The pool cues hanging on the wall of the local dive bar are about as good for billiards as an old broomstick. Luckily, you don’t need to invest thousands of dollars in a handmade Balabushka to become the next Fast Eddie. Selecting a cue is largely a matter of taste. There’s much to consider, including weight, length and materials, from tried-and-true wooden cues to fiberglass-encased, warp-resistant cues such as the Cuetec Starlight ($140) pictured here. As former pool world champion Shane Van Boening explains, “With all the different cues and different technologies, there are a lot of cues to choose from.” Here are Van Boening’s tips on picking the right stick.

Many collectors have racks full of assorted cues, but consistently using the same one will help improve your game. “I like to keep one stick I really like,” says Van Boening, “so I have confidence in its performance.” Once you’ve chosen a cue, accruing table time will help you learn its tendencies and intricacies. Some players keep a specific cue for breaking that has a different shape and a harder tip, but it’s not essential, especially if you’re just starting out.

According to Van Boening, weight is one of the most crucial aspects to consider when choosing a cue. The standard starter cue weighs 19 ounces, which offers a good mix of solid feel and control. Lighter cues offer more action but are more difficult to control, while heavier cues offer more inertia but can exacerbate a missed strike.

The butt of a cue can be the most expensive part, thanks to exotic inlays, but the shaft determines how a cue plays. Most shafts have a tip of roughly 13 millimeters in diameter and then get fatter as you move toward the butt. One of the most common current designs is the “pro taper,” which stays mostly straight for about a foot before widening; the design provides a good balance of comfort and reliability.

Most playing cues come standard with a medium-density leather tip, which should perform just fine under most circumstances. A softer tip requires more frequent maintenance and replacement, but it keeps the cue in contact with the ball for a split second longer, which makes it easier to spin. A hard tip needs less maintenance, but the less forgiving surface usually means more miscues.