Wheel builders agree spoke tension matters. Most accept that it makes sense to invest in at least one calibrated tension meter to verify tensions. Tensions need to be to a suitable level (largely depending on rim specifications). Get tension too high, and cracked rim eyelets will often result. Too low, and the overall strength of the wheel will be compromised, as spokes will essentially “work” more as they decompress at the bottom of the wheel rotation. It’s often a surprise for people to learn that broken spokes are most likely a result of *low* rather than high tension – it’s counterintuitive. Tension must also be as equally balanced as possible for share the load more effectively, avoiding excess work cycles for any spokes decompressing more than others. It’s a fascinating subject (for me anyway) – the classic text is Jobst Brandt’s “The Bicycle Wheel” for those who want to go deeper.
So for me the minimum is to use a calibrated tension meter for every build. The common Park Tools tension meter is OK for hobbyists, but lacks precision, as well as needing frequent recalibration. Accuracy demands the use of a higher class of tool – e.g. the Centrimaster that I use, the Sapim tool, the DT Swiss tool, or of course the Wheel Fanatyk tension meter (based on a design by Jobst Brandt – some think this is the very best of all). Taking a methodical and scientific approach further means checking the calibration for every batch of spokes that are used – and this is what I mean by “going beyond the essentials”. Spokes vary – slightly, often imperceptibly (perhaps you can catch it with a micrometer, it’s beyond the accuracy of Vernier calipers).
So my process starts with tensioning a sample from the spoke batch that I will use on the GRS calibration device to the tension that I am aiming for for the build, and then measuring exactly how this will read on the tension meters I use. That way I know exactly when a wheel has reached the right tension, with no doubts. Essential? No, probably not, but I want my wheels to be the most accurately built that I can possibly achieve, so I go beyond the essentials.
There’s other ways I go beyond the essentials too – for example my destressing process, or how I avoid spoke twist. More another time!