An Open Letter to Templar: Why Arsenal is in Trouble
For those that don't know, Templar has resigned as moderator on Arsenal/K-VAR's forum.
Here is the link to his thread on AR15.com where he tells why: [Only registered and activated users can see links. ]
Originally, I sent him a private message concerning this.
I decided, upon re-reading that message, that it deserved to be shared with everyone.
I believe that, although Arsenal Inc, the US-based representative of the Bulgarian Arsenal, makes what may be the finest AK on the market, they are not without warts.
Among the tons of praise heaped on them for their fine product, I do not believe enough has been said about some of their little quality control problems, nor their tactics as a company.
I sent Templar a greatly shortened version of the following message; I decided for the rest of you to expand upon it a little and make it more meaningful:
"I read on a thread at ARFcom that you had resigned as moderator on the K-VAR forum due to some "cold shoulder" tactics by Arsenal. I think it's time for you to get some background on how "good" their product REALLY is.
My relationship with Arsenal started with my first purchase of an SLR95 in 1997. Other than the fact that the thumbhole stock was paper-thin, I thought it was a high-quality rifle. I bought several SLR95's over the next couple of years. I paid less than $300.00 each for my SLR95's, and they were perfect or nearly so. I ended up getting rid of my SLR95's in order to purchase SA M7's.
The fact that I have owned up to eleven of the SA M7 series rifles (but not all at once) has become somewhat legendary. I KNEW that Arsenal's milled receiver production could not last--it's just too expensive to make a milled gun without ComBloc subsidizing. Look at the price of the Springfield M1-A's, for example. So I stocked up on them with the intention of changing stocks on some, restoring some to "No-ban" status after the ban expiration, etc.
In 2002 and 2003, I bought four SA M7's and three SA M7S's very quickly, expecting to be completely happy with them. Based on the SLR95's, I had faith in the company that the SA M7's were the best, and that I didn't need to worry about quality problems. As a result, I didn't feel the need at the time of purchase to go over them thoroughly. I just KNEW they were perfect.
As I began to shoot, examine, clean, admire, and in general just look over the SA M7's with a fine-tooth comb, however, I began to notice flaws that I considered unacceptable in a rifle costing more than double what my SLR95's had cost. Allowing for inflation, etc., I simply thought that quality had gone downwards, while the price had moved upwards.
I posted a thread on K-VAR's forum politely stating that I believed Arsenal's rifles to be the best, but that I wish they would address these flaws. The thread, and my identity (just "Zoid" at that time), were summarily deleted within 24 hours.
Angry, I joined Gunsnet and posted the same thread almost word-for-word. By now I was angry that K-VAR had deleted my thread and my identity. Alex Wolfe [Arsenal's rep on K-VAR's forum] swore it was just coincidence that the deletions happened; they were having problems with K-VAR's forums and accidentally wiped a lot of people out. I never believed it and I don't believe it now.
At this time, I also got some private e-mails from Alex Wolfe, in a way seeming to almost beg me to stop flaming them on one hand and getting rather insulting toward me on the other. I was careful to always write my threads telling both the good and the bad.
You may have read those threads: I talked about things like chromed bores so badly plated that the rifling could not be seen in spots, gas port holes drilled partially into the rifling opposite the gas port, poor riveting to scope rails and pistol grip bases, poor riveting of the mag catch, canted sights, gas tube latch detents drilled so shallow and latches so loose that the gas tube latch would "move" during firing, bent gas tube latches, loose receiver covers, etc. I could go on, but you get the point. I thought things like these were unacceptable in such a high-dollar rifle, and I told them so. The AK is sloppy, but it's not supposed to be THAT sloppy!
After my disappointment at what was wrong with my rifles, my intention was to never ever buy another Arsenal rifle.
About that time the SA M7 Carbine was released, and I decided to give them another chance. I didn't do this out of the goodness of my heart: I had always hoped Arsenal would produce a rifle like the Carbine as its basic model, and forget the stupid shark-gill muzzle brake of the SLR95. So I decided to get rid of my other SA M7's and hope for the best as far as getting a handful of SA M7 Carbines with as few flaws as possible.
I bought three Carbines over a period of two years. I ended up selling off ALL my other Arsenal rifles to buy the Carbines (except for one SA M7S I still have). I also purchased an SLR101, which I ended up trading off to get my third SA M7 Carbine--a rifle that I unexpectedly ran into long after I thought that entire production run would have sold out.
As I purchased each new SA M7 Carbine, I looked it over externally in the gun store with a bright white LED bore light. Kudos to the gun store owner for being so understanding of my thoroughness, allowing me to look down bores, peek under gas tube latches, wiggle receiver covers, etc. Believing that Arsenal's earlier quality control issues had been cleared up, I purchased each SA M7 Carbine and put it away in my safe--happy in the knowledge that these rifles actually possessed the quality that I expected them to have. I thought I had finally acquired a collection of perfect milled AK's, which would become collectors' items since I expected Arsenal to eventually stop producing the milled receiver (which they are in fact in the process of doing).
I'd thought I could say that the rifles I kept are perfect, but they're not. After purchasing the Carbines, I believed initially that Arsenal's quality control had improved, and I posted a thread on K-VAR's forum to try to be fair to them and post a good review to offset the earlier, more negative one.
Boy, now I almost wish I hadn't.
I wrote my "good" review on K-VAR's forum (Arsenal AK's: You Get What You Pay For) during a period when I wasn't really shooting that much and had put my Carbines away to shoot at a later date. I hadn't noticed ANY of the earlier flaws on the new Carbines, so I confidently put them in the safe and wrote a good review.
Months later, when I actually had time to look them over thoroughly and begin shooting them, however, I began to notice unexpected problems.
The front sight post on one of my Carbines was so loose you could move it with your fingers. THAT should never have escaped quality control.
Of the two Carbines I've shot (I'm still leaving one NIB), both were so far off zero that I could only zero them by pushing the front sight slides all the way to the right. So much for laser zeroing at the factory. Only my SAM7S was zeroed properly at the factory.
In time, I discovered other problems. Receiver covers that were tight just out of the box quickly became rattly and were obviously poorly-fitted. Both my "shooter" Carbines now wear Chinese receiver covers, which I lovingly hand-fitted to a level that would shame the chimpanzees installing rattly, loose-fitting factory versions.
The shepherds hook retainer on one rifle was badly twisted during installation as well.
It also had a selector that fit so tightly against the receiver that it was in danger of rubbing ALL the paint off the receiver underneath it. In addition, at the "Safe" position, the original selector did not go quite all the way into the "safe" detent. I bought another selector from K-VAR and installed it myself.
One of the Carbines also came with strange "scuff marks" on the original receiver cover indicating it was "scuffed" before being installed on the rifle, since adjacent areas were undisturbed. That I did not notice this at the gun store is a tribute to that store's poor lighting. Yes, I know, that could have happened after it left the factory, but I have observed many other Arsenal rifles with strange "scuff" marks; I almost never see comparable cosmetic damage to other guns I have looked at.
The NIB Carbine's front sight base is obviously about 1/4" too far rearward, exposing the part of the barrel where it "steps up" to the next diameter as you move toward the rear. At first, I thought this was deliberate, to preclude threading the muzzle. Since my other two Carbines that I purchased later don't have this, I ultimately decided it was a "mistake." Attempts to ask about this on the K-VAR forum were ignored. As this rifle was my first Carbine, and the gun store only had this one, I thought ALL Carbines had this "extra long" muzzle, and didn't know any better until months later when I purchased another one.
I probably cannot ever thread this rifle's muzzle and install a muzzle nut or compensator since the front sight base is too far rearward to allow threading the muzzle right up to it like on a military AK. If I were to thread this muzzle, the threading die would encounter this sudden change in barrel thickness and stop, meaning that the muzzle threads would stop well ahead of the front sight base.
My SAM7S had an obviously rusted recoil spring guide, although there is no rust anywhere else. This indicates to me that the part itself had rusted before installation on the rifle.
I know I'm long-winded here. But Arsenal's quality control problems obviously haven't stopped, just become less obvious. Instead of poorly plated bores, badly installed gas tube latches, poor riveting, etc., that I knew to conscientiously look for on my new Carbines--different quality control issues had surfaced in the form of rusted parts, mutilated retainer springs, loose front sights, badly sighted-in front sights, et al.
All in all the paint job on the Nevada-based guns is better than the strictly Bulgarian ones, but I sure wish I could have one of my SLR95's back to convert to "no-ban". I just didn't have the little problems with the purely Bulgarian rifles that I've seen in the SA M7's.
I say Arsenal is in trouble because of a couple of things.
One, they keep wanting to either raise their prices, or cheapen their manufacturing. They proudly touted themselves as the maker of the milled AK, then presto-change-o, decided to go with the stamped one even over the protests of some of their biggest fans. According to a couple of dealers I've asked, the prices have only dropped by a couple hundred bucks for the stamped ones versus the milled ones. And is there ANYONE out there who REALLY honest-to-God thinks that $1,200 is a fair price even for a milled rifle with pre-ban features?
Two, Arsenal is beginning to look like they're in trouble because they've softened their stance on "being the best," as evidenced in the hodgepodge of mixing and matching parts I have seen.
One of my Carbines, as can be seen under the handguards, has a barrel that is obviously blued rather than Parkerized, in direct contradiction to their claims of applying that grey phosphate to all their rifles prior to painting. My point is: they installed a "leftover" barrel from a parts kit or other source.
Atlantic Firearms' website advertised an SA M7 "blondie" for a while: an SA M7 with the SA M7 Classic furniture. NO attempt was made to add a rear sling swivel to this rifle, if the photos were accurate. This is another obvious attempt to use "leftover" parts.
When I bought my SLR101S, I rejected two others at the store because they had single-hook triggers, even though the receivers were obviously made for double hook triggers. I can't believe Arsenal would install single-hook triggers in receivers made for double-hook triggers, especially after endless discussions of single-hook triggers leading to trigger slap--something Arsenal, I thought, wanted to avoid.
It is obvious to me that Arsenal is trying to sling product out there as fast as possible to keep the money rolling in.
So, don't feel bad about leaving K-VAR.
I quit posting on their forum as Zoid Zodian because of my disgust at their quality control problems, and because frankly, I felt the slate was clean and I didn't want to say anything more, good or bad, about them. I still think Arsenal is the best, but only just BARELY ahead of the competition. If their milled rifles could miraculously be priced at about the same as the stamped Romanians, then I could overlook their little flaws. But not in a thousand-dollar AK.
I'm as happy as I'm likely to be with my four remaining Arsenal rifles, and I've corrected enough of the problems with them that I feel like I've "upgraded" them beyond what the monkeys at the factory did to them. I'm also glad to have gotten milled ones while they were available.
But I don't think I'll buy another Arsenal rifle, not at their inflated prices, and not with the flaws that should NEVER NEVER NEVER be on such an expensive rifle. I just get to the point with them that if I were to buy another Arsenal rifle, I'd have to start looking for things "wrong" with it and wouldn't enjoy it.
I think Arsenal really is in deep doo-doo and won't be around for long.
I believe they are less than five years away from going the way of Detonics, Randall, B-West, whoever-ya-wanna-name. "
I do want to add one thing. People have made the comment, "If you had such problems with them, why did you buy so many?"
The short answer is: I HAVE TO HAVE my AK's with milled receivers. If not for this one thing, I would not put up with Arsenal's quality control problems. I happen to think that Arsenal Nevada's receivers are very good: the BEST. I also think their double-hook fire-control groups are perfect and the trigger pulls smooth and entirely safe, unlike the crappy FCG's Century was putting into Romanian receivers for a while.
Despite their defects, I still say that Arsenal's AK's are the best. Truth be told, I have observed every defect I listed above on other brands of AK's as well. Where I take Arsenal to task is for charging an exhorbitant price for a rifle that is full of disgusting little flaws--flaws that tarnish the overall impression of quality that they so proudly announce whenever they have a chance.
None of the defects I have observed raise any safety issues, but a customer that has just thrown down the better part of a grand in order to acquire a certain rifle shouldn't have to fix ANYTHING on it.
Last edited by ZOID ZODIAN; 02-08-2005 at 08:11 PM..
Reason: (To clarify that the gas port holes were drilled partially into the rifling opposite the gas port, NOT that the hole went all the way through both sides of the barrel).
I say so fricken' what? you get the same kind of mentality about colt products, some folks will buy them no matter how they treat their customers. if arsenal whats to drive their business that way, who cares?.....I certinly don't own a piece of the company, and bet a lot of other folks here don't, so other then a good gossipy tale about them, who really, really cares what they do?
me personally, I just don't see paying the rediculous prices they put on their AKs, when you can have one built from a reputable gunsmith for a lot less...... my SBR AKS-74U cost less to make, and that is including the 200 dollar tax, then what their AK are being priced at. IMO people who buy those overpriced AKs from them got taken in the ass without any lube, or a reach around.......if they would have priced what it would cost to buy the same AK from VECTOR, or had one built they would have though twice about buying a overpriced AK from them ........I mean really it's a basic AK, you can't justify the prices they're going at.
__________________ "I can make this march, and make georgia howl!"
... some folks will buy them no matter how they treat their customers. if arsenal whats to drive their business that way, who cares ?
me personally, I just don't see paying the rediculous prices they put on their AKs, when you can have one built from a reputable gunsmith for a lot less......
You have inadvertently helped me make my point. There are evidently a LOT of people who will pay their prices no matter how they treat their customers when there are indeed a lot of reputable gunsmiths who will build a rifle just as good if not better, and without the hassle of dealing with arrogant Eastern European nincompoops who think that their feces has no odor and that they can do what they want.
Thank you sir, for helping me inform the public. Personally, I was willing to pay their prices as long as their quality, backed up by 100 years of experience, was obviously there for the perceiving. Unfortunately, I'm well into thinking that the "emperor has no clothes" as far as Arsenal's quality is concerned.
Personally, I build my own. That way whatever happens is "MY" fault and I live with it.
When I buy a rifle (that I can't build), I either accept what that company offers or I don't deal with them.
You also said that you "HAVE TO HAVE THE MILLED RECEIVER", you don't "HAVE" to have , you just want to have, which is a big difference.
I do understand about the quality control issue (I've been an aircraft QA inspector for almost 20 years). There's a saying in QA, that there is always time to do it right the second time. Meaning that after you find the problem (that shouldn't of happened anyway) you can fix it.
To most companies, QA is a necessary evil. As much as it can provide help to ensure that the product is as it should be, it can also slow down production which can result in a slow down in products being sold, which results in the lack of profit.
I purchased a TIKKA 595 Master Sporter ($750.00) in .308, to me it is the most accrate, perfectly made and beautiful rifle I own. The fit and finish was perfect. The only thing I found was that it seemed the receiver hold down bolt was over torqued. I sent an email to the factory asking for the proper torque and letting them know about how tight the bolt was. They promptly repiled with the correct torque and indicated that after checking, they found some of their torque wrenches were out of calibration, and thanked me for informing them of my observations. I was impressed.
If a company doesn't respond to their customers, it will eventually fail. I hope that for those that wish to purchase Arsenal firearms listen to what you have to say and that the company listens also. I know that if I purchased a $800.00 AK, it better be perfect.
I know Templar on a personal basis and I often talk to him at his shop. He is a great guy and we should ask him to come here and post. This guy knows more about guns than anyone I know and that is saying alot.
I think Arsenal's best bet is to pack up and move back to Bulgaria where labor rates are lower, import strictly Bulgarian-made rifles, and have a small stateside shop whose only purpose is to install the 922(r)-compliant parts. That should help keep costs down. I know Arsenal's comeback is always "the milled receiver is more expensive to manufacture." That's all the more reason to make the guns in Bulgaria and finish them here. So far Arsenal claims that its new stamped rifles will be priced lower than the milled ones. We'll see if that lasts.
I think that if Arsenal moves back to Bulgaria, we could see the prices of their rifles drop to a level just a little above that of the Romanian rifles. At that point I think we could argue that the Arsenal rifles are priced at about the level they need to be for their quality and their little "defects."
Don't misunderstand me: Everyone knows that the Romanians are rough, cheap, and full of little faults. But everyone also knows that they are sold at entry-level prices.
The little defects in Arsenal's rifles are no worse than similar problems I've encountered on other AK's, especially Romanians. It's just that for the huge price difference we should be seeing a quantum difference in quality, and that just isn't apparent.
Just reading the complaints about Arsenal on other forums, it is obvious that Arsenal has a HUGE public relations problem, mostly due to their high prices, but also their quality control problems. I base this on the number of threads I've seen posted that have to do not only with price issues, but also with "problems" people are having with their supposedly fantastic rifles. For example, a thread on another forum dealing with the front sight having to be drifted all the way to one side is what got me to finally shoot and sight in two of my three SA M7 Carbines.
Add to that their perceived "holier-than-thou" attitude, and you have the makings of a company that is teetering on the edge of financial disaster in the near future.
If I remember history correctly, rumor had it that the Nevada plant was set up in the first place in order to anticipate a complete future ban on importation of AK rifles, parts, you name it. Now that the AWB has expired, Arsenal is playing with a huge handicap called "overhead" that forces them to charge more for their rifles than other makers with factories still mainly in former ComBloc countries. If they aren't already awake and smelling the coffee, somebody over at Arsenal should at least be plugging in the coffee maker.
Last edited by ZOID ZODIAN; 02-07-2005 at 07:47 PM..
Reason: Grammar correction--no altering of content
I don't know how many of you noticed something else.
Look at the thread on AR15.com.
How many times do you see the phrase "Limited run of 40 rifles," "Limited run of 50 rifles," and "Limited run of 200 rifles?"
Add to that the fact that Lew Horton's has probably already cut a check to Arsenal for ALL of these, and you have the beginnings of a minor conspiracy.
Lew Horton's sells to FFL dealers who plan to resell the items. Okay, that's normal, but with the small number of each rifle being produced, what do you suppose is REALLY happening?
Gun dealers are usually gun collectors themselves. For example, there are probably at least 200 dealers around the country who would LOVE to have an SA M7 Classic and couldn't get one the first time. Ditto the other rifles named. Barring a prepaid special order from a customer, an FFL holder is probably only going to order one of the limited run rifles for his own collection.
Get the picture? I suspect that only a very small number of the limited run rifles listed for 2005 are ever actually going to find their way into the hands of the public.
Lew Horton's and Arsenal have a good thing going. Horton's immediately buys up all the limited run rifles that Arsenal can produce. They then turn around and resell them to FFL holders who are willing to pay the inflated wholesale price. Since most FFL holders buy things for resale that they can turn a buck on quickly, I suspect that an Arsenal AK at twice the price of anything else is going to be for that FFL holder's personal collection, and not for his shop. There will be exceptions, of course, but the point is that a "limited run" of 40 rifles will end up in the hands of collectors with FFL's and not the public.
Nobody at Arsenal or at Lew Horton cares that very few of the limited run rifles actually reach the consumer. They've both got their money; screw the customers. Only a handful of FFL holders--with a few exceptions--get the pleasure of owning a "limited run" Arsenal rifle. The rest of us are left disappointed, and in Arsenal's mind, a "mystique" of "look-how-rare-and-hard-to-get-these-rifles-are" has been created. This paints the illusion that Arsenal's rifles MUST be high-quality or they wouldn't be sold out all the time.
What they don't realize (yet) is that this artificial "mystique" is already being perceived by the public as being contrived. Arsenal would be better off not making ANY "limited run" rifles. They would instead be better off making ONE good basic milled gun as a standard production item, and making sure it's the quality product worthy of its high price.
I think Arsenal's best bet is to pack up and move back to Bulgaria where labor rates are lower, import strictly Bulgarian-made rifles, and have a small stateside shop whose only purpose is to install the 922(r)-compliant parts. That should help keep costs down.
Thats what Arsenal is! It a company in Bulgaria that exports 922 compiant rifles into the USA. They also make military contract items for any counry that wants to buy.
K-Var corp is the importer AKA Arsenal Inc.
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