© Ravi Chopra & Mark Worrell, 2000
A few months back I wrote a big article called "Blowback Blowout." The purpose was to give a run down of a large number of blowback paintguns. I hooked up with a good friend of mine, Mark Worrell of Rage Sports to give the pile of paintguns a thorough workover. Not only did we show nice pictures and describe the guns; we criticized them. We pitted them head-to-head and compared them in a variety of arenas including performance, features, quality of construction, and price. Some paintguns came out looking very good. Others didnt fare so well and we said so.
At the end of that article, I expressed a desire to write a follow-up with even more blowbacks. I challenged manufacturers to send their guns in to Paintball Games International for review. I put out a call for players to contact their favorite paintgun manufacturers to encourage them to send their product in for evaluation. I hoped for a groundswell of grass-roots support from the masses, that a hue and cry would sound out, a demand for more rational and critical evaluation of paintball products. A shout to be heard throughout the industry.
Despite a great deal of positive reaction from readers to the article, such support never materialized. Thanks guys.
Salvation came from the most unlikely of places: a distributor. National Paintball Supply South (now Paintball Inc.) VP Doug Brown stepped in and, in one fell swoop, became hero to the masses. This is the same NPS and Doug Brown who sent his own creation the GT2000 (www.gt2000.com) for the first Blowback Blowout. The GT2000 fared well in the test, but certainly didnt achieve king-of-the-hill status. Some companies consider anything less than a rave, "best in the world" review to be an insult. These companies send their products to Justin Owen. Doug Brown and NPS didnt even blink. He offered to send me any paintgun or product I cared to review, no questions asked, just please send them back when youre done with them. I took him up on the offer, asking to borrow every blowback they had in stock that I hadnt covered in the first Blowout. Three days later a huge box showed up on my doorstep packed with blowback paintguns.
Subsequently, its only fair for me to let you know that you can buy any of the paintguns in this test (and most of the ones from the first article) from Paintball Inc. through their web page. Support companies who support you. By loaning product to reviewers, they free us to be as honest and critical as is appropriate without having to worry about pissed-off manufacturers withholding product in the future. Companies like NPS South allow people like me to write articles like this.
While Im on the topic, I have to give a shout-out to my buddies at PB Sports, a cool on-line paintball shop that hooked me up with the Tippmann Model 98 reviewed in the first Blowback Blowout article.
Anyhow, back to the blowbacks.
As before, I headed over to RAGE Sports with this pile of paintguns to hook up with Mark Worrell who provided invaluable help and insight with the first article. We grabbed a 20 oz CO2 tank, a VL Revolution hopper, and a few cases of Diablo (a mix of Brand X, Blaze, and Inferno), and went out to shoot some paint.
After the paint was shot and the clouds of CO2 cleared, we sat down to compare notes. We considered at a number of things in our evaluation: general quality of construction, standard features and upgrades, trigger feel, and cosmetics. The last two are totally subjective, so weve tried to be as descriptive as possible so you can decide for yourself whether or not its the sort of thing you like..
Before diving into the individual reviews, I want to take a moment to go over some of the features we looked for and why we think theyre important or useful. There are a couple new ones since the last article. As before, a table at the end of the article summarizes the features found in each paintgun.
2-finger trigger: Two finger triggers have just about become the de-facto standard on paintguns these days. I think theyre totally ridiculous with ultra-light triggers (electropneumatics), but with heavier triggers like those found on most blowbacks, they can be extremely useful. The added leverage of a longer trigger really goes a long way to reducing fatigue over the course of a game, particularly if you rapid fire a lot. These are particularly nice on guns with short, very heavy trigger pulls.
.45-style grip frame: Like the 2-finger trigger, the .45 frame has just about become a standard as well. It has a much more natural angle which many feel points better (improves accuracy with snap shooting). It is also compatible with more aftermarket grips than other frames.
Forgrip or Expansion Chamber: A forgrip or expansion chamber allows you to get a good grip on the paintgun with both hands and point it more quickly and accurately. An expansion chamber gives the added advantage of reducing liquid CO2 flow into the gun and allowing cold CO2 to warm up a bit for more consistent velocity.
The pressure of the CO2 in your tank is extremely dependent on temperature. Anyone whos shot CO2 knows that when you shoot fast, the tank cools down and the pressure drops. As your velocity is determined in part by the pressure of the gas entering your paintgun, your velocity will only be as consistent as the pressure in your tank. One way to get better velocity consistency is to use a pressure regulator to control the pressure being fed to your paintgun. Regulators are typically considered to be high-end upgrades that appear only on expensive paintguns. They are now starting to appear on some less expensive blowbacks as standard equipment.
Custom-faced bolt: I really have never much bought the hype about custom bolts. The very best you can hope for is slightly less resistance to flow and lower operating pressure. Ive never found custom bolts to improve range or accuracy. None the less, youre paying for the gun. If it comes with a custom bolt design, whats the harm?
Rear-cocking: A rear-cocking paintgun has a bit of the bolt sticking out the back of the gun, allowing you to cock it from there rather than from a knob attached to the hammer sticking out of a slot in the side of the gun. This is a nice feature because it eliminates slots in the side of the body which can allow dirt and other debris to abrade and jam up the system.
Enclosed cocking system
A completely enclosed cocking system takes the concept of the rear-cocking paintgun a step further. With the rear-cocker, you still have that back-end of the bolt sticking way out the back of the paintgun when the gun is cocked, and slamming back and forth (putting your goggles in jeopardy) when it is fired. With the enclosed system, the entire bolt is hidden within the paintgun and a knob or other system at the back of the paintgun can be drawn back to cock the gun, but snaps back forward into the gun and does not cycle with the hammer. The result is a paintgun that has no external moving parts apart from the trigger.
Quick-strip: A quick-strip system that allows you to tear the gun down without tools is REALLY nice to have. Note that some systems allow you to strip just the bolt while others drop the bolt, hammer, spring, guide, and velocity adjuster out in your lap. If youre a field owner and have dozens of guns to strip and clean at the end of every day youll probably want to be able to pull out all the guts in one fell swoop. If youre a player just looking to squeegee his barrel on the field, having all the guns innards drop out in your lap during a game is about the worst thing that can happen and youll probably prefer something that allows you to pull just the bolt.
Thumb-screw velocity adjuster: Most paintguns require a wrench to adjust the velocity. It has become increasingly popular to offer a knob at the back of the paintgun to allow you to quickly dial in your velocity. Keep in mind that it is important to have a locking screw in the knob so the velocity can be fixed after setting.
Low pressure chamber: More than on any other paintgun, the low pressure chamber really improves the performance of the blowback paintgun. By providing a much larger volume of air ready in front of the valve, such a chamber dramatically reduces velocity and cocking problems in cold weather and with a fresh tank. Some paintguns have this as an add-on feature, others simply have large valve chambers built into the gun body. There is no performance difference between the two.
Powerfeed: If Airgun Designs had found a way to patent the powerfeed design they first introduced on the level 7 Automag, they would no longer have to build paintguns for a living. This system involves having the feed tube cross over the top of the paintgun and feed into the breech at a right-angle to the direction the paintballs are rolling down the feed tube. This eliminates the "bingo-ball" effect where blowback from the breech pushes balls up the feed tube, often leading to chopped balls when rapid firing. It also allows them to place a plug at the end which can be twisted to shut off the flow of paint into the breech as an added safety. The only real disadvantage comes to those who like to sight over the top of the gun. The feed tube sits right in the way.
Vertical ASA: All of these paintguns come with some way to screw in a CO2 tank. Most come with a bottom-line ASA (air source adapter). Some include a vertical ASA as well. The vertical is not really crucial to operation, but its nice to have if you ever want to upgrade (add a forgrip, expansion chamber, or pressure regulator) or try other configurations (vertical tank).
Blowback system: We dont spend too much time analyzing this, but its worth noting that there are two basic blowback systems that have been around for a long, long time, and one relatively new one. There is an in-line system which has the hammer, valve, and bolt all in a line, with the hammer and bolt linked by a rod that bypasses the valve, making for a long, thin paintgun. Though Tippmann was the first company to use this system in a paintgun, a few other paintguns have cropped up using this in-line configuration. The Stingray II is the only paintgun in this test to fall in this category.
More common is the over-under style where the bolt rides in a chamber above the hammer and valve and links to the hammer by a small rod or pin. This system was first used by Benjamin-Sheridan in the old PMI-3 (later known as the VM-68), but has since become the dominant system used in blowback semi-autos today.
The final system is one patented by Indian Creek Designs which uses a vertically oriented valve with an in-line bolt and hammer. In this design, the hammer and bolt are a single connected piece with a narrowed down section in the middle where the tip of the valve protrudes and releases air when the gun is fired to both fire the paintball and recock the gun. Its an extremely clever, compact, and reliable system that has likely not been ripped off only because of ICDs design patents.
The rest: We also considered things like the barrel length and porting (all of these paintguns take Spyder-compatible barrels), cosmetics, anodizing, and any other features that might be unique to the paintgun. Price was also considered, though it is sometimes difficult to gauge given the wide range of prices at which some of these paintguns are offered. The manufacturers suggested retail price (MSRP) is listed for each of these paintguns. It is important to remember that it doesnt take much looking to find them for much less.
ACI F4 Illustrator: $179.95
The Illustrator has a long history in paintball. The original Illustrator was one of the first few semis to really become popular in a paintball world still dominated by pump-guns. Whats more, it was one of an even smaller number that worked fairly reliably. It was a small, slick, and light package, particularly when compared to the clunky 68 Special and massive PMI III.
The Illustrator saw a few small changes in the intervening years, but didnt really receive a major overhaul until ACI bought the rights to the design in 1997 and completely redid the paintgun, bringing it up to current standards. The result of their hard efforts is the F4 Illustrator seen here.
Like most of the paintguns here ( and like the original Illustrator) the F4 is an over-under style blowback like the original PMI III. The F4 was the first blowback to offer a completely enclosed cocking system. Where most other blowbacks have a knob sticking out the side of the body or the bolt sticking out the back to allow you to cock the gun, the F4 does not have any external moving parts. The cocking system is cleverly hidden in the sight rail above the bolt. When you draw the spring-loaded knob at the back of the sight rail out backwards it catches the bolt and cocks the gun. When you let go, it snaps back into the rail and stays put when the gun is fired. This is a nice system since it doesnt expose any of the internals to the elements. Mark loved the damn thing and couldnt stop playing with it. You can kind-of access the internal components by removing the two back-plugs, but the enclosed cocking system in the rail prevents stripping the parts without tools.
It includes a fair number of nice features, including a carbon-fiber .45-style frame with molded plastic wrap-around grips. Softer rubber grips would have been better, but this setup is still quite comfortable. The gun also comes with a vertical ASA adapter and bottom-line. Though there isnt a forgrip, the vertical and hose give you a little something to grab onto and make it very easy to add an inexpensive aftermarket grip or reg if you want one. It also comes with a slick 10" end-ported, Spyder-compatible barrel.
The Illustrator takes its feed through the virtually ubiquitous powerfeed which feeds from the left. The powerfeed plug can be twisted around to shut off the flow of paint to the breech. Unfortunately, the plug is not easy to grip and is very tightly fit so it is almost impossible to turn over. An even bigger problem was that large paint did not feed well. Though we had very good luck with both Blaze and Inferno, about every fifth paintball of the Brand X paint jammed between the powerfeed and breech. The paint was round and shot straight when it did feed, so the problem was clearly that the breech hole was simply too small for big paint. My final beef is the same as one I had a few months back with the Raptor, a paintgun which also has screw-in back-plugs. Its simply too easy to cheat at the chrono with screw-in plugs like this.
On the upside, the F4 Illustrator seemed subjectively to both Mark and me to be the most accurate paintgun of this test, a real bonus for players who dont want to lay out for an aftermarket barrel. Also on the plus side is the trigger which is tight, smooth, and snappy. It wasnt as easy to shoot fast as some of the best two-finger trigger guns we tested but it was very nice, particularly with its fat, anodized aluminum trigger shoe. It also comes with a superb manual with extensive photographs, diagrams, and excellent directions for both safe operation and maintenance.
The F4 Illustrator certainly looks and feels like a quality piece. Though the welds which hold the powerfeed on are not the most beautiful thing Ive ever seen, the rest of the paintgun has a trim, clean look. Though this gun is black-anodized, it is available in a variety of other colors.
On the whole, the F4 Illustrator is a nice, trim, slick, and accurate package that is really only hampered by a relatively steep price-tag for the features offered and an embarrassing tendency to jam up with large paint. If not for that problem, this would be one of my favorite blowbacks.
Mark: "It has nothing to do with performance, but the way this thing cocks is cool! Lets face it, though. Most people shooting guns like this are shooting cheap paint. The inability to feed large paintballs reliably is inexcusable."
AMC Diamond GT: $114.95
If not for the Diamond GTs very different looks, you would probably never notice it in a pile of other blowbacks. Avalon Manufacturing Company was aiming for a good paintgun at a low price. At $114.95, its definitely inexpensive. How good it is depends on your priorities.
The Diamond GT has an over-under blowback system that you cock with a knob that screws into the hammer through a slot in the side of the paintgun. It comes with a powerfeed that feeds from the left, a wire-nubbin ball detent, a slide-on sight-rail, and a nice aluminum .45 frame with molded rubber grips. Thats about where the features end.
This bare-bones paintgun has a thoroughly mediocre feel. I do like the .45 frame a lot and the grippy wrap-arounds provide a comfortable interface for your hand. It also seemed to have less kick than average when fired. Getting it to fire isnt as nice as one might hope, though. The trigger is very loose and sloppy from side to side, leading Mark to remark that it felt to him like the piece was going to break off in his hand. The pull has a somewhat mushy feel but isnt terribly difficult to shoot quickly. The Diamonds manual is a totally inadequate card with a list of parts with no useful information about operation or maintenance.
The Diamond GT sets itself apart from other blowbacks primarily in its cosmetics. The upper and lower tubes are cut into hexagonal shapes and it is anodized silver-gray. Personally, I thought it looked OK, but Mark thought it looked hokey. Construction is quite nice, particularly the .45 frame which is very solidly made despite the deficiencies of the trigger installed within it.
On the whole, this paintgun is decidedly bland. It doesnt have any of the advanced features or options that are available on most blowbacks these days, even less expensive ones. On the other hand, the price is good so if youre on a stiff budget and like the looks the Diamond GT would be a fine choice. Thought it certainly isnt my favorite, it doesnt have any glaring defects.
Mark: "This trigger has way too much side-to-side play it feels like its going to break off in my hand. Nice .45 frame and grips, though."
Brass Eagle Stingray II: $99.95
In the last Blowback article I reviewed Brass Eagles two top-end blowback paintguns, the Raptor Silver Eagle and Extreme. For this one I grabbed the other end of the spectrum, their plastic, budget level Stingray II. For years, the Stingray has held dominance in one key area: sub-$100 semi-automatics. Until recently, it was the only semi you could find at anywhere near that price. It was also the first plastic-bodied paintgun. Older players with long memories will remember articles written about the Stingray demonstrating its strength by running over it with a truck and then picking it up and shooting paint through it. As a cheap and tough paintgun that didnt require you pump it before each shot it became very popular.
Time has passed though, and adding a roman number II after its name doesnt do much to upgrade features or performance. This in-line blowback is surprisingly devoid of modern features. Going through the list of major features weve considered in this article, youll find that the Stingray II has none of them; no powerfeed, no vertical ASA, not even a bottom-line ASA as the air has to enter the gun through a back-bottle adapter ensuring that it will interfere with your mask when you try to sight the gun properly. Though there are a large number of aftermarket upgrades available for the Stingray, its plastic construction limits how much you can upgrade and change its ergonomics.
Even the barrel is limiting. It is not just that the 6" stock barrel isnt impressive, its that the barrel does not screw in. Rather, it slides in and is retained by a pair of plastic pins that fit into a circular groove in the barrel. The result is a barrel that is held very poorly and can wiggle around a great deal. As a result, any barrel you put on this paintgun will be poorly retained and will be significantly limited in accuracy. Mark remarked that these two plastic pins would be entirely too easy to lose at the field if you ever took the barrel off to clean it and Im inclined to agree.
The plastic gives this paintgun a decidedly clunky and cheap feel. This is not improved by the press-fit pins (sorry kids, no screws here) that hold the two halves of the gun together. The extreme-forward placement of the hopper makes the Stingray feel very front-heavy and gives it poor balance even with a tank attached. The trigger is very long and heavy by todays standards. This paintgun is simply impossible to shoot fast as it comes stock from the box. I cant imagine even extensive modification doing much to improve this clunker.
The simple fact is, the Stingray was designed to be an ultra-cheap semi-automatic paintgun for beginning players. In its time, it did this fairly well. Today, there are a number of paintguns that cost every bit as little (or less) and which come with a full complement of advanced features and improved performance that simply put the Stingray to shame. The Stingrays time has passed and there is simply no compelling reason to buy it anymore.
Mark: "Didnt I see Barney Rubble playing with this in an episode of the Flintstones?"
The Genie is a blowback obviously made by the same Taiwanese manufacturer that built the Core One and Delta reviewed in the first Blowbacks article. The body and many of the parts are identical to those found on the two previously mentioned paintguns. Despite the many similarities, we found the Genie to be a very different beast from the impressively mediocre Core One and Delta.
As you may remember, this line of blowbacks uses an over-under blowback system. It has a top-cocking system with the cocking rod sticking out of a slot in the top of the gun rather than the side. The obvious effect of this is that theres no easy way to install one of the slide-on aftermarket sight rails. The cocking knob is held in by a spring-loaded bearing in the bolt so you can pull it out to free up the bolt without tools. Unfortunately, like the Core One and Delta, the Genie also has that mysterious plug installed behind the bolt to keep it from being field-strippable. My advice: take the plug out and throw it away.
For a budget gun, the Genie features an impressive array of performance features. It has the same feed-from-the-right powerfeed body as the Core and Delta. It shares the Deltas Spyder Compact-like vertical ASA, now supplemented with a low pressure chamber to allow for more reliable operation in the cold and at lower pressures. Also shared with the Delta is its thumb-screw velocity adjuster still unencumbered by any sort of locking screw. Sorry folks, but this is BAD. Also bad is the "manual" which consists of nothing more than a single small card with a diagram and list of parts - totally inadequate.
The Genie gets its grip from the Core One. This comfortable, molded plastic grip is now made all the better due to the addition of an aluminum block to allow the attachment of any standard bottom-line. The trigger frame is plastic as well and is molded with a two-finger trigger guard that leaves room behind the lower trigger for your middle finger if you prefer to shoot single-finger. The only issue we had was with the angle of the grip itself. Though it is comfortable, it puts your fingers too far away from the tipped-forward trigger plate for an easy reach while keeping a firm grasp on the grip. Mark suggested that a .45 frame would have been a better choice with this two-finger trigger and I tend to agree.
The trigger itself is what really wowed both Mark and I. It is a metal, two-finger piece that is stopped out to eliminate all the dead travel in front and behind the firing point so common in blowbacks. In fact, the Genie has the shortest pull length of any blowback Ive ever shot. Not only is it short, but it has very little side-to-side slack. Though it doesnt quite match the perfect fit of the Piranha G-2 series triggers, it is the next best thing.
As to how it shot, Mark and I had a difference of opinion. Personally, I find that I like a little slack in front of and behind the fire point when shooting a blowback. I find that I can shoot faster and more steadily when I can keep some tension on the trigger. With ultra-short triggers like the Genies, you have to get your fingers off the trigger entirely between shots to allow the sear to reengage the hammer. Mark was of the opinion that this trigger was too impressively put together to get that nit-picky. He felt that with a trigger this short and tight the gun would be more stable under most firing conditions, and that it would not take much to learn to shoot this every bit as fast as any blowback weve tested.
The stock barrel, not surprisingly, was pretty awful. It was the same 9.5" tube found on the Core and Delta, but without the porting. Id suggest any buyer of this paintgun make replacing the stock barrel an early upgrade.
So what we have here is a pretty nice little paintgun with a fairly complete feature set and some funny quirks. What makes this paintgun a star is its price. At $89.95 going out the door, this paintgun absolutely can not be beaten in a price/features comparison. As this paintgun is very inexpensively made, I cant say much about the durability of the internals or the ability of the plastic grip and frame to hold up the weight of a bottom-line air system, but at this price you can easily afford to replace those parts with high-tech aftermarket bits if they ever do fail.
Mark: "This thing rocks. I get a smile on my face whenever I pick this one up. You can send guns to shops for a trigger-job and not get it back as good as this one straight out of the box."
ICD Thundercat: $154.95
The Thundercat is the budget-priced sibling in the Indian Creek Designs family of blowback paintguns. Like all of ICDs blowbacks, the Thundercat uses Indian Creeks clever vertical valve system which allows for a blowback with the short length of an over-under blowback and the low profile of an in-line Tippman-style blowback. Indian Creek also pushes the system as benefiting in reliability and durability by having fewer binding and jamming problems than the over-under style that has become so popular, though I must admit that I have not run into many jamming problems with any blowback.
Cocking the hammer back is accomplished with a small knob on the left side of the paintgun which screws into the side of the hammer. Stripping the paintgun is easily accomplished without tools by unscrewing the knob from the side of the hammer and the back-plug from behind the hammer. This allows the spring and bolt-hammer complex to drop out the back of the paintgun, freeing you to run a pull-through squeegie through the gun and down the length of the barrel.
Cleverness in the Thundercats design does not end with the valve design. All blowbacks have a place in their gas-path where the air entering the paintgun is divided into two streams, one of which flows down the bolt to fire the paintball while the other is utilized to blow the bolt back into the cocked position. With most paintguns, the amount of air that is sent in each direction is fixed and determined by the dimensions of the valve. Early blowbacks had a problem with this as they were designed for warm weather conditions. When the tank chilled too much or winter rolled around tank pressure would drop and could become too low to recock the paintgun through the small passages provided for the blowback resulting in a full-auto, paint-shredding nightmare. Indian Creek provided a clever solution for the problem by including a pair of screws in the right side of the gun body. One screw opened and closed the gas path to the bolt. The other screw controlled the amount of gas used to recock the paintgun. By adjusting these two screws (in addition to the main velocity adjustment screw at the back of the paintgun), the clever player can set the paintgun up to operate in virtually any conditions and at virtually any pressure. ICD knocked the ball out of the park by actually engraving the "up" and "down" adjustment directions in the side of the gun body.
You are provided a pair of options for tank attachment. Like previous ICD blowback designs, the Thundercat comes with a pair of ASAs; one back-bottle attachment and one vertical. They also provide a plug to cap one off. Nice as this is, I suspect that the back-bottle attachment wont see much use in this day and age. Unfortunately, no bottom-line is provided, nor is a mounting block included as part of the stock grip. Aftermarket .45 grips are available that do allow bottom-line attachment, but that means added trouble and cost.
This paintgun also comes with a powerfeed that feeds from the right and a decent 10" barrel with a vestigial sponge wraparound grip left over from the days when people were still used to having to hold a pump-handle around the barrel. The manual provides good and complete instruction. It isnt as good as the F4s pamphlet, but provides everything you really need.
Construction of the Thundercat is truly exceptional. It is a very utilitarian and industrial design in which every part fits perfectly with no slack, slop, gaps, or rough edges. It isnt pretty, but it certainly looks tough. The beefy, rock-solid construction really gives you a sense of confidence in its ability to take a beating and continue ticking away. Contrast this with the Stingray, Genie, and Spyders, none of which inspire the same confidence.
The trigger on the Thundercat is well-designed and responsive, falling somewhere between the stock Spyders long pull and the Genies ultra-short trigger in length. It has a decent feel and has fairly little recoil given the smaller mass being moved with the vertical valve design. While Mark really got into this trigger, I really would have liked the opportunity to try it out with a two-finger trigger as I suspect I would have been able to really rock on it better than I could with the single trigger.
As an engineer, I love the Thundercats clever design aspects. It really has some nice features that you cant find in anything outside of ICDs catalog. The construction is also superb. Frankly, I wish more paintguns were built with this degree of care and attention to detail. There are other blowbacks that I like better than this one, but none that Id trust further.
Mark: "Its really nice that the directions for velocity adjustment are clearly marked on the gun. I got into a rhythm with this one nice trigger. For $155 it should at least have some sort of fore grip, though."
Kingman Spyder Classic: $149.95
The Spyder may not have been the first blowback paintgun, but these days it definitely defines the segment. Kingmans paintgun has become one of the most popular (if not THE most popular) markers of all time. No surprises there. Its small, light, inexpensive, widely available, and shoots pretty damn well for a paintgun in this market segment. Its become so popular that every blowback that uses the same over-under bolt and hammer system originally found in the PMI III is called a "Spyder clone." The Spyder is the one paintgun that very well may have launched as many aftermarket upgrades as the Autococker. And as quickly as aftermarket manufacturers pump out new upgrades, Kingman knocks them off and puts them on either their stock gun or one of their factory hop-ups.
Now the base gun that "started it all" (as Kingman puts it at their web site) is near the bottom of the Kingman line of blowbacks. Calling it the "Classic" is appropriate since it is very much like the original Spyder, but with some refinements and improvements that have become standard on the Spyder line of paintguns since then.
The Classic has the Spyders standard over-under blowback system. The Classic is one of few that retains a cocking knob on the left instead of a rear cocking system. Like all Spyders today, the Classic comes with a powerfeed body that places the hopper on the left and a venturi-faced bolt doing its absolute best to look impressive while doing absolutely nothing to improve performance. The Classic also gets a basic raised sight rail to sight over the powerfeed and a low pressure valve chamber to improve cold-weather reliability. The trigger and frame are made entirely of plastic and come with an M16-style grip which (thankfully) can be replaced with inexpensive aftermarket handles. As always, the bottom-line ASA is attached with Kingmans unique, inexplicable, bizarre, and irritating offset screws which arent compatible with anyone elses bottom-line fittings. The Classic also comes with a fairly plain 9.5" ported barrel.
The trigger, despite its all-plastic construction is actually pretty tight with only a little slack from side-to-side. There is a reason that Spyders became as hugely popular as they did. Theyre very easy to shoot fast. Kingman didnt mess with a good thing. this trigger is pretty much the same as it has always been: long and springy, but very easy to really rip on. Mark, as usual, absolutely detests the forward-angled trigger. You really almost have to push down on the trigger more than pull it back and for some this is a very uncomfortable way to shoot. Unless you have hands like Wilt Chamberlain or Michael Jordan, youll find that the M16 grip positions your hand way too far from the trigger for comfortable shooting. A .45 grip would be a huge improvement on the situation.
The Spyder Classic is still a solid paintgun that provides plenty of decent performance and a huge upgrade path if you choose to go that way. At $150, its a bit overpriced for for the fairly bare feature-set. Compare, for instance with the Piranha VTL and BL, both of which come in near the same price point but include 2-finger triggers, .45 frames, vertical ASAs, quick-strip systems, and rear-cocking bolts and the Spyder Classics shortcomings are thrown into sharp contrast. A fine paintgun, but clearly outclassed by new competitors in the market and overshadowed by the higher-end offerings in the Spyder line.
Mark: "You know how much you hat it when someone kicks your dog? Thats how much I hate this trigger and grip frame."
Kingman Spyder 2000: $199.95
Everyone else is coming out with "Millennium" guns, so why not Kingman? In the Spyder 2000, Kingman seems to be trying to provide a performance-oriented upgrade to the Spyder Classic with many of their high-end parts, but without the glitzy look or price of their top-of-the-line Shutter.
The 2000 shares the same powerfeed body, low pressure chamber, and sight rail found on the Classic. The 2000 adds a few nice features to the previously described Classic though. First, thought the body looks very much like the Classics, the lower tube has flat sides more like the Special Edition or Shutter. It also includes a fully-enclosed cocking system like the F4 Illustrator, but instead using a knob behind the bolt to draw back the venturi-bolt rather than hiding it in the sight-rail. This is interesting because it is, in fact, the only paintgun in the Spyder line to have a fully enclosed system. More expensive Spyders come with rear cocking bolts that still stick out the back of the paintgun. The 2000 also includes a quick-strip system which allows you to strip all the innards after pulling a single pin out of the back of the paintgun. The pin is held in place with a cotter-pin. A nice system, but still not as good as the Piranha and Joker systems which have self-retaining pins.
Kingmans 2-finger trigger has been fitted to the 2000 model Spyder, fitted to a new trigger frame with a wrap-around guard and bolt-on M16 grip like the Classic Spyder. This new setup leaves room for you to shoot single-finger with all four of your other fingers holding the grip for better stability and comfort - nice, though it would have been nicer with a .45 frame instead of the M16 grip. The two-finger trigger itself offers a substantial improvement in feel over the Classics forward-bent trigger, allowing a more "normal" trigger pull and shorter pull-length though the added length of the trigger plate magnifies the subjective feel of lateral slack in the trigger.
The big surprise is the adjustable pressure regulator mounted on a drop-forward at the bottom of the grip frame. It may not be the worlds greatest regulator, but it does make Kingman the only manufacturer including anything even remotely like this on a blowback. As a result, you can count on a more stable input pressure to the gun in all temperatues. This should equate with more stable velocity and more reliable operation over a broad range of conditions. The drop-forward is particularly welcome as it shifts a 12 or 20 oz tank forward to a much more comfortable position. Experienced players tend to prefer to have their paintgun right in front of their faces. Most standard bottom-line ASAs force the gun way out away from you when the gun is properly shouldered. The drop-forward brings the gun right in tight without having to worry about the bolt smacking your goggles due to the enclosed cocking system. Big kudos to Kingman for these additions.
The Spyder 2000 also comes with the 12" ported barrel from the high-end TL and Shutter. No, it isnt going to blow you away with custom-barrel performance, but it is a big step up from the Classics 9.5" tube.
This paintgun comes with a lot of cool performance features without all the cosmetic crap that other high-end blowbacks pile on to jack up the price. On the other hand, it still doesnt have a forgrip, vertical ASA, or .45 frame, and at $200 it runs face first into the Spyder TL and Piranha STS, both of which include all three at a similar price point. If the regulator is a priority for you and you dont mind missing out on the things it does not include, the Spyder 2000 is a lot of high-performance paintgun. If you think youll want the grip improvements though, youll probably want to look to the Spyder Shutter for the whole package.
Mark: "Adding a double-trigger makes a substantial improvement. The drop-forward and reg are cool as well."
Kingman Spyder Special Edition: $209.95
For years, the Special Edition has been Kingmans signature paintgun, including snazzy looks galore and a host of expensive upgrades. But now time has passed without change to the Special Edition and the gun is starting to look a bit long-in-the-tooth when compared to newer offerings in the Spyder line.
The Special Edition Spyder contains a strange mix of features which represents a glimpse back in time to former blowback state-of-the-art technology. It comes with a lockable, finger-adjustable velocity screw, though the blowback system still has its cocking handle sticking out the left side of the gun body and it lacks any sort of quick-strip system. It has a vertical ASA, but no low pressure chamber. It includes a huge expansion chamber in the vertical with a hard-line to the bottom-line, but no regulator or drop-forward. It comes with a 2-finger trigger and .45 grip (the kind we wish has been included on the Classic and 2000), but the frame is clearly a cut-down single-finger frame with a cheap bolted-on 2-finger guard. It also includes a nicely sculpted, raised sight-rail to allow you to see over the powerfeed.
Though the Special Edition has a 2-finger trigger, it is NOT the same one found on the 2000, TL, or Shutter. Instead, it is a fat piece with a strange, loose, clunky feel that Mark likened to a key on an old, cheap, church organ. The pull has a great deal of slack around the fire point and simply does not have the same tight, clean trigger pull that impressed us on the other 2-finger trigger Spyders.
Clearly, the lions-share of work went into the cosmetics on the Special Edition. In addition to some extra milling on the body and goofy-looking barrel shroud the gun has a decent black and green swirling anodizing pattern. The anodizing quality is OK, but you can still see machining marks on the body and barrel through the anodizing. The look of this paintgun would be dramatically improved by a better and more consistent polishing job to all of its parts prior to anodizing.
The real problem with the Spyder Special Edition is the price. The gun shoots paint as well as any other, but at $210 it just isnt competitive with other guns at this price which offer a lot more for your money.
Mark: "The loose trigger on this one feels like a key on a cheap organ. The trigger definitely feels worse than the Spyder 2000. All this one really gives you is an expensive paint-job."
Kingman Spyder Shutter: $289.95
I have no idea how Kingman came up with the name "Shutter" for their top-of-the-line blowback. It seems like kind of a stupid name for their signature marker, but then Im no marketing executive, so what do I know.
The Shutter seems to be Kingmans all-out effort to cut aftermarket manufacturers out of the Spyder business. It comes with effectively everything but a fully enclosed cocking system, instead keeping a rear-cocking venturi bolt and sight-rail with attached beavertail to protect your mask from the back end of the bolt when firing. In the back of the paintgun are a locking, finger-adjustable velocity screw and quick-strip pin to allow you to pull the bolt, hammer, spring, and velocity adjuster in a few seconds. At the front is a vertical ASA and low pressure chamber. Feeding air to the gun are a small expansion chamber/forgrip in the vertical fed by the same drop-forward regulator bottom-line found on the Spyder 2000 via a short length of Macro-Line. The trigger frame is the same slick 2-finger, .45-style setup found on the Spyder TL described in the first blowback article.
The Shutter also has a lot of cosmetic work. The body has numerous shallow cuts as well as a big window to show off the back of the drilled bolt. The parts are a mish-mash of chrome, clear, black, and color anodizing. Some will love it, others will think it looks busy or pieced together from random, non-matching parts. Common to the entire Spyder line of paintguns is the absence of that final degree of fit-and-finish that you expect from the very best. Like the Special Edition, this paintgun would benefit from a better polishing job prior to anodizing/plating. The sight-rail had a bit of almost-pinched-off metal that was clearly meant to be removed. The barrel was clear-coat aluminum rather than chromed to match the rest of the silver parts, and wasnt even well-polished to make it look close. Though it looks OK at a distance, the Shutter simply doesnt have the consistent look or clean finish of the Piranhas, Joker, or F4 Illustrator.
The short story is that the Shutter is a Spyder TL with an expansion chamber in the forgrip and the new drop-forward, bottom-line pressure regulator and some new cosmetics. It combines the TLs comfortable forgrip and convenient feature-set with the 2000s slack-prone but fast and snappy trigger pull and slick drop-forward bottom-line. As the Shutter is priced among the most expensive blowbacks, the inclusion of the pressure regulator really improves the overall value of the paintgun to a competetive level, providing significant compensation for the poor fit-and-finish when compared to the best the competition can muster.
Mark: "Its a prettied-up Spyder with Kingmans best trigger. Still, its mostly cosmetics youre paying for here. At $300 Id still rather have the Piranha Pro."
Pro Power Paintball Products Scorpion: $174.95
The Scorpion is yet another member of the pile of not-too-dissimilar over-under style blowback paintguns. Like most, it makes all sorts of claims of innovation and improved performance. Frankly, Im not certain if Pro Power is still making the Scorpion or even still in business, but there are enough of these still floating around out there for a review to be worth writing.
The Scorpions standard-face bolt extends out the back of the paintgun for a rear-cocking system similar to that found on the GT2000 and some higher-end Piranhas and Spyders. This bolt is not guarded by a beavertail so you will need to be careful to keep your face well clear of the back of the Scorpion to ensure the bolt does not smack a neat hole in the center of your mask. All of these innards can be field-stripped without tools by taking out the two stainless steel thumb screws that hold in the velocity adjuster. Speaking of the velocity adjuster, the Scorpion comes with a nice, knurled, finger-adjustable velocity knob. Unfortunately, there is no locking screw - not good - not safe.
A .45 frame thankfully graces the Scorpions feature-list. A nice set of rubber Hogue grips (not wrap-arounds) make for a comfortable resting place for your shooting hand. The two-finger trigger would probably be better termed a one-and-a-half finger trigger. Though it is molded to fit two fingers, it is considerably shorter than other two finger triggers and left us feeling like we could only get half of our lower fingers on the trigger. This contrasts with the gigantic two-finger trigger guard which makes space for even the most freakishly large fingers. The trigger pull was fairly nice once you got past the triggers odd feel.
The Scorpions body has a standard feed tube that feeds from the right. I cant believe that anyone would design a blowback at this price-point without a powerfeed, but they did it. The body also has some angled slots cut down the sides to jazz up the looks a bit. It has a thick, glossy black hardcoat that looks decent, but the surface has a wrinkled surface which belies inconsistent coating deposition or poor polishing.
Of the blowbacks we tested this time around, the Scorpion joined the F4 Illustrator among the two that actually impressed us with its accuracy. This gun comes with a polished, two-piece barrel with a screw-on ported end piece. Pro Power obviously intended to offer end pieces of different lengths, though none appear to have made it to market. Despite the barrels decent performance, Mark found its appearance rather disturbing.
The Scorpion is a quirky but fine-working paintgun that is brought down by one fatal flaw - a price $25-$50 too high for a gun with this basic a feature-set.
Mark: "The only cool things about this paintgun are the .45 frame and Hogue grips. The one-and-a-half finger trigger is stupid and the barrel looks like a 10" dildo."
PMI Piranha G-2 EXT colored/chrome: $249.95
You may remember the line of Piranha blowbacks from the first Blowback blowout article. If you dont, I recommend you go back and read that article from your collection of PGIs, from the p8ntballer.com website, or my own web page because theyre examined in detail there. The reason I wont be going into as much detail here is because the new EXT is exactly the same as the STS Piranha, but with color and chrome cosmetics.
There are really only a couple reasons Ive included the Piranha EXT here. First, it costs more than the standard STS. Second, I think its only fair to reexamine the paintgun which fared best in the original Blowback Blowout to compare it to this new batch.
As you may remember, the STS came with a full feature set: powerfeed body, rear-cocking venturi-bolt, locking finger-adjustable velocity screw, single-pin quick-strip system, "ram-air" low pressure chamber, vertical ASA, forgrip, bottom-line ASA, .45 frame, 2-finger trigger, slide-on sight-rail with integrated beavertail, and a ported 13" barrel. The EXT has the exact same feature set. The EXT differs by offering a black or titanium-anodized body with chromed accessories and barrel for a showier look. Performance is identical. Price for the color/chrome combination is $20 above that of the STS - not bad, but putting it all that much closer to the king-of-the-hill Piranha Pro.
The Piranha series of paintguns still smokes the competition in a variety of arenas. The trigger remains the best of the bunch. It combines smooth, slack-free action with a short, fast pull that anyone can rip quick strings from easily. Fit-and-finish are beyond reproach with a consistent and clean look from the tip of the barrel to the end of the beavertail. Clever design elements are evident everywhere in the Piranhas design that make the players life easier. The Piranha also comes with what may be the worlds best blowback manual, easily on-par with the one included with the F4 Illustrator.
If I had to nit-pick Id wish for a drop-forward and pressure regulator like those found on the Spyder 2000 and Shutter, but thats it. Of the blowbacks weve tested so far, the Piranhas still represent the best compromise in all arenas.
It is probably all to easy to conclude from these articles that one of the Piranhas is the only way to go when buying a paintgun. That is not entirely true. Every paintgun weve tested offers a unique constellation of features, feel, look, and price that will appeal to different people.
If youre looking for every feature available, its hard to look past the Spyder Shutter which includes everything but the kitchen sink. If price/performance ratio is a key feature, youll likely find the Genie hard to pass up. If bullet-proof construction is your priority, youll find the Thundercat and GT 2000 as useful for driving nails as firing paintballs. If you want the coolest looking blowback on the block youll have to look long and hard to find anything near as slick as the Joker Ace. If you want the worlds best warranty and customer service, theres no need to look any further than Tippmanns Model 98. Very few of the paintguns weve tested have absolutely no compelling reason to consider buying them.
The key to happiness with your paintgun is knowing what is most important to you. What weve done here is try to provide you with the information required to find the best match for you.
If you have questions or comments for Mark, you can contact him at RAGE Sports. He loves to talk paintball and is very active both recreationally and on the tournament scene. His web page is at www.ragesports.net or you can call the store at (248) 673-9090.
We need blowbacks!
All that said, the quest is still not over. There are many more blowback paintguns out there just begging to be seen and evaluated. Both the Diamond GT and Thundercat have feature-rich, upscale versions. Brass Eagle has a new plastic blowback that (hopefully) promises to better the Stingray II. Bob Longs Millennium calls out to me in the wee-hours of the night. There is a huge line of Bruiser blowbacks hiding out there somewhere. There is a new upscale Inferno just starting to waves in the market.
All of these and more could appear in Blowback Blowout Part III. That cant happen without help, though. Manufacturers, please contact PGI or myself for inclusion in the next article. Distributors, endear yourselves to players like National Paintball Supply South by loaning us a batch of blowbacks not yet seen in these pages. Players, demand better - it is your buying dollars that determine what does and does not fly in this market.
All material at this site is © Ravi Chopra, 2001