HISTORY OF HELMSTETTER, ADAM & BALABUSHKA CUES
This is an obit on the Helm, which is no longer made, or imported into this country from Japan any more. I have long said, for 30 years, that the Helm was the best pool cue, and buy on the market.
It was more forward balanced than any other cue, it played as good as or better than any other cue out there, and the cue was loaded with very expensive ebony and exotic woods and inlays. You were always paying, about $100 less, for any similar or comparable cue, making it a bargain. Its sales were always small because the name Helm, meaning Helmstetter, never achieved any real brand recognition. In their era, 70’s, 80’s, to mid 90’s, all anybody knew, or wanted, was Meucci, McDermott, Joss who dominated the market.
Today, 90% of Meucci’s, 100% of McDermotts are made in China, and these modern cues, are junk, compared to the 86 line of Helms.
Adam/Helm never cheapened their cues over the years, like Meucci did, they just kept making the same quality out of Japan, year after year. Sure the designs changed, models changed, but the cue always played the same.
Adam Cue of NY, had weak distribution then, and their marketing to establish the name or a following was not there. Meucci had 10 big name pros on their staff, touting their cue. Falcon hired Nick Varner in 1993 paying him $75K a year to play their
new cue, and Jeanette Lee.
That is what sold cues, a big name, and the players always followed that, monkey see, monkey do.
Adam paid the Balabuhska family, 3% on each cue sold, to use his signature, which they lifted off of an old check. George never signed a cue, but players wanted to show that signature off, and be playing with a Bushka, even though it was a copy or replica. When the movie, the color of money came out in 1986, it made pool hot again, new players came into the game and the name, bushka was widely known for the first time. The actual cue used, was a $300 Joss, which looked nothing like a real bushka.
What few knew, was the bushka, and the helm, were the same cue, made on the same Japanese line, by the same people, they played the same, the only difference was the signature. Of course, the new bushka line out sold the old Helm line, even though the helms were $100 less and had more inlays and prettier designs.
The monkey see monkey do concept was finally working for Adam.
Adams new distribution arrangements quickly lead to Helmstetter’s move to Japan in 1969, which resulted in the birth of Adam Custom Cues. By 1973, Adam Custom Cues produced sixty different models, and approximately 100,000 cues a year making it a major player in the industry.
At the bottom is a rare photo of Dick Helmstetter of Adams Cues at a trade show exhibit in July of 1989. Dick Helmstetter’s cue making career began in the early 1960’s, while he was still in college at the University of Wisconsin. By the time he graduated college he had succeeded in making very basic playing cues, and had spent some time researching and making shafts for Rollie Welch of Milwaukee. In 1966, he moved to Washington, DC and took up with Red Jones and Ed Sharp, owners of The Golden Cue in Bladensburg, MD. It was there his career really took off, by the end of the year he had orders for 100 custom cues. Later, around 1987, in the beginning of Tony’s cue making career he would also use The Golden Cue as a stepping stone. From Bladensburg to Chicago in 1967, Helmstetter next set up facilities and oversaw the development of the cue division for the National Tournament Chalk Company teamed with Bob Meucci, Craig Petersen and Ricco Cervantes. Their efforts produced 600 cues the first year.
In 1968, Dick teamed up with David Forman, who was responsible for the Sutra and Royal cue lines, made in Japan. Their distribution arrangements quickly lead to Helmstetter’s move to Japan in 1969, which resulted in the birth of Adam Custom Cues. By 1973, Adam Custom Cues produced sixty different models, and approximately 100,000 cues a year. In just three years time, Adam Custom Cues the Adam lion logo was widely recognizable, and the cues the cue of choice throughout the world. Helmstetter could boast a large advisory board of 30 professional players, including endorsements from Jim Rempe and Allen Hopkins. By July of 1989 (when the photo above was taken), Dick Helmstetter was already one of the most accomplished cue makers in cue making history. Dick Helmstetter is also responsible for the Big Bertha Calloway Golf Club, famed all over the world.
The rise of the cheap Chinese cues cut back on sales on Companies like Meucci and Adam, where most of their cues were around 400-500 and up, the market was flooded with $100-$250 cues, and most of the newbie’s coming in, went cheap. Then it got worse, the decals hit the market big time, they make the decal and glue it on the cue, which eliminates the time consuming task of hand inlaying or very expensive CNC equipment, and they are selling a $100 cue, with a design formally found on a $2,500 cue, they look great, but play like crap, but the kids eat them up.
Cuetec hires Earl, Allison Fisher, Shane to push their chinese cue.
Predator moves out of Jacksonville, Fla to the Far East. Falcon moves to China.
Everyone thinks Lucasi is Italian, it’s a chinese cue, as is Players, fury, everyone went Chinese, due to their low costs.
Foreman finally saw the writing on the wall, and bailed out, and Patty took over Adam NY, a great gal, who did a great job running and selling. The Japanese finally did her in, the dollar value fell, the Yen went up, the cues were loaded with Ebony, which was becoming harder to get, and the new prices on it skyrocketed up.
In 2008, its price went up 75%. The Japanese passed that on, and when Patty saw it, she said, if I absorb it I go out of business, if pass it on, the price of the cue then becomes un competitive, and I go out of business.
The Japanese, Seth, said, have us move the cue out of the high priced labor of the Japanese factory, into our ROC Chinese factory, and we take out the ebony, replace it with rosewood, its dark, most won’t know the difference, we replace the mother of pearl, or any abalone, or turquoise inlays with plastic paste, we use much cheaper Chinese wood for shafts, and we can then sell you the bushka cues, at half what you have been paying for the Japanese cue.
Samples were made, we all looked at them, and we all agreed, it’s no longer the same cue, they dropped the expensive double weight bolt system, now the cue is butt heavy like all the rest are, and we all said, this is a chinese pos, and it was rejected. Patty refused to sell it, so she bailed, and sold the company, after she cleaned out the warehouse and ceased imports.
The company was offered to me to buy, and to Don, I had the money at the time, it was not that much, but all I was buying was the right to use the bushka signature, and the pain and aggravation of dealing with a Chinese factory. I could have picked it up for 75K.
Everyone who deals with the Chinese, knows the drill, every shipment, the quality keeps getting lower, they ship over all of their blems and rejects they should grind up, and won’t accept any returns, and all agree, at 10% of the cues you buy, are defective that should be trashed. But they don’t, they pass them on to you, hoping you will be too dumb to detect it, or force a replacement.
I bought Patty out, taking all of her helms and the last of her buskas. Adam NY was no more. I was able to keep my best customers in new Helms for a couple of years; Andy bought a RCH-6 from me, then I finally sold out.
No more Adam or Helmstetters were or are now coming in from Japan. Patty who now has an empty warehouse, sells the company, or basically the bushka name, to this jerk, who runs a show room selling pool tables in Az, and he immediately moves them out of the Japan plant into the Chinese plant, reducing his cost 50%, but does he cut the price of the cue, no, does he sell it for the same prices Patty was doing, no, he raises the prices of every cue in the line by $100. Another con, fookin the pool players. I refused to buy, or sell this Chinese pos.
Adam Japan is still in business, but none of their Japanese dealers, stock the bushka, they could make it, sell it in Japan, the dealers tell me, they would have to buy 6 or more, and wait 6 months for them. But there is no demand for that cue there, all the new Japanese kids, want the latest new Japanese cue, being endorsed by their new Japanese stars, just like it is here. None of those kids, ever saw the movie, color of money.
Don or I, could still be buying or bringing in the bushka cues, minus the signature, but that sort of kills the selling feature of it. If you bring in 30, air freight, the shipping kills you. And you have the same problem as before, price of the Yen vs. the dollar, which keeps falling, and the increased price of the Japanese ebony cue.
To successfully import that cue from Japan, you have to buy a container, pay a third down, a third when it arrives, and the final third in 90 days. The Japanese then put the screws to Patty, now changing the deal and wanting half down, and half in 60 days.
You have to have a lot of money, and a solid distribution market, so you sell and burn off the inventory at a rapid pace. And containers have to be scheduled, it takes weeks to build the cues, the cost of the container shipment is not that much, Tokyo to Newark is only $1365 for a 20’, then it takes 3 weeks to arrive, so you are always ordering one every 90 days, to keep the supply line going. It’s a scheduling logistical nightmare. Every-time you order, you have to do it in volume, and your putting down 40 to 80K, or more.
My history, I was selling about 150K a year of Falcon cues, and in 1993, a small time local dealer, and I was working their booth at the BCA show, and they set me up with the same $2500 cue, Varner and Lee both won player of the year with. I had been playing with a rambo like Mosconi, and when Willie switched to the Balabushka in the mid 60's, in the early 70's I bought a nice used one with 6 shafts. They were not that expensive, then, prior to the movie in 86. After the movie, the Japanese dealers began buying them up and their prices went up to 7-10-15K. Depending on the model. I retired the original bushka and began playing with the new Falcon F-23, since it was the hot cue of the day, and I was on that team. I preferred the design of the F-21, which I still have on my wall today.
I ran into Adam, Harold Miller, the Adam sales mgr, at the super show a few months later, and I was appearing on pool magazine covers worldwide, and when he heard I had a big upcoming prime time TV show, he wanted his cue to be seen, and he gave me two GB=7 bushkas, which is still my favorite design, other than the latest LTD-3.
I soon found, it outplayed and had less deflection than my Falcon, which I retired and later sold. They flew me out to Vegas, put me up in a nice place, paid me a strong fee to entertain and perform tricks shots with wonder dog at the BCA trade show. They were all, always wonderful to work with, they all liked me, I liked them, and we got along super. I also began selling as a dealer, but mostly pushing the bushka models.
Miller passed away, Foreman and Helmstetter retired, and the only one left from the old group, is Don Spectar, who I still buy from, and work with today.
I still took my original bushka out now and then, but it soon got out, this guy is coming in with a 10K cue, and two punks tried to mug me for it, with blackjacks, and I won and they lost, long story. Nobody got hurt, but could have, so I retired it, and keep it safe, in a bank safety deposit box, in a vault. Nobody could try to kill me for my GB-7.
So how do you get, real expensive cues free, simple, become a pro, get on prime time TV, and they appear. When Willie Mosconi died, his wife found over 100 cues in the closet, everyone was making a cue for Willie, giving it to him, which he always accepted, never played it, and tossed it in the closet when he got home, then they went around telling everyone, Willie is playing with our cue, El wrongo, his bugs in his closet were playing with it. Willie early on, in the Hustler movie, used a Rambo, then later in the mid 60’s, played with an authentic Balabushka the rest of his life. Same with Steve Mizerak, and most of the hall of fame world champions from those eras.
So for 20 years, I have been playing with, making a living with the Japanese Adam bushka cue, now using the $1400 LTD-3, and 20 years with the original, 40 years, I think that makes me now an expert on this cue. Prior to that for another two decades I played with the original balabushka, so with I stay with it, the LTD-3, because no other cue is as forward balanced as it, the new Viking comes close, other high end cues performed well but were too butt heavy for me, but in the end, and added it all up, it was the winner, and my favorite. If I find, a cue that does outperform it, I will retire it and switch over, but IMHO, that cue is not out there. I am not paid, to play with it, or endorse it.
My friends on pool chat, still come to me, wanting a cue, like I play with, and not having any more new Helms to sell them, I did the next best thing, I bought up a dozen of older ones, some 30 years old, many were in mint conditions, some I did a total refirb on, and now you can have real Helm, from the past, that out plays everything, and they are all still in super shape.
The problem with all of those cues, from that era, especially Joss, Falcon, was their shafts were too stiff, the ferrules deflected too much, and they were 13mm, Joss was 13.25mm. That was fine, 30-40 years ago, when everyone was playing straight pool, and all the shots were follows, and you rarely drew the ball more than a foot. They were also, too heavy, most were 20-21 ozs, again best for straight pool. They were using soft single layer tips, like Lepros, and nobody is doing that today, ever, everyone has moved to very hard, multi layered tips, like Talisman or Moori.
I think 13mm is a tip for a beginner, any good player will get more action out of 11.75mm.
But for the modern 9 ball game, you have to put some juice on the ball, and hit big force follows, big draws, and that 13 fat shaft does not cut it today. So I invented a shaft, that does, my Juice shaft, and it will now increase the performance of any cue out there, by at least, 25% more spin, draw and follow. I use a super tip, my own secret one, it’s like a moori H, multi layered, and hard, everyone raves on it, I have my own secret low deflection ferrule, the taper is exactly what Balabuhska used, and its 11.75mm at the top. The shaft performs similar to the old red dot meucci shaft, but better. It's not whippy, its not stiff, so it gives you some flex, which produces the juice action.
You can now buy one of my older helms, put my juice shaft on it, and take it out to play on the world 9 ball tour, that cue now plays that strong. I like to lighten the weight on the Helms down to 18.75 to around 19 ozs.
What Dick Helmstetter did, was take an original balabushka, and study it, finding out what did George do, that made this cue to become known as the Stradivarius of pool cues. I know that secret and I don’t disclose it. I found it by having a nuclear scientist study it in his lab, who was a friend of mine, he did a full scientific Xray analysis of the cue. What they accomplished was building a cue, the Helms, the new bushka signatures, which are the same cue, in the late 80’s, that out played the original balabushka. Then, you would have to pay 5K for an original, now you could buy a replica for 350-500, that out played it. Few realized this at the time, and nobody back then, dared claim or say that.
Here is some of it, minus the secret. The tip, GB used soft, champions with a red backing, Our modern multi layered tips are totally superior. GB, used an ivory ferrule, they are super hard, an deflect like a mother, our new ferrule is light, thin wall, and very low deflection, totally superior.
The GB cue was 57”, today’s cue is 58”. He did have better wood in his shafts, but Adam always used the best AA Canadian hard rock maple they could fine, so that one is close. The pro taper is the same. The pilot, the stainless steel joints, are the same, so is the real Irish Linen wrap, even down to the bumper. The GB cues were fairly plain, not too fancy, and a lot of the Replica’s copied that, and his designs. The helms were able to go into modern designs, and were much more intricate and nicer.
My favorite was the 86 line, which came out 29 years ago, and my favorite there, was the 86-13, the last one to offer a leather grip. I just sold my last one.
The 86 line offered hand-pressed real Irish linen or calfskin leather grips. Hand-shape le pro tips. Un-breakable cerosite ferrules, hard-rock Canadian maple shafts, offered in 13 and 12mm. The joint is a high standard piloted, with a brass female that fits into the stainless steel collar, and is held rigid by the stainless pin. There is no paint, no surface overlays, no decals. All Helmstetter cues have authentic inlays of ebony, mother of pearl and exotic hardwoods.
For VIP customers, top players, Dick Helmstetter would make those cues himself, and they would be called the RCH VIP, and there would not be a signature stamp, he personally signed that cue, and I have two of them for sale.
The 87 series, is where they copy some of the popular Meucci rings on the collars, and large bold ivory colored points, now being seen in their HOF series. The Helms used a polymer, that looked so much like ivory, I can’t tell it from the real deal, and I have a lot of cues with real ivory in them. The 87’s were engineered and designed for the more traditional minded player and probably the strongest cues ever built. All Helmstetter cues, have true spriced butts, not just veneers and wood surface inlaid into birdseye blanks. Wood to wood flat face joints on all 87 series cues feature stainless steel pins and brass females. The collar is unbreakable cerosite. All butt inlay work, is meticulously handmade, built for beauty and built to last.
Dick was building his Helms to last 30 years, and Bob Meucci was building his to fall apart in 4-5.
The flat face, gave them a copy of what Meucci and McDermott was doing, and the white joint, copied Meucci.
The big argument is, this is a production cue, yes, on most of the cheaper Adams, yes, but on the upper end Helms, this was a custome cue. They always had, a separate full custome shop, that was one of the top customer cue builders and repair man in the business, so any cue you bought, could be changed or altered to your specs. You could have the linen wrap changed to Crocodile, and or design your own inlays. I use this same shop to do a lot of my work, today.
They did call the company, the Adam custome cue.
Open the link, and you can see, or shop for your Helm there.
ADAM CUSTOM CUES
Maker of pool cues from 1970 to present in Japan. Distributed in the United States by Competition Sports of Farmingdale, New York. Sold on EBay on on his web sites by FLE POOL in Atlanta, Ga. Adam NY, is now out of business.
In 1960 Richard Helmstetter made his first cue in a night school woodworking class. Shortly afterwards, Richard heard about a cuemaker named Rollie Welch, and soon he was on a bus to North Milwaukee. On Friday nights after his classes were over, Richard made shafts for Rollie in exchange for the use of Rollie´s lathe. Later in the weekend Richard could work on his own cues; he bought Brunswick one-piece cues, cut them in half, and put in a joint. It was at this time that Richard met Gordon Hart, who wanted to set up a cue shop in the basement of his new pool room in Stoughton, Wisconsin. A deal was struck: if Richard helped Gordon set up the shop, Richard would have a "permanent" part-time job there while he finished his degree at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.
In 1965, Richard took an armload of cues to the annual Johnson City tournament and sold every one of them. It was in Johnson City that he heard about a fellow in Chicago building quality blanks. Soon Gordon and Richard were buying blanks from this man, Burton Spain, to use in their cues. After graduating from college in 1966, Richard moved to Washington, D.C. to start Helmstetter Cues. (Gordon Hart went on to establish Viking Cues.) His namesake company established Richard´s reputation as an accomplished craftsman. A year later Richard was offered the opportunity to set up a cuemaking facility for the National Tournament Chalk Company in Chicago. With the combined talents of Richard and other soon-to-be-important cuemakers, National was making high quality cues.
In 1968, Richard met Dave Forman, who was importing two lines of cues which he manufactured in Japan. Dave enlisted Richard to improve and expand his Japanese cuemaking facility. In October of 1969, Richard moved to Japan to begin this project. Richard bought new machinery for the facility and had kilns custom made for drying wood. Two years later, Adam Custom Cues was born, named after Dave Forman´s first grandson. The twelve models available in 1970 were entirely handmade. By 1973, 60 models were available. Now that Adam-Japan produces thousands of cues a year, the cues are built using state-of-the-art machinery. Adam is now using sixth generation equipment. Some early prototype cues are still handmade.
Richard started producing wood-screw billiard cues during the 1970s, which soon became popular with the world´s leading three-cushion billiards players. From the mid-1970s until the early 1990s, the Carl Conlon and CCS ("Carl Conlon Special") and Adam/CCS carom cues were sold in Europe. In 1976, Adam Custom Cues successfully introduced the John Spencer and Harry Harbottle ("HH") lines of snooker cues. Other lines manufactured by Adam over the past 30 years include Julio Stamboulini, Raymond Calvert, Bob Weir, Buffalo, By Helmstetter, Lisciotti, and the Superstar Signature Series-all of which are easily identifiable by visible logos and/or signatures, and are discontinued. "Bob Weir" cues were a private label Adam production cue made for a Texan by that name whose only brush with cuemaking was designing the "flying W" logo embossed on the cues. According to Richard, they were made for three to four years in the 1980s; fewer than 1000 cues were imported from Japan to Texas. Currently Adam-Japan manufactures three lines of cues: Adam, Helmstetter, and the George Balabushka series. The Balabushka cues are made by Adam under license from the Balabushka family in designs similar to what George himself might have made before he passed on in 1975. If your cue has "George Balabushka" on the forearm, it was made by Adam-Japan. These cues are now distributed by Competition Sports Corp.
Despite his status as a seminal figure in cuemaking, Richard Helmstetter is best known for his contributions to the golf world. He returned to live in the United States in 1986, when he joined Callaway Golf, where he is Senior Executive Vice President and Chief of New Products. Richard is the creator of the famed "Big Bertha" driver and Fairway Woods. He still continues to do cue design work for Adam-Japan. Richard´s world travels and product development contacts at Callaway have proven helpful to Adam, from sourcing woods to discovering new high-tech materials and machinery.
Collectors are becoming interested in many of the early Adam and Helmstetter cues, particularly those with wood screws. If you have an Adam cue that needs further identification or repair, contact Competition Sports, listed in the Trademark Index.
For more information, please refer to listings for Julio Stambolini Cues, and Bob Weir Cues.
History of Adam Cues
David Forman grew up with a love for pool. The smoky pool rooms, the green felt, the sound of the balls knocking together, something about it all captivated him. As he grew up, he spent less and less of his time watching other people play, and more and more time actually playing. He'd play nine-ball, eight-ball, straight pool, whatever was being played. So getting a pool room and helping other people play the game that he loved seemed the natural next step.
But David, in the process of running his pool room, noticed a serious lack in the quality standards of pool cues. Not just his standard house cues, but even the supposedly high quality cues that the regulars used. There was warping, the shafts weren't straight, the tips barely lasted a month, and a myriad of other problems all seemed to be regular occurrences. That was when he made the life-changing decision to start making his own cues. He set up a little factory in Japan that manufactured relatively inexpensive cues. But even in those early days, David was obsessed with quality. When a new shipment of cues came in, David would travel around the country to cities known to have large pool playing populations and try to sell his cues to local dealers.
The first thing he did when he got to a new city was to find a phonebook, flip to the 'B' section, and promptly tear out the entries for all the billiards dealers. As he visited these dealers, his obvious love for billiards of all kinds and his earnestness in talking about the game and the poor quality of modern cues helped him sell the number of cues he did. Then, in 1968, David met Richard Helmstetter, already a master cuemaker. There was immediate chemistry between the two and less than a year after their first meeting David's enthusiasm and knowledge of cue making convinced Richard to move all the way to Japan and run David's factory for him.
Forty years later, the Adam Cue Company makes more cues than they did in 1969 and the technology has changed, but David Forman and Richard Helmstetter's love for cuemaking and dedication to quality has not. The Adam Cue Company is the maker of Adam, Balabushka, and Helmstetter cues, and all are subjected to the same stringent quality control procedures. In addition to making a wide range of performance cues for the most beginning amateur to the most seasoned pro, Adam makes a few different lines of limited edition collector cues. The Balabushka line is named after legendary cuemaker George Balabushka, sometimes referred to as the Stradivarius of cuemaking. David Forman mourned the passing of Mr. Balabushka in 1975 and the Balabushka line is his way of memorializing the passing of a great figure.
Adam Cues is known for their industry leading warranty. Springing out of his lifelong dedication to quality, David Forman created a warranty that guarantees that every single cue made by Adam will adhere to the strictest quality standards in the industry. And if a customer receives a cue that is not up to those standards, then Adam will replace it with a cue that does, free of charge.
History of Balabushka Cues
George Balabushka did not have the life one would expect from an average cue maker. Instead of growing up playing pool, young George - born in Russia - grew up in the last years of World War I, lived through the Russian Revolution, then when he was twelve moved halfway across the world to a new country, a new language, and even a new name. At Ellis Island, Gregory Balabushka became George Balabushka, and began his new life as an American. Balabushka spent his entire career working with wood, although he only made cues for about sixteen years. He started out making various wooden children's toys and furniture in New York, which is where he realized not just his love but his talent for carpentry and woodworking. Despite having no formal training, he amazed friends and family with intricate carpentry pieces like accordions that he had built for fun in his spare time.
Balabushka also loved to play pool for fun. He loved to hang around the pros, or the equivalent of pros in the days before professional pool. He especially like to play and watch straight pool, competing in or attending nearly every competition in the New York City area. Something about seeing ball after ball after ball fall into the pocket hypnotized him. And then in 1959, he bought a local Brooklyn pool hall with his friend Frank McGown. While running the pool hall he began to repair cues and then make cues for friends as gifts. This was the first intersection of his gift of carpentry and his love of pool. Soon, other regulars began asking him to make cues for them. Then, at some point in the early sixties, his name, and his cues, began circulating around the professional billiards community.
By 1964, Balabushka was making cue full time, which he continued to do until his death in 1962. His cues departed from the ornate pieces of art that were just becoming popular and instead focused on making high performance hand-crafted cues. He pioneered the use of Irish linen wraps, using straight grain maple instead of curly or birdseye maple in the butt, and checkered rings just above the wrap now known as Balabushka rings, as well as many other cue features nearly universally used today.
George Balabushka died in 1975, a tragic loss not just to his family and friends but to the billiards community as a whole. But his legend lives on in the many improvements he made to cue manufacturing as well as many other places. The famous scene in the 1986 sequel to The Hustler, The Color of Money where Tom Cruise is given a beautiful cue by Paul Newman and told, "It's a Balabushka," made the name Balabushka synonymous with top quality pool cues. And David Forman, founder of Adam Custom Cues, licensed the name Balabushka from George's family and now manufactures a line of cues under the Balabushka name as a memorial to one of the greatest figures in modern billiards.