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The myth of the "custom built" 1911/Rule of Diminished Returns

Discussion in 'General Firearm Discussion' started by PlayboyPenguin, Mar 15, 2010.

  1. PlayboyPenguin

    PlayboyPenguin Pacific Northwest Well-Known Member 2016 Volunteer

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    This came up in another thread on another forum and I think it deserves it's own thread. It is a very long winded and self indulgent post so forgive me. :)

    A member in another thread said that he was looking for a semi-custom 1911 because he felt he could get more for his money than he would with a Colt 1911.

    My reply to this was that the word "semi-custom" is actually misleading. Almost as much as the word "custom" is misleading. A gun is either custom made or it is a production gun. There are different levels of production guns, but they are still just production guns.

    There are very few custom gun builders around. Les Baer, Nighthawk, Fusion, Ed Brown, and the like are not custom guns. They are just high end production guns. When you buy a Kobra Carry from a dealer you just bought a very high end production gun. Just making fewer guns a year does not make it custom made. Nor does offering different options on a gun, cutting your own signature serrations and textures onto a gun, or allowing you to build a gun from a limited number of pre-selected pieces. I love when people argue with me that their 1911 is custom made when it comes from a maker that did not even mill the forged steel for the slide or frame. At least Colt mills their own parts. They don't just take other people parts and fine tune them.

    This all being said, one has to remember the rule of diminished returns. When you start spending above a certain amount on an item you start getting less for your money...not more. I feel that is the case once you exceed the $800 range in a 1911. After that you are paying more for appearance and less for performance. Since appearance is subjective the value if arguably absent at that point.

    I also feel prestige plays a bigger part than performance once you get to these levels also. My dream gun is an Ed Brown Kobra Carry. I want one really bad. Is it because it will shoot better than my Colt? No, it will not. It is because of how it looks and the prestige in owning one. In my opinion Eb Brown is the "Jimmy Choo" of the 1911 world. :)

    When you get right down to it, if value is based on reliability and performance, I can get the same out of a base Colt 1911. Most anyone can do what the "custom makers" do with some simple emory cloth and a few upgraded parts in their garage in little time for very little money. Give me a base Colt Combat Commander ($700ish), some minor tools, some emory cloth, and a budget of $100-$200 for replacement parts and I can have the Colt the equal of most any gun on the market that cost 3-4 times as much...all for about $800-$900. Give me a little time with my beadblaster and I can have it looking as good too. The only part that would be missing would be the custom serrations and texturing...which I can live without (although I do love that fish scale look on the Ed Brown). This is what has kept me from buying the Kobra Carry so far. Anyone familiar with my collection knows I could have easily bought one by now.

    Still, even knowing all this I want the Kobra Carry very badly. I just wish I could bring myself to part with the dough. Until then I will be happy with my Colts and Dan Wessons. In fact, my favorite gun is my Colt Combat Commander. Just look at that fit and tell me it is not well made. With just a bit of buffing and a trigger/backstrap swap I think it looks as good as any 1911 out there...but my tastes tend to run a bit to the basic side of things. Just ignore the Punisher grips and pay attention the gun itself. :)

    SlideFit2.jpg

    Silver.jpg
     
  2. Father of four

    Father of four Portland, Oregon Well-Known Member

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    So where would my Kimber Custom Shop Raptor 2 .45acp be in the scheme of things? :cool:
     
  3. PlayboyPenguin

    PlayboyPenguin Pacific Northwest Well-Known Member 2016 Volunteer

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    Worlds ugliest and most expensive paper weight? :D ;)

    (Actually, I think the Raptors are cool looking...but they are just a production gun with a fancy label. :))
     
  4. Outrider

    Outrider Oregon Active Member

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    No offense, but you are totally wrong on this one. You seem to go through a lot of guns without spending a lot of time using and getting to know just one. I am a 1911 guy and have a lot of time in with the platform and different versions of it. A skilled 1911 shooter can take advantage of the improvements in a tuned 1911 if he was doing a head to head comparison with an out of the box, stock Colt. I've had both. A stock 1911 is in no way the equal of a customized, well tuned 1911. -What you dismiss as simple fluff and buff is more than what you think it is.

    If you want to say the bang for the buck goes down with the higher dollar 1911's in that the first $800 gets you a decently made gun and the next $800 only gets you tuning and tweaks, fine. Still, in the hands of a skilled shooter those little improvements can be used to great effect. There's a reason some of the higher end shooters tweak their guns and gear. Often it is function over fashion. That's not to say you can't see some wild colors in certain race guns / competition firearms, but the real improvements are in the gun and not in the aesthetics.

    Some people go after prestige firearms because they think if their gun is good, they'll be better or seem cooler. However, some go after them because ultimately it's cheaper to buy a used Wilson Combat CQB and have a gun that is really good to go than it is to have a gunsmith customize your own Colt and try to get to the same point. If you have the skill, you can shoot a tuned 1911 much better than a stock 1911. If you don't have the skill, it really doesn't matter what is in your hands.

    While you may have the ability to do your own smith work, I seriously doubt your numbers. The retail prices for replacement parts alone add massively to the cost unless you're going to go trolling for odds and ends from private sellers and aborted builds / upgrade projects. If you want to add a speedchute / magwell guide from Smith & Alexander that's around $75 by itself. A Kobra Karry MSH is about $50 from Ed Brown if you buy one retail. A Wilson Combat extended safety or slide release are about $30 each. Add a beavertail grip safety and add another $35. Extended mag release adds another $25. Change out the grips and depending on what you choose you could be adding between $40-$80 (maybe more) easily. Change the sights to Tritium night sights, add $100. Add a national match bushing, a Kart barrel or a Videcki trigger and the costs go up even more. -If you're doing nothing but changing the grips, bushing, and trigger you can keep the costs down but that's not really an apples to apples comparison when you are comparing your gun to an Ed Brown, Wilson Combat, etc.

    Now that said, you are correct that the Wilson Combat pistols and Ed Browns are not custom pistols in the sense that someone sends in a stock pistol and it is transformed into a CQB, Kobra Karry, or whatever. The reason for the custom moniker traces back to a time when certain changes had to be done one at a time by individual smiths when all 1911 pistols came in the G.I. bone stock configuration. Companies realized that things like a beavertail grip safety was a popular custom upgrade and they started including them as part of the base package for production guns. Now production guns routinely include multiple examples of what were once custom features.

    Given the amount of handfitting and the fact that you can order specific features on the pistols to replace standard ones, it is fair to call stuff from Wilson and Ed Brown semi-custom. I wouldn't get wrapped around the axle about it if someone wanted to call them expensive, limited run production guns instead.
     
  5. Father of four

    Father of four Portland, Oregon Well-Known Member

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    Yep, it is just production. I like it though. IT IS A LITTLE HEAVY! Especially fully loaded with 230 GR JHP! O'well.

    :gun10:
     
  6. Just Jim

    Just Jim Well-Known Member

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    In my opinion a gun is a tool. Lots of guys buy fancy tools and carry them but never really test them to know what return the gun really gives. Sure guys go out and shoot holes in targets and declare the gun great cause it didn't jam but the only test with out real combat is competition.

    Competition will tell you how well you function with the tool you chose very quickly. The adrenalin pumps and your body shakes and your eyes strain. You got to think and move while useing the tool to score how well you do against others. Shoot against like minded men for a few years and you will really understand what works for the game, then figure out what is going to work for real.

    jj
     
  7. Father of four

    Father of four Portland, Oregon Well-Known Member

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    I do agree, training and competition would help tremendously, if that were the way I wanted to go. I enjoy guns. I enjoy motorcycles, golf, working out and many other things but I have not been trained in any. I can use a gun, golf club, motorcycle,,etc, just fine. I do understand that some people must have all the training that they themselves think they need, That's fine. I will dare to say some of us know that training would help but don't wanna pursue that route. That doesn't mean that we are incapable of operating a firearm though.
     
  8. Father of four

    Father of four Portland, Oregon Well-Known Member

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    I apologize for posting of topic PlayboyPenguin! :(
     
  9. Just Jim

    Just Jim Well-Known Member

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    Get a sense of humor now:D I can see you will never be a good golfer a proffesional motorcycle rider or really good with a gun.:bluelaugh::bluelaugh: But then being really good isn't what you are looking for.

    Like the thread says are you getting the best out of your equipment? How do you know without a challenge? Guy can buy a Wilson combat super mo fo and still not shoot well under pressure.

    His point being do you buy Ping golf clubs and get a better score than you do a K-Mart brand? How do you know without a test under pressure?:D:D

    You bought the top of the line Kimber but does it work for you when the presure is on? You can know what works but what works best for you becomes exspensive adventure to find out. Look at the cost they posted for bells and wistles on the 1911s but will it work for what the intention is, saveing your life? Just opinion here:laugh:

    jj
     
  10. PhysicsGuy

    PhysicsGuy Corvallis, OR Resident Science Nut

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    It's the law of diminishing returns, by the way :D
     
  11. Just Jim

    Just Jim Well-Known Member

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    Yup, but you have to test each change to know if the change was diminishing or cost effective. Other than just looking and ogleing the gun you got to test it some way:D


    ie I buy a gun and shoot in a match. I put in a new fitted custom barrel and my groups tighten but loose reliability. How would I know that without the test under pressure?
    jj
     
  12. SSG

    SSG Lane County New Member

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    For me it's about having the right tool for the job...sometimes custom is what it takes to get it done...and sometimes you have to pay a little more to get the right tool...
     
  13. haythrower

    haythrower SW WA Member

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    I think the real issue for some is the perception that in order to get a good quality, 1911, one needs to spend the money on a higher end product. This means that the market opens for manufacturers like Fusion. I don't know if this is a reality, but just read the reviews or posts, and it seems that the perception of higher price = better quality = more reliable = safer. (I know that is a stretch, but maybe not to everyone)
     
  14. wichaka

    wichaka Wa State Well-Known Member

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    Some good points have been made.

    I think the Semi-Custom thing is a semantics thing, and not much more.
    Yes, Wilson, Brown, Baer, & NH produce higher end productions guns, no question there...but some still accept owner guns for upgrades, to get some 'custom' work on it so it truly is your own, which no else has one like it.

    Folks like Chuck Rogers, Ted Yost etc., make true custom guns, yet even Yost will make a run of a production model.

    Semi-Custom to me just means there's more labor involved...more hand fitting that the typical production 1911 does not receive.
    But of all the standard production 1911's on the market, Colt still has more labor intense guns than any other maker, couple that with the most solid steel parts, and you have the reason why Colt costs more.

    As for what you get for all that Semi-Custom money you just spent. Most is bells and whistles, but some is better made parts and more attention to detail.
    I doubt very few people will ever out shoot a Wilson, Baer etc., and for that matter...even some Springfields or Kimbers either. But then I guess most folks who own hi-end cars will never get all the performance out of them either. For some its just being able to own such a gun...or car.

    The other thing I always take with a grain of salt is statements like...."I love my XYZ 1911", yet eventually concedes that they have had the thing for a few months and have been to the range only 2-3 times. Or have had it for a few years, and still haven't reached the 1,000 round mark yet.

    As long as one has a properly fitted barrel that returns to lock-up consistently, good fitting barrel bushing, meaning about .001" clearance , oversize slide stop pin, and a trigger that allows a good press...a 1911 will shoot as well as its going to. Everything past that is just bling! Even slide to frame fit is way over rated.

    I don't own 1 single semi-custom gun, but have had many in my hands to test and write articles about. I don't see them shooting much if any better than the ones I own. If the gun is put together as I mentioned above, it's going to shoot as good as it ever will.

    As a friend of mine wrote "The gun was designed to function. It's a machine. If it's built correctly, it'll run. It doesn't have a choice."
     
  15. Father of four

    Father of four Portland, Oregon Well-Known Member

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    The fact that I will more then likely never get back what I paid for my Kimber doesn't bother me. I never plan on selling it. It was purchased because I wanted it..
     
  16. Just Jim

    Just Jim Well-Known Member

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    My best 1911 is a early Kimber Custom Royale I bought NIB for $650. I have taken it to many a match and everyone who shoots it declares it a gun that only misses when it's your fault. It isn't tricked out and doesn't even have adjustable sights but will put a 230 grain ball right where you aim it.

    What more can I ask?

    jj
     
  17. SSG

    SSG Lane County New Member

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    If you do something alot, sometimes production gear isn't up to snuff...production gear being set up for the average joe, average ability....
     
  18. shoggoth80

    shoggoth80 Greater Seattle Area Member

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    Interesting read. I can see the view point of many of the high end makers being just really high end production. BUT I can also understand how the "custom" stamp came about too. Like cars, I argue that factory custom, isn't truly custom... but more a marketing tool of "mass customization." This is not a bad thing, as it provides a semi-standard platform for desirable features, theoretically at a lower price than you would pay for one-off custom work.

    There are many high end 1911s that I would love to get my hands on, reputation, in house 'smith fitting of parts, accuracy in reviews, fit, finish etc. That is more a dream than a reality, as my budget is often very limited. I also like the "no frills fighting stick" that a basic sidearm should be.

    With that in mind, I am starting to conceptualize an eventual end result 1911 that has very subtle upgrades either for personal carry, or competition (as between my pistols, my 1911 is the more accurate in my hands). This would be something in addition to what I already own, not a modification of.

    Though, I if I must say so, (while on the topic of dream guns) STI seems to have some really nice guns, ranging from reasonable to really high in price. If I had the budget, I'd get one of the 2011 series double stacks for competitive use. Though in reality, I'd settle for a Spartan, with a subtle magwell, a fistful of Wilson Combat mags... and something other than a Bo-Mar style rear sight. The Springfield Professional is something along similar lines for me. Whether these guns are series 70, or 80, I have not been able to find information on. I have a liking for series 70 myself (parts interchangeability to some degree).
     
  19. wichaka

    wichaka Wa State Well-Known Member

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    Series 70 refers to a Colt specific model (Government style) which had an accurizer (collett) barrel bushing, and a few other odd things.

    There are no Series 70 Commanders either, just Commanders made in the 70's.

    Series 80, another Colt term refers to the inclusion of a firing pin safety.

    A Kimber could never be called anything near a Series 80, as the firing pin safety system is extremely different.

    I know some would call it 6 to one - 1/2 doz to the other...but when I hear the term "Series 70", I always think it is referring to the Colt specific model.

    I now return you to your regularly scheduled thread.
     
  20. shoggoth80

    shoggoth80 Greater Seattle Area Member

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    I've always thought series 70 = essentially GI Spec, where series 80= updated Specs (including the firing pin safety, but lacking much of the interchangeability of parts)?