By Guy J. Sagi
Photo courtesy of Wilson Combat
Elaborate engraving, inlays and bright embellishments were once the signature touches of custom guns, but standing out in the crowd or serving as the safe’s crown jewel is no longer the exclusive mission. There are good reasons—potentially lifesaving ones, too—for personalization, and taking out a second mortgage is no longer mandatory.
Smith & Wesson
In 1989 Smith & Wesson officially assembled an elite team of highly skilled gunsmiths under its Performance Center banner. It thrives to this day, and some of its most popular services have nothing to do with precious metal, although there’s no the missing golden touches added to otherwise “stock” firearm.
“AllPerformance Center firearms are purpose-builtfor specific uses, including personal protection, hunting, competition and many more,” explained Matt Spafford, media manager for Smith & Wesson. “…tuned actions are one of the most popular enhancements that are performed.”
Engraving, inlays and nearly everything imaginable can be added, although the changing look of enthusiasts was reflected when Spafford was asked about the most popular models coming out of the shop. “The new Performance Center M&P380 Shield EZ pistol is a great example…the Performance Center has added custom features such as porting, lightening cuts in the slide, a flat-faced trigger, and tuned action at a compelling price.”
Specialty shops that tweak and modify firearms come and go, some even thrive, but few can rival the success of Wilson Combat—established in 1977. Founder Bill Wilson is an avid shooting competitor, appreciates improvements that increase hit count and understands the value they bring to the average gun owner.
Knowledge and experience are one thing, but Wilson said key ingredients that built the company include, “The quality of the components we use, our attention to detail and the amount of testing the product gets prior to shipping.” The firm has expanded exponentially and now manufactures a line of already upgraded firearms, including its popular EDC X9 handgun and Recon Series of ARs.
Mission focus hasn’t blurred, though. “Unlike many companies that seem to deviate away from what got them started in the first place as they grow, Wilson Combat still offers the same services we did when we started in 1977,” he said. “We’re primarily a firearms and firearms accessory manufacturer now, but we still offer custom work on the customer’s firearm like we did day 1.”
What’s the most common gun they receive for tuning and enhancement? “…[I]t’s probably Glock work right now,” Wilson said.
Ruger may be the relative newcomer to the trend, but the launch of its custom lineup made headlines a few years ago—rightfully so. Today enthusiasts can own an SR1911 Competition Pistol, 10/22 Competition Rifle and Super GP100 Competition Revolver, tweaked, tuned and polished by the same company building the timeless firearms.
“Our customers have been craving high-end performance variations of our popular models for a long time,” Chris Killoy, Ruger president and CEO said when the special brand was introduced. “We are thrilled to respond to the call and bring the Ruger Custom Shop to fruition. We are confident that these new products represent the very best in craftsmanship and performance.”
Custom guns from SIG Sauer will be available in 2020 although custom engraving and other services are already available. “SIG Sauer offers the ability to order new firearms with logos, text and scroll engraving through its engraving program,” said Tim Butler, general manager of SIG Custom Works. “We will be offering products in several categories. Catalog items, limited runs and eventually configurable product. The first products will be Custom P320 and 1911 offerings.”
As for quality, look no further than the company’s M17 Tomb of the Unknown Soldier Pistols currently standing guard at Arlington National Cemetery—conceptualized and designed only after months of study. “Someone could quite literally give a history lesson about the Tomb of the Unknown by explaining the details of the pistol,” Butler said.
“The customer can get the firearm spec’d out exactly like they want it,” Wilson explained.
And what attracts people to perform the painstaking work? “I couldn’t ask for a better place to take these products and add some creativity to make custom firearms that cover a wide category, from very technical competition and tactical products to very refined and classic works of art,” Butler explained.