Today we have the guest blog from reader Michael. He relates airguns to his other passion — fine guitars.

If you’d like to write a guest post for this blog, please email me at [email protected].

Take it away, Michael.

The High-End: As Good as They Can Be

by blog reader Michael

This report covers:

  • BB’s question
  • All about about
  • To tune or not?
  • Custom shops
  • What makes it the best?
  • Good as they come
  • The setup
  • The good stuff
  • Who wants ’em?
  • Editor’s notes

Some recent blog topics such as my Walther LGV, Harley-Davidson and its dealers’ customer service and reports on new air guns that represent classic Weihrauch and Benjamin models (along with the pain medications I’m on from recent dental surgery – the last thing you want to hear your dentist say is “bone grafts”!) have had me thinking overtime about the nexus of air gun market strategies, customer service at the manufacturer level and customer service at the retail level. Whew! That’s one long sentence. I warned you I was on pain meds.

Vortek kit
A Vortek Tuning Kit for the TX200.

BB’s question

B.B. responded to a question of mine about why a brand-new, high-end air rifle would be improvable by a tune kit, shouldn’t it be ship-shape out-of-the-box? He responded very smartly, reminding me of one of my other interests, guitars. That’s an apt analogy, for I work on guitars to the same degree B.B. does with airguns. And like airguns, guitars are infinitely customizable and have owners who are often obsessed with tinkering. Ah, we boys (usually) and our toys!

All about about

B.B. wrote “Air Arms makes them about as good as they can.”  The word I trip on is “about.” What if Air Arms decided that for a premium price a high-end buyer could purchase an out-of-the-box air rifle that isn’t about as good but is indeed as good as can be?  Think $1,700 for a Pro-Sport instead of $799, with right from the box excellence.  I think for that narrow market, that would work.

To tune or not?

Nathan/chanman819 also commented as well, bringing up good points. Nathan wrote, “Even flagship cars from BMW or Mercedes benefit from being tuned.” Yes, but some more expensive cars than BMW and Mercedes have factories with indivdual craftsmen putting on the final touches on an automobile priced well into six figures. If I were incredibly wealthy, I would expect my brand-new Aston Martin to be perfection (and would compensate them for such). In Gaydon, Warwickshire, England Aston Martin has a factory. Their cars are not made by founder Lionel Martin in a barn by hand. But every Aston Martin is made by fastidious craftsmen.

the best Gibson Custom
“Custom Shop.” Magic words for the best.

Custom shops

Could Air Arms do the same? Nathan mentions “custom shops.” Guitar factory custom shops, such as those at Fender and Gibson, make guitars with a combination of computerized machinery and individual craftsmen doing the job with hand tools. Most of their output is not custom-ordered by end-users but by premium dealers on spec. They are made in larger numbers than one might assume. But they are not “about as good as can be.” They are as good as can be, period. And man, do those companies charge for it! A Stratocaster from the Fender Custom Shop in California costs the end-user a minimum of $3,500 and can go for more than $25,000. The same is true of Les Pauls from the Gibson Custom division in Tennessee. Could Air Arms develop a custom shop and be the air rifle equivalent to the guitar makers?

B.B. was right to ask, “Why does a top-rated pickup improve the sound on some instruments?” There are “boutique” guitar pickup makers such as Lindy Fralin and Jason Lollar who sell hand-wound pickups for a couple hundred bucks apiece. I came into a pair of pickups hand-wound by the legendary Tom Holmes in the late 1970s. You don’t even want to know how much they sell for on the rare occasions when they surface. I just acquired a 30-year-old Seymour Duncan pickup wound by Lidia Daniel. They and Fender pickups from the same era wound by Abigail Ibarra sell for three times the price of vintage pickups not wound by legendary employees of those companies.  

Shop PCP Rifles

What makes it the best?

Why would someone desire a Tom Holmes pickup or a Lidia Daniel- or Abigail Ibarra-wound pickup more than a new pickup? Collector value is a factor in those last ones, but Fralins and Lollars are desirable because they, like the collectible ones, impart sound to a guitar that is spoken of in hushed tones of reverence. However, the very top-of-the-line custom shop pickups by Fender and Gibson are also known to be ethereal sounding. The vast majority of buyers of brand-new custom shop Fenders and Gibsons do not swap out those pickups. I have had two custom shop Les Pauls and never swapped out their pickups. (Although on lesser guitars I have performed multiple pickup changes).

Good as they come

B.B. asked me to tell him why new guitars have to be tuned. Most do, yes, because manufacturers make them to a standard. But as with air rifles and motorcycles, different ranges of guitars are made to different standards. Why do new guitars require tuning?  While many do, some don’t. That could and should be the case with air guns as well. [Ed. I would say that is true of the TX200 Mark III and also the no-longer-produced Whiscombe.]

The setup

Most new guitars come out of the box and out of the case needing what’s known as a “setup” — string height adjusted, neck/truss rod adjusted, intonation adjusted. If it is a budget model, the frets might also need some leveling and filing.

But those are the “Gamos, Crosmans and Umarexes” of the market — guitars costing under $1000 ($300 and under, $300-$600, $600-$1000). The next price point is around $1500 – $1900, which might need intonation fine-tuned and a 1/4 turn of the truss rod nut. Those are the Dianas of the guitar market.

The good stuff

The next price point is $3500 end-user price and up ($4500 and up MSRP). These are usually 100 percent American-made (including all American made parts). These guitars should require nothing out of the box. They should have a perfect professional setup at the factory. If any imperfection somehow slips through, back to the dealer it goes — who sends it back to the factory for it to be made right at no cost and sent back to the buyer quickly.

If these were springer air rifles, they would be hand-assembled, individually checked for tight tolerances at every step, with perfectly applied lubrication, no fingerprints on the perfect bluing, no dents in the wood, and a target card. It would be sighted in at 25 yards and the trigger set-up for optimum weight and crisp release. Clean barrel. Right out of the box. The price equivalent for a springer/sporter to these would be an Air Arms TX200 or Beeman R Series.  

the best TX-200-MkIII
Crème de la crème: The Air Arms TX200 MK III.

Within products of a given category price, matters, as Nathan pointed out. A Weihrauch HW30S costs more than a Ruger 10/22 firearm. Are they of equivalent place in their respective hierarchies?

I would argue a rimfire is to an air rifle as a pair of hockey skates is to a pair of figure skating skates (or speed skates). Why is an $700 air rifle not the equivalent to a $4500 Gibson custom shop Historic Series Les Paul? Well, just the raw wood in a custom shop Les Paul probably costs the guitar maker roughly $2000. I maintain a TX200 is just a smidgeon from being the air gun equivalent of a custom shop Les Paul. Were Air Arms to put another $50-$70 of production into them, there would be no difference. Maybe another thousand dollars worth of wood might bring them up.

If the manufacturers’ margin is too low to provide that individual attention to quality, fair enough.  Bump dealer cost ten or twenty percent to be passed on to the end-user.  The buyer of a new Air Arms TX200 would pay $80 to $160 more for such quality.

Who wants ’em?

Would having a Vortek TX200-PG3 SHO-Tune Kit, $90, pre-installed in a new TX200 end up costing about as much or more?  If so, then anyone who might choose that, a narrow segment but one Air Arms already covets, would also be candidates for a premium version of the TX200.

Editor’s notes

Michael has given us all a lot to think about! And I want to add to it. I have looked closely at the Perrazi shotguns checkering many times at the SHOT Show. On a shotgun retailing for more than a quarter-million dollars I have seen “mistakes” in the hand-cut 28 lines-per-inch checkering. These “mistakes” are like the “flaws” in a natural diamond. Almost every natural diamond is flawed in some way. You will pay 100 to 1,000 times more for a flawless diamond as you will pay for one with some flaws. I don’t look for the mistakes in the checkering to discredit Perrazi, but rather to honor how close to perfection they were able to come. Just ask Vana2 if all wood doesn’t have some flaw.

I have talked at length with some custom shops and they admit they cannot produce perfection. They can come close, but a careful check will ALWAYS reveal something! So — how good is good?

And my last question is calculated to kick over the anthill. Are anal people in their rights to criticize to such a miniscule level?