There are beginners, intermediate, advanced and expert shooters. Stick considerations, to some degree, depends on where you fit in the pecking order. So, let's assume you are a beginner.
There are three sections in a two piece cue: The shaft, the butt, and you. Your attitude about the stick you use has more to do with performance than either of the remaining two sections. You are the business end of the stick: the brains and heart. The rest of the stick is like any other appendage on you body. So, just pick an appendage that your immune system won't reject. Being a beginner, you have not shot with enough sticks to have a solid reference point. Just assume the stick you buy will not be your last, and don't go overboard on the price.
There are cue makers, and other experts in cue stick behavior, that have very strong opinions about the pros and cons of various cue stick shafts, ferrules and tips. All tend to agree that the butt of the stick has very little to do with shooting characteristics, if any at all. The shaft, and elements inclusive to it, is where all of the debate centers, and is probably the only part of the stick that players should worry about, if shooting better pool is the goal. If collectability is desired, then the butt is obviously a major factor.
Since the butt of the stick has little to do with ball action, beyond weight, let's dispatch of that factor first. Everyone has a different stroke, and holds the stick a little differently. When selecting a stick, select a weight and balance that is comfortable for you. Otherwise, the butt is not very important. If you want to spend money for something attractive, by all means do it.
The shaft does matter, and for beginners, a shaft that produces the fewest incidental anomalies is best. "Squirt" has become a much debated issue among pool players who, for the most part, want to minimize the effect. Normally, a pool player wants the cueball to travel a straight path to the object ball. This will allow him or her to concentrate on aiming directly at the target, without having to compensate for unwanted ball deflection off the tip. This deflection is called "squirt", and it occurs when, among other things, the cueball is hit too far off center. As a rule of thumb, "whippy" shafts tend to create more squirt than stiff shafts.
The leather on the tip of the shaft also matters. Expert shooters prefer very hard leather that will hold its shape, and allow for more "feel" during a hit. However, hard leather tips may not be best for beginners who have not learned to control the hit as well, or who simply fail to chalk up as often as they should.
The weight at the end of the shaft, which is affected by the weight of the ferrule, tenon and leather, also affect squirt. Apparently, the less weight, the less squirt. Again, there is much debate among experts as to how much all of this matters. I tend to believe it is of lesser importance than shaft "whippyness."
What all of this means is that there are specific characteristics that beginners should look for in a stick. First, forget about the butt beyond its cosmetic appearance. If it feels good to you, it is fine. Second, get a stick that has a stiff shaft to minimize squirt. Third, you might consider a soft leather tip until you learn to control the hit, and change it when you feel you are ready for one that is harder. Changing a tip costs about $5.00, so it isn't a biggie. There is something to be said for learning with a hard tip too. By doing so, you won't have to readjust later. Just be prepared to deal with more miscues in the beginning. Your (now informed) choice.
Cue stick brand? Well, I won't recommend a brand. All major brands are fine. Just ask your dealer for a stiff shaft, and a stick that is well made.
Cost? Everything that is important in a stick can be acquired for well under $200.00. Sticks that cost $1,000.00 may offer nothing a beginner needs to learn the game, or shoot their best. So why would anyone want a $2,000.00 custom stick? For the same reason people prefer original art to copies: many custom cues will increase in value over time, and there is no question about the superior workmanship. But, before buying an expensive production or custom cue, why not make sure you will keep your interest in pool, and that you are advanced enough for a more expensive cue to make a difference.
Lastly, the amount one invests in a cue stick has a lot to do with disposable income. If you are in a high income bracket and can easily afford a custom cue, by all means buy one. However, if you are on a limited income with a family to raise and debt up the kazoo, there is no reason to put yourself in a financial bind buying a stick that will not make a significant difference in your game. Plan on spending $100 to $200.
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