Hi Stewart, welcome to the Billiards Forum. I am going to give you a lot of info below, but if you take heed to any part of it, let it be the parts which are italicized and in bold. Those are the most important things to understand in the selection of a production pool cue in your price range.
First let me ask; Are you located anywhere near a physical store that sells billiard supplies? The most important thing for you will be to actually test shoot with several brands of cues, and for each, try out the different shaft options as well before committing to one or the other.
If you aren't located near a store, perhaps you have friends in your pool league with a variety of cues and shafts you can try out.
Probably more important than the cue itself will be the shaft selection, and you really can't make a decision on a shaft without actually trying them out.
I know that doesn't give you an answer but hopefully it will give you some guidance on how best to proceed.
With regard to the Viking A512 pool cue you mentioned, I think it is a visually stunning cue. I also think Viking Cue makes a great "production cue" for the price, and they are a reputable production cue company that will probably be around for years to come. They offer a lifetime warranty on this cue, which is also great, and their warranty service turn-around time is decent compared to some production cue companies out there (I'm looking at you, Meucci).
However, again, shaft selection can make a huge difference in how a cue plays, and it isn't that one is better over another. It's a matter of personal preference as to the feel of each one. Currently Viking is offering two shaft options at no extra charge, and a third option at an additional $200. Your choice there will make the biggest difference in how the cue feels and plays.
It currently retails on Billiard Warehouse for $337.50 with no upgrades. And currently if you can get the price up to $349 with upgrades, they give you a free Valhalla Jump Cue with your order. They are nothing special, but that promo might have value to you.
For anyone else looking at this who isn't familiar with the Viking A512 cue, here are the details:
Viking A512 Cue Features:
- Khaki Stain
- Birdseye Maple
- West African Zebrawood
- Black (IMA) and Central American Cocobolo Rings
- Comes standard with a ViKORE Performance shaft (with other shaft upgrades available).
Viking A512 Specifications:
- Tip: Tiger Everest® Laminated
- Ferrule: Viking SUPER Ferrule, capped and threaded onto the shaft
- Wrap: Double Pressed 100% Irish Linen wrap
- Shaft: ViKORE Hard Rock Maple (Aged 5 years)
- Benefit: Extreme Control & Accuracy
- Turnings: 9 to 11 turnings over 18 to 24 months
- Taper: 12" to 14" Pro Taper
- Finish: Ultra-violet Urethane 3 coat finish
- Forearm: Premium Birdseye Maple
- Joint Type: High Impact Black (IMA), flat faced with a brass insert
- Joint Pin: Stainless Steel Viking 5/16 x 18 Quick Release joint pin
- ButtPlate: High Impact Modified Acrylic with Viking Logo
- Bumper: Threaded Rubber
- Warranty: Lifetime, including warpage
Good luck in your search for a new pool cue and please let us know which one you end up with!