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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Moderate time lurker, finally joined up. I've been shooting 1911’s for a long time, but started getting serious about them in 2007 when I bought a Les Baer SRP. Shortly after that a Nighthawk Talon. Then a Wilson and the sickness really kicked in. Many years later, well let's just say I have more than the 3 mentioned above.

Over the years, I’ve read many a post about “semi-custom” brands and I have to say I don’t quite get this moniker.

Yes, its’s the old ‘semi-custom’ vs. ‘custom’ debate. LOL. I’ve seen many people describe Wilson, Nighthawk, Baer, Brown, Guncrafter, etc. as “semi-custom”. And then the “custom” guys are generally Heirloom, Stan Chen, BEC, Combat Precision, Chambers, etc. Even heard some classify Volkmann as a full house custom gun. Now I fully agree the latter set are custom guns. But why not the former?

Is it because of price point? Volume of production? Exclusivity? Is it that usually it’s one guy building guns? I mean, Nighthawk offers one gun, one gunsmith builds, but people claim them as “semi-custom”.

In my mind there is no “semi-custom”. There is either production OR custom.

In my opinion, if you can have a gun built to the exact configuration you want, then it’s custom. If it’s hand fit to precision standards by one or a handful of gunsmiths, then it’s custom. If you’re innovating parts design and setting the standard for accuracy and reliability, then it’s custom.

I’ve owned many high-end 1911’s over the years, including Baer, Wilson, Nighthawk, Alchemy, Brown and Cabot. And with each one (possible exceptions with ACW and Cabot), I have been able to order exactly what I wanted from a myriad of build options. Now some I’ve liked more than others. I’ve definitely sold some to fund others from brands that I preferred more.

There are times I’ve considered going with a full house custom because I want to get really unique. But then I get to talking to certain smiths and they tell me “Well, I’m not set up to do that particular option” or “I only use this particular brand of beavertail”, etc. How can that be “full custom” if my options are limited more so than say Wilson or Nighthawk, but those brands are considered “semi-custom”?

I get that some full custom guns may achieve somewhat better accuracy or a more refined trigger, but there is also a law of diminishing returns to some degree. You’re not getting twice the accuracy for the twice the price in many cases. Maybe with Chambers…but as he pointed out, he’s seen $7k customs from some builders with almost no barrel lug contact. However, a 1-inch guarantee at 25 yards as offered by most “semi-custom” builders is still better than 98% of people can shoot anyway.

All in all, not trying to say the full custom guns are not good or not worth it. They most certainly are to some degree and I might venture into one someday. I am on the wait list for the official wait list with Stan Chen lol. But why are some considering some of these brands who pioneered the redesign of the 1911 as mere “semi-custom”? In my humble opinion, the classification shouldn’t exist.

Please debate are your leisure.
 

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IMO, custom means the gunsmith built the gun specifically for you to your specs. It's like the house I'm having built. I designed it to my specs and a builder is building it. It's custom.

ETA: I don't believe off the shelf WC, NH, etc. are semi-custom. They are high end 1911's that's about it.
 

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I take "semi-custom" as being assembled to order from the maker's parts. Kind of like buying a car. Go to a Chevrolet lot, get an all Chevy vehicle. Go to Wilson, it's all Wilson even though the model lineup and option list are long.
 

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And this one, in your opinion?

Zoid in Wilsons - 05.JPG


Zoid in Wilsons - 06.JPG


Zoid in Wilsons - 07.JPG


Zoid in Wilsons - 08.JPG
 

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I say call it what you want man! My view point or thought on this has certainly changed over the years.

For me I don’t really classify anything anymore, just look at the cost and hours a smith puts into a build, then the style and approach of the build, and finally if it matches up with my personal expectation... Once I talk to the smith or shop I go from there and I can make that determination!
 

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Never Forget
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Your questions and points are valid ones. The big difference in custom and semi custom is that you can't call Jason Burton up and pick from a list of guns he has built where as you can call Wilson tomorrow and buy an in stock gun from them.

The semantics of it all could be argued until daylight. In my opinion, when companies who were once classified as semi custom began to have pistols on the shelf ready for immediate purchase they turned into high level production guns.

The word custom is thrown around a lot in every product that is available for purchase. If I go to McDonald's and order a cheeseburger with no pickles effectively that is a custom cheeseburger because it is a variation of the original product.

At the moment Nighthawk and Alchemy are the master race in single stack 1911's. Only my opinion though. If I could get vertical rear serrations on a Prime I would donate blood three times a day for six months to pay for it.
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
IMO, custom means the gunsmith built the gun specifically for you to your specs. It's like the house I'm having built. I designed it to my specs and a builder is building it. It's custom.

ETA: I don't believe off the shelf WC, NH, etc. are semi-custom. They are high end 1911's that's about it.
I agree with that assessment of custom. But I've inquired with some guys because they offer some unique options I wanted, but they couldn't do other options I wanted that some of bigger names could do. I guess it's the realization that no one can offer everything. In short, it helps facilitate the need for owning multiple guns! :)
 

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Discussion Starter · #11 ·
Your questions and points are valid ones. The big difference in custom and semi custom is that you can't call Jason Burton up and pick from a list of guns he has built where as you can call Wilson tomorrow and buy an in stock gun from them.

The semantics of it all could be argued until daylight. In my opinion, when companies who were once classified as semi custom began to have pistols on the shelf ready for immediate purchase they turned into high level production guns.

The word custom is thrown around a lot in every product that is available for purchase. If I go to McDonald's and order a cheeseburger with no pickles effectively that is a custom cheeseburger because it is a variation of the original product.

At the moment Nighthawk and Alchemy are the master race in single stack 1911's that can be readily purchased. Only my opinion though.

I use readily purchased lightly as there aren't a bunch of used Alchemy guns laying around. Their wait time isn't too obnoxious is a better way to say it. They build one hell of a gun.
You're probably right on the semantics. Maybe I'm overthinking it and personalizing. For some reason, "semi-custom" just bugs me. lol

The only off the shelf guns I've bought have been the SRP and the Cabot. Everything else has been optioned different from the "base model" if you will.

I'm probably the odd-man out in that I wasn't a fan of my Alchemy. Parted ways with it a few months after I got it. Just wasn't my cup of tea.
 

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The terms "semi-custom" and "custom" characterize the builder, not the gun. If a builder gives you a menu of baseline models and the build options that can be applied (like ordering a Dell Computer), it's a semi-custom builder. If you can call him up on the phone and describe what you want, with few limitations, he's custom builder.

Now, I agree that some shops blur the line a bit between semi-custom and custom. Such is life. Not everyone or everything fits neatly into a particular category.
 

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There are times I’ve considered going with a full house custom because I want to get really unique. But then I get to talking to certain smiths and they tell me “Well, I’m not set up to do that particular option” or “I only use this particular brand of beavertail”, etc. How can that be “full custom” if my options are limited more so than say Wilson or Nighthawk, but those brands are considered “semi-custom”?
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This is the big irony when going "custom" with most all of the big names - they want to do it their way and they have the name recognition and the backlog of business & "clout" to operate on a take it or leave it basis. Folks who haven't had those conversations themselves would be very surprised about what "custom" really means at very top of the custom 1911 hierarchical tree.

The other ironic truth is that 8 out of 10 "custom" guns are now basically the same as far as the gingerbread goes. Checkering, beavertails, quality barrels, decent trigger pulls etc are all mostly normal when you get to +/- $1000. Sure there is more past that which can be done, - more artistic flair and some noteworthy signature items to set things apart - but the truth is that there really are only so many "upgrades" to do to a 1911 and a lot of those are now standard fare on the higher grade but very garden variety production guns. Guns that not only cost much less and are much more available, but guns that really are good enough functionally and aesthetically for the guys who buy and use their guns to actually shoot bullets with.

There are differences when you go from a $1000 1911 to a $10000 1911. Of course there are. It just pays to be honest with oneself about what they really are.
 

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I'm a terminal 1911 Addict!
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Welcome from Illinois.
Where Democrats Rule the state
and blame the Republicans for
Everything
 

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I agree with that assessment of custom. But I've inquired with some guys because they offer some unique options I wanted, but they couldn't do other options I wanted that some of bigger names could do. I guess it's the realization that no one can offer everything. In short, it helps facilitate the need for owning multiple guns! :)
Most, if not all, of the big name guys, and many with smaller followings, offer more options than you can shake a stick at. They do, usually, have a "type/style" as @Dangerous Brian said. I'm curious as to what you wanted done that they said no to? When I commission a build with any smith, I am paying for their expertise. They know what works, I may too to some extent but they are professionals. I let em know what I like, how I shoot, what my intentions are for the build, and then I want their input. This can also be a very personal experience, with hours on the phone and/or emails back and forth. Some guys you want to work with, some you don't. Goes the other way too.
 

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I'm done buying guns, I'm just a bystander now
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In the semi-custom vs custom debate it's not the options that are available but the time and detail into the gun. Is it assembled and fitted or literary hand fitted to the highest degree?

Do you think Nighthawk or Alchemy has the same time Yost, Rogers, Derr or Burton has into a build? Not even close.

The frame to slide fit and all the blending of critical parts is like BMW vs Ferrari when talking semi-custom vs custom.
 
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