How to Compare and Evaluate Custom Cues

One month ago, on Jan 29th, ftgokie put up a post on AZ Billiards proposing what he called a Cuemaker’s Buildoff. Here’s how he described it.

The Idea

Here is something that may be fun for all of us if anyone is willing to do this.
Have 3-4 cue makers make a simple cue to the same specs, and we send them around to some members to try out and us give feedback for the rest of the members to go off of.

This may or may not be something that could be done, just trying to see if I should pursue this or not.

Well, this original idea really took off, and 193 posts later the idea is still drawing lots of interest. I put in to be one of the “hosts” and learned today that I made the cut. It’ll be a little while before I get them, since they won’t be done until April 17th, but I’m very excited about getting to participate in this, as you can imagine.

Methodology

The evaluations will all be done double-blind. That is, neither the organizer, ftgokie, or the participants will know which cue belongs to which cuemaker. The evaluators won’t even know which cuemakers provided cues. Ftgokie arranged for a longtime friend, Eric Crisp of Sugartree Custom Cues (aka qbuilder on the AZ Billiards forums), to receive the cues from the cuemakers, to mark them in a standardized but inconspicuous way, and to give them an initial detailed inspection as only another cuemaker could do. He’ll also ensure that no cuemaker tries to pull a fast one and send out a $1,000 cue pretending it’s a $300 cue.

Qbuilder has no dog in this hunt; he is not providing a cue for the build-off, he’s too busy filling his back orders. Also, we won’t be releasing our evaluations until everyone has had their chance to review. This should minimize any undue influence on evaluators from hearing other’s views before making up their own minds.

Ideas were kicked around about just exactly how this should be done. What parts of the cue should be standardized (if any) and what parts should the cuemaker feel free to make their own judgments about? One thing was quickly agreed to, they should be basic cues, without significant ornamentation.

Buy or Donate?

Ftgokie started out with the idea that he would buy all the cues, then after the experiment would sell them for what he paid, perhaps even keeping the one he liked best. He didn’t have personal experience with custom cues and wanted to learn what all the fuss was about. He’d also been approached by a number of others seeking his advice and he wanted first-hand experience before he would say anything (imagine that!).

Well, he learned that he didn’t have to buy the cues at all! He found seven custom cuemakers (names kept confidential until after it’s over) who wanted to participate so much they would each donate a cue. He also found a custom case maker, John Barton of JB Custom Cases, who agreed to donate a custom case to house the 7 cues and shafts. That would ensure their safety during shipment from one AZBer to another and help them minimize shipping costs.

Issues

Some issues were tough. As qbuilder pointed out,

You have to decide if this is competitive or just a travelling showcase. If it’s competitive then you’ll have a tough time setting standards because some builders prefer one joint while another prefers something different. If you force a builder to do something out of his preferred style, then it’s no longer fair to him & favors the guy who prefers all the specifications you set as standards. So I think it would be wise to decide what this will actually be, then plan carefully for it.

The goal was to create a set of requirements that covered four important areas. First, cuemakers needed to make a cue that hit and felt like theirs. Second, cues must be similar enough so that the comparisons were valid. Third, they needed to be devoid of markings so they couldn’t be recognized.  And fourth, they had to be basic enough so that they could be sold for $300.

Requirements

Here are the build requirements as provided to the cuemakers.

  1. The cue will have a lightly figured Birds Eye Maple forearm and butt
  2. Handle will be maple, wrapped or wrapless (up to cue builder)
  3. Cue builders to decide to core or not to core
  4. Builders select personal taper on shaft
  5. Cue builders to use Molavia Medium tips donated by Duc Lam
  6. Builder’s to use black phenolic collars & butt-cap
  7. Cuemakers choice on ferrule & pin
  8. Weight will be 19oz +/- 0.2oz
  9. No ringwork, inlays, points, signatures or trademarks
  10. Have integrity & build the cue as if somebody had ordered it, the same way you’d build all of your cues.

Don’t you just love the web? I mean, where else would something like this be possible? Seven custom cuemakers each donate one of their wares to be judged in public by a large group of unknown pool enthusiasts. A custom case maker provides a free case (very valuable, worth more than two of the cues), and untold numbers of AZBers give up their time to participate in this fun and educational event.

Current Status

We’re currently working on how the evaluations should be done. The discussion is just getting started, so I’ll say more when there’s a consensus. I designed a standard evaluation sheet that all raters would fill out on each cue. This will make the data much more comparable from cue to cue. Now, all we have to do is figure out what things to rate, and make sure that the cuemakers are happy with out list of characteristics to compare. If this idea intrigues you, get on over to AZ Billiards and join the discussion.

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