February 21, 2020
Viscaria – A Non-Pro Review
(by Steve Hopkins)
I recently had opportunity to switch over to a Butterfly Viscaria Arylate Carbon blade. I wanted to focus on the blade, so as a part of the setup I removed the rubber sheets from my old blade and applied those same old sheets to the new blade. The goal was to make sure that my analysis would not be skewed by using new rubber sheets.
I have never been one that believed the wood made much difference in my performance. Over the years I have chosen blades based upon weight and balance and the handle (and sometimes the cool look of the wood grain or the inlaid handle), but aside from choosing an Offensive blade I have never given much credence to carbon fiber or the wood ply count. The move that I made was from an offensive 7-ply carbon blade made by another company to the Butterfly Viscaria – which is also an offensive 7-ply carbon blade. The weight of the two blades was comparable (about 3 grams different), and the speed rating of the two blades was basically the same (about 1% different from a couple online sources). There were some significant differences between the blades which I will share below.
As a 2000 level player, my analysis and comparison of equipment has limits. I don’t have the arm speed of the pros, and I don’t rely on powerful loops or try to drive the ball through my opponent – so my review is on how this equipment works for me in a competitive setting. I’m an all-around or control player that uses precise shots to set up high-percentage points. I vary spin and speed, and my attacking shots generally occur when the other player has made a mistake or as a counterattack using my opponent’s power against them.
To be honest, I did not expect to feel much difference between the blades. As I noted above, the specs of the two blades were very similar and I was using the same rubber sheets. This was not the case. I began by hitting some touch shots on my own – soft underspin serves to gauge the backspin and to get a feel for how my serves will come off the blade. I usually end with a shot where I try to lift the underspin serve enough that the subsequent bounce on the other side will recross the net and come back to my side. I was surprised to find that this drill with the Viscaria was much easier – I’d estimate 20-25% more movement. I found the same to be true with reverse pendulum serves (where the ball curved a little more than normal, especially late movement), and I found that it was easier to keep a strong underspin serve short on the second bounce.
In playing topspin balls, the feel was very similar to the previous blade. However, when applying heavy topspin, it was possible to apply more spin than I was used to. That is, when playing normal strokes, the ball performed as expected – but I was also able to play soft loops that finished their arch quickly and dropped very low as they went beyond the back of the opponent’s side. The same principle worked very well on service return, and attacking a short service return – as I was able to quickly lift a ball over the net with the short arch enabling the ball to still land on the opponent’s side.
Flat hits were much softer than what I was used to. That doesn’t mean that the action of the shot fell short, I mean that there was more vibration and almost a hollow feel and sound when the ball went through the rubber/sponge and made direct contact with the wood. The feel was different, but the effect was very similar. In contrast, on my blocks, I found that this softer feel actually slowed the return. I use blocks aggressively off the bounce in competition as a big part of my game, so this will take some getting used to. Over time, I expect that deadening an opponent’s best loops and not sending the ball over the end line will be a positive, but for the short term many of my best reaction shots are falling shorter than I am used to (and it will take some repetition to relearn the proper release angle so those reaction shots land and I regain those points).
My overall assessment is a positive one. This blade is fast, doing exactly what one needs it to do when playing aggressively or away from the table – but this blade also has good feel and the ability to apply extra spin. That extra spin can make the ball move more, and that gives the user additional flexibility to play short balls, angled balls, or to be creative. In an era when many are just blasting away – Butterfly Viscaria provides some additional flexibility and control – while maintaining the ability to “blast” as needed.