RECOLLECTION CUES EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW
WITH MASTER CUEMAKER CHRIS NITTI
MAY 20, 2012
©Copyright, 2012 Recollection Cues
Background. Chris Nitti is widely recognized for his cuemaking skills, and is a mainstay each year at the SBE at Valley Forge as well as the International Cue Collector Show as an invited exhibitor. His attention to detail and the great playability of his cues always keep his work in demand. Below is an interview recently conducted with him.
Recollection Cues (RC): When did you start making cues?
Chris Nitti (CN): My first attempt was in 1991, but I really didn’t start making anything worthwhile until about two years later. I’m mostly self-taught, and prior to that hadn’t even done repairs or anything, so it took some time to work out the bugs.
RC: Are you a member of the American Cuemakers Association?
CN: Yes, since March of '98.
RC: Where do you live?
CN: We live in Orlando, Florida.
RC: Do you make cues fulltime?
CN: Yes. I never cared about getting rich, but I like doing something I enjoy, and it’s always enabled me to pay the bills and do something I care about.
RC: Are you a player?
CN: I play two nights a week on leagues. I play one night socially with my wife, stepson and nephew in an APA league, and another night with a few friends on a “power” league.
RC: What is your preferred game?
CN: Believe it or not, it’s straight pool. It’s hard to find people to play, but I love the game. If you play it for awhile, every shot comes up. It's great practice. After that, I probably like 9 ball best, then eight ball.
RC: How does being a player affect your philosophy about building cues?
CN: You’d think it would be an advantage, but people ask me all the time what I like, and it should be what they like, not me. I like a good, solid hit, but that’s not everything. You can hit with a broomstick, and it’s solid, but you wouldn't want to play with one. You need to feel the hit. I really like to feel a cue resonate. People do a lot of stuff with solid wood cues, one pieces, full splices, etc., but I like to put the nose and handle together with a screw in it. That puts the nose under tension. There’s where the good "feel "comes from. Some cues you can just feel the ball, others you can’t.
RC: One thing about your cues I’ve always noticed, and liked, is that they all hit the same. There isn't much variation from one to the other. Why do you think that is?
CN: All I can say is that I’m a creature of habit. I’m big on consistency and doing things the same way. A number of years ago I was invited to display cues at a show in the National Gallery of Art, and each cuemaker was allowed to have six cues. We all had identical racks, side by side. I noticed that my cues were the only ones there whose wraps were the same size and proportion on every stick. Every other cuemaker – the wraps on their sticks weren’t consistent – some were ¼ or ½ inch higher, or lower, or longer on each of their sticks. None were the same straight across like mine. Not that that’s really important, but it shows how I always do things the same way.
RC: What cuemakers have most influenced you and your work?
CN: I’d have to say Bill Stroud for sure. Mostly because his was the first stick I had. I bought one in ‘76 for $215, and played with it until I started making my own. So it was natural I’d try to make sticks like his. I was impressed with his fit and finish, and how it played. But once I got started, Ron Haley was a big help to me. He taught me a lot once I began.
RC: How many cues do you usually make a year?
CN: Between 40 and 60.
RC: How many are “players” versus higher-end cues?
CN: I’d say 15-20% could be called high-end, and the rest are players. They all share the same construction, though; I don’t cut corners on the less expensive ones. I don’ t cut corners on anything. I even buy the best sandpaper. I’m more concerned about quality and my reputation. If you’re going to make a quality product you have to have quality materials.
RC: Do you take special orders?
RC: How about dealers?
CN: I have a few, but not many. I work with you, at Recollection Cues, and with Bill Grassley, Roy Mallot, and lately with J&J Billiards, who have been trying to get some of my cues into China.
RC: Describe your shop.
CN: It’s in my garage, with a small spray building built outside. It’s cramped, but pretty well-organized. I have six lathes I use regularly - set up for different jobs. One I use only for points, one for wraps, etc. I have a pantagraph – no CNC or computers. Then, of course, I have the usual sanders, band saw, etc. I would like to have a bigger space.
RC: Tell me about your process of selecting shaft wood and making shafts. How long does it take?
CN: All of my shafts are seasoned for over a year. I start with a one inch block or dowel, whichever I buy, and then take thirty-thousandths off at a time for seven or eight passes, about once every six weeks.
RC: What is your favorite wood for use in cues?
CN: I’ve always liked birdseye maple and ebony, but I also really like amboyna burl cues.
RC: I'm glad you do. I've got a couple of your amboyna cues and they're gorgeous. What pin and joint combinations do you use? Which is your favorite?
CN: I use a flat faced radial pin, wood to wood, almost exclusively, except with ivory joints, which are capped, with at least the first ¼ inch being solid ivory. I really like the radial pin – it’s the tightest of all, in my opinion. I have the fit down really well, and you could screw one of my shafts on probably only half way down and play with it. You wouldn’t want to, of course, but you could. Most other pins are sloppy until they're locked down.
RC: What kind of tips do you use? I used Mooris for years, until their production dried up. I’m now using Wizards from Taiwan. They play like the Moori, but don’t come apart like others I’ve had from Taiwan.
RC: Are there particular areas or regions where your cues sell best?
CN: I have cues all over. However, they seem to be very popular in the northeast.
RC: What is your preferred taper?
CN: I don’t like a thin taper. For the first ten inches it’s the same, and it’s not whippy in the middle. I like it fairly stiff. Plus, I think it’s better to start that way. You can always take wood off if you want to, but you can’t put it back on.
RC: How would you describe the hit of your cues?
CN: A stiff, solid hit. You can feel the hit resonate.
RC: Most cue enthusiasts are looking for a combination of playability, design and execution. How would you rank the importance of each?
CN: Playability first, then execution, then design. But if I don’t execute a cue well, it’s not going to play well, so it’s hard to put one before the other. I give my cues an A+ on execution and playability. I’ve set the bar high for myself. My designs are pretty traditional, but I’ve been stepping out of the box lately.
RC: Is there anything you think is unique about your cues or your cuemaking?
CN: Yep. I answer the phone and talk to people (laughing). I’m easily accessible. I really care about my product and my reputation. I don’t have complaints. There’s nothing I make that I wouldn’t stand behind.
RC: I can attest to that. I always know when I get a new cue from you that when I unwrap it, it's going to be perfect. I don't have to give it a major inspection. Are there any one or two cues that you believe are the best you’ve made?
CN: I liked the World War II theme cue I made for Keith Walton’s collection in Chicago. I also really liked the lighthouse cue I did for the ICCS Special Collection in Sarasota in 2010 that ended up with Bob Price. I built a Native American-theme cue that also went to Bob. It had small thunderbirds above the points, and I really liked the way it came together.
RC: What are you currently working on?
CN: Right now I’m working on a “gambler” theme cue for the upcoming special collection at the ICCS in Vegas. I’ve got a good idea, now I just need to figure out how to execute it.
RC: I know you attend the Super Billiards Expo at Valley Forge each year, and that you’re also an invited exhibitor at the ICCS. How important are those shows to your business?
CN: I’ve been at Valley Forge 12 years in a row. It’s important because it sets my pace for the year, whether I sell a lot or not. If I don’t sell the cues there, I sell them later. People give me orders, or call me later. It inspires and motivates me. I get ideas. With the ICCS it’s a privilege to be invited there. I know I’m at the table with the best cuemakers in the world – I may not be at the head of the table, but I’m at the table.
RC: Thanks, Chris. It’s been good to talk to you. I’m looking forward to seeing that Gambler cue in Vegas.