The Cue Sticks Of George Balabushka

Never to be equaled, these are the masterworks

George Herman Balabushka cue
Photo courtesy of

The cue sticks of George H. Balabushka are without peer. No doubt if you're an avid billiards player you've seen Tom Cruise and Paul Newman in The Color of Money (1986) and Newman, Jackie Gleason and other greats in The Hustler (1961), the two finest pool films ever. But did you take note of the exquisite, handmade George Balabushka cue sticks in these and other films? (Okay, really a Joss-made replica was used as a "Bushka" in The Color of Money.)

G.H.B.'s Fascinating Life Story

An astonishingly skilled craftsman who worked without the benefit of a formal education, George Herman Balabushka was born in 1912 in Russia and traveled to the United States at age 12, relocating for the rest of his life to Brooklyn in New York City. He loved playing tournament pool and brought a kind if shy personality to the tables that appealed to the metropolitan area's top players and pool playing celebrities.

As a young woodworker, Balabushka crafted wooden dolls and wood toys in school for his teachers. Later, he began a small company with his one-man shop to manufacture wood products. Then something extraordinary occurred.

Fickle Finger of Fate

During an industrial accident, Balabushka severed off his middle finger. He cunningly sculpted a wood replacement finger (almost always maintaining his hand at an angle to match its shape in public) so true-to-life that even some of his closest friends never knew he'd amputated a finger!

As a side venture to working his wood business, Balabushka maintained the pool cues of his friends, and in exquisite condition. When Hall of Fame cue maker Frank Paradise began to use his last name to brand his custom cues (the author owned a famous Paradise example owned formerly by the legendary Jerry Orbach) Balabushka saw an opportunity to start his own signature line of sticks.

The Greatest Cue Sticks Ever: Original, Custom Balabushkas

In late 1959 at age 47 Balabushka built his very first cues, gifting them for Christmas to a few close friends. Hearing how beautifully the cues played, he was shortly in demand to turn out more and more cues. Through 1963, Balabushka prepared about 30 cues each year.

Despite their explosive popularity among top players, his cues remained exclusive and production numbers remained low, even though he moved to cue making full time, until his passing in 1975, with not more than 1,200 cues ever produced by the master.

Through the years at competitions and tournaments, contestants were always discussing where and how they were fortunate enough to get their Balabushka cues. And often at the highest levels of the sport, both competitors in the finals would be using Balabushkas. This exposure brought the cue maker fame and also many more sales.

Give the Man a Blank Check

And as Balabushka's skills increased (as did the waiting list for a custom order) some players even mailed in endorsed blank checks, daring him to name his own price for their new custom cues. And if you have in your hands a Balabushka masterpiece made for a top player like Willie Mosconi, you own a priceless heirloom!

You must look sharp on eBay and at other outlets as George Balabushka forgeries appear at times, with some very skilled and famous colleagues having created similar-looking cues since the late 1960's and early 70's. Look for these genuine distinguishing features of a real Bala:

  • Balabushka's simple, clean appearance showed in his cue designs--he was sparing on ornamentation with few exceptions such as his eponymous Balabushka rings
  • Phenomenal cue stick performance with low stick deflection and a smooth, almost sensation-free pass through the cue ball
  • Mother-of-pearl (and not ivory) cue inlays, often in a star pattern on the butt and/or cue stick forearm
  • The vast majority of Balabushka's cues use steel joints with 5/16 x 14 pins to firmly join the cue shaft to its cue butt ("Minnesota Fats" tells "Fast Eddie" Felson in The Color of Money novel to not guard his stainless Bala steel joint on break shots, but to "really smash those @#$#!@#.")
  • Plain white butt caps with no markings
  • Cues were made typically unlabeled, and unsigned
  • Colored veneers (usually, four) which were spliced into a lovely four-point pattern on the front of the cue
  • Balabushka's first splices with points first came from famed manufacturer Brunswick, before he made his own, and then went with a more expedient method, having Burton Spain of Schon Cues make them to his clientele's and his own custom tastes--so Brunswick or Spain splices are a good signature

If you have a genuine Bala you may easily have a $10,000 stick in your hands. Maybe you should coddle the joint and not break with it, no matter what Walter Tevis wrote that Minnesota Fats said!