Choosing Your First Pool Cue
So you want to take the plunge and invest in your very own pool cue, but are overwhelmed about where to start. The good news is that you're not alone. We get calls every day from new pool players and people shopping for a gift for the pool player in their life who have no idea even where to begin shopping for a pool cue. We can help!
"Billiards is what we do, and we are the #1 supplier of billiards goods on the planet. Needless to say, we know what we are doing."
What Makes A Good Pool Cue?
First, let's talk about what distinguishes a good pool cue from one you will find at a bar, or a plastic cue you'd find somewhere like Wal Mart or another mega sports equipment store.
A good pool cue will be made out of high grade materials, like 100% North American Grade “A” Hard Rock Maple. The cream of the crop of beginner cues feature this wood. Most other good quality cues feature some kind of 100% Maple. Maple is important because it's a hard wood (therefore more warp and ding-resistant than a soft wood) and is more durable than plastic.
North American and Grade A let you know that the wood comes from North America (as opposed to China or Europe); meaning better quality. Some beginner brands feature 100% Maple, and as long as they're from a manufacturer you trust, they're fine.
Pool cues from big box stores tend to be flimsy and plastic. That's not good for the long haul, and not good for your game, either. The better the materials used to make your cue, the longer it will last and the better it will play over time.
For the money, the best starter cues are those manufactured by Players, Rage or Dufferin. These cues are inexpensive (ranging from $49 to $199), and all are manufactured here at Cue & Case. Billiards is what we do, and we are the #1 supplier of billiards goods on the planet. Needless to say, we know what we are doing.
What does a starter cue play like? What makes it better than the cue at my local bar?
First off, a starter cue, any starter cue is yours. You will always know where your cue has been, that it's straight and the weight you like, and that in between plays it hasn't been beat around and abused. Plus, there's no better way for a beginner player to feel like they mean business than the simple ritual of pulling your very own cue butt out of your case and screwing on the shaft. Chalk it up to the mental game, but that always puts my mind in 'serious play' mode instead of 'hanging out with friends at the bar' mode.
Bar cues are nice, but you don't know who just played with them, how many times the cue has been whacked against the table, and what kind of care the bar takes with its cues.
Starter cue brands focus on giving the beginning player a solid hit, just like the hit you will get if you're playing with a really great quality bar cue. This is the best, most reliable hit to learn with and a general industry standard.
Most starter cues, like Players, will also have a longer, more professional taper (how the cue shaft goes from fat near the joint to skinny at the tip). A professional taper (15”) is a gentle, almost unnoticeable, taper that gives you just what it sounds like: the smooth kind of stroke professionals love.
Now, what about price?
How much should a good starter cue cost? Well, that's up to your individual budget. My favorite line (and consequently the most popular brand in its price range), Players, costs from $79 to $199. They're a little pricier than other starter brands, but they also have a better warranty and come in a wider variety of designs. They have some really cool looking cues! They're also a good brand to grow into. I know people that have been playing for decades that swear by their Players cue. I also know players that have just started and love their cues as well. Players is a middle-of-the-road good-for-everyone brand to have in your cue case. A standard cue that is great for every day play, whether you're just starting or have been going at it for years. Plus, that warranty is impressive.
Other starter brands from the same manufacturer include Rage and Dufferin. Out of those two, I personally like Rage a bit more because Rage also has some really cool designs. Dufferin cues are more traditional, and Dufferin has a really great reputation for quality in the bar cue world. All three are great brands. You really can't go wrong with one of these babies.
"warranty is also a good way to tell a great quality cue from one that isn't so great. Manufacturers ... provide that warranty because there is a very low chance that your cue will ever crap out on you if you treat it right."
Do I need to worry about warranties?
The warranty is also a good way to tell a great quality cue from one that isn't so great. Manufacturers who warranty their cues for a lifetime don't just do so willy nilly. They provide that warranty because there is a very low chance that your cue will ever crap out on you if you treat it right. For example, we will use my favorite brand. Players cues are all backed by a lifetime warranty, which is about standard for this price range. The guys that make Players also guarantee their cues against warpage...for life. This level of warranty in this price range is really, really rare. In fact, they're the only ones that offer it, and they have been offering it for years. What does this tell us? It tells us that Players is so confident in their craftsmanship they can afford to offer a crazy warranty. They get that few cues back needing warranty service. If they weren't great quality cues to start with, the business would go bankrupt.
What about cues made out of other materials?
Aside from Maple, good quality cues can be made out of a variety of “high-tech” “warp-resistant” materials. Brands like Scorpion or Cuetec are made out of fiberglass or graphite, meaning they are made out of a material that is naturally warp resistant and can take a little more abuse than a traditional wooden pool cue. Fiberglass and graphite protect against little dings and scratches; some people even say better than the finish wood pool cue manufacturers use.
Some people swear by fiberglass and graphite, some people can't stand it. It's just a matter of personal preference. I've found these cues to be decent, but they're not my personal favorite. As for scratching and dings, if you're careful with your cue (meaning you don't slam it down onto the edge of a table or throw it on the ground), you're golden. If you're liable to do either of those things, opt for either a $30 cue that can be easily replaced or a fiberglass/graphite model.
What about cues made for women or technology cues?
A few bands are finally starting to figure out that women like to play pool and want cues designed for them. Luckily, Players is just such a brand. Their Players Flirt line is designed for women, by women, and feature slightly thinner butts than the regular Players line. They also have really cool designs and neat wraps. Anything from this line would make a killer gift for the pool playing woman. I have one, and I absolutely love it.
A number of other brands, including Rage and the regular Players line, have designs made with women in mind. Pink is a huge color in the billiards world, popping up in cues in every price range. Purple has also gotten big in recent years. That's not to say a “woman's cue” has to be girly looking; one of my favorite pro players, Jenniffer Barretta, plays with a sweet jet black Lucasi Hybrid cue. It's beautiful, goes with anything, and she looks awesome with it.
For a beginner, I would suggest going with a straight up pool cue as opposed to jumping into the technology cue deep end. But, if you're looking for a good gift or just have to have a technology cue, Pure X Technology make a line of low deflection technology cues that retail for $136.99 to $259.99.
The Bottom Line
As long as you go for a cue that's made well, from quality materials, and comes with some kind of warranty, you're good, whether you spend $35 or $200. If you're buying from a brick-and-mortar store, look for something that feels nice in your hands and looks like it's been manufactured with care. Ask to play with a cue from that brand if the store has a demo table set up. If you're buying online and can't decide, give the store a call. Most dealers are more than happy to talk pool with customers and genuinely want new players to absolutely love their cues. If they won't talk to you or aren't giving you good advice, call another store. Know that you don't have to make this decision in a vacuum. Ask around. Undertaking a new hobby can be a daunting task, but you'll do fine.