Almost everything about learning how to spin tops defies logic, is counter-intuitive, or is otherwise generally frustrating. It’s all backwards, I tell ya! The following bits of advice should help move things forward again.
As you may have already discovered, there are two basic types of tops, fixed tip and bearing tip tops. Bearing tops seem to be easier for beginners because they give the player more time to set up for tricks. The bearings themselves can be difficult to remove for maintenance sometimes. Fixed tip tops are easy to maintain and offer a different range of tricks that are a little more difficult at first, but won’t spin as long as bearing tops… until you learn to regenerate.
One thing to note is when you throw a top to spin it on the ground, most likely it won’t be straight up and down, it will be leaning a little bit. A fixed tip top will travel around and correct itself to stand up straight, but a bearing tip top will not (if the bearing is spinning correctly and doesn’t lock).
For size, anything in between 2 and 2.5 inches in diameter is good. Any smaller or bigger increases difficulty for beginners. Heavier tops can be easier to manage than light tops, but the weight should be both at the widest part of the top and at the lowest part of the top. Center weight reduces a top’s spin time. Oh, and just a note; lighter tops don’t break televisions.
What’s the best material for tips?
For fixed tip play, metal tips are definitely better for fixed tips because it adds bottom weight and because it is more durable than plastic and stays pointy longer. The disadvantage is that it will do a little more damage to your floor and/or toes than a plastic tip will, and if it gets a burr it can tear up your hand pretty good. For bearing play durability is great, but keep in mind pointy-ness doesn’t matter because the tip stays still while the top spins…
Before you start, tape your top!
Some two-peice tops break easy if you don’t tape where the crown meets the body. The Duncan Rip Cord and Bearing King are especially fragile at this joint. Get some electrical tape and wrap the tape so the seam is going with the flow - if you throw right handed, hold the end of the tape under your left thumb with the point of the top pointing away from you, wraping the tape to the right. Wrap it twice and cut at the same spot where it begins to have minimal effect on balance. Don’t pull to tight, the tape will stretch back - only pull hard enough for the tape to lie flat on the surface with no ruffles.
The “correct” string length is not based on the size of the person throwing it, it is based on the size and weight distribution of the top and the thickness of the string being used. Sometimes manufacturers supply string that is too long or too short making it difficult for a beginner to… begin.
IMO, most tops fit in one of the two minimum sizes listed below.
60" regular string:
Spintastics Sidewinder / Gladiator / Blizzard
Yo Yo Jam Bulldog / Top Dog
Yo Yo Factory Acrobat
Strummol8 STB 2.0
64" regular string:
Duncan Bearing King / Rip Cord
64" thicker string:
Spintastics Trompo Ggrande / Trompo Bearing
Strummol8 Titi / Sophia
Now, if you want to get into this a little further, you can determine if your string is too long or too short by a simple observation, but for this to work, you must keep your release constant and with the tip straight up. Throw the top and if the tip is pointing out the same way as your toes, then the string is too short, if it is pointing the other way, the string is too long.
You can compensate for this by adjusting your wrist angle (always hold the top in your hand the same way, just tilt your wrist). String too short - rotate your wrist before you throw so the tip points away from you a bit, kind of an underhand throw. String too long - rotate your wrist as you throw, turning your palm towards the ground, kind of an overhand throw.
If you want to get way, way, waaaay into this, there is no ideal length of string, or thickness, or number of wraps, there is an ideal “line” on the top where the string needs to start it’s tug. If wound beyond that line with a longer string, the top will under-rotate, if wound below the line, the top will over-rotate. If you understand that, and how to make top string, you can manipulate the thickness of the string to get to that “line”, and thus control the length.
Another thing to note is that you can change the “line” on a top by changing the weight distribution. Top-heavy tops want longer string, bottom-heavy tops like shorter string, so adding rim or tip weight can help to control string length.
Only after you understand how to control string length should you consider sizing string to your preference. I prefer not to use strings no longer than 68", which happens to be very close to my height. Long strings don’t seem to bother bearing players, but long strings are difficult to control for regeneration tricks; extra string flopping around is a nuisance.
String care and materials
The best string is unbleached cotton with a tight twist and little to no fuzziness.
When it gets dirty, sticky, or starts to stink, don’t throw it away, wash it with your undies! Seriously! Just keep it away from fabric softener and don’t put in in the dryer, let it line dry.
Cotton + humidity = yuk. Polyester and / or bamboo strings are better on the humid days, but you may have to make such a thing yourself… here’s how:
Throw - slow, no elbow and not too low, bro
Don’t put the point in the web of your hand, it only confuses matters. Always hold the top so that the tip is pointing straight up. The button has to be lower than the wind when you let it go, if the button is above the wind, it will uncoil instead of unwind. Pivot at your shoulder, no elbow or wrist action… pretend you are a robot.
Correcting the tilt of a top as it spins
If you were balancing a baseball bat upright in your hand, you would move your hand in the direction it is leaning to balance it. For a top, do the opposite. Move your hand in the direction the tip is pointing, which is the opposite of the way it is leaning. Since the top precesses (leans in a circular motion), the ideal corrective movement is somewhat circular, but for now, pick one direction to wait for and move it then… like wait for the tip to be pointed the same direction your thumb is and then move your hand in the direction of your thumb.
Balancing a rough-spinning hollow top
(pieces of this were borrowed from Herman Lau’s article)
Injection-molded-plastic is not the most uniform material when it comes to density, and this is the reason why many tops just don’t spin smooth right out of the package. Fear not! You can balance hollow plastic tops fairly easily (as long at the cap comes off). All you need is a small blob of sticky goo and some time (goo explained below).
The goo I speak of is Blue-Tac. It is also known as Stic-Tac, E-Z Tac, etc, and is mainly used as a poster-to-wall adhesive. You can find it at drug stores, office supply stores and supermarkets. It comes in several colors, but the blue stuff seems to work the best.
First you need to determine the cap-to-body position that gives the least amount of vibration. Spin the top and note how smooth or rough it is. Then take the cap off, rotate it 180 degrees and replace. Spin the top again. If it is not smoother, return cap to its original position, and MARK IT SOMEHOW. Occasionally, for some tops, that is all that’s necessary to balance your top. In the vast majority of cases however, the top will still need balancing.
Break off a small piece the size of a pea. Knead it into a ball. Stick it on the underside of the cap, close to the rim, pretend wherever you stick it is the 12 of a clock face. Spin it. if it is worse than before, take the cap off and put the putty at 6 o’clock. Spin it. Better? Keep testing different spots until you find the sweet spot. After you find the sweet spot, take some putty away and see if it is better or worse with less weight. If worse, put what you removed back and add a little more.
There’s a lot of trial an error here, but feeling the top getting smoother should motivate you to finish the job. Once balanced, the point of a perfectly balanced top should be absolutely still when spinning on a hard surface or on the palm of your hand. In fact, if the top is perfectly balanced, you will definitely feel a pronounced eerie lightness to it while it is spinning on your palm.