What's the difference between Ash and Maple?
Ash, pictured left, is easily identifiable by the distinctive grain which produces 'arrows' and 'lines'.
Every piece of Ash is different. It varies in grain pattern, weight, and colour. Some grain can be tight and wild, running all over the place with lots of arrows and lines, other pieces can have very wide grain lines with very few arrows. Some pieces are naturally heavy, some are light, some are naturally dark, others pale.
None of these factors has has any particular effect on the quality of the wood and how well it plays and there is no rule that says any one type is better than another.
In fact, for those people who think they can tell if a cue will play a certain way just by looking at it, think again. Wide or tight grain, it can be stiff or whippy. I've seen and handled thousands of cues. This is a fact.
The only way to tell, is to actually test it. Not just look at it.
Most people hold an Ash cue so that the arrows near the top of the shaft are on top between your bridge hand and the cueball as you play the shot. Some say that they use this to help them sight the shot, and if this works for them then good. Personally, I like to have the arrows on top just because I like the look of it and it 'feels' right to me.
Others prefer to play with the lines on top which I don't particularly recommend because unless the lines are perfectly straight, which is very rare, it can give an optical illusion that the cue is bent as you draw it back and forth over you bridge.
Another good reason to hold an Ash cue with the arrows on top is that if you carefully feel down the shaft of an Ash cue, you will find that the wood goes in and out as it passes over the arrows/grain. This is perfectly natural because the wood is softer here and will have worn more as it was made or settled more as it matured.
By using the cue with the lines on top you may find that as the cue passes between your thumb and finger on your bridge hand you may feel these very small bumps and this may affect your cueing. But if you're happiest doing this then no problem, just be aware that this can happen.
Finally, if Ash bends it is usually with the grain, either towards or away from the arrows, so if you hold your cue with the arrows on top it will cause no problems, but if you have the lines on top then the cue will be bent from left to right, or vice versa, and will probably play on your mind and put you off.
Maple has no noticeable grain and is relatively plain to look at.
Maple is similar to Ash in the way it plays. Again, it varies greatly in whether it is stiff or whippy and must be carefully selected to weed out the pieces that fall short of the required standard. And, like Ash, it can vary greatly in natural weight.
Maple is also just as likely to bend as Ash and, in fact, will often bend in an 's' shape, first going one way and then another. This doesn't happen all the time but is something else to be aware of.
Apart from that, the two woods are similar in playing qualities and you should find that the 'feel' is fairly close to an Ash cue.
As a general rule, it does tend to be a little 'harder' than Ash, but not always, and I would not advise choosing Maple over Ash because you think it will be more solid and make you play better. I have had many customers try a Maple cue after many years using an Ash one hoping it will improve their game only to find they can't get on with it at all, so be warned.
- Personally, I prefer Ash. It plays well, and looks good, with the grain (arrows, lines, chevrons - call it what you will) giving each cue it's own identity.
- Maple has no noticeable grain, so if you like the shaft to be plain, then go for Maple.
- They both possess the necessary characteristics that make them capable of the full range of shots.
- You must feel comfortable in your mind with your cue, and it really comes down to whether you prefer the look of a cue with 'characteristic' grain or a plain one. But it's not the type of wood alone that will make you a better player.
Finally, remember the most important thing is how the cue actually feels and plays. Every cue made is different and should be considered as unique as you are. Try to accept the various grain patterns as the natural feature they are and look at cues with an open mind.
If you dismiss one on looks alone, you may be turning your back on the best cue you could have ever played with...