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Table Tennis Rackets - Choosing Between Pre-Made and Custom Setups

Off the Shelf vs Custom Built

By

Photo of Timo Boll Spirit Table Tennis Blade

Timo Boll Spirit Table Tennis Blade

© 2006 Greg Letts, licensed to About.com, Inc.
Guest author Alex Vanderklugt of One of a Kind Trading Table Tennis Shop has some good advice for those of you who are trying to decide whether to buy a pre-made table tennis bat from a sports store, or assemble a custom built racket yourself.

Is your current table tennis racket slowing down or halting your progress in table tennis, but you're not sure what to buy and how much you need to spend? If the answer is 'Yes' than this guide may be just right for you. It will outline what the basic choices are available, the advantages of one over another, and the sort of costs involved.

Why is it Important to Pick the Right Ping-Pong Paddle?

It's important to develop and improve your game with the right table tennis equipment. This does not mean going out to buy one of the most expensive blades that professionals use, but you may need to spend a little more than your basic Kmart special. You need something that allows you to develop the correct strokes, and that allows rapid development of your game when you put enough effort into it. It should not be 'the equipment' that holds back your progress. At the same it should be something that offers value for money, and you should not be paying extra for an expensive brand name, where (at your level) you will not be able to notice the difference.

Components of a Table Tennis Bat

A table tennis bat, also commonly referred to as a 'racket' or 'paddle', basically consists of two parts, namely the 'blade' which is the wooden part of the bat, and the 'rubbers' which cover the blade on both sides. The first choice you need to make is whether you buy a 'pre-made bat' or whether you buy a 'custom bat'.

When you buy a 'pre-made' bat, the rubbers have already been glued to the blade, and ratings refer to the bat as a 'whole'. When you buy a custom bat, you need to choose the blade and two rubbers separately, and the rubber and blades are rated separately, so the overall ratings of the bat are unknown. You would need to assemble a custom bat yourself, or ask your supplier to do this for you, which may incur an extra fee at some retailers.

Choosing Between a Pre-Made Ping-Pong Paddle and a Custom Built Table Tennis Racket

So how do you choose between these two options? Well the main advantage of the pre-made bats is that they're ready to go, and they generally work out a lot cheaper. For beginners this is usually a good choice, since you have not yet developed/discovered your own style, so choosing a blade and rubbers separately can be quite hard and overwhelming.

However the rubber on the pre-made bats is not really meant to be changed, so if the rubber get damaged, or wears out, or you need to change to something very different, replacing the rubber is not always an option.

This is where a custom setup has advantages, since either the blade or the rubbers can be changed at any time. So if you damage just the rubber on one side of the bat or wish to upgrade, you can simply pull it off and replace it. Similarly (although far less common) if you damage the blade or wish to upgrade to a different one, you can pull off the rubber, and re-glue them to another blade (assuming the size of the blades are similar).

The main advantages/disadvantages of pre-made bats and buying them separately are summarised below. Note that there are some very high quality pre-made bats available, which don't really fit in either of the categories below.

Premade Bats Advantages:

  • They are usually much cheaper.
  • They are already assembled with a good finish and ready to go.
  • You don't need to buy glue or edge tape or tools for assembling the blade or pay to get it done (some retailers offer this as a free service)
  • You're not faced with too many decisions on options/choices that you cannot yet make.
Custom Bats Advantages:
  • More choice in type of rubbers and blades to suit your style.
  • Blades are characterised and have a description so you can choose it to suit your style.
  • Blades are usually of much better quality.
  • Rubbers may be of better quality.
  • As you develop your game (or change your style) you can change the rubbers.
  • When the rubbers wear out you can replace them, as they are removable.
  • The rubbers can be 'speed glued'.

Paddle Prices

So what costs are involved? Well at online stores decent Chinese made pre-made bats start at around US $15 (AUD $20), whereas customs setups start at around US $40 (AUD $50). Japanese or European made setups usually start at about double those numbers. For most people the Chinese equipment offer much better value, and the quality of mid to high end of the range is very good these days. Bats at similar prices (or cheaper) can be found at supermarkets or general sports stores, but these are often mass produced bats, and often offer little control, spin or speed.

ITTF Stamp of Approval

One thing to note is that it's important to make sure that the rubbers on your bat are ITTF approved. The ITTF (International Table Tennis Federation) is an international body that decides what rubbers can be legally used in competition, and the associations of most countries usually follow these rules. Even if you don’t plan to play competition, the ITTF approval signifies a certain level of quality and consistency, so it's still worthwhile. The ITTF does not approve blades, but as long as the blade is made of mostly wood (85% of the layers must be wood) this should not be an issue.

Conclusion

In conclusion, you need to decide what you're willing to spend on a new bat. A decent pre-made is often a good and cheap choice, and you can always upgrade to a custom bat when you have a better idea of what you really want. It's well worth approaching a table tennis club or checking out a specialised retailer to buy your new bat. The quality is likely to be much better, the price most likely cheaper, and you can get some advice on what suits your style. Great savings can also be made by buying online, and information and advice can often be found on their website, or sought from the retailer via Email.
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