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Things I Wish I’d Known Then – Part 4

Posted by Eric on 28.12.09

Time to Light It Up

Yes, finally I’m talking paintball guns.  If you’re considering a gun, you ought to be fairly committed to the sport.  That’s not to say you want to play at competitive levels, but paying a couple hundred bucks is a significant investment.  If your local field charges $20 for rental gear, you won’t recoup the cost of getting your own gun until you play 10 to 15 times, or possibly more.  You have a long list to choose from and each will have things you like and things you won’t.  There’s a lot to cover so stay with me here.  I’ll start with you ought to know while you’re trying out paintball guns.

A Marker?

New players usually ask why paintball guns are often called markers.  The simple answer is because it’s the politically correct thing to say.  When paintball guns were first made, the paintball was originally used to mark trees, livestock, etc.  Since paintball is often attacked by the media to be a violent or war-glorifying sport, many people use the term “marker” instead of “gun” to make it sound better.  But a paintball marker is an air gun, just like your average pellet rifle.  It’s not a toy and I’ll usually call it a gun because it should be handled with similar respect as a real firearm.

Everything’s Subjective

There’s no perfect paintball gun for everyone.  If there was, that’s the only one anybody would use and there’d be no point talking about it.  A paintball gun’s performance comes from how well you can point and shoot it.  While some aspects of a gun can be backed with hard facts, like how consistently it can shoot or how low the recoil is, most will be completely subjective, like how a grip feels in your hand and if it rolls to aim naturally for your eyes.  With this in mind, I highly recommend you play as many games with as many different guns as you can so you can experience a wide variety before you decide.  Most paintballers like to show off their gear, regardless of how ragged it may be.  So get to know the local players and ask if you can hold some of their guns.  Ask nicely and you may get to play a few games with it.  Just remember to try it out with your mask on.  Get a feel how the different models balance.  Does it feel forward or back-heavy?  How does the trigger feel to you?  Is the trigger stroke too light, too heavy, too short, or too long?  Take a few shots with it.  How does it aim for you?  Can you hit your target instinctively, or does it take some extra thought and adjustment?  Find some models that feel comfortable to you and try them out as much as you can.

Firearm Conversion

Few paintball guns will balance and aim like a real firearm so don’t be surprised if most paintball guns feel awkward at first.  Few paintball guns have buttstocks, and though some look like it you really can’t target down the iron sights since you’ll be wearing a mask while playing.  A few companies, notably Tippmann and BT, cater to the military simulation ( mil-sim ) crowd by offering paintball guns that are designed similar to real-world firearms.  If you absolutely must have a mil-sim type paintball gun, your options will be limited, but you will have them.  Otherwise, you’ll have to get used to a tighter, more compact shooting stance with your hands closer together, your arms tucked in, and using your air tank like a buttstock.  Some players use a cradle or drop forward, which is basically a bar that attaches between the bottom of the gun grip and the air source adapter ( ASA ) which is what your air tank screws in to.  This allows the air tank to mount lower and farther forward to change the feel and balance of the gun.  Whether you want to use a drop or not, this new shooting position may feel awkward at first, but give it a couple outings and you’ll get the feel for it.

Mythbusting

Regardless of what anyone says, no paintball gun shoots farther than any other.  All paintball fields have limits on how fast paintballs can be fired ( meaning how fast they move through the air, though some limit how rapidly they can be fired too, ) measured in feet per second ( fps. )  Since all guns are shooting at, or below, that limit, none will shoot farther than another.  Some barrels put backspin on a paintball that makes it float a little bit, like a golf ball, and gives it longer range, but that’s the lone exception.  Also, longer barrels don’t make a gun shoot farther and they don’t always make it shoot more accurately.  So don’t fall victim to marketing hype or player ignorance when you hear otherwise.

Mechanical or Electronic?

One big decision you’ll need to make is whether you want a purely mechanical gun or an electro-pneumatic one.  Both have advantages and disadvantages over each other and you should carefully consider both.  Here are a few general points to consider about each ( yes, you can find exceptions to most of them. )  And I’m sure some experienced players will disagree with me, and they’re more than welcome to leave comments below, but here are my views on mechs and electros, as they’re often called.

A mechanical gun can be a great choice for a beginning player.  For one, mechs tend to be less expensive than electros.  Also, since they don’t use complex electronic components, they can be easier for some people to understand how they work.  Let’s face it, a spring pushing a metal rod is more straightforward than a Hall Effect sensor turning on an integrated circuit.  This means trouble-shooting a mech gun is often easier than an electro.  And should a part fail or break, replacement parts are often much cheaper to get.  Finally, most purely mech guns have no problem working with either CO2 or HPA.  If you’re stuck with only CO2 in your area, a mech may be your only option.

The downside of mechs is their consistency and gas efficiency.  Springs and push rods will never move as precise as electrically controlled components.  This means each shot with a mech will be a little different from the last, mostly in muzzle velocity.  For example, suppose one shot flies just over your target’s head while the next falls just short.  How much the muzzle velocity varies will depend on the quality of the gun and how tight the manufacturing tolerances are, but you should expect around +/- 5 fps between each shot.  The higher quality mechs have a smaller variance,  but are substantially more expensive too.  Finally, gas efficiency will be much poorer on a mech than an electro so you wont get near as many shots out of an air tank fill.

Most guns made now are electro-pneumatic designs, meaning electrical switches control how the gun fires instead of mechanical sears and locks.  Though some electros are still firmly in the “high-end” gun market, quite a few are now geared for the entry and mid-level crowd and are quite affordable.  The biggest advantage an electro gives is consistent shooting.  The internal parts are controlled by precise circuit boards and other electrical components that mean one shot will  be almost identical to the last.  Instead of +/- 5 fps like most mechs, a decent electro should be no more than +/- 3 fps while the better ones drop that even further.  With this increased consistency comes better gas efficiency

But electros aren’t perfect.  Generally, be prepared to pay more for a good electro over a good mech.  Also, very few electros work with CO2 since the volatile gas can damage the sensitive electronics.  Speaking of sensitive electronics, replacement parts for electros can have some pretty hefty price tags.  These components can also make a steep learning curve for new players if you’re not electronically inclined.  Not that electros are insanely complex, but if you’re not used to solenoid valves and chip programming, you’ll have a good amount of studying in front of you.

Electro 101

If you’re considering an electro-pneumatic gun, you need to be familiar with a few basic terms and components.  This will help you understand better how the gun works.  While every electro operates a little differently, most have a few basic parts that you should know.

Board

This refers to an electrical circuit board in the gun.  Some guns have multiple boards, but there’s always one main board that controls everything else.  The board stores the settings that determines what happens when you pull the trigger, such as how long the air valve stays open, how long to wait before the gun can be fired again, etc.  Different boards have different levels of customization and some players purchase aftermarket boards to get more features so they can tune it exactly to suit their preference

Firing Modes

This is the most common setting to change on the board.  I could write a whole article on firing modes alone, but basically it means how many shots you fire with each trigger pull.  Every board comes with at least a pure semi-automatic mode ( one shot for each pull and release of the trigger, ) and most have a few ramping modes too.  A ramp modes starts in semi-auto and then switches to a higher rate of fire depending on how fast you pull the trigger.  Other common firing modes are rebound ( fires on both the trigger pull and release, ) three-round burst ( fires three quick shots per trigger pull, ) and full-automatic ( pull and hold the trigger to continually shoot, like a machine gun. )  Some fields and games have rules on what fire modes are allowed so always check before playing.

Solenoid

A solenoid is an electromagnet made from a coil of wire, usually with a metal bar inside the coil that is free to move.  When the coil is turned on and the magnetic field starts, the rod inside moves to one side or the other.  Most solenoids in paintball guns are actually solenoid valves that open and close as the solenoid is switched on and off.   Most designs only use one solenoid.

Eyes

An “eye” refers to a type of sensor, usually to tell if a paintball is loaded in the breech.  This is usually some kind of light emitter on one side of the breech ( normal colored light, IR light, or possibly even a weak laser, ) with a sensor on the other side.  If a paintball is ready to fire, the light beam is broken and the sensor sends a signal to the board so that the gun can shoot.  If the beam isn’t broken, the eye will not let the gun fire.  This prevents breaking paintballs inside the gun when they’re only partially loaded, or “chopping.”  They’re often called anti-chop eyes, or ACE.

Jaron’s Recommendation

As usual, take this part as you will since my preferences may be completely different from yours.  Also, I shouldn’t have to say this, but you can’t buy skill.  Spending a lot of money on a gun won’t magically make you play better or keep you in the game longer.  I can’t repeat it enough, yet some people still believe it, you can’t buy skill.  I’m not saying you shouldn’t spend a lot of money on a good gun, just don’t expect it to make up for your lack of game experience.

Definitely give the Tippmann X7 Phenom a look.    It works well on either CO2 or HPA and has the Cyclone Feed system so you don’t need to worry about buying a separate loader.  The Phenom also works with the vast majority of aftermarket parts and upgrades of the older X7 so you have a large choice in mods to personalize your gun.  In terms of performance, the Phenom uses a blow forward/spool valve system that’s very consistent and gas efficient.  It also  has a hybrid trigger that can operate in electric mode but also has a fully mechanical override.   Tippmann has a well earned reputation for durable guns and superb customer service and their guns have a huge online crowd so getting advice and help is no problem.  The Phenom is my gun of choice right now and I’ve used it in heavy rain, mud, and sand without any damage at all.  I can’t say the same for other guns and gear I’ve used in those conditions.

If you’re willing to use something a bit older and not as common, you might want to look at an Automag.  While some of the newer ones might be out of your price range, older Automag 68 Classics usually cost less than $150 used.  Despite being old, Automags still perform very well, much more consistent that most mechs, and the Classic will work on either HPA or CO2.  They’re also very modular with most new and old parts being compatible, making upgrading easy to do.

You don’t need to completely discount pure electro guns either.  As a new player, it may be daunting to learn how the electronics work, but it’s much easier than you might think.  I have no problem recommending the Dangerous Power G3 to all players, new and seasoned.  At only $300 retail and $200 used, it’s very affordable to the beginning player and will give you a whole lot of gun for the money.  The G3 performs exceptionally well, both in shot consistency and air efficiency, and it’s very easy to clean and maintain.  The board uses physical DIP switches to change settings and firing modes so it’s pretty much idiot proof.  The G3 Special Edition has an upgraded board with more options and firing modes if you want to spend a little extra.  The G3 ASA mounts on a standard dovetail rail under the grip so it can be put on a drop very easily.  I find the Dangerous Power ASA the best in paintball with its quick lever-action to turn the air on and off.

Another electro gun that’s great for any player is the Invert Mini.  It costs about the same as a G3, both retail and used, is also very easy to clean and maintain, and performs the same in every way.  As its name suggests, the Mini is one of the smallest guns on the market and has a very tight profile.  My one complaint about the Mini is the ASA.  It doesn’t have an on/off valve so you can’t turn the valve off and bleed the gas pressure before removing your tank.  It’s also locked at the base of the grip so you can’t swap it for an on/off ASA or use a drop forward.  But again, that’s strictly personal preference and may not even be an issue to you.

What Now?

With all the basic gear now covered, I’ll wrap up this series of posts by talking about some basic game formats and tips for new players as they learn the game.

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3 Responses to “Things I Wish I’d Known Then – Part 4”

  1. Ando said

    Good read brother.

  2. tigar19 said

    Good write-up!

    A few suggestions/comments:
    Solenoid – You describe it but what part does it play in shooting out a paintball?
    Do you think a new player should buy a brand new marker or a used one?

    • Jaron said

      I didn’t want to get into too much detail regarding noids since I did aim this at beginning players. But since you asked . . .

      As said, most solenoids in paintball guns are valves that control pressurized gas flow. These can be simple on/off valves or possibly even three ways that can route air to different parts of the gun. If the noid controls the air behind the bolt, when it’s switched on, the pressure pushes the bolt forward and then fires the paintball. Then it might close, letting a spring push the bolt back, or reroutes air in front of the bolt to push it back. Some noids are physical actuators, such as tripping a mechanical sear or a poppet valve pin. I can’t possibly cover all the ways a solenoid can be used. Since a solenoid valve can be switched on and off very quickly, it can be opened and closed for a very precise amount of time. This is largely where an electro’s improved consistency comes from.

      As for new vs used, I think any player, new or seasoned, can do quite well with used gear. Used doesn’t always mean worn out or damaged. If a respectable player is selling their old gear, chances are it’s maintained well and will still work just fine. It helps you save a few bucks and the seller gets some money back out of their investment to spend on something else.

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