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GEORGE BALABUSHKA Pool Cues

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GEORGE BALABUSHKA
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GEORGE BALABUSHKA
Maker of pool cues from 1959 to 1975 in Brooklyn, New York.
His name having been synonymous with the finest cue craftsmanship for over 40 years, George Balabushka has often been referred to as the "Stradivarius" of cue makers, a title which accurately suggests the rarity and allure of the cues he created. As a boy of 12, he arrived in New York speaking only Russian, as did his parents and younger sister. Born ´Gregory Balabushka´, the immigration officials on Ellis Island erred in translating his passport, and ´Gregory´ became ´George´ Balabushka. His first loves being music and woodworking, George played the accordion professionally with an accordion orchestra throughout the 1930´s and 1940´s, while also building accordions during that time. Still in his teens, George took a job crafting wooden toys, and later created children´s furniture for the Playtime Woodworking Company.
While at Playtime, George married Josephine in 1941, and a few years later the couple moved to Brooklyn to raise their family, sons Gregory and George both being named for their father. As many cue makers have discovered, woodworking has its hazards. Those risks brought about the loss of most of George´s left index finger to a band saw. George´s love of playing pool, and the loss of his forefinger on his bridge hand, presented a serious complication. But, George´s resourcefulness afforded him a solution and he assembled a very convincing plastic surrogate using a wooden mold. The prosthesis attached to the finger stub and enabled him to continue to play the game with friends, with most people never realizing he wore it.
George began making cues in 1959 when he and partner Frank McGowan purchased a poolroom at 50th and 5th in Brooklyn. His first cues were adaptations of Brunswick Titlists - a familiar starting point for many cuemakers. At that time he was one of only a handful of custom cue makers in the United States. After producing just a few dozen cues a year for several years, the desire for Balabushka´s cues increased and he sold his interest in the poolroom and began to develop cues full time. By 1964, George converted his garage into a shop, complete with heating and air conditioning. The shop was simple and compact, with just enough space for a small Atlas metal lathe, a saw, and a drill press. Cue shafts and butts in various stages of completion occupied any remaining space.
Almost every distinguished player of the era, from Joe Balsis to Willie Mosconi, wished to possess a Balabushka. Although he retailed a number of cues to movie stars, he preferred clients who were talented players. Most Balabushka cues were unadorned but their reputation was founded on their composition and on the way they hit, both solid. George was both practical and meticulous. He developed his cues to be efficient and durable, and fancied materials that met his high standards. Cue pieces were machined or excised for the most precise fit possible. The sound the cue made was as significant to him as the way it played. George painstakingly selected woods, and procured the most superior blanks he could acquire. Preferring straight grain maple for the blanks because of its natural structural stability, gave way to why most Balabushka cues have straight-grain maple forearms. However, there are instances in which the forearms have noticeable figuring. Burton Spain contended to have made George a few curly maple blanks, and Szamboti granted a small quantity of special orders for figured blanks.
There are three significant styles of Balabushka cues. Balabushka initially began making cues with Brunswick Titlist blanks, and persisted to make them throughout his cue making career, although not as regularly after acquiring blanks from Spain and Szamboti. Early cues had nylon wraps or no wraps, but eventually George modified them to Cortland #9 Irish linen. The cues were predominantly rosewood, but models in ebony can be located. Acquiring one of these early cues requires caution, as original Titlist blanks are still available for replication by unscrupulous cue-makers. Although the initial cues are the most frequently plagiarized, they are still exceedingly sought-after, as Balabushka completed much of his finest pieces during this time. He particularly enjoyed working with Titlist blanks, as they included a full splice and did not involve a cut between the wrap and forearm. In the early sixties plastic rings were prevalent and George experimented with them in butt sleeves, generally red or blue metallic-looking polyester.
In 1966, due to Titlist´s declining quality, George began searching for a product comparable to the earlier Titlist blanks, when he received notice from Burton Spain proposing the sale of his premium blanks. Having a greater selection with which to work, Balabushka introduced decorative rings above the wrap; most prevalent was ebony with phenolic checks betwee


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