What’s wrong with clones????

25 06 2007

So you hear it all the time in airsoft stores and message forums. Is brand “X” clone better than brand “Y”? How good is “brand x” clone? Why buy “brand name” airsoft gun instead of the “brand x clone”? So why all the questions? Why the difference in prices? Why the confusion?

For all these questions, it’s truly hard to find an unbiased FACTUAL statement to answer them. Why? It’s answer is going to depend on many factors that bias the answer given by the person being questioned. What guns have they owned in the past? What type of results have they seen? Have they had experience with the particular gun being asked about? Is it possible that any negative (or positive) experience they’ve had was a fluke?

For example, I used to own a UTG MP5 (version 2 of that gun). I bought it as my first AEG, and from the moment I got it, I loved it. It shot straight, far, and decently accurate. Later I upgraded it with an M100 spring, reshimed the gearbox, washed and relubed the gearbox, metal bushings, rewired, deans connectors, and a reinforced bearing spring guide. Yes, I spent 2/3’s the value of the gun in upgrades… and it shot like a beast. High ROF, decent trigger response, and decent fps. What is my opinion about the gun? We’ll get back to that later. Fact of the matter is that in the year + that I had it, it worked like a champ until I sold it. Just before I sold the cut off lever gave out and the gun was firing full auto all the time. Some might say that I got a good run out it, others would say that it’s a piece of junk because it broke. Others yet might say it was a clone and I should have expected it to break.

Now I own a Classic Army M15A4 RIS. What do I think of it? Well, it surely shoots harder than my UTG MP5, and is stronger (metal body). Do I like it better? Yes and no. I like the metal body, and the fps and ROF increase is nice, but I’m not blown out of the water at the difference. Do I like the gun? For sure. Have I had a problem with it? Nope. I’ve upgraded the inner barrel and the hop up rubber, and put on deans connectors, other than that it’s stock.

I also own a KWA USP .45. If you’ve been on here for any amount of time you know the problems that plagued me from the beginning with that GBB. Now I have a replacement, and haven’t had a lick of trouble out of it. Fact of the matter is I don’t see KWA as a clone manufacturer. Their guns are a close to a KSC as you can get minus the trademarks. The attention to detail and tolerances make their guns excellent, and if it weren’t for the differences in trades, then they’d be indistinguishable. In fact, just the other day I ran into an article on Arnies Airsoft about a KSC having the same problem my KWA had with the hop up unit. Maybe KWA made a mistake by making their “clone” too close to the KSC?

When it comes down to it, you just need to know what you are buying into and a little bit about supply and demand and marketing. First of all, there are people new to airsoft who are just getting into it and don’t want to invest a ton at first. Then there are the budget airsofters… always looking for a bargain. Then there is the hard core endless wallet airsofter. And there is the group of airsofters that swear by the brand names. Then there are people like me.

Manufacturers see that there is a demand for each of these demographics. The guys just getting into airsoft and testing the waters and the budget airsofters do not want to dump a bunch of money into a single piece of kit, so they make a product to fill this area of the market. In order to bring the cost down they have to cut corners or reduce the cost of manufacturing them. That might mean using less skilled workers, machines with higher tolerances, or using lesser quality metals / plastics. Even proprietary designs can help reduce cost. Rebranding is another way to reduce cost. A company makes and manufactures a “clone” of an AEG. They then offer it to the likes of companies such as Leapers (UTG), Well, CYMA, TSD, etc. Those companies look at the product and the cost to buy them. Then they make counter offers. To meet the counter offers they will come to them with design changes that easy to implement to reach a common ground on features and price.

For example, let’s look at my L96 with the brand of UTG. This bolt action spring sniper rifle has a metal frame, something lacking from other brands. At the same time, it lacks the last round chambered indicator that other brands have. You do get more extras like a bi-bod, speed loader and 2 mags. You can see what they’ve done to add the extra items… reduced some features. Other brands (that sell the rifle cheaper) lack the extra mag and the metal frame.

So what should you expect from a clone? When it comes down to it, you usually get what you pay for in the quality of the build. Looking at my UTG MP5 gearbox I can see where it was lacking. The tolerances were not tight and the quality of the wiring was poor; the shiming was mediocre, and the bushing fit loosely. The O-ring didn’t seal well, and the cylinder was actually a hair too big at one end making replacing the cylinder head difficult. In working on other gearboxes, seeing pictures, and helping others trouble shoot problems I’ve seen the quality much better in other brands such as Tokyo Marui or Classic Army. Did I get what I was expecting? Yes. I went into my purchase knowing that this was a clone, and very likely would need work and might fail at any time. What did I get? A gun that with a bit of work shot hard fast and accurate. It lasted a year before a problem came up, and it was one that a simple change of a part in the gearbox would have fixed. Was I upset? Not really. I’ve seen people have AEGs the likes of TM and CA that have failed within the first few months of ownership. Did I enjoy the UTG MP5? WITHOUT A DOUBT! I probably put about 40,000+ rounds through it.

So know this. When buying a clone realize that you might have problems with it. Be willing to deal with that. If you don’t have a problem for a year, then awesome. If you do, you’ve been expecting it, and it’s not a shock. Up to that point you’ve enjoyed it and aren’t disappointed. If you’re not willing to deal with a problem down the road, or your expectations are to buy a gun that shoots perfectly out of the box, then my suggestion to you is to save up for a brand name like TM or CA. That’s not to say they can’t have a problem out of the box, but they are less likely to.

Now one thing most people do not consider is the quality of support you get from the manufacturer or distributor after the purchase. From my experience, Leapers (UTG) and KWA’s USA Distributor J Sports USA are AWESOME with service after the sale. Leapers will sell you replacement parts directly, as will J Sports USA; both at more than reasonable prices when you consider shipping from Hong Kong when buying on the web. J Sports (as you can see in my threads about my KWA USP .45) was awesome at taking care of the problems I was having without a hassle. For those reasons I recommend their products. A lot of people talk trash about UTG, and undoubtedly the products themselves often leave a bit to be desired in the quality control area, but their service is excellent.

Would I buy another clone. Yes. Would I buy a name brand? Yes. Should you buy a clone? Well, that’s your decision to make now isn’t it?


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