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With all the options for customizing firearms these days –  recoil springs, triggers, custom barrels, enhanced magwells, magazine releases, and grip modifications – you’re just as likely to see a modified guns when you look around at the other shooters at the range as you are stock models. Shooters alter their firearms for a variety of reasons. Most modifications increase performance or reliability, while others serve to add to the gun’s utility. And let’s be honest, some shooters just want a cooler looking gun. While enhancing a firearm may seem like a win-win scenario that’s not always the case . . .

Why customize?
There’s no shortage of reasons to customize a gun. Unfortunately, plenty of alterations are made to make new guns just to get them to be reliable. Too many firearms come from the manufacturer in a, well, less than ideal state. They may have poor sights, a crappy trigger or any number of flaws right out of the box.

Most of the customization jobs you’ll see, though, are done in the competitive shooting world. Action pistol competitors shoot highly modified race guns that are to stock firearms what Tony Stewart’s NASCAR Impala is to an off-the-lot Chevy. Other than the model nameplate, virtually every part is new or improved in some way. These upgrades are done to stay ahead of the competition and improve the shooter’s performance. When done well, customization can make an average gun good, and a good gun better.

Why not customize?
If customization can make a firearm perform better and meet a shooter’s needs, why shouldn’t you modify it? Reliability, for one. Defensive firearms serve a singular purpose – to be available and functional when they are really needed. Many alterations that increase performance on a good day can also serve to decrease reliability when you really need the gun to work most .

I have no qualms with throwing my standard issue Glock on the ground, and I expect it to function flawlessly even if covered in dirt and grit. A finely tuned bespoke racegun, on the other hand, will probably malfunction pretty quickly after being subjected to the kind of abuse that would only make my Glock laugh and ask for more.

Any customization that changes a gun’s manual of arms – including enhanced magwells, extended magazine releases, larger slide stops, safeties, or even improved triggers – can result in the user needing a significant amount practice to become proficient. While most of these mods will make a pistol’s operations easier, they can also create dependence. If you ever have to fall back on a standard model, you can find yourself fumbling around rather than shooting.

For these reasons, I prefer to keep my guns fairly standard. I don’t like to rely on crutches and I would prefer to be able to perform well with any gun I pick up than just my special custom-built model. You’ve probably seen Top Shot competitors demonstrate this concept when they’ve totally flopped as soon as they were handed anything other than their specially tuned competition gun. Ever wonder why you don’t see the Special Forces operators running around with tricked out race guns? They can’t always control their circumstances and have to get the job done, whatever the environment.

There are plenty of other considerations when deciding whether to customize your firearms. Customize if you want to, but consider that customizations can be a crutch, and learning to shoot again without that crutch can be a difficult proposition.

So come clean…what modifications have you make to your firearms?


Nick Savery is the author of, a blog discussing integrating training across a variety of systems and platforms for the purposes of self-defense.


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  1. I’ve found that quite a few pistols need upgraded triggers. Either the trigger is a little muddy, gritty, heavy, over travels to much, long trigger reset, or doesn’t have the ergonomics one might like.

    I think its a good idea to upgrade the triggers, maybe the recoil springs, and possibly the sights. From there the rest is for competition, or show.

    Nice write up.

    • For the most part, modern pistols come from the factory with mediocre triggers because they know that they’re good enough for ~90% of the market, and that the other 10% will monkey with it regardless. Thus, there’s no benefit to the additional cost of a better trigger, since the vast majority of people will either not need it (and would happily spend that 50-200 dollar investment on more ammo), or just chuck right away anyway.

      Other than trigger and other spring improvements, fitting a high-quality threaded barrel is a good idea, as it lets you mount either an external compensator (competition) or silencer (home/car defense).

  2. I’ve “customized” my Glock to the extent that I added a finger grooved neoprene grip sleeve to eliminate the slippery feel on my generation 1 pistol. My Auto Ordnance 1911-A1 has had a beavertail grip safety installed, adj. sights, larger safety lever, and enlarged ejection port. My Charter Arms AR-7 wears an aftermarket stock that features a collapseable rear, and ventilated hand guard. My Dan Wesson in .44 mag wears neoprene grips. And my Marlin .44 mag lever gun has had peep sights intalled. The rest of the inventory is pretty much bone stock, except for a couple of scopes mounted on some rifles. The Auto Ordnance 1911 got more spent on it than all the other stuff combined as it was a clunky firearm when purchased, but it was half the price of a Colt, so I figured I could justify a few extra $$$ at the time. That was 25 years ago, when choices of a 1911 were MUCH more limited than today, basically the Colt, Auto Ordnance and I think Taurus were it.

  3. What about legalities? Massad Ayoob is always bringing up the prospect of a prosecutor standing up in front of a jury holding up your gun saying how it has a hair trigger and how it means you are irresponsible and were just looking to shoot someone. How realistic a concern is this?

    • I’m surprised no one else jumped on this. One lawyer (Pro 2A) I talked to even went to far as to suggest that you purchase your EDC gun with all the bells and whistles you want already installed at time of purchase. Thereby offering (perhaps) some legal insulation. “I” didn’t install those super deadly night-sights, that hair trigger of death, and that extended mag release of destruction. The gun came from the dealer that way. He also suggested having a documented conversation with your local LEOs to see what upgrades they have, so you can say “well, that’s the brand of night sights the cops use, officer friendly even said so” – etc.

    • Find me an example of a court case where this actually happened, and I’ll treat this as something worthy of in-depth discussion.

      I’m not trying to dismiss it out of hand, I’m just saying that I’ve heard this several times, but I’ve never seen a single example cited of a prosecutor actually using this argument.

      Honestly, I think the BETTER argument against all kinds of fancy “upgrades” to a carry piece is cost: If, God forbid, you actually have to shoot someone, chances are good that you may not see that firearm for a LONG time, if you ever see it again. Thus, why risk a 5,000 dollar Cabot 1911 when a 500 dollar Glock/XD/M&P/CZ75/etc. ventilates bad guys at bad-breath-distance just as well?

      • Well, that’s what I’m trying to find out. Basically, I’ve heard Massad Ayoob talk about it, and no one else. I don’t know if it’s a realistic concern or not and I was hoping someone here did.

  4. none…. my first “carry” pistol is on order yet from my gun shop. a Sig p250 compact 9mm with nite sites. It is like Christmas Eve here I just can’t wait, I have been carrying a friends Colt pocket nine series 90 the last few days and it carries really well, hope my p250 will be good too, though it will be bit bigger!

  5. I put a Sprinco recoil-reducing kit and a new Wolff recoil spring into my Sig P220, and I discovered that it wouldn’t feed my defense (JHP) ammo anymore. The edge of the hollow point would always catch on the edge of the feed ramp.

    It took a few trips to the range before I determined that the new (original strength) recoil spring wouldn’t work with the aftermarket magazines I was using. I stopped using those magazines with my defense ammo, and I’ve had no more feed problems. The aftermarket mags still work with my target ammo (JHPs), so I didn’t have to throw them away.

    The moral of this story is: If you make any modification to your self-defense package (a new gun, a new gun part, new ammo, etc.), always fire several rounds with the new package to ensure that you can still trust it to protect your life. Never assume that any small change will not affect the reliability. And hold onto the old parts for awhile, just in case you find that you can’t depend on the new parts.

    • I’m with ya. My first thought when I saw that was “what did they do to that poor gun?”

      My CZ has been sent to Angus Hobdell’s custom shop for the competition hammer (which cleaned up the trigger pull a ton, it’s still the same weight, but much much smoother), some tuning and polishing, and some thinner grips that still look sensible, but that’s as far as I’ll go in the customization route. Funny part is, even after the custom work, the whole thing still cost me less than a new sig226 or hk usp.

      • “Funny part is, even after the custom work, the whole thing still cost me less than a new sig226 or hk usp.”

        I’m not sure I see the humor; Of the three, one’s a good pistol, and the other two are over-priced, high-bore-axis, German-designed garbage.

  6. Haven’t yet found anything on my PPQ that needs improving, except adding night sights. The trigger especially is a dream.

  7. Readers should NB that the above gun is not some idiot’s notion of over-accessorizing. That’s an “unlimited class” IPSC race gun, not a carry or target gun, and among unlimited class race guns, the combination of maximum-length magazine, optical dot sight and multi-port compensator are pretty nominal enhancements.

  8. When it comes to comstomizing my weapons, I look at it from a tactical point of view. If it doesn’t help me out in a real world situation, it doesn’t go on my gun. I try not to stray to far the weapons original specs. All of my guns can be taken apart for cleaning or repair without tools and I like to keep it that way. If it affects reliability or function it doesn’t go on. I like how the article mentioned that each costomization should be thought of as a crutch. I know guys with ARs that can pick the fleas of a dogs back with optics, but if you take them away they can’t hit the broad side of barn at point blank. Even if you have optics, spend some time practicing with the iron sites. Before you start spending money on things, do your homework and be sure whatever your buying meets a need you have and it’s not just the latest fad to come through. And always remember KISS.


    • “All of my guns can be taken apart for… repair without tools”
      What guns do you have?

      “If it doesn’t help me out in a real world situation, it doesn’t go on my gun.”
      Short of a rail mounted cup holder, what accessories fall in this group?

      • My carry is a Veitnam surplus strait GI model 1911. Very reliable and low maintenance. Most of my rifles are Kalashnokov variants. Again very reliable and low maintenance and disassemble for cleaning and repair without needing tools. Surplus military is alway good. Most of these guns were disigned to bee taken apart in the field without tools. As far as the real world situations go, it will very person by person, but there are things I would avoid. The zombie fad is in full swing right now. Seriously who needs sights with a biohazard symbol as your aim point. Also I see a lot of people getting carried away with the accessory rails on both rifles and pistols. My opinion for a home defence weapon, a flash light and a laser might be a good idea, but I would ovoid things like the pistol bayonet.

  9. I’ve got 2 .22’s that are pretty heavily modified.

    Anything else I may put on a different grip or a sight or something, but I don’t really mess with them mechanically.

  10. If the gun will ever possibly be used in a HD/SD shooting then consider how a prosecutor might use the custom work against you and then first decide if it is still a good idea. In today’s modern legal climate, Impractical non-vital to performance custom work such as a custom etching, motto, zombie hand grips, etc should probably be skipped. I plan on eventually replacing the trigger on my Ruger revolver with a smoother lighter pull. If a prosecutor ever tries to nail me on that change I accept that risk and will deal with it in front of a jury.

    • These points were raised by Ayoob — but that was then and this is now. The legal climate is different. Except for the “hair trigger,” all the other mods are relatively benign. Frankly, the fact that the gun was modified with night sights, lights, lasers or whatever would be irrelevant and perhaps inadmissible on the ground of being prejudicial.

      The so-called hair trigger presents another issue. In the event of an ND, the fact that the trigger was modified may well have contributed or even caused the ND. That mod has evidentiary value, then, and might also make the charges or the sentence more severe.

      As far as adornments are concerned, anyone who puts zombie cwap on their gun deserves prison just for putting zombie cwap on their gun.

      • Is there some sort of standard or range for what constitutes a “hair trigger?” I’ve been thinking for a while of getting a trigger job on my carry gun, but this issue has kept me hesitating.

        • Depends on what your planning to reduce your pull weight to. My FNP45T came with a 3lbs SA trigger from the factory. Some rifle trigger packs advertise they can be adjusted to just a couple ounces.

          • I was thinking around 3.5 – 4 lbs. Right now I think my XDm is around 5.5 – 6 lbs, but I’ve never gotten it measured. I’ve never heard a standard for “hair trigger” so I didn’t know if I’d be edging into potentially troublesome territory.

            • I’d be careful with that; if it’s done too aggressively, especially when adding an over-travel stop, it can reduce reliability when stored cocked.

              My brother recently purchased a used 5″ XD9 that someone had rigged up to use for competition (PRP sear, trigger bar, and an over-travel stop, along with a PistolGear magwell), and the trigger pull feels fine if you store it uncocked, but if you leave it cocked for a few days it starts to behave VERY strangely.

              I’d advise that if you do end up getting trigger work done to your carry piece that you take it to the range, see how it behaves, then clean it, and store it loaded for a week or two, and then take it right back to the range.

              • Hmmm, strangely how? I’d really like to know because PRP is the company I’ve been considering for the trigger job.

    • Meh, I have a fixed Fulcrum trigger with lighter springs for about 3.5# trigger pull on my Glock 19. It makes it a lot more comfortable to shoot, and when I go to the range I like to put 300-400 rounds thru it.

      Frankly, a reduced and smoother pull should result in increased accuracy, which is what you want in a situation in which you are aiming to reduce the chances of collateral damage I should think…

  11. A pistol isn’t an AR-15. Unless you are into 3 gun or some other competitive shooting sport. For most people maybe a laser or tac-lite for the “what was that noise” senario in the middle of the night.

    • For bad-breath distances, a light is better than a laser. Ideally, you can find a place to shoot your pistol/light combo in a dark environment (either at night, or in an indoor range with the lights off) to see where your shots tend to fall within the beam of the light.

      Once you know that, you can use the center-beam of your flashlight to point shoot. An 8-24″ circle is much easier to spot than a 3mm red/green dot.

      • True, I prefer a light myself over a laser. The laser just has a little intimidation factor when it is sitting on your chest.
        But for the checking the noise in the dark. A light is the way to go.

  12. Modifications to do:
    Night sights-this is not a mod or an option. It is a requirement for a defensive gun. Most HD/SD situations happen at night/in the dark. Would you shoot in the daytime if you couldn’t see the sights?
    Maybe a tac-light if you don’t feel comfortable using one hand to hold the light.
    Maybe a trigger job if you really can’t handle that trigger pull and you have cash to burn.
    Remember, Simo Haya and lots of guys in WWII did ok using guns that didn’t have $20349 of crap and mods hanging off of them. If I remember correctly, the Japanese had useless crap hanging off of their guns, and they lost.
    KISS has worked for a looooong time.

  13. I usually keep my guns stock or with factory parts.
    I suppose one of the more modified guns I have is an 870 Wingmaster with a magazine extension and a Police Barrel. Modification in the late 1970s or very early 1980s. This is before all this Tacticool Phase started.

  14. If you are just going for the bling or swag effect and want to waste money then sure. However put that firearm on the wall and never use it. For a self defence weapon I say keet it just out of the box. That way if you do need to defend yourself in court for a self defense shooting there is nothing for the prosecutor to use against you. Wich would you rather have shown to a jury, a plain Jane pump shotgun, or a shotgun with a heat shield, an extended mag tube, a scope and night vision on it? A whole lot easier to explain away the former rather then the later. No? Same goes for pistols, riffles, AR’s and any other firearm.

  15. On the whole, there are a number of modifications that I’d consider reasonable for a SD pistol, and others that I wouldn’t;

    Addition of tritium-filled sights, as well as a light. Depending on the pistol, a laser may be appropriate (generally only snub-nosed revolvers and pistols of .380 ACP or smaller caliber).

    Other than this, ported or threaded (for external compensator or silencer) barrels are another reasonable measure. Seriously, who would want to put rounds through an unsuppressed firearm indoors without hearing protection? IMO, silencers are the BIGGEST must-have accessory for a home-defense gun.

    Other than that, highly tuned internals don’t buy enough to compensate for their reduced reliability. External magwells and optics (at least aimpoints like the photo above; an RMR is more reasonable) are also generally silly on defensive pistols; Defensive gun uses generally don’t require more than 1-2 rounds (especially when we average in all the “no shots fired” DGU), and massive optics don’t generally do much for you when you’re point-shooting….

    Really, open-class raceguns like above are AWESOME when they work, and much less cool when they don’t (which is at least some of the time). On the whole I’d rather trust my life to an inexpensive, mostly-stock pistol that functions in a consistent and reliable manner.

  16. I added a recoil pad to my Mosin for an extra length of pull. Something that is needed for the average shooter who isn’t wearing a bulky Soviet winter uniform.

  17. I’m doing one of these projects now. I have a .357 S&W m649 that is not the gun I really want. I removed the internal lock last week, and used drill rod to press fit plugs into the holes that were left from the removal of the lock. In the next week or so I want to send it to Mag-Na-Port for their handgun porting, and a trigger job. Some time after that I intend to send it to a specialty coatings gunsmith who blues stainless steel, and get it blued. All the folks out there who want to tell me you can’t blue stainless because it’s stainless can save your breath – you don’t know what you are talking about – 400 series stainless has plenty of carbon – it’s even magnetic – it blues just fine if you know how. I might get some nice wood stocks to finish the customization. My motives are part aesthetic and part functional.

  18. On my G32 I just replaced the factory spring cups with the maritime variant not because I ever want to shoot it underwater but because I like the idea of improving reliability in wet conditions. The next change I’m making is getting an extended slide release since the factory is a bit thin for my thumb.

    Aesthetically I’m thinking of replacing the factory pins with either stainless or titanium, mainly to break up the total black on black it has now.

    Aside from those three things I can’t think of anything else that I would really want to change about it. I did do some pretty extensive custom stuff to my 10/22 but really who hasn’t.

    • The 10/22 is a gun you NEED to customize. While most defensive firearms are designed for usability, the engineers at Ruger must have had a pool going on how unshootable they could make a rifle.

  19. I will admit that all of the ‘carry’ guns in my house have had work, some more than others. My 1911 has a extended beavertail, extra power Wolff springs, a arched mainspring housing mag well, nightsights, match grade threaded barrel and bushing, comander style hammer, extended single side safety, extended slide release, a crisp 3.5 lb trigger with almost no over travel ( .09 inches to be exact) and Crimson Trace grips. In comparison my Sigs ( 226 and the 228) only had the springs replaced with Wolff extra power springs, the triggers smoothed out ( it dropped less than a pound from factory spec, but it feels like 3 pounds off), factory threaded barrels, nightsights and Crimson Trace grips.

  20. I like that you mentioned how customization could make an average gun good, and a good gun better when done well. I just bought a gun and I am currently not satisfied with its performance. I want to improve its performance, so I am thinking of getting a gun DIY upgrade.

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