What do “feel,” “hit,” “feedback,” and “playability” really mean in relation to a cue, and do they affect a shot?
These are qualitative phrases used to describe the force, shock (impulse), vibration, and sound a player feels and/or hears during and after (but mostly after) the cue tip hits the cue ball.
The “feel” and “sound” of a hit are affected by shot speed and how far the tip hits off center. They are also affected by:
- tip type and hardness
- ferrule type and material
- shaft material, design, size, taper, and stiffness
- joint material, design, and construction
- butt material, design, and construction (including the wrap and end bumper)
An abnormal or bad “feel” or “sound” (rattle, buzz, ring, clang, click, etc.) can be caused by a:
- full or partial miscue, possible because the tip doesn’t hold chalk well.
- cracked or loose ferrule or tip.
- loose component in the joint.
- loose weight bolt in the end of the butt.
- crack anywhere in the shaft or butt.
There are many physical attributes that contribute to how a cue “plays” and whether or not it is physically “comfortable” to a player. Here is a partial list:
- shaft straightness
- tip condition, type, shape, hardness
- tip and cue efficiency
- tip diameter and shaft taper, especially if a closed bridge is used
- cue weight, balance, and mass distribution
- the amount of endmass, which determines the amount of squirt (CB deflection)
- butt wrap (whether or not there is one, and the type).
These things can definitely affect how a cue “plays.” For example, with a similar stroke and off-center hit, a heavy high-squirt cue with a hard tip will create very different CB motion (speed and direction) than a light low-squirt cue with a soft tip. The “hits” will also feel and sound very different. And with draw shots, if the CB has less speed for a given stroke (because the cue and tip have less efficiency), more backspin will be lost due to cloth drag on the way to the OB, which will result in less draw for a given tip offset from center. Hit efficiency is mostly a result of the cue tip. A harder tip typically delivers more speed to the CB for a given stroke speed. Not all players like a hard tip, and some players have more “touch” and “control” with a less “efficient” tip/cue, where small changes in stroke speed will have less effect on CB speed.
Craftsmanship, manufacturing quality, and artistry are also important attributes of a cue to some people, especially to cue collectors.
The shock and vibration is felt and the sound is heard after the CB is already gone, so they have no direct effect on the outcome of a shot; although, some people claim the “feel” is important to getting good “feedback” on the shot (indicating if the CB was struck well with the appropriate speed), but not all players place importance on this. To many, observing what the CB does is “feedback” enough.
A cue’s flex or vibration can’t have much to do with the physics between the tip and CB during the extremely brief (approximately 0.001 second) impact time. Most of the flex and vibration occurs well after the CB is gone. For example, see:
The vibration (see other videos here) affects the “feel” of the cue, but it doesn’t have much (if any) effect on the physics between the tip and CB. Although, the “feel” and “sound” of a hit is related to cue and tip efficiency, which does make a difference. A stiffer cue with a harder tip will generally provide a more efficient hit (delivering more speed to the CB for a given stroke effort).
- Some cues hit stiffer and harder than others (i.e., they provide more CB speed for the same stroke effort). This effect is called cue and tip efficiency.
- Some people care about the “feedback” a cue provides based on how it feels and sounds during and after a hit. For others, seeing what the CB does is “feedback” enough.
Concerning 1 above, a cue with a hard tip will generally have a higher efficiency (providing more CB speed for a given stroke effort). With a higher efficiency cue, it can be easier to hit shots that require more power (e.g., power draw shots) since slightly less effort will be required and since one’s power stroke is usually more accurate with less power. For a break cue, you want high efficiency (e.g., with a stiff cue and phenolic tip) to get the fastest CB speed possible. With a finesse game, or with really slow-speed shots, a low-efficiency cue (e.g., with a soft tip) can offer more control since a larger range of stroke efforts is required to create a wide range of CB speeds. With a high-efficiency cue, it can be difficult to accurately control slow-speed shots since a small change in stroke effort makes a bigger difference in CB speed.
Regardless of the physics, there are many “qualitative intangibles” (“feel,” “hit,” “sound,” “feedback,” “quality,” “style,” “aesthetics,” etc.) that might be psychologically important to a player even if the characteristics might not have any direct effect on the outcome of a shot. If a player is not “comfortable” with a cue or if the cue affects their “mental” game at all, then it can make a big difference in their play.
What makes a cue hit “soft” vs. “hard?”
from Poolplaya9 in AZB post:
More hand shock would be a sharper, harder hit … you can think of a tink (sharper, harder hand shock) verses a thunk (a more muted softer hand shock). Or imagine hitting a brick wall using a piece of rebar held and stroked like a cue (an extremely hard and sharp hit/hand shock), verses hitting the brick wall with a cue made of balsa wood (an extremely soft muted hand shock in comparison).
While stiffer (less flexible) shafts do often tend to have a harder (more hand shock) hit, and whippier (more flexible) shafts do often tend to have a softer (less hand shock) hit, there appear to be other factors besides just the shaft taper and flexibility that also affect how much hand shock or the type of hand shock that is felt so the two things should always be discussed separately IMO. Sometimes a hard hitting (high hand shock) cue may not have a real stiff shaft, and sometimes a more flexible/”whippier” shaft can still hit pretty hard (high hand shock) so one should never assume.
I feel the terms hard and soft and the like should always be used to describe the hand shock, and whippy and stiff and the like should always be used to describe shaft flex felt while applying english, but some people use the word “hard” when referring to shaft flex and the word “stiff” when referring to hand shock so you can never assume what they meant and it is best to just ask them.
… I can say that low deflection shafts often tend to hit softer (less hand shock) than their solid counterparts (because more dense objects tend to transmit shock better) but there are certainly tons of exceptions … Denser woods also often tend to be harder hitting (more hand shock) for the same reason but again there are exceptions because other factors are also involved. I highly doubt the amount of use on a shaft makes any difference to the feel (I don’t think the wood really compresses much or anything like that). I also doubt the age of the shaft makes any difference either although possibly a different moisture content over time could make a very slight difference. Older wood though, such as old growth wood tends to be denser which can result in a harder hit/more hand shock but since other factors are involved this isn’t always the case here either.
I think people also often fail to give enough thought and consideration to how much difference the tip makes to how hard a cue hits (how much hand shock it has) too. Different tips can make the same cue feel anywhere from soft to hard hitting. Knowing how hard or soft a cue hits doesn’t have all that much usefulness or meaning or reliability without knowing what kind of tip is on it. A cue will almost always feel softer hitting with a softer tip, and harder hitting with a harder tip so it is important to know what kind of tip was on it when considering how hard the cue really hits. If a cue with a different tip than you like has the perfect hardness of hit for you, then it will almost certainly not have the perfect hardness of hit you like once you put your preferred tip on it.
And of course we also have to keep in mind that the amount of hand shock and amount of shaft flex when applying english are things that have some subjectivity to them. What you will consider high hand shock/hard hitting the next guy will consider medium hand shock/medium hard hit and same with shaft flex etc.