© Ravi Chopra & Mark Worrell, 2000
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Regular readers of my articles might be under the impression that I was not aware that paintguns were available at prices below $500. Nothing could be further from the truth. I know they exist. Its just kind of hard to put down a $1700 nitro-driven tourney gun in favor of a $150 blowback with a 9 oz CO2 tank for any extended period of time.
But then, lets face it; the inexpensive blowback paintgun is the largest part of the market. Its every stores bread and butter. Its the fields rental gun. Its the average players most-likely paintslinger. Sure, an article about a $2500 paintgun is fun to read (and even more fun to write), but for most players, its absolutely useless.
On the internet, people have been asking me to review some more reasonably priced paintguns. Manufacturers have been sending me blowbacks to review. I figured it was time I finally got down to it. I collected together all the blowback paintguns at my disposal and took them out to shoot and evaluate.
The only problem is, I havent shot a blowback with any regularity since my old PMI III (later named the VM-68) way back in the days when the All American were beating the stuffing out of everyone with them. I know what makes a good paintgun, I just wasnt current on the latest trends in blowback technology and performance. To help, I sought the assistance of my good friend, Mark Worrell. Mark is, in addition to being a Detroit Fusion starter, owner of RAGE Sports, a new extreme sports store here in Clarkston, Michigan (thats in the USA, friends). As a player, Mark is a stalwart Autocockers-and-Angels kind of guy. As a store owner though, the sale and maintenance of inexpensive semis is his bread-and-butter. Hes also much more in-touch with the average recreational player looking to buy a new paintgun than Ill likely ever be. For me, he was the perfect person to take advantage of for free information and useful quotes to flesh this article out.
One thing I learned is that these inexpensive paintguns have improved a LOT since the old days. At prices well under $200, they work better than ever before and come with features that either didnt exist or were extremely expensive. Fit and finish has improved dramatically (on some at least), and reliability, particularly in the cold, has gone straight through the ceiling.
All of these guns were tested with Diablo Inferno, a fairly fragile, tournament-grade paint. It is a real testament to the design of these paintguns that we did not break a single paintball during any of our tests. This included a great deal of rapid firing which I would have expected to result in quite a bit more mess.
Throughout our testing, each paintgun was fitted with a 20 oz CO2 tank screwed into whichever fitting was available. Paint was fed by a Viewloader Revolution hopper. Granted, many would not feel the need to use a motorized hopper on these blowbacks but we wanted to eliminate hopper jams as a possible extrinsic source of problems.
In reviewing these paintguns, we looked at a number of things: standard features/upgrades, trigger feel, and cosmetics. Granted, the last two are totally subjective, but as always weve tried to be as descriptive as possible so you can make your own judgements.
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.
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. Not only does it look better than most other grips, it has a much more natural angle which many feel points better (improves accuracy with snap shooting).
Forgrip or Expansion Chamber: I dont know how people shoot paintguns without having a grip to hold onto up front. A forgrip or expansion chamber does the job nicely, allowing you to get a good grip 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.
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 as a result. 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.
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, velocity adjuster, and the kitchen sink 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.
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.
Center-feed: Center-feed feeds paint straight down into the breech rather than at an angle. This places the hopper right over the center of the paintgun and usually allows it to sit a bit lower than with standard angled feeds and powerfeeds. This makes your paintgun a bit more compact and keeps you from hanging your hopper out one side or the other when playing around the sides of cover. Some people will probably worry that the bingo-ball effect would cause problems with this, but we did not experience any feeding problems with any of the center-feed paintguns in this test.
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 an 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. 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. 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 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. If we could find an MSRP, we listed that. Lacking that, we list a range of common prices from mail-order companies.
That said, here are the reviews. The paintguns are listed in manufacturer alphabetical order.
Belsales Inferno: $140
Belsales is probably best known for the truly excellent Evolution Autococker, one of the earliest custom Autocockers. People are probably less aware that Belsales also manufactures a blowback paintgun named the Inferno, currently distributed in the US by WOrr Game Products. Belsales is best known for their immaculate manufacturing. Every Autococker they build is hand-assembled and timed, each piece perfectly fit and adjusted. Theyre not as flashy as other top-end guns, but theyre exceptionally reliable and work perfectly. The Inferno isnt much different.
Compared to other paintguns in this review, the Inferno is a fairly spartan package. This top-cocking, over-under style blowback comes with only two of the features discussed above. Pulling the cocking pin from the top of the body allows the bolt to drop out the back of the paintgun. It also comes with an extra-large valve chamber; essentially a built in low pressure chamber for dramatically improved low pressure and low temperature performance. It has a standard right-feed tube, placing your hopper well to the right side of your paintgun. The grip-frame is a fairly comfortable, molded plastic part with a bottom-line adapter fitted to its bottom end. I suspect that this grip can be replaced with .45 grips built to fit older Spyders. Air is run from the bottom-line to the front of the paintgun below the barrel via a steel-braid hose. The hose screws directly into the front plug without a vertical ASA. Velocity is set by turning an allen screw at the back of the gun below the bolt. The barrel has Spyder-compatible threads and is a plain, 10", totally unimpressive aluminum tube.
Overall, the lack of features, particularly a .45 style trigger frame and powerfeed put it well behind the competition from a features standpoint.
On the other hand, the gun is exceptionally well manufactured. There are no burrs or uneven seams. All the parts fit together perfectly. Though it doesnt look particularly special, it has a high-quality look about it. The trigger has absolutely no slack from side to side and has an action with a particularly nice and smooth feel.
The trigger acceptable, but nothing particularly special in this group. It has a nice, tight, crisp feel, but isnt particularly short, soft, or easy to shoot fast. The trigger plate is all metal, has sharp edges, and does not come with a trigger shoe. For some (both Mark and I included), this will be very uncomfortable over any duration of shooting. If I owned one of these, my first act would be to add a trigger shoe. This would give it a much more comfortable feel.
The Infernos manual is one particularly bright spot in this group. It is very complete, including operating instructions, troubleshooting tips, and a full breakdown diagram of the gun.
On the whole, the Inferno is an exceptionally well-built, but very basic blowback. It is beautifully manufactured, has a high-quality look and feel, and will likely be extremely reliable over the long term. At $140, it is one of the less expensive paintguns in this test, though others in its price range offer a much more impressive feature set.
After shooting all these paintguns, Marks comments about the Inferno were as sparse as its feature set: "Its an OK gun but the lack of a .45 frame and the sharp-edged metal trigger really turn me off."
Brass Eagle Raptor
For their actions in a variety of arenas, Brass Eagle has become one of paintballs most controversial companies. Not least among their image problems is the general impression among experienced players of the quality of Brass Eagle paintguns. From their beginning in paintball, Brass Eagle has built primarily budget paintguns with large feature sets. Unfortunately, some of their early efforts in semi-autos were less than impressive, and in some cases were actually disastrously awful.
What people forget is that Brass Eagle has since changed ownership. Since that time, the quality of Brass Eagle products has improved substantially. Their market share has risen quite a bit as well due to their aggressive advertising and marketing their paintball products through large sporting goods stores.
Brass Eagles current higher-end blowback offering is the Raptor series of paintguns. Those familiar with the venerable Illustrator line of over-under style blowbacks (not available for this review) will likely recognize quite a bit in the Raptor, most familiar being the screw-in plugs at the front and back of the paintgun. When the two plugs at the back are unscrewed from the body the spring and guide drop out the back of the gun. You might think that this would allow the hammer and bolt to drop out as well, but youd be wrong. The pin connecting the two is an allen screw that must be removed through a hole in the top of the paintgun before either can be removed. What concerns me is that the velocity adjuster is incorporated into the lower plug. Though adjusting the velocity screw requires an allen wrench, you can tighten and loosen the entire plug by hand, thus allowing the unscrupulous player the ability to adjust his velocity on the field. Chrono judges should be careful to ensure that all Raptor plugs are fully screwed in when chronoing.
Raptors come with a cast metal .45 frame pieced together in two halves. While we commend the inclusion of a .45 frame, the cast parts with a seam down the middle has the cheap look and feel of a mass-produced product. While this does not affect the paintguns performance any, it will likely detract from perceived value. Adding to this perception is the plastic triggers found on both Raptors. Fortunately, the frame comes wrapped in a set of very nice rubber finger-groove grips.
Raptors sport a power-feed that places the hopper on the left and allows you to shut off the flow of paint. Its worth noting that the power-feed tube is of the less common 1" size. Though the Raptor does include a 1" elbow, it doesnt fit particularly snugly, so many will probably want to get an aftermarket elbow to hold their hoppers better.
Rounding out the basic set of parts a standard bottom-line ASA, a wire-nubbin style ball detent (very nice!), and a 12" spiral ported barrel. They also include a bolt with a custom face that flutes open at the very end.
Though Brass Eagle does make some efforts to sculpt it, the Raptors body in profile is basically a big aluminum brick. Part quality also suffers a bit in comparison to the best. You wont find polished stainless hammers and springs in the Raptors.
All Raptors come with the same manual a decent set of instructions in a variety of languages with operating and troubleshooting tips. A blow-up diagram of the paintgun is also included with an order sheet for replacement parts.
Silver Eagle ($160)
The Silver Eagle is the base-level Raptor. Though the model sent to me had a single-finger trigger and bottom-line tank adapter, new models include a double-finger trigger and vertical ASA in addition to the bottom line. As I did not have the new model to test, I can only evaluate the model as sent.
The Silver Eagles trigger has, for a blowback, a very short throw making for a short trigger pull. Unfortunately, its also very stiff. With a single-finger trigger as included on the test gun, this is not a good combination. Both Mark and I found the trigger heavy and uncomfortable, and quite difficult to get into a good rhythm with during rapid fire.
The lack of any kind of forgrip turned Mark off even further. This combined with the uncomfortable trigger and the cheap look and feel left both of us in an uncharitable mood.
For the price, the Silver Eagle offers a fair collection of features in an obviously mass-produced paintgun. Though other paintguns in its price range offer dramatically superior quality of construction, look, and trigger-feel, none can match Brass Eagles titanic marketing savvy and wide availability. Overall, a slightly overpriced, OK paintgun.
Marks thoughts: "The one thing I like is the wire-nubbin detent. It looks kind of nice too. It shoots like crap, though. A short and stiff trigger is a bad combination."
The Raptor Extreme is the upscale model of the Raptor. It is identical to the Silver Eagle, but adds a double-finger trigger, vertically mounted expansion chamber, and red anodizing with a mottled black splash.
Given its near-twin status with the Silver Eagle, youd expect us to find it as impressively underwhelming as its little brother. We certainly did. How wrong we were, and what a difference a double-finger trigger can make. Where the short, stiff pull was hard to get a good rhythm with using a single finger, bringing a second finger in on the action allows you to get more leverage, lightening the pull and giving it a fast, bouncy, snappy feel. Where neither of us were able to get comfortable with the Silver Eagles trigger, we were both immediately won over by the Extremes much improved feel.
Also improving matters significantly is the expansion chamber mounted below the body forward of the grip frame. Apart from the functional improvement of reducing the amount of liquid that will end up being drawn into your paintgun on cold days, the expansion chamber is molded into a comfortable forgrip. This improves your grip and gives you much better control over where your paintgun is pointed.
Finally, though Id still be hard-pressed to describe the Raptor as attractive, the two color anodizing goes a ways in breaking up the blocky shape and making it, at the very least, somewhat less ugly.
Strangely enough, though the Silver Eagle was one paintgun we were not at all disappointed to set aside, the Raptor Extreme impressed us enough to climb up among our favorite two or three paintguns in this test. Though Mark prefers a slightly longer trigger, this one suited me just about perfectly. The only thing that makes me hesitate is Brass Eagles obviously cheap construction. With an MSRP of $200 and street prices that go even lower, the Raptor Extreme is a pretty good deal given its many features and superb trigger. By far the biggest surprise of this review.
Marks thoughts: "The two-finger trigger made a world of difference. This is definitely a nice trigger. Its a better looking, good shooting upgrade to the Silver Eagle."
Core One Back Bottle/Top General ($100-$155)
I have yet to figure out who makes this paintgun. Its sold through a number of different places under a number of different names (including both Core One, and Top General), and is built in Taiwan according to a sticker on the front of the box. When I first saw the Core One, my first question was "Who still makes back-bottle paintguns?" After a longer look, I found that the back-bottle ASA was perhaps the least of this quirky paintguns strange design choices.
The Core One Back Bottle is your basic top-cocking, over-under, Spyder-alike blowback. Among its nice features are a standard powerfeed oriented to place the hopper to the right of the gun, a quick-strip system for the bolt, and a thumb-screw velocity adjuster. Oddly, though you can pull the cocking knob out of the top of the paintgun to free up the bolt, the manufacturer has placed a plug in the back of the gun, preventing the bolts removal. Fortunately you can remove this plug to allow you to actually use the quick-strip system. Furthermore, the velocity thumb screw does not have a locking screw! This is just inviting abuse.
As mentioned, this paintgun takes its air in through a back-bottle adapter. Some people like them, but Ive found that the tank gets in the way of my mask when I hold the gun up where I like to shoot. Rather than using external hoses, air is channeled through holes through the bottom of the body to the valve at the front of the paintgun. The hopper is positioned to the right of the body with a standard powerfeed. The Core One does not have any kind of sight rail, so youll have to add an aftermarket raised rail if you like to use a sight. Its barrel is 9.5" long and has a couple inches of spiral end-venting.
The trigger frame and grip are made of a black, molded plastic. The trigger guard is very large to accommodate even the largest, gloved fingers. The molded finger-groove grip is reminiscent of Smart Parts old wood grips for the VM-68. The grip is very comfortable but can not accommodate a bottom-line mount.
The trigger itself is extremely Spyder-like. Mark thought the trigger felt good and tight, but it was a little long and heavy for my tastes. If youve ever shot a basic Spyder, you know how the trigger on this gun feels. The gun is very lightweight and has a fairly stiff mainspring so it tends to jerk around a lot with each shot.
The Core Ones appearance is fairly plain. Theyre available in all black and polished silver. Basically, it looks like another Spyder clone, with very little to make it stand out.
Ive found Core One/Top Generals listed at prices that range from $100 up to $155. At $100 its probably a fair deal. Once you climb up to $155 it is competing with paintguns that offer better construction, more features, and nicer triggers.
Marks thoughts: "At that price, to not have a forgrip or bottom-line is ridiculous. Its a good gun, but overpriced."
Made by the same company as the Top General, the Delta is every bit as odd, sharing most of its advantages and disadvantages.
Like the Core One, the Delta is a top-cocking, over-under, Spyder-alike blowback. It has the same powerfeed, same velocity adjuster with no lock, and same quick-strip system with a plug to keep you from using it. The trigger feels exactly the same as the Core One which feels exactly the same as an older Spyder.
The Delta does come with a few additional features that make it a bit more competitive. First, it comes with both a vertical ASA and bottom-line adapter. This makes it much more flexible if you decide to change things later. The trigger frame is aluminum rather than plastic as well a nice improvement if you tend to bang your paintgun up a lot. We both thought the grip was a big downgrade, though. Rather than a .45 frame or even the comfy-curvy grip found on the Core One, an M-16 style grip comes as standard equipment on the Delta.
The Delta looks a bit more distinctive than the Core One, but we both found it difficult to call attractive. It offers a bit more value given all the extra features, but at $155, you pay for it. Again, not a bad paintgun, but clearly outclassed by others in this price range.
Marks thoughts: "As least it has a hose to hold as a forgrip in front. Otherwise, its the same as the Core One."
Diablo Joker (base $100-$140, STP and Ace $160-$200)
The Diablo Joker is, I believe, actually made by Diamond Labs for Diablo. It comes in three basic shapes, the basic Joker, the slot-milled Joker STP, and the curvaceous Joker Ace. Apart from the cosmetic differences, these three paintguns are functionally identical.
When I first looked at these markers, I couldnt help but be struck by a sense of dejá vu, that Id seen this paintgun somewhere before. Then I set the base Joker down next to the Inferno. An almost exact match! I say almost because the Jokers add quite a few more features to the mix.
The Joker paintguns are top-cocking, over-under style blowbacks. The bolt, hammer, spring, guide, and velocity adjuster can all be stripped without tools by pulling out the cocking knob on top and the retaining pin through the back of the paintgun body. Unfortunately, the back pin prevents you from pulling out the bolt alone even if you just pull out the cocking knob. Though the back pin pulls out easily, I found that the retaining bearing that holds the cocking pin in place is sprung too heavily to allow easy removal. The difficulties in stripping this paintgun do not stop there. The hammer will require a little coaxing to remove from the lower chamber due to upward pressure from the sear. The sear plays an even bigger role when reassembling the gun as it prevents the hammer from sliding forward into place even when the trigger is pulled. I had to use a pair of scissors to depress the sear through the slot in the top of the gun to get the hammer back in place. My strong recommendation is that you do NOT strip this paintgun down on the field. Youll be walking off with a handful of parts.
When stripped, youll find that the hammer is polished stainless steel, and the bolt is a beautifully sculpted and polished aluminum. The Jokers bolts offer a Lightning-bolt-like angled inlet and fluted opening for extremely free-flow and better efficiency.
The Joker places the hopper to the left of the gun body and comes with a standard powerfeed with shut-off. The triggers are built into standard aluminum .45 frames with APP rubber wraparound grips.
The Jokers sent to me included microline hose to conduct air from the angled bottom-line ASA to the front of the paintgun where an enormous air chamber directs the gas back to the valve.
The trigger on the Joker line of paintguns has a very comfortable feel thanks to the .45 frame and wide trigger plate, eliminating the necessity of a trigger shoe. The trigger is very tight laterally, with only a tiny amount of side-to-side play. There is quite a bit of extra play in the triggers swing, though. As with the Inferno, we both found it harder to get into a good rhythm for rapid fire. Given its light weight, it really tends to kick with each shot. Overall it has a nice, crisp, comfortable feel.
The base Joker comes with a plain 10" stock barrel. The STP and Ace come with 10" end-ported aluminum DYE rip-offs.
The only other difference between these paintguns is the cosmetics. The base Joker looks almost identical to the Inferno, but is available in a variety of bright colors. the STP comes with some fairly extensive slot-milling and fade anodizing. The Ace takes its cue from the gorgeous Westwood Autococker sold by Bad Boyz Toyz and comes with both fade and splash anodizing, thought the millwork sacrifices the sight-rail for hot looks. The quality of the milling and polishing is actually quite good, leaving smooth, clean surfaces. The anodizing is quite nice, though you wont mistake the Aces splash job for anything that might have come out of Smart Parts. With their milling and anodizing, the STP and Ace really knocked us out.
The manual that comes with the Joker paintguns is a joke. Its nothing more than a photocopy of a breakdown diagram of the gun. Totally inadequate.
At prices from $100-$140, the basic Joker is one of the better values out there. Commanding a $40 premium for the custom milling and anodizing, the STP and Ace dont offer quite as much as other paintguns in that price range, but offer looks that simply blow all the competition away.
Marks thoughts: "Definitely one of the prettiest guns, but they could use a few options [vertical or forgrip] to make them comparable to other guns. The lack of a forgrip is a problem too. Overall its an average-shooting paintgun with nothing special about it but the cosmetics."
Kingman Spyder TL ($160-$220)
I really wish I could have had more Kingman paintguns to include in this review. They are among the most popular and widely available blowbacks around, but Kingman failed to respond to any of my inquiries, leaving me with jus the one new gun I could borrow from RAGE Sports, the Spyder TL, a rough equivalent of the PMI Piranha G-2 STS (reviewed below).
Kingman, much like WGP with the Autococker, has slowly been nipping away at the aftermarket manufacturers business by adding expensive upgrades to the Spyder and selling them off as stock features at lower prices than it would cost to add them to a base Spyder. The Spyder TL was, until recently, one of the most fully-featured Spyders available, with virtually every part upgraded in some way or another.
Lets start by looking at the internals. The Spyder TL is a rear-cocking, over-under style blowback. A quick-strip system allows you to pull out the bolt, velocity adjuster, spring, guide, and hammer by pulling out just a single cotter-pin at the back of the gun. The cotter-pin works well, but doesnt have the same high-quality look and feel of the pins used in the same system in the Jokers and Piranhas. As this is a rear-cocking blowback, a knob in the back of the bolt sticks out the back of the gun, allowing you to pull it back without a knob on the side or top of the paintgun. The disadvantage is that if you tend to play with the gun close to your face (as most good players do) the back of the bolt will have a tendency to smash a hole in your goggle lens. The Spyder TL avoids this problem by adding an integrated sight-rail and beavertail which extends out behind the back of the bolt to protect anything from being hit by the moving bolt. The bolt itself has a custom venturi face with 6 holes. The velocity adjuster has a finger-adjustable knob and a locking screw, allowing you to quickly and easily dial in your velocity before locking it in place.
The Spyder TL feeds from the left and has a standard powerfeed with shut-off plug. The front of the paintgun is graced by a low pressure chamber. This chamber screws into the front of the gun and holds a larger volume of air ready to flow through the valve when the gun is fired. This feature allows the TL to fire at lower pressures and makes it more reliable in the cold. Just behind the low pressure chamber is a vertical ASA with a forgrip screwed into it. Note: this is a forgrip, not an expansion chamber. The hose that enters it goes all the way up to the ASA with no real extra volume or filters for expansion. The grip has finger-grooves cut for a more comfortable grip.
The steel-braid hose takes its feed from a bottom-line ASA mounted at the bottom of an aluminum .45 frame with a full 2-finger trigger and guard. The front of the grip frame is cut with finger grooves while the sides are covered by plastic side panels. The finger grooves in the front of the grip are nice, but they prevent you from installing a more comfortable set of rubber Hogue, Fat Boy, or APP grips.
The trigger is a wide two-finger plate that angles forward like all Spyder triggers. This forward angle really bothered Mark, who feels that it makes the gun harder to shoot fast. I tend to agree, but there are a lot of people who like just this sort of thing. The trigger also has quite a bit of side-to-side slack. It makes for a loose and sloppy feeling trigger. On the plus side, though the pull is a little bit longer than some, but it is very smooth, fast, and has a nice strong return favoring rapid fire and cleaning up the sloppy feel with strong springing. Despite the fact that many of these comments seem to be negative, the Spyder TLs double-finger trigger is one of its real highlights. It was very easy to shoot fast and get into a good rhythm with. Mark and I agreed, it had one of the three best triggers in this test.
Mark felt that the Spyder TL had average looks. To my eye it was somewhat worse. The problem with a base paintgun that has been hopped up is that the parts look tacked-on rather than providing a consistent appearance. It has the look of what may have been an elegant paintgun underneath, but now with a bunch of bolted-on aftermarket parts, none of which really seem to match well cosmetically. While the 13" spiral ported barrel looks and shoots reasonably well, theres a funky ring around the body-barrel junction which Im guessing was meant to make the Spyder look more menacing, but really just kind of looks like dead-weight.
The Spyder TL retailed for around $220, but with can often be found for less through discount mail-order places. Even at $220, though, it offers a huge value in standard features and performance. Discounted, it becomes an even better value. Though it doesnt quite match the gorgeous looks, fit, and finish of the Jokers or Piranhas, its a solid, very high-end blowback. Kingmans success is not at all hard to understand.
Marks thoughts: "I dont like the forward [angled] trigger. It makes for a [less comfortable] trigger. It has a sloppier trigger feel, but has a nice stiff return. I do like all the features, though. This and the Piranhas set the best example for how a good blowback should be set up and equipped."
Nationals GT 2000 ($135 + $55 for optional expansion chamber)
The GT 2000 is National Paintball Supplys entry into the low-cost blowback market. Designed by National VP Doug Brown, the goal of the GT 2000 is to provide a new standard in reliability, ease of maintenance, and innovative new features. One look shows a paintgun that really does break away from the status quo and stands rather far apart from the rest of this pack of blowback paintguns.
The first thing you might notice is that it lacks many of the amenities that other paintguns in this test have. This is not a permanent situation. The GT 2000 was built to be inexpensive and reliable first, while offering a large upgrade path for those who have more money to spend.
That said, the GT 2000 is a rear-cocking, over-under style blowback paintgun. In its base form its internals are fairly spartan, lacking a quick-strip system, a custom bolt, or finger-adjustable velocity. National offers aftermarket upgrades for all of these parts if theyre important to you. This way, they keep the cost of the base paintgun low while still leaving open the possibility that youll spend much more money on their products in the future. The back-cocking bolt is fairly long and sticks pretty far out the back of the paintgun when it is cocked. As no beavertail is included in the stock gun your goggles are in serious jeopardy if you get to close when firing. Take care or buy a beavertail. This thing will punch a neat hole in your lens if you arent careful.
In front, the GT 2000 has a HUGE air chamber in front of the valve, making for perhaps the single largest low pressure chamber in a blowback paintgun. The GT 2000 is also designed to exclusively use tank O-rings throughout so you wont need to spend a ton of money on repair kits to get all the different seal sizes you need in case of a leak. Just buy a pack of tank O-rings and youre ready to fix just about any leak the gun has. The only seal that isnt a tank O-ring is the cup seal, made of a slightly softer material than in other blowbacks which Doug claims seals better and is less likely to nick and leak than harder materials.
The feed on this paintgun is perhaps its most interesting and innovative feature. It combines the benefits of powerfeed with those of a center-feed. This paintgun has its breech port on the right side of the paintgun but has a vertical feed tube rather than one that angles over the top of the paintgun. In this way, the hopper is situated low and nearly over the center of the paintgun body while providing a taller stack of paintballs and a powerfeed effect. Additionally, it allows you to sight over the gun body and use any sight you like without a raised rail. The plug at the bottom of the feed tube can not be turned to shut off the flow of paint, but it can be pulled out to allow quick cleaning of the feed tube and breech. Whats more interesting is that it will still feed even if the plug is missing. It wont feed reliably or fast, but it wont dump your paint out on the ground if you pull the plug with a full hopper still attached. Rounding out this clever innovation is a built in VL adapter at the top with a screw-tightened clamp. On this early model, the clamp was a little too loose for my VL Revolution, but new models correct this problem.
Air feeds into the GT 2000 via a standard duck-bill bottom-line. A steel braid hose carries the air up to the front of the paintgun in the base model. National sent along their new thermal cell expansion chamber, a new sort of expansion chamber with a large filter/thermal cell which filters crud out of dirty air supplies, provides expansion volume, and is supposed to have a high enough heat capacity to prevent liquid CO2 from entering the paintgun. If you have more than one filter insert, you can switch them out each game, placing the unused one in a warm place so you can have a warm filter for each game.
The GT 2000 comes with a .45 frame standard, though any aftermarket Spyder frame will fit and work just fine. The grip plates are cheap plastic covers and would do well if replaced with a nice set of rubber wrap-arounds. The trigger has a Spyder-like wide trigger shoe angled almost 45 degrees forward. The trigger guard is a screw on part that can be removed and replaced with a 2-finger guard if you ever decide to go to a 2-finger shoe.
The trigger feels as Spyder-like as it looks. Differences are that it has quite a bit less lateral slack for a tighter feel and heavier springing. Though some may object to the stiffer trigger pull, experienced players will likely appreciate the extremely fast return during rapid-fire. The GT 2000s large and heavy body also made for a very stable shooting platform. Where we found many of the lightweight paintguns in this test to jerk around quite a bit when fired, the GT was as stable and sold as a rock. This improves rapid-fire accuracy a bit, but may increase the chances that youll need a motorized hopper to feed this paintgun reliably. On the whole, of the single-finger trigger guns tested here, this one was the easiest to get a good feel for rapid-firing.
From a cosmetic standpoint, the GT 2000 is clearly the Quasimodo of this test. More than even the Brass Eagle paintguns, the GT looks like a big black brick with tubes sticking out of it. You can improve things somewhat with shiny aftermarket parts, but in the end youre just putting makeup and false eyelashes on a hog. The GT 2000 is about performance and low cost, not looking pretty. There are rumors that some aftermarket companies may start making custom-milled and anodized versions of the GT 2000 though this will certainly increase the cost substantially.
Overall, Mark and I agreed that the GT 2000 is a big and heavy paintgun, but with a comfortable feel and a nice trigger. With solid all-metal construction and no gaping holes for dirt to get at the innards it should be extremely durable and hold up well even as a rental gun. At $135, it is one of the less expensive paintguns in this test, but youll have to pony up the extra $55 if you want the thermal cell expansion chamber for better cold weather performance and a forgrip.
Marks thoughts: "It looks like a tank, but the vertical powerfeed is really sweet. I didnt think Id like the [forward angled] trigger, but when I shot it, it didnt bother me. It shoots good. And being able to rebuild the whole thing only having to replace tank O-rings is cool. Its about time someone engineered a gun around common, easy-to-find O-rings."
For even more information about the GT 2000, you can visit their web site at www.gt-2000.com.
PMI Piranha G-2
The original PMI Piranha was one of of the most dominant tournament pump-guns back when I was new to the sport. Teams like the PMI Piranhas and the Lords of Discipline rocked the tournament scene playing with Piranha Long-barrels. PMI has resurrected that legendary name for their line of blowback semis, a line which has become quite popular for its good performance, nice feature set, and competitive pricing. For the year 2000, PMI has revised their entire line, calling the new guns the Piranha G-2 series.
What is perhaps most impressive about the G-2 series is that it includes a host of high-end upgrades in ALL its models all the way down to the least expensive base model. All the G-2s come as rear-cocking, over-under style blowbacks. They all come with a quick-strip system held in with a single pin through the back of the paintgun body. When popped out, the bolt, velocity adjuster, spring, guide, and hammer all drop out the back of the paintgun. Reassembly is a snap as well. With most paintguns that have this type of quickstrip system the sear gets in the way of reinstalling the hammer. PMI has installed a small switch on the left side of the grip frame that allows the sear to drop down out of the way when reinstalling the hammer. This is just the kind of attention to detail that pervades all aspects of the Piranhas design and makes it such a delight to use.
All Piranhas come with a standard vertical ASA. Screwed into the front of the ASA is a standard low pressure chamber. Higher end models get PMIs new "Ram Air" low pressure chamber (more on this later) which is supposed to provide even better performance.
Like most of the paintguns in this review, the Piranha comes with a standard powerfeed with shut-off plug, and places the hopper to the left of the gun body. A raised sight rail also comes as standard equipment on all G-2s to allow you to sight over the powerfeed with just about any sight you prefer.
A 2-finger trigger now comes as base equipment on all G-2s. This comes installed in a one-piece .45 frame with full 2-finger guard. In all but the Piranha Pro, this .45 frame and trigger are made of a carbon fiber composite (essentially a very strong plastic). Few will find reasons to quibble with this choice as these are simply the nicest composite grip frames weve ever seen. As opposed to the shiny, plasticky appearance of most non-metal frames, the Piranhas frame is done out in a nice, clean, matte-black finish. No seams from the molding are apparent and all edges and corners are smoothly rounded out for a more comfortable grip and nicer appearance. The plastic trigger is of exceptional quality as well. It offers a wide, comfortable gripping surface, the same matte finish as the grip, and for lack of a better way of describing it, fits perfectly in the frame. Getting metal parts to match and fit well is hard enough. Getting them to fit well with plastic parts is a near supernatural feat. The Piranhas composite trigger has absolutely no lateral slack at all within the frame. It glides smoothly, without any sense of slackness, dragging, catching. It very well may be the smoothest, most comfortable and natural trigger pull of all the paintguns reviewed in this test. The only thing that would make it feel better would be a set of rubber wrap-around grips in place of the cheap plastic plates that cover the sides of the grip frame.
The trigger pull itself is a real treat as well. All the Piranhas have the same trigger mechanism so they all feel pretty much the same. The pull length is about middle-of-the-pack for this test; not as short as guns like the Model 98 or the Silver Eagle, not as long as the Spyder TL or Venom. It comes with mid-weight springing which strikes a perfect balance between being too soft for rapid fire and being fatiguing. Combined with the exceptionally tight and smooth pull, these factors made the Piranhas triggers both Marks and my favorites of this test for comfort, rapid fire, and overall feel. They really do set a new standard in blowback paintguns.
Overall construction of the Piranhas is simple, but very consistent and clean. When compared to Spyders with similar feature sets, the Piranha has a much more consistent and clean look. They dont quite match the Jokers delicious looks, but they do stand near the top of the pack cosmetically.
Finally, speciallly equipped Piranhas are offered for field owners, including key-locked quick strip systems, and brightly colored parts for easy identification.
VTL ($140) & Bottom-line ($160)
The VTL and Bottom-line are the two base Piranha models and are essentially identical apart from the Bottom-line having (not surprisingly) a bottom-line ASA feeding up to the vertical.
As with the GT 2000, the Piranha base models do not have a beavertail to protect the user from the rear-cocking bolt. The Piranhas bolt back is a bit more blunt and does not appear to protrude quite as far as the GTs bolt. None the less, take care when firing with this gun held close to your face.
Both the VTL and Bottom-line come with 9" barrels with straight porting over the terminal couple of inches.
The low cost and strong feature sets of the VTL and Bottom-line make them excellent values for starting players, particularly when packaged with a tank, hopper, and mask in the Piranha Player Pack at an even more discounted price. Theyre also a great starting point for people who are looking to hop up their blowbacks with regulators, nitro systems, and aftermarket barrels.
I think Mark summed it up best when he said: "The trigger is way better than the Spyders. At $160, I dont see anyone who can touch it. Slap on an expansion chamber and youre rolling."
The STS is the hopped up version of the Piranha, adding several features to the VTL and Bottom-lines base set. To start, a beavertail is added to the sight rail to protect masks from the rear-cocking bolt. A finger-grooved forgrip is added to the vertical ASA for improved hold and stability. The barrel receives four inches of additional length (up to 13") and spiral porting not unlike that found on Smart Parts barrels. The bolt also gets an upgrade, going from a standard open-face design to a 6-hole venturi. The STS also sees the addition of a finger-adjustable velocity screw with tournament locks. And perhaps the most hyped new feature of the high-end Piranhas: the "Ram Air" low pressure chamber.
Ram Air is really just the addition of a spring-loaded piston to the low pressure chamber. I think the idea is that decompression of this spring when the gun is fired helps drive air through the valve more consistently and at a higher rate. PMI makes big claims of improved efficiency and consistency, particularly in the cold. In all honesty, I dont know if I buy that sales pitch. I suppose it could provide some benefit under very adverse conditions, but you need to remember that there is a tradeoff. Another piston means more seals that can leak something that happened in my test STS until I ran some oil through the gun to seal it up.
Ram Air is a neat idea, but it wouldnt influence my decision as to whether or not to buy this gun. The rest of its impressive performance and list of features are more than enough justification. The $70 premium you pay over the Bottom-line is worth it if you want the added features. If you plan on replacing the barrel and adding either a reg or expansion chamber to the vertical ASA, youre really better off building up a VTL.
Marks thoughts: "If you bought all these extras as aftermarket add-ons, theyd cost $170. If you want these upgrades, theyre definitely worth the $70."
The Piranha Pro adds another $70 to the STS price tag, bringing the total up to $300. For your extra pennies, you get everything in the STS plus quite a bit more. The first thing youll certainly notice is that it comes with a gorgeous 3-color fade anodizing with counter-faded splash. The gun sent to me was gold-green-black. An anodizing job like this alone costs more than that $70 price hike.
So it can be anodized to match the rest of the paintgun, the Pro also gets an aluminum trigger frame and drilled metal trigger. It shoots essentially the same as the other Piranhas but gives it an added sense of solidity and quality.
Finally, the Pro comes with center-feed, a totally awesome addition. This centers your hopper (rendering your sight-rail more cosmetic than functional), eliminates the need for an elbow, and lowers the hopper dramatically to make the Pro a much more compact package when fully decked-out to play. Despite firing this paintgun as fast as we could, we did not experience any feeding problems and found it to work extremely well.
Non-standard options sent and photographed with this gun were the PMI Perfect Drop Forward cradle, retailing at $44.95, and PMIs about-to-be-discontinued M-1000 nitrogen system ($250). We did not consider them as part of our evaluation.
On the whole, we both were tremendously impressed with the Piranha Pro. It is the most fully featured and high-performance blowback included in these tests. At the same time, it is also the most expensive, starting to close in on the price tag of such traditional high-end tournament guns as the stock Autococker and Automag. Whether its worth that much money to you or not is something only you can decide. Mark and I agreed that at $300 youd be hard-pressed to find a paintgun that was anywhere near as good.
Marks thoughts: "This is the best paintgun of this whole test. You just cant find a paintgun with this many upgrades and this good looks anywhere near this price. Sure, you can start looking at basic Autocockers right around here, but they wont have center feed, a .45 frame, or any of the cosmetic upgrades. If youre looking to spend $300, this is the way to go."
Sheridan XTS ($140-$180)
One look at this cheap and simple-looking blowback had both of us ready to pan it outright. One hopper of paint later, we were singing a different tune.
Sheridans XTS is an in-line style blowback, much like the venerable Tippmann design, but with some of Sheridans own innovations. Start with the XTS quick-strip system. The entire velocity adjuster unit at the back of the gun unscrews, as does the knob in the side of the hammer. When removed, the grip frame can pivot down. Once the trigger frame is down out of the way, the plastic sleeve along the right side of the body can slide off to reveal the ball detent and the pump rod which couples the hamer to the bolt at the front of the paintgun. Both drop out easily so make sure to take care when disassembling so as not to lose any parts. Once the rod is out, the spring and hammer can drop out the back of the paintgun. This does not give easy access to the bolt or barrel, but it is convenient for cleaning out the back chamber.
Like most paintguns in this test, the XTS comes with a powerfeed and shut-off plug which places the hopper to the right of the paintgun. The sight rail is fairly low in profile, so you may need to add an elevated sight rail to use a sight.
The single-finger trigger comes mounted in a composite .45 frame. Though it has a matte finish like those on the Piranhas, the finish is neither as consistent or seamless. Its a fine grip frame, but it is still very obviously plastic. The trigger pull itself has quite a bit of side-to-side slack. On the other hand, it has a very comfortable, wide trigger shoe and a smooth and springy pull that really felt pretty nice. Though it wasnt exactly unseating any of the this articles front-runners, its trigger was solidly above average and could be fired surprisingly quickly with ease.
Despite the Sheridans small size and light weight, we were surprised to find that it had very little kick when fired, staying easily on target even when rapid fired. And though it only comes with a short, 8.5", unported barrel, it was extremely quiet!
The XTS is clearly targeted at first-paintgun buyers and as a field rental as it does not have much in the way of an upgrade path and doesnt even allow for a vertical ASA or forgrip.
Though it is not poorly made, the Sheridan XTS has a cheap look and feel about it. The slide-on plastic cover for the pump rod does not engender much confidence either as it looks as though one good crash into a tree or rock could easily smash it.
At prices that fall in the $140-$180 range, the Sheridan XTS falls towards the lower end of the price scale. It also falls towards the bottom in terms of features. On the other hand, we really didnt expect anything from this paintgun and its trigger, stability, and silence really surprised us.
Marks thoughts: "This paintgun shoots much better than it looks. Its perfect proof that you cant judge a book by its cover."
Tippmann Model 98 ($145-$190)
Tippmann is the granddaddy of blowback paintgun manufacturers. Though theyve made refinements, the current crop of blowbacks from Tippmann Pneumatics share a common functional heritage with the SMG 60 full auto that launched Tippmann into the paintball big-leagues. Their latest offering, the Model 98 incorporates all of Tippmanns newest innovations into a less expensive and higher-performance package that well may be the best Tippmann paintgun yet.
The Model 98 is another paintgun that really stands apart from the crowd of over-under Spyder clones. As with all Tippmanns, the Model 98 has an in-line blowback system, making for a long, thin profile. The Model 98s body is acutally two cast halves. All the parts drop into one half, the other half shell is fitted on the other side, and theyre screwed together. In this body theyve incorporated both a forgrip and standard .45 frame. As both are integral parts of the shells, aftermarket frames can not an option. The frame comes wrapped in a comfy, rubber wrap-around, finger-groove grip.
There is no quick strip system to allow you to pull the bolt or any other internals out of the paintgun without tools. Instead, Tippmann has a break-away feed that hinges away from the paintgun when you press down on the front sight. This allows quick and easy access to the breech and feed tube in case of a break. Small pull-through squeegies can be pulled through the breech this way, but dont even think of trying a standard, multi-disk pull-through. It just wont fit. The feed completely eliminates the need for an elbow as it incorporates both the bend and a hopper adapter with a clamp to hold it in tight on top.
The Tippman has a few other nifty features as well. The top of the gun features not just a standard sight rail, but a set of sights as well that can be adjusted left and right for different windage. The Model 98 is also supposed to have a new valve design that improves cold weather performance and velocity consistency. Ive definitely noticed an improvement in cold weather performance in Tippmanns over the years and the M98 is no different. The barrel is a short 8.5", micro-honed tube with both a ring of vents at the mid-way point in addition to end-venting.
The Model 98 features Tippmanns best trigger yet. Like the Piranha, it has a plastic trigger. Also like the Piranha, it is perfectly fitted, having no lateral slack at all. The trigger pull is very short and snappy, making the M98 easier to shoot steadily and quickly than any other Tippmann paintgun, ever. I suspect that with a 2-finger trigger, this paintgun would rock even more impressively than the Raptor Extreme. What the M98 does inherit from previous Tippmanns is the tendency to buck like a wild horse when shot. No need for a motorized hopper here.
At prices from $145 to $190, the Model 98 is inexpensive for a Tippmann Pneumatics blowback, but average to expensive compared to other similarly equipped paintguns in this test. While it is a fine shooting paintgun, its real value comes in its durability, reliability, and best-in-the-business customer support. Tippmann paintguns are like pickup trucks. You can beat and neglect them and still count on them to fire up and perform the next time you turn the key. Also, as Tippmanns are always big sellers, there are always a huge number of nifty upgrades for them, including the quick-strip screws and drop-forward pictured on the Tippman I tested here.
Marks thoughts: "Its a solid gun for the money. The trigger is short, but almost too short so you cant get into a rhythm with it."
Venom Toxic Toys "Venom" ($200)
The German company, Venom Toxic Toys, is best known for its line of Automag upgrade parts (valve, bolt, and hard-line adapter). Theyve now upped their entry in the market, hoping to make a splash with their own blowback paintgun, the Venom.
The Venom has an in-line blowback system, but with some significant differences from the venerable Tippmann design. Rather than using an external rod to couple the hammer to the bolt, the two are connected by a tube through the valve. As I could not get the whole thing apart easily to inspect it and didnt want to ruin it, I really cant go into much detail. What it allows is a 6-hole venturi-faced bolt standard equipment on the Venom, impossible on a Tippmann.
The Venoms other interesting feature is its ultra low-profile center-feed, cut to take the new Viewloader hoppers with the smaller diameter necks. The velocity adjuster also has a finger-adjustable screw with a tourney lock.
Unfortunately, thats where the positive aspects of this paintgun end. The barrel is 9" long and unported. It has an old-style M-16 type grip frame with a bare gray surface and cheap plastic side-plates. A bottom-line adapter is incorporated into the bottom of the frame, making it impossible to mount anything else there. The trigger pull itself has a long, loose, and clunky feel that often seems to get caught up on something buried inside the grip frame and is impossible to shoot fast. The Venom is also impressively loud, though at least part of that can be attributed to the short, unported barrel.
Worst of all, the Venom retails at $200. At that price, you should expect many more features, and much more refinement in a paintgun. If this paintgun is going to have a future, Venom Toxic Toys is going to have to go back to the drawing board and improve it dramatically.
Marks thoughts: "If this gun was built in 1990, it might have had a chance
" (today it has none.)
I realize that this article is far from comprehensive. The blowback semis included in this review just happened to be the ones I was sent or could get my hands on easily. There are many many more out there. I hope to follow this with more similar articles, covering even more of the popular (hear that Kingman?) and obscure blowback semis that populate the market.
For that to happen of course, I have to get my greedy little paws on the guns. Manufacturers, if youd like to have your inexpensive blowback (or other system) semi-automatic paintgun shown-off and admired in the next Blowback Blowout, please contact me (by e-mail at email@example.com) or Paintball Games International. Players, have a favorite gun youd like to see reviewed? Contact the manufacturer with your interest and have them drop us a line.
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.
All material at this site is © Ravi Chopra, 1999