Buying Your First Cue

by James Hoover

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Cue Shaft

The shaft can have any of a variety of tapers. The taper is one of the factors that determines the spine or stiffness of the shaft and the feel of both the hit transmission and the feel of the shaft in the player's bridge hand. Taper refers to the change in diameter of the shaft from the tip to the joint. A shaft with a constant taper will begin to get larger immediately below the ferrule and continue at a constant rate until reaching the joint. A shaft with a delayed taper will stay the same diameter as the ferrule and tip for several inches before beginning to increase. This type of shaft is preferred by most players and offers a softer hit with good feel. At the other end of the shaft is the joint. The joint is the point where the two pieces of the cue join together. A typical joint is comprised of a threaded spindle on the butt of the cue that threads into a receiver in the shaft. When the two pieces are screwed together the cue should be straight and the joint should be tight.

Cue Butt

The butt of the cue is the heavier end of a two piece cue and is made of three separate sections: the fore-wrap, wrap, and after-wrap. The fore-wrap is the section between the joint and the wrap. The wrap is where you grip the cue. The after-wrap is the part below the wrap of the cue. The bottom end of the after-wrap is actually called the butt and usually has a rubber bumper in the end. Decorative inlays can often be found in the fore-wrap and after-wrap. For artistic value look for a complimentary pattern of inlays that lends continuity of design to the cue. Some high-end cues may even have complimentary points and/or inlays at the joint end of the shaft.

Wrap or Grip

The wrap, or grip, can be finished wood, Irish linen, any of a variety of leathers, snake or lizard skin, or in many cases a synthetic material such as Nylon chord. Irish linen is one of the most popular and offers the best feel for most players at a reasonable price.

Inlays

The more inlays there are and how intricate they are contribute to the cost of the cue. Inlays offer no value in terms of how well the cue plays. They are purely cosmetic. The materials used for the inlays will also play a big part in the cost of the cue. Ivory, exotic woods, even semi-precious stones and precious metals can be used as inlay material in the manufacture of a cue.

Understand that quality = $$$. The higher the quality, the more it will cost. If you are a beginner you may not want to spend a lot of money on a cue. I understand that completely. However, if you plan on taking the game seriously enough to buy your own cue, spending too little will probably mean you won't enjoy the game much. That can easily translate into a wasted investment. Low quality cues don't have a high resale value. Higher quality cues do. Your out-of-pocket expense will be greater, but if it turns out you don't enjoy the sport you can sell the cue and probably recover most, if not all, of your investment - provided the cue is still in good condition. (See the upcoming article on cue maintenance).

Cue Classes

In general, there are three classes of cues in terms of quality. At the bottom are the mass-produced cues that often show little attention to detail. The joints can be very poorly constructed. What appear to be inlays may be decals. Materials of construction will be lower quality wood, plastic, fiberglass, etc. The second group is the factory production cues by major cue makers. These cues mark the transition from mass produced to hand made cues. Most major manufacturers will have both in their product line. The materials are higher quality and the attention to detail is better but the range of quality is great and care should be taken when making a selection. The third group is the custom hand made cues. These are top of the line pieces of functional art sought after by players and collectors alike. Premium materials and hands-on craftsmanship by professionals with excellent attention to detail are the signs of a genuine work of art.

Cues from the first group usually range from $25 to $150 in price. Cues in the second group range from $150 to $3500, depending on the manufacturer, the amount of work in the cue, and the materials of construction. Cues in the third group can go well into tens of thousands of dollars. When you spend thousands of dollars on a cue it should definitely play well. At this point the price is determined by the artwork and materials of construction, not how well the cue plays. The middle group of cues, in the $150 to $3500 range, is where price most often dictates how well the cue will play.

In recent years the number of cues available commercially has skyrocketed. That is not to say that there are that many more manufacturers out there. In reality, the majority of these new cue “brands” is the same cues in the lower price range being mass produced, only in greater quantities than before, and then branded with numerous individual labels by resellers. This practice is not uncommon but has never been so prevalent. While in the past it was fairly easy to determine the general quality of a cue by the price, the number and range of new cue "brands", some with very creative pricing structures, has significantly blurred the lines.

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