Beginners Guide to Buying Your First Airsoft Gun
It’s long for a guide, but do yourself a favor and take the ten minutes to read through this as you’re considering buying your first airsoft gun, it contains valuable information from a variety of sources. I myself have made plenty of these mistakes and I would like to keep you from doing the same.
The Best Bang for Buck Starting Guns
1. G&G Combat Machine (M4/16 platform)
2. JG M4A1
3. Cyma AK
The guns listed above are some of the go to weapons for beginners looking for their first gun. These are all consistent shooters for the beginning airsofter’s budget and expectancy. All are extremely reliable and trusted by many. You just can’t go wrong with them. There are a wide variety of Combat Machines, but the one I linked is the bare bones basic one to get you thinking about the price and look. If I were you, I’d avoid the electric blow-back Combat Machines by G&G. They give no felt recoil and just provide another complication if anything were to fail/need to be replaced. Next, we have the JG M4A1, one thing that stands out about JG AR-15s are the fact that they have pretty solid internals. The externals leave a little to be desired, and QC could be better sometimes, but these are my absolute favorite project guns because of the quality of the internal parts. The Cyma AK has over 180 reviews with an average of four and a half stars. Honestly, this many consistent reviews is entirely unheard of. The numbers speak for themselves.
**(Due to the recent legal action by H&K, unlicensed airsoft guns modeled after real steel H&K firearms are now prohibited for sale in the U.S. If you can find one of these overseas and have it shipped, that’ll work great, but in the meantime, you will no longer be able to buy these from U.S. retail stores.) If you can find guns like the JG G36C or Galaxy MK5K, I highly recommend them as well.
Things to Consider if You Choose Something Else
As I continue to make my way through this guide, I’ll begin to make note of things you’ll need to remember if you’re not going to get one of the above guns. Keep in mind these three rules at all times and you can’t go wrong.
1. What you pay for is what you get.
2. Do your research.
3. Don’t buy a Sniper Rifle or Light Machine Gun.
Choosing a Platform
First, before you even THINK about a specific gun that you’d like to buy, figure out the type of gun you like. Decide what you think would fit your style best. Once you decide, go to your local store (if you have one) and just hold them to get a feel for whether you actually like the weight and feel of it. Let me explain why you shouldn’t let the stock performance dictate which gun you do and don’t get. As a whole, there’s only so much you can do to a tiny plastic bb to get it to perform exactly as you intend before it becomes wildly impractical. I mean, come on; it’s a tiny bb. That being said, just about ANY gun can be upgraded to shoot ANY way. That means you can get someone’s jg mp5 up to the same performance and consistency with a few extra parts as a $500+ stock gun. It’s only when you start maxing out your gun’s parts that you would begin to notice a difference. But honestly, at the point where you can’t get your gun any better, you’ve probably dropped $1,000+ on that bad boy. Odds are you’re not going to be playing with Donald Trump’s official airsoft team and you shouldn’t have to worry about not having enough performance compared to the other team. That being said, whichever gun you choose can probably be upgraded to be on par with everyone else’s. One of the smartest things I have heard was start small for your first gun. You’ll regret it instantly if you get a gun too big or heavy, start small and upgrade from there. As a note, don’t buy a sniper rifle or light machine gun. I’ll explain why towards the bottom, trust me, you’ll want to read those.
Choosing Type of Operation
Right now, there are a multitude of options for choosing how your airsoft gun fires the bbs, I’ll try and give an overview of each, but I just want to say that you’ll most likely want to stick with an AEG for now as you start getting into the sport.
Automatic Electric Gun- AEG for short, uses an electric motor to drive back a piston which then is compressed by a spring, compressing air to fire the gun. It gets a little more complicated but all you need to know is that as long as you choose a reliable AEG and feed it proper bbs and the right size battery, it’ll fire great every time.
Gas Blow Back- These are extremely realistic and are extremely rewarding when you play games/events with them. They use pressurized propane, duster gas or green gas to blow back a slide or bolt and fire the bb then cycling another round into the chamber. These operate extremely realistically and function exactly like their real steel counterpart most of the time. However, they come with some drawbacks: difficult to maintain if you’re new to the concept, expensive mags (usually $30-50 each,) do not function well in cold weather if at all, limited ammo capacity (50 rounds is usually highest per mag.)
Electric Blow Back- Essentially modified AEGs to cycle the mock bolt or slide simulating the function of a real steel arm. They aren’t really recommended though because they often add an additional level of complexity to the already stressed AEG and can often break. The only current realistic and reliable EBB is Tokyo Marui’s new Recoil Shock line. However, these bad boys are expensive, averaging $500-600 plus another 25-40 for each magazine. I anticipate seeing cheaper clones produced in the future much like the AEGs Tokyo Marui produced years ago, but it will be awhile before we see those.
Spring Powered- Single shot, pump/pull every time you want to shoot. These do well for sniper rifles and shotguns because they mimic the real steel action. They tend to be easier to work on/less complex/more reliable than AEGs because of the design, but firepower is limited when going toe to toe with other players sporting AEGs and GBBs.
HPA- A relatively new product for the airsoft industry, it’s short for “High-Pressure Air.” These are becoming extremely popular because the FPS and ROF can be changed easily for different field regulations as well as they provide consistent, reliable shots. The downside is that they require an external air tank, much like you see on paintball guns. In addition, they are extremely expensive when compared to AEGs and even some GBBs.
Here’s a list of brands and some general qualities they have, but keep in mind that every brand has their good and bad products, no brand is without exceptions to this. You should use this as a reference to give yourself an idea of where to go and later do individual research on whatever you choose. Since this is a guide for beginners, I’ll stick with most well known companies that produce predominantly AEGs (automatic electric guns.) These are in no particular order.
JG- Entry level company that produces lower end models. Externals are lower quality but internal parts are good and make for excellent learning rifles if you’re wanting to tech.
CYMA- Entry level company that produces good entry level AK models. The higher the #model, the better they usually are.
G&G- Produces well put together rifles that do well for beginners. Low maintenance and decent externals make this a good buy.
Ares- Proprietary parts and low quality build, very few guns put out by this company do well or last. Does pretty well with externals, but the internals make these finniky to use and work on.
Crosman- Low quality, cheap internals, cheap externals, not made to be opened or worked on. Avoid.
ICS- Good quality externals, solid internals, makes some unique weapons and designs that do well.
G&P- Higher quality externals paired with quality internal parts. Completely Tokyo Marui compatible as well. Sticks to producing M4/M16 models primarily.
KWA- Produces predominantly M4/M16 rifles, but is beginning to branch out into other models. Excellent quality control, put together well, excellent warranty, expensive and slightly more difficult to fix if something breaks.
Classic Army- Used to be one of the best manufacturers but competitors are generally beginning to match their quality for the same or lower prices. Produces some of the rarer/more unique rifles on the market and the current pro-line is fairly nice.
Magpul PTS- Subdivision of Magpul Industries that produces training gear for airsoft, their accessories are excellent but their AEGs tend to be overpriced for what you’re purchasing. Internals are proprietary and difficult to source, but the externals are high quality.
Tokyo Marui- The pioneer of airsoft, Tokyo Marui’s rifles are what many of today’s manufacturers copy and produce at lower quality. Older Tokyo Marui rifles are all made of abs/polymer, but their new recoil shock line is now beginning to include CNC bodies.
Do Your Research on Whatever You Pick
Next, once you decide on a model, research which brand makes a good version of the one you want. I find that this site has a massive database for gun reviews. Just type in the gun you’re looking to get; followed by review and you’ll quickly get plenty of results. (Example: “JG G36C Review”) For the most part, try and avoid the YouTube video reviews, a few are excellent, however most are not very informative and can be exaggerated. You’ll find that a lot of the videos on YouTube are from retailers or kids that don’t know that much about it; both of which would be terrible sources to depend on for information because A) They may be trying to sell it/are sponsored by the people that make the product so they’re obviously going to try and make it look good or B) Are unsure of how an AEG operates and only overviews the externals with exaggerated opinions of how it operates. Look for the forums and read through the typed reviews, those are the most informative (on average.) As a note, if you spend less than 30 minutes on research or you only look up one or two reviews, you haven’t spent enough time looking it up. Thus, you’ll make an uninformed decision. Would you feel comfortable with a stranger spending your money on an airsoft gun for you if you knew that the stranger had no clue about airsoft guns? Then why would you trust yourself with the same situation? If you buy something without researching it you have NO idea what it does. You have NO idea if it’s reliable or not. You have NO idea what you’re getting into. The current market is flooded with shabby products and sifting through what is available is necessary to find the quality products. The odds are that you will buy some junk gun that doesn’t last past 1,000 rounds; at which point you have no idea what went wrong with it because you didn’t check up on it. If you had researched it you would know what parts tend to break. You’ll only shoot yourself in the foot if you don’t look to see what you’re buying. So PLEASE research your gun. You’ll have more fun playing than if it’s broken at an event, I promise.
Knowing the Basics
A common mistake that is seen quite often would be confusing the FPS of a gun with how good it is. If you live in an area with an field or arena, most won’t allow guns over 400 FPS. By choosing a gun above the limit, you’re limiting yourself to where you can play. In addition, just because it’s 500 fps, doesn’t mean it shoots farther than any other. Due to bbs being so light, hop up is used to give it backspin to keep it in the air longer. I could go into the physics of why this happens, but I’ll try and explain it simpler. Because of the use of this hop up, the speed of a bb no longer affects the distance. In Japan, they have a ~1 Joule (fancy word for how hard something hits) limit. Because of this, they have a maximum of ~329 fps with .2g bbs. However, they make up for this with absolutely impressive range. I would not be surprised if some of their average-tuned AEG’s shot with the same range as some 500+ fps sniper rifles here in the U.S.
Another aspect of this is that you should know basic airsoft maintenance. If your gun breaks and you need a new part, it’s extremely helpful to not have to send it into the shop. If you strip a piston and need a new one, it’s about a $20 part. If you don’t know how to change it yourself, you send it to a shop where they’ll usually charge you a $20-30 fee just to get it on the bench. Then they charge you by the hour and plus parts. So for a quick fix you’re looking at $50-60. Being able to do the work on your own will save you a fortune. Check out this thread on Airsoft Forum for a comprehensive guide on the specifics of what parts in a gearbox do what. If you want to start learning about basic maintenance, look at this thread on Airsoft Society for a complete one stop shop. As the same with your airsoft gun, if you plan to replace/fix/upgrade parts, do research on your gun to make sure the other internals will be strong enough to compete. “A chain is only as strong as its weakest link.” Look through this thread for some basics on upgrading.
What You Pay for is What You Get
If you haven’t already discovered this in life, if you pay junk for your product, you’re going to get junk. Airsoft is no different. If you’re not willing to drop a MINIMUM of $150 on a gun battery and charger, buying one is not right for you. Instead just rent or borrow one from a buddy. If you would like to brave the waters and get that $50 Crosman from Wal-Mart, you’re just going to use it for a few days until it breaks. Now you’re out $50, you can’t fix it because they’re not made to be opened up, and you’ll have to buy another one of higher quality anyway. You probably think that those $500 Tokyo Marui guns are outrageous, but honestly, they’re that price for a reason. Prices wouldn’t be that high if people weren’t willing to pay them. People are willing to pay that much for a reliable gun, what makes you think you’ll get one for $50 at Wal-Mart? Like I said, if it’s too much money, rent; then buy one if you begin to stick around.
Now, there are a few instances where guns have an extremely high price tag, but offer pretty poor performance. This is fairly rare to come across, but you’ll find that it’s a reoccurring theme with a couple companies like Magpul PTS and Ares. In those instances, you may not be buying the best airsoft gun you can get your hands on, but you are buying some solid externals and innovative internals.
Don’t Buy a Sniper Rifle or LMG
If you’re just getting into airsoft, or you’re buying your first gun, don’t buy a sniper rifle or LMG. Before you freak out and think I’m super biased, let me explain that as cool as they are, you don’t have the time, money, or experience to take full advantage of them....for now....
Why You Shouldn’t Choose a Sniper Rifle:
With your budget, you will not be able to afford the sniper rifle you want. You’ll be able to afford the rifle you THINK you want. Let me explain, you’re wanting to chill all the way in the back of the field, hitting the enemie’s exposed heels, elbows, foreheads, and hands. You want to be able to lie undetected for hours waiting for the enemy team’s VIP to show up and once he does, you make that game winning kill. If you buy a new sniper rifle, it will have the same performance as everyone else’s guns, only yours only fires one shot at a time. Strictly speaking, stock sniper rifles just out of the box aren’t that much more accurate, and they don’t have much more range than an AEG (if any.) For the same price or a little more, you can have a fully automatic gun with quite literally 17X more ammo capacity. For airsoft, when you buy an airsoft gun, you’re not buying a sniper rifle, you’re buying a platform to upgrade.
The sniper rifle you ACTUALLY want is a custom tuned gun with thousands of dollars worth of parts. To get the desired performance out of a little bb, you have to spend around a thousand dollars and put in 30+ hours tuning it to perfection. Sounds extreme, but this is not uncommon by far. Plus, you probably don’t want to join airsoft to play all day and only see a few guys. To really be effective, snipers have to lay back and play the waiting game. They just cannot go toe to toe with the AEGs. That being said, you have to stay back and wait for someone to cross your line of fire. It’s not a very action packed gameplay. For someone new to airsoft, laying around for a couple hours in the woods is probably not what attracted you to airsoft. I want you to be so set on the fact that buying a sniper rifle is a bad idea that should an intruder break into your home, hand you $200, take you to airsoftgi.com, put a gun to your head and demand that you buy a sniper rifle, you in turn add a three or four miniguns to your cart. That’s how set you should be.
Why You Shouldn’t Choose a Light Machine Gun:
This is somewhat similar to buying a sniper rifle. It’s not as grand as you expect. You’re probably wanting to keep the enemies heads down with your impressive range and ammo capacity. Well, unless you’ve dropped crazy amounts of cash on it, your gun is going to have the same range as an AEG. The only difference is you’ll have a huge box mag of ammo and it’ll be 3x as heavy and much more unwieldy. It’ll get heavy and you won’t want to carry it around anymore. It probably seemed like a boss idea, but it just doesn’t transition into game play. Some events allow LMGs to have a higher fps than other AEGs, but you’ll find that sometimes bumping up the FPS to match those with a lower end or ill-equipped LMG can cause you to start stripping pistons and breaking gears. So, save your money and start with something safe until you have a better idea of what works for you.
Buying the Gun
Let’s say you’ve finally decided on what gun you’d like to pick up. Your go to place (here in the states) should be your local store (if you have one.) If you don’t, try evike.com or airsoftgi.com. Both are reliable suppliers that have pretty good pricings. Also, try and look around when looking to buy. Pricing always varies from supplier to supplier because they get different deals because they buy different bulks of product. Check a few websites and your local store for the best deal. Don't forget, if you're buying online, you'll most likely have to pay shipping for your product, which can get expensive. I find evike usually tends to be a little bit cheaper because of their coupons they always offer. However they have been known to rarely incorrectly post inventory online. That and they like pushing their Matrix brand. Airsoft GI is a bit more consistent but they can be a couple bucks more expensive.
But anyway, consider the reviews you looked up at this time too. If they said you might want a new motor, go ahead and pick one up if you like. Or wait until you get the gun to see if you think it needs one.
Honestly, and I mean this with the best of intention, I'd like to try and discourage people from buying their first airsoft gun used. And when I say discourage, I mean please avoid this at all costs. However, you can get some pretty sweet deals if you know what you're doing. Let me explain why I wouldn't recommend buying used and then I'll give some tips on the benefits of buying used and what you can do to make sure you end up with a sweet deal.
As a whole, buying used can be a risky gamble. As a new player you're (statistically) less likely to look up or know the background of the gun. That is putting you into an uninformed decision where there is no manufacturer warranty or company to send it back to. Not to mention you could very well get a broken gun that you have no idea how to fix. If you buy from a private party, EVERYTHING is sold AS IS, NO BUY BACKS, NO TRADE BACKS. It's not 2nd grade where you can make your friend trade you your prized pokemon card back. But like I said, sometimes you can get lucky and get an excellent deal.
You shouldn't pay any more than 80% of the face value of a used gun or gear, and 80% is pushing the limit even if hasn't been used. Remember that the seller is selling the gun for a reason. Maybe they're selling it because they need the money quick, maybe they're selling it because its a ticking time bomb of repairs. Either way, research it just as you would a new gun. If it passes the sniff test, send a private message or otherwise communicate to the seller that you would like some information about the gun. Here's where it gets tricky, you now need to divulge from the seller the condition of the item. Ask how many rounds they've put through it, have any internals been upgraded? Have any externals been upgraded? What is the FPS and RPS of the gun? How is internal wear? Do the externals of the gun look okay? Tasteful modifications are going to bring the value up, and poor modifications such as parts fixed with tape and crappy paint jobs are going to bring the value down. It's from here that you decide if the buyer’s price is worth it. There's no guide for deciding if it’s worth it or not, it's just up to you to decide how much you would have to invest into the gun after you buy it and how much it is new.
PayPal Rules of Thumb
If you deal online in a private exchange, ALWAYS. ALWAYS. ALWAYS use Paypal. Don't gift the cash to the seller either. If you "gift" the cash, you can no longer file a claim for a refund should the seller not send you the gun. Using Paypal will provide both the buyer and the seller a secure means of transaction. Document EVERYTHING. Should something go wrong, no matter if it’s your fault or the sellers, if you have to defend yourself, having these will prove you're innocent (or guilty if you're a filthy little swindler.) Take screenshots, save text messages, pics of the gun, confirmation of payment, everything related to the sale.
In the end, if you play your cards right and think everything through, you can get some AMAZING deals. For example, through several online trades, I managed to get around $750+ worth of high quality parts (some of which aren't even made anymore) for about $350. Overall, I don't recommend it for someone just getting into airsoft, but use your head, solid research and money saving abilities to land a good deal.
All of this comes straight from my experience and watching firsthand this happen to others. Above all, the reason we play airsoft is to have fun. Don’t cheat yourself and settle for anything less than reliable. If you do end up cheating yourself you’ll end up with a broken gun and a wasted day at the field. Then you have to spend even more money getting a new gun or fixing the one you have, which will probably break again too. Alternatively, if you still feel like that Wal-Mart gun is right up your alley, shoot me a pm when it breaks. I’m doing a study on the psychology of why people don’t listen to level-headed reasoning and the effects following a realization of a grave mistake.