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Back to the First Time

Posted by UniBoffin at 22:30 on 20th May 2012 in UniBlog

Back to the First Time

Last Uniblog I began a new “Technique Spotlight” feature by shining the beam of analysis on Phil Taylor. As the item seemed well-received (well, Kevin, Eddie, and Pete approved and there were some Facebook likes - thanks, folks – and by the way, Pete, Unicorn say polycarbonate SlikStik tops would break too easily), I’m going to continue the theme here by getting into my De Lorean to travel back to the 1980s and the first time I really studied a pro player’s throw at first hand. And that throw was the measured delivery of none other than Old Stoneface himself, Mr John Lowe (sorry, Eddie, maybe Barney or Gary Anderson next!).

To set the scene, there I was, conceptually resplendent in mullet, Magnum PI moustache, and Miami Vice jacket, with a plan for a “total design” dart that matched barrel, shaft, and flights into an optimal aerodynamic unit and the go-ahead from Unicorn to get prototypes made. To allow the flight characteristics to suit the widest range of players possible, the maths said the barrels should be not too long, with a curved profile and a fine-ish centred grip. But what the maths couldn’t say was whether such a design would be widely acceptable ergonomically.

Remember, back then it was only a decade since Unicorn had introduced the first commercial tungsten darts in 1972, so there was no great history of such designs to go by and not much point studying my collection of Jim Pike and Tom Barrett brass for inspiration. What’s more, the dominant player at the time, at least in terms of the World Championship, was The Crafty Cockney, and Eric’s darts were, unhelpfully, long “pencils” to suit his highly individual grip.

Luckily, reassurance for my concept came in the form of the 21gm tungsten barrels used by John Lowe, already a legend of the game. His weapons of choice were short (around 35mm – over 5mm shorter than the designs I was proposing) with a curved nose and a central ringed grip. That gave me the confidence to prototype what eventually became – when the right manufacturing and marketing tools became available over 20 years later – Sigma 970s.

As a side issue, that aspect to their genesis might help explain why another legend of the game, The Power (and congrats to him on winning his 6th Premier League title) should later happily switch back and forth between modified versions of 970s and John Lowe Hero barrels, although in the end he’s settled (at least for the moment!) on the latter.
But returning to John, his influence on the design of proto-Sigmas also extended to helping with testing, even using early versions of Sigma Pro flights in a televised event (which, fortunately for me, he won!). Nonetheless, it’s not that that makes me commend to anyone a study of the technique I’m about to be put under a 1.21 Gigawatts spotlight (it’s not all nerdy sci-fi references here, you know, you get some Ludacris rap ones as well!).

And on that note, suffice to say I’ll be back (to mangle more movie quotes) in the future!


Writing this I found it tempting to draw comparisons between the Lowe throw and that of The Power I considered last time, so, never being one to resist temptation, that’s exactly what I shall do! There are many similarities, including the balanced stance, the lack of body or head movement, and the measuring-up of the target with the dart before a deliberate drawback with classically vertical forearm and very controlled wrist-cock. However, possibly of more interest are the differences.

One such is that John, the taller man, angles his front foot at maybe 60 degrees to the oche, finding this more comfortable than Phil’s theoretically ideal sideways position (so do I, incidentally – although that’s no recommendation!). Then there is the issue of location on the oche. In the 80s I recall John being the opposite of Phil in being right-eye dominant, but nonetheless sharing the same theoretically optimal central throwing position.

However, I notice that he has since moved from there, and the last time I saw him play he was throwing from Barney’s right-hand end position. John could no doubt tell you why this is better than I, but I suspect it may be a function of some change in the functioning of those unblinking eyes.

Moving on to the grip, John’s technique is basically to rest the dart on his thumb, which enables him to locate the dart in the same position every time. His barrels are hence, as I said earlier, ringed around the centre of gravity like my prototype Sigmas. The remainder of his grip then consists of his index finger curling across and above the dart to oppose the thumb and the second finger doing the same to rest on the junction between barrel and point. I must admit I consider his central pen-holder grip to be more natural than The Power’s rear-biased style and thus the better to copy, despite the possible lateral accuracy advantage of the latter.

John’s thumb raises slightly during drawback and then lowers fractionally again at release, resulting in a preparatory little quarter-turn clockwise of the dart preceding counter-clockwise flight spin and the dart being released “flighted” with point slightly up and landing with point slightly down, in contrast to The Power’s point-down push and point-up impact. Post-release extension is good without being as pronounced as Phil’s, possibly due to John’s greater reach.

As last time I could say more, but I reckon I’ve provided enough detail to allow the throws of these two all-time greats to be properly compared and contrasted. What more could any darts fan want from an on-line blog? Polite answers only, please!

There are 7 comments to this post

Posted by Pete Chapman at 23:12 on 20th May 2012

More great analyisis!!I think John and Phil have what must be the "best" technique between them.What I mean is that they are both what I describe as "aimers"-as opposed to "slingers".Slingers are my description of players that use a particular speed of throw (usually quite fast) and also require a quick fire rythym to get into their stride.Lewis,Baxter and Van Der Voort to name a few.It is with no disrespect to these players as they are amounst the best in the world,but I always feel as if they are dictated by their opponent`s pace,as to how well they will play.If you study Lowe and Taylor(amongst other`s),they first of all line up the dart and "take aim" before bringing the dart back on the start of their throw,they are able to control the pace of the game with ease,this I believe is what has made them two of the greatest ever players...

Posted by Kevin at 11:33 on 21st May 2012

Another interesting article! I think you could compare Phil and John to Andy Hamilton and Simon Whitlock in that they use similar shaped darts-torpedo-like. Do you think that their darts give them an advantage over the other players because they perform, or in John's case performed, more consistently? Whereas players with pencil darts throw slightly quicker on average therefore perform less consistenly?

Posted by Mihai at 12:48 on 21st May 2012

John indeed explains why he moved from the center of the oche to the far right. here is the article he wrote on his website : http://www.berdenweb.com/johnlowe/?q=node/27

Hope it somehow helps.

Posted by eddie at 14:12 on 23rd May 2012

nice read uniboffin think john lowe has a very nice throw very easy on the eye.allways liked paul lims throw seems to have very little that can go wrong if you can review him would be nice in the future.also what can we exepect to see from unicorn next range apart for barney new shark grips.also i have used many unicorn products and allways find the barrels andi wallets very good aswell but as i and many people on dart forums find the points to wear out very fast and the coating to come off and the flights design to rub of i think unicorn should really look to improve these two things to improve the overall unicorn range.

Posted by Jeff Cruz at 07:22 on 26th May 2012

Nice spotlights Uniboffin...

Can you feature Barney's too?

Posted by Glen R Huff at 07:04 on 15th June 2012

Dear Uniboffin,

My name is Glen Huff, and I have been an avid Unicorn darts fan and avid Unicorn darts user since I first got some Unicorn T80 darts back in the mid 1980's.

I really enjoy your posts, and articles, and they are very fascinating. Thank you for all your detailed articles, and expositions on how various Unicorn darts have been developed over the years.

This recent post was extremely informative, and enjoyable, and it was interesting to read. I have always felt that John Lowe's form is the ideal for any darts player. He's used the same dart barrel design for his entire Unicorn career, and his excellence of thinking out what he needed barrel wise has served him well for his Unicorn career for nearly 40 years .

It's been interesting to see Phil Taylor's change from when he was first sponsored by Eric Bristow, MBE using Eric's model of dart thru his signing with Unicorn, and then using his Phase 1, 2 ,3, 4, 5, 6. Phil gave me a set of his 24 gram "Purists" he had used onstage at the Las Vegas Open. I brought them home and threw them at my own board, but the magic was in Phil's arm, and not mine as I hit my usual 26's and 45's - haha !

I have 2 sets of the Sigma 970 21 gram Pro's and they're fantastic sets. I was wondering how the center of balance and performance would compare to the 23 gram T90 "Paul Lim " style. I've had good results using the "Paul Lim T90's with Phase 5 shafts or short Gripper shafts.

My own darts I've been using for a while now are my 22 gram Gripper Two barrels, coupled with Phase 5 shafts, and Board Gripper points. These are the best darts I've ever used , and I'm very happy with them, and Board Gripper points are absolutely fantastic - best points I've ever used and have made a fantastic improvement in my game.

I recently sent Mr. Edward Lowy 2 sets of vintage 1939 Silver Comets from my collection. The first set is a set of John Wisden Silver Comets, that would have come with either vulcanized paper comet flights, or plastic flights, and the second was a set of early Unicorn Silver Comets with feather flights on a toothpick like spiggott that slides down inside the slotted aluminum silver comet shaft.

I've collected many such early John Wisden and Unicorn silver comet sets, and looking at a dart that is over 70 years old, it is amazing how forethinking Mr. Frank Lowy was in developing a design so similar to the Sigma design.

It would be interesting to read how the original Silver Comets would do in terms of performance against the more modern designs, especially Sigmas.

Sorry for the long e-mail. I have well over 150 sets in my collection, vintage and modern, and have always been and shall always be a Unicorn darts fan.

Keep up the excellent work.


Glen R Huff

Posted by Pete Chapman at 18:58 on 16th June 2012

Hi,now that carbon has been dangled in front of us for the 2013 range,how about some carbon replacement tops for the slikstiks/phase 5`s/sigma shafts??cheers PC.

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