darken and the sweet smell burnt wood on the axle. Add a dab of candle wax to the end of your yoyo string to help lessen the chances of burring through the cotton. When playing on a wooden fixed axle yoyo, this is the string that was good enough for your grandfather - and it should be good enough for you.
Slick 6: This is a 50/50 Cotton/Polyester blend that is two strands thinner than the type 8 cotton. This type of string was popularized in the late 90s and early 2000′s. It was thinner to accommodate smaller gapped bearing yo-yos. The poly blend helped strengthen the thinner, thus weaker, string. Slick 6 is far softer than cotton type 8 and also has a bit of elasticity to it you don’t find in cotton. Nowadays, this string is still useful for small bearing yo-yos and 2A play. It has decent durability and less elasticity than 100% poly for more consistent 2A play. Once the elasticity wears out, the string gets considerably thinner, making it less responsive and more prone to slicing a callus on dry hands. If you use this string for 1A play, change your strings often.
Type 6 100% Polyester: This has been the new standard for a few years now. This string has lots of elasticity and can stretch a full inch or more once used. I am a player who shortens his strings so I always cut it a little short to accommodate for the elasticity. Unlike cotton or Slick 6 string, 100% poly comes in a variety of colors. I’ve found that I prefer the yellow poly string to anything else. Interestingly enough,this is all the same string, so any variance has to be due to the dye properties of any individual color. This type of string is best used for large ball bearing yo-yos. The all synthetic fibers make for a long lasting string that is also soft to the touch. Because of its long lasting properties, polyester string tends to get dirty before it wears out and needs to be changed anyway. If you keep your hands clean you can use poly string for many playing hours before needing to be replaced.
As you can see, not much has changed on the string front. However, in recent years many small independent string companies have popped up and are trying different things. I personally haven’t tried all of them, but am familiar with one of the more popular brands, Kitty String.
Kitty String: Kitty String is an all synthetic 100% polyester string, but where these differ is in the twist.
Normal type 6 string consists of two strands of fiber twisted together to form one thicker strand. Take three thick strands, twist them together, and fold in half for a 3×2 string. Type 8 is the same process except you use 4 thick strands folded together. Normal Kitty String is different; it uses very thin fibers twisted together for 11 thin strands that are then folded together. The fibers are so thin you could call this 11×1 string. Normal Kitty String plays very well and is similar to traditional type 6 poly, but does certainly has a different feel to it so try it out and see if it’s right for you.
Thick Kitty String uses 12×1. This is what I’ve been using lately and has made me think about the role string has in yoyo play. The thicker variant of Kitty String means more response. Theres more string filling up the gap in the yoyo and thus binding should be a little easier. I like to do lots of regenerations and trick binds, so this string really speaks to me.
On a broader note, think about why we shifted to the type 6 string in the first place. Yoyos had ball bearings but were small (the bearing used in the loop 900 and 1080 were used on top of the line bearing yo-yos back then). Also the size A bearing was considered the ‘big’ bearing. Cotton string was thick and rough, so a softer, thinner string came out of necessity. String tricks were getting more advanced and every little bit helped. Thinner string meant more layers in the gap of the yoyo, it also meant weaker string. Solution: blend some string synthetic fibers to help carry the load.
We’ve since evolved to 100% polyester; a strong, thin string. Yoyos have utilized the large size C bearing for over a decade now. Only in the past few years has yoyo design been able successfully use a fully exposed C bearing. Before, much of that bearing had to be hidden in the bearing seat for our lesser evolved response systems to be able to bring the yoyo back to the hand.
Now that we frequently have yo-yos coming out with fully exposed large bearings, why not try going back to a type 8 string? When I bring a yoyo back to my hand, I can usually see about 5 or 6 layers of string inside the string gap. That’s a lot. We are using almost every millimeter of bearing and still using string thickness designed for a Tigershark yoyo. Maybe i’m crazy or my personal tastes are weird, but thick Kitty String bridges a gap for me. I have more than enough bearing to do anything I want, but am also looking for more response when I try a trick bind. Thick Kitty String feels appropriate to me for the latest generation of yoyo design.