I interviewed Shawn Gainey—founder of Gainey Q’s—last week, and it was an absolute delight.
Shawn’s buttery southern accent makes it immediately obvious that he originally hails from South Carolina. His day job as a superintendent in construction for a government contractor brought him to Waldorf, Maryland, in 2012.
His decision to stay started with a romance. As he says, “Of course, there’s always a woman involved.” This caused him to start paying serious attention to the area, and he realized that the pool scene there was way better than back home, possibly because the Billiards Expo is held nearby.
Shawn didn’t start building cues until after he moved to Maryland. He’s always been intrigued by cue repair and cue building, but he never seemed to be able to find the time to learn. Shortly after he moved, the ferrule on one of his cues broke and he was having trouble finding anyone near him to repair it. Through a mutual friend, Shawn found someone in Baltimore and made the hour and a half trek up there for a $20 repair.
As it turns out it was well worth the time, because after talking for a while the guy offered to teach Shawn everything he needed to know about building cues.
Apparently, Shawn lived too far away to hurt his business.
Shawn spent every Saturday from then on driving to Baltimore and working in the shop for at least eight hours, learning about making cues.
“My dad passed away on Father’s Day of last year. The two things I learned from him were woodworking, and playing pool. I’m only sorry he never got to see me bring the two things together”
The first break cue Shawn ever built was meant as a gift for his father, but unfortunately he passed away before Shawn was able to give it to him. His father didn’t have any life insurance, so Shawn had to pay out-of-pocket for the funeral. When he talked to the funeral director about the price, he knew immediately that he didn’t have enough money to pay for the whole thing up front.
He had enough for half of the funeral costs, and asked the funeral director if he could pay half now and the other half in 30 days. The funeral director had known Shawn’s family for many years, and agreed immediately. Shawn’s father had been very involved with the local APA, and they offered to hold a benefit tournament to help Shawn with the funeral costs.
As a prize for the champion, Shawn planned to give the cue he had made for his father, but quickly realized he couldn’t part with it. He ended up deciding to offer a custom made cue in the same design as the first one, but in a wood of winner’s choosing. The guy that won the tournament pulled his father, a local veteran, out of the crowd and told him to pick out what kind of wood he wanted.
“It was real touching that the tournament was from a son for his father, and the guy that won the tournament gave the cue to his father.”
In the end, the benefit raised enough money to pay the balance on the funeral expenses. Shawn was tearing up a little as he finished this story. I had trouble moving on to the next question, because asking about the mechanics of making cues just seemed unimportant after that beautiful story.
The main question Shawn gets when starting a cue is, “How long will it take?” Then, after the answer of about eight months, “What! Why so long??!” Well, Shawn isn’t made out of money. He doesn’t have a boat-load of prepped materials laying around, so every cue is made from total scratch.
This means he starts out with a square length of wood, carves it down to round, seals it, then lets it sit. Wood
So, Shawn basically has to shave off a layer at a time and let the wood dry after each pass. This is what’s so time consuming. Shawn says if you didn’t worry about it warping it could be done in a days time, but it would end up looking like a pretzel when you finished.
“My favorite part of the process is when I put the Gainey Q’s logo and identifying roman numeral on at the end. That’s the part that makes it really feel like my accomplishment. As far as I know, Gainey Q’s is the first to put a unique roman numeral on each cue; I feel it adds a touch of class. My second favorite is hearing a satisfied customer tell me how much they love shooting with their new cue.” “I have a friend who shot with a Lucasi, didn’t need a new cue and didn’t want one, but he wanted to support me in my new business and ordered one of mine. A few weeks after he got it, he sold his Lucasi and never looked back.”
When I asked Shawn what the steepest learning curve was when he started out, he said the most frustrating part was probably just figuring out exactly what equipment he needed. Points and veneers were definitely the hardest techniques to learn, and they can still be difficult sometimes.
But he hopes to never stop learning, and loves talking to other cue builders to “learn their secrets”—not to plagiarize or copy, but to expand his knowledge of the craft.
“I’m a perfectionist, and I won’t supply something [to a customer] that i’m not proud of. I don’t care as much about the cosmetic look of the cue, I’m more concerned with the way it hits. But I’ve been told my cues are flawless. Something that really bugs me is when I see a cue with slotted rings that don’t match up. Nobody’s perfect, everyone makes mistakes, and I hate it when I make an avoidable mistake that causes me to have to back up. Whether it’s not tightening the cross screw on the lathe, and it drifts while I’m cutting… if you cut too much you just have to start over. That’s happened to me before. Nobody want’s to do the same thing twice.”
Shawn used to be really in to karaoke. He likes to entertain. But one day he realized…
“When I’m dead and gone, no one’s going to remember Shawn Gainey the Karaoke Guy. So when I started to build cues, I just wanted to leave something behind. Whether they’re ever compared to some of the great custom builders, I don’t care. I just hope they’re used for years and enjoyed and passed down. I hope it’s a name people remember.”
“Gainey Q’s hopes to live by our slogan; Making Players Better One Cue At A Time”