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Review: 7-Ply Stiga Blades Extravaganza!

12 September 2018  | Posted in: Table Tennis Reviews

About the Reviewer

Patrick HrdlickaPatrick Hrdlicka is a table tennis enthusiast, who was introduced to the sport by his parents at the age of six. Patrick progressed to play in the highest national cadet and junior team leagues in his native Denmark and was among the top 40 players in his age group, which fostered several long-standing members of the Danish National Team. With college looming, Patrick quit the sport for almost twenty years. During this hiatus, he obtained a Ph.D.-degree in chemistry and accepted a position as professor of chemistry at the University of Idaho.

At the beginning of 2014, the mid-life crisis and yearning for table tennis grew too strong for Patrick and he decided to pick up the sport again. Bitten again by the table tennis bug, he plays 4-6 times per week. 

Since his comeback to table tennis, he has enjoyed combining his analytical and experimental skills with his love for table tennis, testing and reviewing a wide range of table tennis equipment.

This time around, I had the opportunity to test four 7-ply all-wood Stiga blades, i.e., the Clipper CR WRB, Rosewood NCT VII, Ebenholz NCT VII, and the recently introduced Nostalgic VII. The Swedish company is renowned for making some of the finest blades in the business by continuously investing in research and development of new blades and manufacturing technologies in close collaboration with the Chinese National Team. I was particularly stoked about this opportunity since the Clipper is considered one of the most classic blades for short pips players, while the Rosewood NCT VII, Ebenholz NCT VII, and Nostalgic VII are updated and more powerful versions thereof, adapted explicitly for modern game styles.

 

Stiga’s speed/control ratings for the four blades are as follows: Clipper CR WRB (112/64), Nostalgic VII (123/61), Rosewood NCT VII (139/49) and Ebenholz NCT VII (141/46).

 

Testing procedure: I tested the brand-new blades - in order of increasing speed - straight from the box without any additional varnishing/lacquering. I slapped on well used sheets of DHS Hurricane 3 Neo (2.15mm, black, National version, 40 degree hardness) and SpinLord Waran II (2.0mm, red) short pips on my FH and BH, respectively, using one layer of Revolution 3 normal viscosity glue. I tested the setups over several sessions, playing a mix of simple drills against my Robopong 2050 and regular practice partners, practice matches, and league matches, using DHS 3-star D40+ plastic balls in the process.

Stiga Clipper CR WRB

 

Stiga Clipper CR WRB – Soft 7-ply control.

Stiga’s launch of the original Clipper nearly 40 years ago was the starting point for one of company’s most popular blade series. The Clipper, along with its CC (crystal carbo), CR, and CR WRB variants, has been used by many top players over the years. The CR (combi-revolution) system, in which the upper part of the blade has undergone UV-based varnishing, gives the blade extra hardness and speed while maintaining the “Stiga touch”. The hollow WRB handle allows for faster returns and extra sensitivity of touch according to Stiga, since the weight is reduced and the center of gravity is shifted towards the blade head (WRB = weight balance; rate of recovery; ball sensitivity).

 

The blade comes in a sturdy and straightforward blue box, which lists general marketing information about Stiga blades on its back. The Clipper has a regularly sized playing surface (157x151 mm), an average thickness for a modern 7-ply blade (~6.5 mm), and an average weight (~87 g). The Clipper has a classic 7-ply all-wood composition with a medium-thick ayous core that is surrounded by slightly thinner red-dyed ayous plies. The very thin penultimate natural-colored ayous plies are capped by thin UV-treated light-colored limba plies. A CR symbol and a thick red curvy line – denoting the boundary between the UV- and un-treated wood - features prominently on both sides. In typical Stiga style, the blade’s name is written on the neck of the handle. Dark-brown wood is used for the handle, which also features two vertical red stripes, giving the blade a fresh look. The WRB handle is hollow with two see-through plastic lenses. A Stiga sticker is attached to the bottom of the handle (and was peeling off on my specimen).

 

The rounded ST (RST) handle feels rough and grippy and has the following dimensions: length ~101 mm, width ~29.5 mm, and height ~24.4 mm. The handle is quite comfortable except I didn’t care for the sensation of my pinky finger rubbing against the plastic lens. Players with large hands may find the neck a little too narrow as it promotes a deep embracing grip. The wings and blade edges are quite sharp, and some players will be inclined to sand them. The lower part of the playing surface is very smooth, whereas the upper part feels slightly rougher. The build quality is excellent. Bouncing a ball on the naked blade produced a pitch (1324 Hz) that is lower than with the Tibhar Samsonov Force Pro Black Edition or Nittaku Ludeack blades (~1380 Hz and ~1345 Hz, respectively), similar to the DHS Hurricane Long 3, and higher than the Donic Ovtcharov Senso V1 (1281 Hz) or Nittaku Ludeack Power (1227 Hz).

 

 

Playing impressions: Having read many articles about the Clipper on table tennis forums over the years, I was expecting a fast and stiff blade. I was, therefore, surprised to note the ‘only’ medium-stiff feeling and low-to-mid-range OFF- speed after the first couple of FH and BH drives. The feeling is solid and instills confidence on FH and BH drives, but other 7-ply blades like the Nittaku Ludeack or Tibhar Samsonov Force Pro Black Edition offer a harder and more direct feeling on striking the ball. The Clipper CR WRB has a pleasant balance and weight distribution and offers an average dwell time and medium-high ball trajectory on FH loops rendering it easy to attack pushes with sufficient clearance over the net. My FH loops – and especially power drives - lacked penetrating power relative to other 7-ply limba/ayous blades, i.e., they were not quite as long and flat as usual, but I enjoyed the excellent control that the blade provides. The blade is rather linear but has a little bit of built-in flexibility, which facilitates looping. BH mini-loops and fishing shots with the short pips felt solid and controllable but also were not quite as deep and dangerous as with other blades.

 

The lower power levels can be mitigated through greater physical effort, but the larger swings mean that there is less time to return to the starting position, which rendered me more vulnerable on follow-up shots. FH and BH blocking was rock-solid, something that I attribute to the blade’s OFF- speed and thickness, which absorbs the incoming energy. The blocks were flat and controlled but not blisteringly fast. I made similar observations on FH smashes. The blade’s solid feeling was advantageous on pushes and drop shots, which can be played short and tight with high levels of control. The feeling and control when executing aggressive serve returns were good, even though harder blades instill even more confidence on these shots as the contact point is felt more clearly, resulting in more deeper and more dangerous returns. Serving with the Clipper CR WRB is quite enjoyable, especially short low-trajectory back- and no-spin serves. I had some difficulty finding the full length on my long top/side-spin serves, but this is likely a matter of adjusting to the blade’s moderate speed.

 

In summary, the Clipper CR WRB is a well-balanced, light (or so it feels), and linear blade for close-to-the-table control- and spin-oriented all-round players. The blade reminds me most closely of a more robust version of the DHS Power G7. When combined with relatively moderately fast rubbers like DHS Hurricane 3 Neo, the set-up lacks penetrating power, especially far from the table. Fast European or Japanese rubbers are likely a better fit for this blade in the modern 40+ era and will result in set-ups with a lovely balance for looping, blocking, short game and flat hitting. I think the blade is suitable for intermediate and advanced players, including kids, who are looking for a blade with a more solid feeling than typical 5-ply all-wood blades.

Stiga Nostalgic VII

 

Stiga Nostalgic VII – A heavy and massive blade with a long and flat trajectory and a hard and reverberating feeling.

Stiga describes the “Handmade in Sweden” Nostalgic VII as an update to the classic 7-ply Clipper. Thus, the same thicknesses of ayous veneers are used in the core and second layers as the Clipper. According to my sources, spruce is used for the penultimate plies, while the African hardwood wenge is used for the outer plies and the handle. The hard but elastic dimensionality of wenge is asserted to give the Nostalgic VII a boost in speed, rendering it well-suited for the hard-hitting power player.

 

The blade comes in the same simple, sturdy blue box, as the Stiga Clipper CR WRB. A marketing booklet describing Stiga and the new Nostalgic series is provided inside the box. Visually the playing surface looks smaller than usual due to the narrow neck but is larger than usual at 158x151 mm. The blade is relatively thin for a 7-ply blade (~6.3 mm), but very heavy (~96 g, which was the lightest specimen TT11 had in stock).

 

The Nostalgic VII is a beautiful blade with a dark brown surface and black vertical striations and has a wonderful burnt woody smell. The playing surface is devoid of text, except for the blade’s name that is written using a small golden font near the neck. Stiga has moved away from the classic lens in the Nostalgic series in favor of a little golden metal ‘squircle’ (i.e., hybrid between a circle and square). There is a classic metal Stiga tag on the bottom of the handle. The rounded ST (RST) handle is comfortable and has the following dimensions: length ~101 mm, width ~30 mm, and height ~23 mm. The wings are not sanded. Players with large hands may find the neck too narrow. Bouncing a ball on the naked blade, produces a relatively high-pitched sound (1356 Hz), which suggests that the Nostalgic VII is faster/stiffer than most of the 7-ply all-wood blades that I have recently tested, except for the Tibhar Samsonov Force Pro Black Edition (~1380 Hz). The overall build quality of the Nostalgic VII seems pretty good, although the blade edges are a little sharp.

 

 

Playing impressions: Before testing new equipment at the local club, I typically do a preliminary evaluation at home against my Robopong 2050 to make sure that the quality of the glue job is top-notch and to get some initial impressions of the equipment. No single rubber or blade has offered as immediately distinctive feeling as the Stiga Nostalgic VII blade. The test set-up was very head heavy, felt incredibly massive and stiff, yet – strangely – was not overly fast. Puzzled by the initial impressions, I continued my evaluation of the Nostalgic VII at the local club.

 

The feeling on FH drives is intense and reverberating, yet very hard and direct with short dwell time, offering OFF-/OFF level speed. The consistency of my FH and BH drives was significantly lower than usual, mostly because the blade is unforgiving with respect to incorrect bat angles, presumably due to the short dwell time. When timed and executed correctly, the FH and BH drives were very deep, flat, and dangerous. I found myself stepping a step or two further back from the table than usual, and I felt more comfortable from this distance. FH loops are also very dependent on correct timing and bat angle. The short dwell time results in long and flat trajectories which gears the blade more for speed than spin. Opening loops against backspin require a more open bat angle than usual and do not generate as high spin levels as more flexible setups, rendering them susceptible to counter-loops. Loops against blocks, as well as power loops, can be played incredibly flat and long with minimal clearance over the net.

 

High-level players with outstanding technique and footwork, will be able to make this blade shine, but mere mortals will have to accept higher-than-usual error rates. Mid-distance BH mini-loops and fishing shots with the Waran II short pips were playable and dangerous when landing, but again the margin for error was low. Blocking is probably the blade’s strongest point as its massive nature give the impression of being able to absorb very high amounts of incoming energy. But again, the “pingy” feeling and short dwell time means that players must make sure to get the bat angle right. If not, the blocks will go long or into the net. However, when successful, players are treated to fast and deep blocks. Flat hits and smashes are very solid but not blisteringly fast. Aggressive serve returns are enabled by the hard feeling, while the low OFF speed ensures good control in this aspect of the game. Pushes and drop shots from the FH side could be played extremely short and spinny, as the hard and tacky Hurricane 3 Neo rubber worked well with the hard Nostalgic VII on these shots, whereas the corresponding shots from the BH side (Waran II short pips) tended to float long. Short and low backspin serves were easy to execute and had heavy spin, whereas the spin level on side/topspin serves was average at best due to the short dwell time.

 

In conclusion, the Stiga Nostalgic VII caters to a narrow player segment. Highly advanced players with excellent and consistent technique and footwork emphasizing speed over spin will be able to harness the blade’s unique qualities and produce extremely deep and dangerous ball trajectories on power loops and blocks while maintaining the ability for a very tight short game. The blade is hefty – players planning on using the Nostalgic VII with two inverted rubbers should expect set-ups close to – or in excess of - 200 g.

Stiga Rosewood NCT VII

 

Stiga Rosewood NCT VII – Perfect harmony between power, dwell, and touch.

I have been itching to test the Stiga Rosewood NCT VII for quite some time now, as it is my primary practice partner’s blade of choice. In other words, I have been on the receiving end of this blade and know the type of damage it can cause. Supposedly, Swedish national team members Pär Gerell and Jens Lundquist use this blade.

 

Stiga describes the Rosewood NCT VII as “a blade for players who demand high speed, but won't tolerate a loss of feeling, control, and trajectory”. As it turns out, this description perfectly encapsulates the blade. The blade is constructed using a unique combination of seven all-wood plies that includes high-quality rosewood outer plies, which is asserted to increase the sweet spot and trajectory and maximize the blade’s stability and feeling on powerful strokes.

 

The Stiga Rosewood NCT VII comes in a large, sturdy, and high-quality black box that has gold and white text. A general description of Stiga blades is provided on the back. The Rosewood NCT VII has a playing surface that is slightly bigger than usual (158x151 mm) but is relatively thin (~6.3 mm) and light (~85 g) for a 7-ply all-wood blade. The three central ayous plies are of similar thickness (medium-thick) and followed by relatively thin ayous plies and very thin rosewood outer plies. The blade is stunningly beautiful. The rosewood outer plies are very smooth thanks to Stiga NCT technology (a nanotechnological coating of some sorts), with a beautiful vertical grain in light- to dark-brown color tones. The blade’s name is listed in white font on the neck. The handle is kept in brown color tones and has a classic-looking black and golden metal tag on the FH side, and a blue, white, and yellow “Handmade in Sweden by Stiga” metal tag on the bottom.

 

The rounded ST (RST) handle feels rough and grippy and has the following dimensions: length ~101 mm, width ~30 mm, and height ~24 mm. I found the handle to be exceptionally comfortable during game-play, but some players will want to sand the sides, which are slightly sharp. Bouncing a ball on the naked blade produces a low-pitched sound (1248 Hz), which – contrary to expectations – would suggest that the Rosewood NCT VII is a relatively slow/soft 7-ply all-wood blade. Popular 7-ply blades like DHS’ Power G7 (1302 Hz), Nittaku Ludeack (1345 Hz) or Tibhar Samsonov Force Pro Black Edition (~1380 Hz) all produce significantly higher-pitched sounds and only blades like the Nittaku Ludeack Power (1227 Hz) or Donic Ovtcharov Senso V1 (1281 Hz) produce similarly pitched sound as the Rosewood NCT VII. The overall build quality of the Rosewood NCT VII is excellent, although the handle cup was starting to delaminate ever so slightly in the specimen that I received (TT11 have assured me that this is the first time they have seen this problem).

 

 

Playing impressions: The Stiga Rosewood NCT VII has a unique balance and a center of gravity that is only slightly shifted towards the head, giving it a light-weight, nimble and very intuitive feel. The outer rosewood veneers produce a crisp and somewhat hard sensation on FH and BH drives with power levels in the low-to-mid OFF range, resulting in sufficient speed for close to the table or mid-distance play and exceptional control and consistency. The blade works equally well with the hard Hurricane 3 and softer Waran 2 short pips on these types of shots and produces a pleasant vibration that provides helpful feedback on every shot, allowing for iterative adjustments in the bat angle. FH loops against backspin are a pleasure to play because of two factors: an above-average dwell time, which allowed me to generate high amounts of spin and arc on the ball providing plenty of clearance over the net, and a subtle stiffness that helps to produce a long and dangerous trajectory. In my opinion, the Rosewood NCT VII offers a unique blend of a high and long arc that sets it apart from almost every other blade that I have played with before (typically, blades producing higher-than-average trajectories are accompanied by shorter arcs and vice versa).

 

FH loop drives played from mid-distance benefit from the blade’s subtle stiffness, as this gives the ball extra kick and depth, resulting in powerful shots that are loaded with spin and speed. The blade offers plenty of power and arc to enable controlled loop-to-loop rallies far from the table. BH mini loops played from mid-distance – a situation that players using short pips usually try to avoid – were also remarkably easy to execute for similar reasons. Blocking with the Rosewood NCT VII is exceptionally comfortable. On passive blocking, the blade absorbs the incoming energy, while offering a direct feeling and sufficient dwell time to allow for adjustments in bat angle, enabling very accurate and consistent ball placement. Active blocks and counter drives played with short motions, as well as smashes and flat hits can produce very high levels of speed as the blade’s subtle stiffness kicks in.

 

I did notice that flatter shots played from mid-distance had an above-average tendency of going long. Loops are, therefore, the preferred shot option from mid-distance. Remarkably for a blade that can produce such power on high-impact shots, pushes and drop shots can be played low, short, and with phenomenal control since the Stiga Rosewood NCT VII absorbs the energy on these low-impact shots. Aggressive service returns are also easy to execute because the dwell time is long enough to allow the brushing motion to guide the ball over the net, while the direct feeling gives confidence in the contact point, enabling a long trajectory that puts the opponent under pressure. Serves can be loaded with spin when performed with a brushing action or loaded with speed when executed with a faster movement that engages the blade’ stiffness.

 

The Stiga Rosewood NCT VII is an incredible do-it-all blade, and it is, therefore, suitable across a wide range of playstyles (two-winged loopers, aggressive short pips players, blockers, flat hitters) and skill levels (from intermediate all the way to professional level). It offers a medium to above-average dwell time and touch, which helps generate high spin levels on opening loops, serves and short pushes, yet has a crispness to it that is activated on fast, snappy hits, which creates tremendous amounts of power on active blocks, power drives, smashes, and aggressive service returns. The blade pairs exceptionally well with hard Chinese rubbers, short pips, and medium-hard European/Japanese inverted rubbers (based on my practice partner’s capabilities). The Rosewood NCT VII feels like a slightly harder, more powerful, lighter, nimbler, and yet more controlled version of the Tibhar Samsonov Force Pro Black Edition. Is the Stiga Rosewood NCT VII worth the $150+ price tag? ABSOLUTELY - and I am a notorious penny-pincher. The Stiga Rosewood NCT VII instills very high confidence on all shot types. I cannot wait to use it in tournaments.

Stiga Ebenholz NCT VII

 

Stiga Ebenholz NCT VII – The head-heavy hard-hitter.

Given my very positive experiences with the Rosewood NCT VII and general affinity for hard and stiff blades, I was excited to cap off this Stiga mega-test by evaluating the Ebenholz NCT VII. Stiga describes it as being a very offensive 7-ply blade with hand-selected and high-quality Ebenholz (ebony) outer plies, which result in extreme speed and stiffness. Stiga goes on to promise an increased sweet spot and lots of power for players seeking optimum acceleration without having to resort to speed glue.

 

The Stiga Ebenholz NCT VII comes in a similar high-quality, large, and sturdy box as the Rosewood NCT VII, except that the box is made to resemble light-colored wood. The general description about Stiga blades on the back of the box has been “burned” into the “wood” but the text is blurry and hard to read. The Ebenholz NCT VII has a playing surface that is slightly larger than usual (158x151 mm) but is rather thin (~6.1 mm) for a 7-ply all-wood blade. My specimen weighed ~89 g which is around average for a 7-ply blade, but once I attached the rubbers, it became very head heavy. The thin core ply is surrounded by thin brown-dyed plies, which are followed by thick penultimate plies, and extremely thin ebony plies.

 

The Ebenholz NCT VII, just like its Rosewood counterpart, is stunningly beautiful. The ebony outer plies are smooth thanks to Stiga’s NCT nanocomposite technology, with beautiful vertical grain in very dark-brown color tones. The blade’s name is listed in white font on the neck. The handle is kept in dark-brown color tones and has a very classic look to it, which is accentuated by the black and golden metal tag on the FH side, and the blue, white, and yellow “Handmade in Sweden by Stiga” metal tag on the bottom. The rounded ST (RST) handle feels rough and grippy and has the following dimensions: length ~100 mm, width ~30 mm, and height ~23 mm. The blade’s handle and neck are a little too narrow for my taste, and this – combined with the setup’s head-heaviness – cause my hand and forearm to fatigue while testing. The wings have not been sanded and some players will want to smoothen the edges. Other than that, the build quality of the Ebenholz NCT VII is excellent. Just like with the Rosewood NCT VII, bouncing a ball on the naked blade produced a surprisingly low-pitched sound (1248 Hz). As I discussed when reviewing the Rosewood NCT VII, this places the Ebenholz NCT VII at the lower end of the frequency scale among 7-ply all-wood blades.

 

 

Playing impressions: The Ebenholz NCT VII feels much more massive than the Rosewood NCT VII despite only weighing 5 grams more, probably because the center of gravity is shifted further towards the head. The first couple of preliminary hits against a Robopong 2050 suggested that the Ebenholz NCT VII also is considerably stiffer and faster, and less forgiving of slightly incorrect bat angles. These initial impressions were confirmed when playing FH and BH drives against practice partners. The blade is fast – mid-to-high OFF category – with a short dwell time, which produces flat, long, and dangerous trajectories provided you manage to land the ball on the table. The contact point on FH drives is clear, but I had to be careful not to overpower my shots. It is essential to execute the FH drives with proper technique and timing to get the necessary safety and consistency on the shots. BH drives with the Waran 2 short pips were more comfortable and probably an indicator that this blade works better with softer rubbers.

 

The short dwell time and robust feeling of the blade work well with short pips to produce stable drives. The blade is plenty fast to allow drives to be played a couple of steps behind the table. FH loops also result in very long and flat trajectories and required a slightly more open bat angle to ensure sufficient clearance over the net, which in turn needed careful use of power. Despite the short dwell time, I was still able to impart decent amounts of spin when looping against backspin, but it needed a more wristy and upward motion. However, after playing ~15 minutes of a third ball attack drill where the emphasis was on spin over speed, my wrist and forearm started to hurt. FH power loops benefit from the blade’s high speed and head-oriented center of gravity, resulting in compelling shots both close and far from the table. Mini-loops and fishing shots from away the table with the BH short pips require little physical effort, but these shots also need proper timing and bat angle to prevent the ball from drifting off the end of the table. Blocking and counter-looping with the Ebenholz is rock-solid from both wings as the blade eats up the incoming energy. Passive blocks can be directed in any direction with high consistency, while active blocking played with wristy motions can result in tremendous acceleration on the ball.

 

Unsurprisingly, flat hits and smashes are very fast but care must be taken in using the correct bat angle as the margin for error is rather small. The Ebenholz’s non-bouncy nature provides excellent control on short pushes and drop-shots allowing for flat, spinny, and difficult-to-return shots. The very stiff and bulky nature, along with average speed on low-impact shots, gave me some difficulties on short backspin serves. I had a hard time getting the swing speed right and made an above-average number of service errors. However, the spin production on the serves was respectable, judging by my practice partners’ returns. The Ebenholz – unsurprisingly – excels on fast serves.

 

In summary, the Ebenholz NCT VII is probably best suited for all-out attackers who use power loops, flat hits, and blocks as their primary game strategy; who have excellent footwork and technique; and who enjoy heavy blades. I think the Ebenholz NCT VII pair more favorably with soft and medium-soft rubbers, also because the weight and head-heavy feeling would be minimized. On the spectrum of Stiga blades, I would say that the Ebenholz NCT VII sits between the Rosewood NCT VII and Nostalgic VII, being closer to the latter.

 

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