Pool players: Choosing a cue

I used to play a lot of pool, so much that the corner bar would give my group of friends the key to take out the coin-op thingy and we’d play for free.*

That was about fifteen years ago. I’ve recently joined a pool league-1 night a week, 18 week season. I play well enough that I can tell the difference between a bar cue and a decent two piece cue. I’ve been borrowing a friend’s, but now want to get one of my own.

Anyone have any good input? I think this Stealth cue looks great, but have no idea of how that grip would feel. It might be weird, but then it might make me keep my hand a consistent position.

I also like this McDermott.

Oh, looking to keep it under $200.

*Yeah they were just keeping us there to spend more on drinks, but it’s a better story the other way.

I use an Elite “Sneaky Pete” cue. So called because though they’re two-piece cues they’re designed to look like house cues, thus allowing hustlers to not broadcast their talent with some flashy $300 cue. I’m not a hustler by any stretch of imagination, but I’ve always liked the subtleness and feel of this cue.

Hope this helps…

Thanks for the input. I thought about a sneaky pete, in fact the cue I’ve been borrowing is a Lucassi sneaky pete. I like it, but I’ve got concerns about it getting mixed up with house cues.

I am a dumbass after all…

I can understand completely; I’ve almost left mine in the rack on a couple of occasions. But my mistakes were usually brought on by many, many pitchers of beer.

The dirty secret about pool cues is that it doesn’t really matter. I have a beautiful custom cue with an Irish Linen wrap, 8 floating points in the butt, and all that. It’s probably worth a grand today. But if you put that cue up against a $100 sneaky pete, the one that will play better will be… the one that has the best $5 tip on it. Or as Robert Byrne said, “Give a great pool player a broom handle with a good tip on the end, and he’ll run a rack on you and sweep the joint out afterwards.”

So when shopping for a cue, just be aware that there’s really no need to spend more than a hundred to two hundred bucks unless you want the decoration and fancy wraps.

The best playing cue will always be a one-piece - the joint of a two piece cue is a weak spot. But you can’t carry a one-piece around easily, so we buy cues that are in two pieces and screw together. Therefore, your main concern should be the quality of the joint.

Sneaky Pete cues are actually great choices, because their design generally means a solid, wood on wood joint with no plastic or steel bits in the middle. The Dufferin Sneaky Pete is one of the best playing cues around, because it’s got a solid wood on wood joint with a thick joint screw holding it together.

If you’re going to pay only $100 or so for a cue, stay away from the ‘fancy’ ones. They’ll have cheap plastic inlays that will buzz and rattle, handles wrapped with rough cheap thread, and shoddy construction. Get a sneaky pete. If you want the wrap and some inlays and such, expect to pay at least $250 for a quality cue.

The next thing to worry about is the shaft. For nine ball and 8 ball, you want a shaft with a ‘pro’ taper ( the diameter of the shaft is constant for the last 13-18 inches or so, then it tapers), and a tip that’s usually 12mm or 13mm in diameter. For snooker, you want a continuous taper and a smaller tip. In snooker you don’t use big strokes and you don’t put much english on the ball. In 9 ball and 8 ball you do. With a continuous taper, your fingers will be opened and closed by the shaft as you move it back and forth, and that can affect accuracy. With a pro taper, that doesn’t happen.

Make sure the shaft of the cue is stiff - the stiffer the better. Whack the cue near the joint with the heel of your hand, and watch to see if the shaft deflects a lot or vibrates back and forth. Cheap cues may use less dense wood or wood with poor grain and it’ll be all whippy and that will throw off your accuracy when shooting with english.

Another good test is to whack the cue in various places and see if there are any buzzes or extra vibrations. You want it to feel completely solid. Try doing that with a one-piece and know what that feels like, and then do the same thing with a two piece and make sure it’s not behaving strangely.

Finally, get a good tip. The cue may not come with one, so learn how to change your own tips and shape them. Never buy a cue with a ‘screw on’ tip. The tip should be glued to the top. I use a very hard tip - so hard that it won’t hold chalk well unless I use my ‘tip tapper’ to rough up the surface a bit.

The tip is so important that it’s really the only reason to own your own cue. House cues would be just fine if they had well cared-for tips on them, but they never do. So make sure you use a good tip. Le Pro is the most popular tip, and it’s medium-hard. Elkmaster is a little softer but still a good tip. I use Le Pro or Chandivert tips (the Chandivert is a laminated tip made up of layers of buffalo hide, and it’s really hard). Try a few different kinds over a period of a few months and see what you like best. Then keep it in good shape, properly rounded and chalked. You can buy a $1000 cue, and if you don’t maintain the tip it will play like crap.

Cue length is important - when fitting a cue, stand over a pool table in a proper stance, put the cue tip against a cueball at the distance where you would normally be striking it, then check to make sure that your cue arm is perpendicular to the floor when holding the cue in the middle of the wrap (or in that same place on a non-wrapped cue). If you find that your hand is right back at the end of the butt, the cue is too short.

Weight of a cue is personal preference. It’s a myth that a heavier cue can hit a ball harder. Tests have shown that after about 19oz, the average person can not impart any more momentum to the ball by going heavier - the added mass is compensated for by the inability to accelerate it as fast. Most pros play with a cue somewhere around 19-20oz, but that’s probably just because that’s the weight it takes to make a quality cue, not because there’s anything special about it. Beware a flimsy cue that has a high weight - it might just have that weight because it’s got some metal embedded in the butt of the cue to compensate for the cheap components. That cue will have terrible balance and will probably eventually fall apart.

Hope this helps.

Lots of good info there Sam. Thanks!

I don’t think I’ll be playing Sam Stone in pool any day soon! :eek:

You’d be surprised… Just because I’m a pool nerd doesn’t mean I’m any good at it. At least not any more. I used to be a decent but not great amateur player - even made it to Vegas to play once. Now, my idea of a successful 9-ball match is is one where I manage to avoid putting someone’s eye out with my cue.

That McDermott you linked will probably last you about as long as you want to shoot pool. I picked up a similar McDermott two years ago when I started shooting in a tavern pool league. It’s nothing fancy, but it’s of good quality. You can definitely feel the difference when you compare it to some of the $50-100 two piece cues that they sell at the local bars.

As Sam said, the tip is what is important. With that in mind, make sure you have a scuffer and/or emery board and/or sand paper and/or whatever else needed to take care of your tip. One of the guys on my team (who is admittedly better than me) shoots every week with a bar cue. He’s started this season with back to back 40’s (ie. 8 wins, 0 losses so far). He just takes 3-4 minutes beforehand to work on the tip a bit.

Here’s a list of different features:

Tips: They come in two styles: leather or wood, and many sizes between 8mm and 12mm. Leather allows for better control when using english. Tip size is a matter of personal preference. I prefer the larger sizes, but it’s a little harder to replace the tip, as smaller shafts can have larger tips sanded to fit. Leather tips are really rare nowadays too.

Shaft: shafts usually start thickest at the screw part, and gradually taper down to the tip. A used cue will often get thinner where you put your aiming hand, then get slightly thicker again at the tip. Usually, these shafts have the finish taken off by sanding. I prefer to have a shaft with the varnish on it. Shafts without varnish tend to get little moisture bumps and more dents.

Joint: There are two types of joints: metal and non-metal. Non-metal joints could be plastic, ceramic, or something else. A stick with a non-metal joint is not meant to be used for breaking, which can cause it to crack. However, a metal joint tends to move the center of balance of the stick.

Butt: The butt sets the weight and length of the cue. All cues are different lengths and weights. Weights tend to vary from 17 oz to 22 oz. You should try out different weights to see which is most comfortable for you. Length doesn’t matter as much. If you are holding it correctly, you will automatically compensate for weight.

Brand: I’m partial to Meucci. I like the design, decoration, and shaft. Try not to get any of the graphite ones. Those scream “beginner.”

Now that you know the design characteristics, you should try out different styles at a public pool hall until you figure out what’s a good fit for your body, arm length, hand size, etc.

Can you link to a wood cue tip? I’ve never heard of one. I can’t imagine how it would even work. A tip has to absorb impact and also have enough friction to hold chalk. Wood is simply not suitable for that.

As for leather being ‘really rare’, that’s just not true. Almost every tip sold on the market is leather. The big difference between cue tips is whether they are one-piece leather like a Le Pro, or whether they are laminated leather like a Moori or a Chandivert.

For tip size, 8mm-10mm is more likely to be found on a snooker cue. Almost all 8-ball and 9-ball cues are 12mm or 13mm. 13mm is probably the most common size these days.

Where are you getting your information from?

I’ve never seen that either. I gave complete information about cue tapers in my message above - the two types are ‘pro taper’, used primarily for 8 ball and 9 ball, and continuous taper, used primarily in snooker.

I suppose a badly cared for cue where someone has repeatedly sanded down the shaft to eliminate dings might eventually get thinner and then thicker towards the tip, but that’s just the result of an owner who doesn’t know what he’s doing.

By the way, if you put a dent in your cue shaft, here’s a little tip for removing it: so long as the fiber of the wood isn’t torn, you can eliminate the ding by putting a drop of water on it and letting it soak in for an hour or so. The grain will swell and restore itself to its original shape.

You should take proper care of the cue shaft. I hate cues with varnish on the shaft - they get sticky really fast. Most good players do not have varnish on the shaft, and instead use a damp towel to keep the shaft clean during play. That’s what I do. I also use ‘cue papers’ which are a very lightly abrasive plastic material that you can apply to the shaft once in a while to keep it glassy smooth.

The ding-removal trick obviously doesn’t work on varnished shafts, as they are waterproof. One more reason why I don’t like a varnished shaft.

Those little ‘moisture bumps’ are just the grain of the wood, and it’s the slightly raised grain that makes the shaft so smooth to play with - there’s less wood area actually contacting your hand. It’s a good thing, not a defect.

I’ve never heard that either. There are actually many types of joints: Metal, wood on wood, phenolic, composite. Some are a combination of metal and another material. I’ve never heard anyone say you can’t break with a non-metal joint. I’ve got two cues with non-metal joints that I’ve used as breaking cues for years, and neither of them have so much as chipped.

For groupings of ‘beginner’ that include Earl Strickland…

There’s nothing wrong with a graphite cue, other than that in my experience the cue shaft doesn’t slide very smoothly through your hand. Strickland wears a glove when he plays with a graphite cue.

There are some new, very expensive shaft designs that use graphite cores with wood outer layers. McDermott’s i-core shafts are $300 or more by themselves. So let’s not make sweeping statements about graphite cues.

What you may notice is that there are a lot of very cheap graphite cues around, because it’s easy to make a cue of acceptable quality using graphite. That may be why you perceive them as ‘screaming beginner’. But why is that a bad thing? Most pool players do not like ‘screaming professional’. The whole point to a sneaky pete cue is to look like you don’t have an expensive custom cue. It’s always better to look like a beginner and play like a pro than it is to look like a pro and play like a beginner.

Fascinating, bavck whend I used to play a bunch more a few years back, I’d always use the rifler’s-sighting pose to see quickly if there was something that didn’t resemble a bent old mop handle, and a few fingers to guage the quality of the tip.

Do people who carry a single-stick pole into a place ever have problems getting any action, if just a “friendly” game?