Hi coolblue: I'm sure your machine is fine. I have a hip hop too (which I got partly on the strength of william's positive review here!) and it's the same thing for me. the reason it's so hard to hold on to the gripper portion of the tension head is that when the string is getting close to reference tension (which it would be after the first drop or so), you have an opposing force of 50-60lbs at least pulling the clutch/gripper back towards the racquet in a counter-clockwise direction - meanwhile, you are gripping on to the clutch trying to hold it still and essentially trying to resist that 50-60lbs force. Which is why it takes a lot of muscle! It also will not get any easier as the machine is "broken in" because it's not an issue of the machine being too new and stiff - it's purely the physics of the opposing forces. I have strung 7 racquets on mine now and the clutch feels exactly the same as when brand new. The solution is the technique to use is actually NOT to hold the clutch at first, and to raise the bar to around 60-70 degrees and then while holding the bar at that angle, with the tension on the string now much much less, you can simply twist the clutch/gripper clockwise a little bit and then lower the bar again. You will find the bar now comes to rest closer to horizontal than before. Repeat the process again, raising the bar to around 60-70 degrees, twist the clutch a little clockwise, and lower the bar again till you get the dot where you want it. With a little practice and good feel for how much your regular strings stretch under tension, you will probably just need one or 2 raise/twist/lower cycles to get the bar horizontal, and will exert very very little muscle power to do so. I also like to wear a thin leather palmed workmen's glove on my left hand, which gives me a good grip on the clutch when I twist it. One word of caution - don't twist too much clockwise at first until you get a good feel for it, because if you over twist and end up with the bar above horizontal, you'll need to redo that pull from the beginning and it's quite difficult to remove the string from the gripper in such a situation without possibly damaging it. Also in case you are concerned, if you call Steve he will recommend the exact same method (even though I know the manual tells you to attempt to grip the clutch and not let it move, why is a mystery to me too). I know this because I called him about the exact same thing and this is what he told me enjoy your new hip hop! I absolutely love mine!