The Ed Brown Classic Custom’s understated elegance isn’t ostentatious or showy, but it more than makes up for this in quality and durability.

Investment piece? The $3,695 Ed Brown 1911 [Review]

Ed Brown 1911 Classic Custom in summary

  • Ed Brown 1911, the Classic Custom, is one maker’s interpretation of what a perfect 1911 should be. Blending John Moses Browning’s genius with modern technology and a healthy dose of hand craftsmanship, the Classic Custom leaves nothing to be desired.
  • Fun and quality come at a price: the gun starts at $3,695 and can go well north of four large in customized or hand-engraved configurations.
  • Ed Brown’s guns are made to be shot. You can certainly keep a Classic Custom as a safe queen, but it’s a lot more fun to take it out to the range and put it through its paces.

Introduction

If you’re wondering what could make a 1911 cost almost $4,000, the best place to look is inside the detail stripped slide and frame. Cheaper guns can look great on the outside. However, a closer examination of their hidden surfaces usually reveals the haste to get the gun out the door. Yet with an Ed Brown 1911 Classic Custom, there’s no expense spared. Every part is perfect in fit and finish, inside and out. Even the hidden surfaces are machined, polished and finished obsessively.

$4,000 is a heck of a lot for a gun – what makes the Ed Brown 1911 so expensive?

The history of Ed Brown pistols

Forty years ago, most shooters that wanted a competition-grade 1911 would take a Colt to a gunsmith to have it worked over. A few of these gunsmiths started making their own high-grade aftermarket parts. This is the route that Ed Brown took in 1988. Later, in 1992 he pivoted to making complete firearms. Already one of the country’s leading gunsmiths, Ed Brown had no trouble establishing his company as one of the country’s premier manufacturers of top-end pistols.

It may also interest you that Ed Brown remains to this day a family business. The legacy of Ed Brown’s products is under the custody of Travis Brown (CEO) and Wade Brown (Chief gun builder) alongside Renea Brown (Operations) and Karri Brown (Marketing).

I find it encouraging to see a highly specialized craft preserved, improved and managed throughout the generations.

The Classic Custom sits at the apex of Ed Brown’s product line. It’s aptly marketed as having “all the bells and whistles.” In this review we’ll see if the Classic Custom is everything that it’s claimed to be—both as a safe princess and as a range gun.

If you’re still curious, check out their own video covering forty years of Ed Brown gunmaking.

The Classic Custom in hand

The business side of the Ed Brown Classic Custom showing the trigger, the extended magazine release, the slide stop and the safety. Ed Brown’s signature three hole trigger finishes it off.
The business side of the Ed Brown Classic Custom showing the trigger, the extended magazine release, the slide stop and the safety. Ed Brown’s signature three hole trigger finishes it off.

The first time you hold a Classic Custom in your hands is a moment you won’t forget. It feels like it was hewn from a solid block of steel because it was. In fact, nowhere on the gun is MIM (metal injection molding) to be found. Nor does plastic make an appearance here. Gun owners sometimes bemoan modern manufacturing techniques. However, the Ed Brown skirts this entirely: it’s made the way guns used to be made.

The next temptation is to rack the slide, and that’s just as rewarding. It slides with a silky smoothness that comes from the handiwork of a gunsmith that’s been doing this for many, many years. Want the slide to fall back into battery? Just pull the slide release with your thumb; it, too, is machined from solid tool steel and feels just so. The solid “klunk” of the slide going into battery reminds you of what this gun is made to do.

In all seriousness, there’s not a single part on this gun that feels like the accountants were involved in its design. Everything works with a mechanical precision and smoothness that is simply not seen in most other firearms.

An Ed Brown 1911 versus my everyday 1911 collection

I’ve owned a lot of 1911’s over the years. From a Taurus PT1911 (reviewed here) to a Remington R1, a few Colt 1911’s. Even a Civilian Marksmanship Program Aniston Arsenal 1911 (made from a Remington Rand frame and an Ithica slide). All of these guns did what they were made to do, but they all had their own shortcomings.

The Taurus had a less-than-perfect slide-to-frame fit that resulted in a bit of lateral slide movement. The Remington’s trigger was good but not great. The Colt Lightweight Commander had a few sharp edges around the magazine well that would have benefitted from a bit more handiwork at the factory. The trigger was “good enough” but, like the Remington, not great. The CMP 1911 is a wonderful piece of American history. However, like many arsenal rebuilds it’s a mix of parts from different manufacturers that work well enough together. All these are small gripes, and many would argue that they were part of these guns’ “character.”

The Ed Brown 1911 – perfection is in its character

Needless to say, the trigger break on the Ed Brown 1911 Classic Custom is superb. This comes as no surprise since Ed Brown was well-known in the competitive shooting community and is no stranger to a crisp trigger. It’s also a reminder that this is a gun made for admiring and for shooting.

A detailed look at the field stripped frame of the Ed Brown Classic Custom. Everything here is finished perfectly; not a rough edge to be found.
A detailed look at the field stripped frame of the Ed Brown Classic Custom. Everything here is finished perfectly; not a rough edge to be found.

The Ed Brown’s character comes through in its perfection. It is what every other 1911 could be made into with enough time and patience (and money), but it comes that way out of the box.

Shooting the Ed Brown 1911 Classic Custom

The carefully crowned muzzle of the Ed Brown Classic Custom. Note the allen key hex cut into the two piece recoil rod.
The carefully crowned muzzle of the Ed Brown Classic Custom. Note the allen key hex cut into the two piece recoil rod.

Astounding accuracy

The Classic Custom is one of the only handguns that has spontaneously motivated me to try handgun shooting at 50 yards, because things were too boringly accurate at 25 yards. It’s just that good.

Easy and natural to shoot

What I wasn’t expecting was for the Classic Custom to feel so easy to shoot. The .45 ACP rounds have kick and the Ed Brown isn’t immune to some bucking. However, the heft of the Classic Custom and its silky smooth mechanical perfection do a remarkable job of absorbing the recoil. This includes all of the other mechanical sensations that are usually felt when firing a 1911.

The 25 line per inch checkering on the front and back of the Ed Brown Classic Custom’s grip. The finish has just the right “roughness” to give the gun a fantastic feel in hand.
The 25 line per inch checkering on the front and back of the Ed Brown Classic Custom’s grip. The finish has just the right “roughness” to give the gun a fantastic feel in hand.

Handles a range of ammo without fuss

My Classic Custom was unfazed by the ammunition I fed it. From cheap Winchester 230 grain white box ball ammo to Buffalo Bore’s superb 185 grain +P JHP ammo, the Classic Custom ate whatever it was fed and came back to the table for more.

Looking into the chamber with the slide open on the Ed Brown Classic Custom. Note the carefully cut serrations on the back of the slide.
Looking into the chamber with the slide open on the Ed Brown Classic Custom. Note the carefully cut serrations on the back of the slide.

Simple and effective back sights

The plain black sights on my Classic Custom also turned out to be a blessing. Every Classic Custom is test-fired at the factory. In fact, the test target is signed by the gunsmith and provided with the gun. I found that there was absolutely no need to adjust the sights to get good results with a perfect 6:00 sight picture. Like everything else on this gun, they do their job with absolutely no fuss—the epitome of simplicity and reliability.

The Ed Brown Classic Custom’s understated elegance isn’t ostentatious or showy, but it more than makes up for this in quality and durability.

Works smoothly with a variety of magazines

Magazines drop freely from the gun as one would expect, and I found that the gun ran perfectly with high quality magazines from a variety of manufacturers. Ed Brown, Wilson Combat, Chip McCormick Power Mags, Colt magazines, and even a few World War 2 issued magazines made by the M. S. Little Manufacturing Company.

The little details

Two-piece guide rod design

Something I’ve come to appreciate about the Ed Brown design is its two piece guide rod. Using an allen key, the front of the guide rod is unscrewed from the gun before the slide stop or the barrel bushing are removed. It’s an ingenious design and one that deviates slightly from the original design pattern of the 1911, but it’s very much appreciated here

The field stripped Ed Brown Classic Custom. Most of this is standard fare for a 1911 except for the two piece recoil rod.

Factory soft case doubles as a nice range bag

The Classic Custom ships in a padded soft case that doubles nicely as a range bag. Pockets inside hold the gun, 8 spare magazines, and a small assortment of tools for cleaning and maintaining the Classic Custom. This is a practical nod to Ed Brown’s pragmatism about these guns; beautiful as it is, it’s most at home on the range slinging lead.

The Ed Brown Classic Custom lives comfortably in a range-ready padded case. The complete kit includes the gun, three magazines, the owner’s manual, the factory shot target, two allen keys (one for the recoil rod and one for the trigger), oil, and a barrel bushing key.

Only snag – the factory grip retracted from the gun’s beauty

Most Ed Brown 1911’s will accept any standard 1911 grip, and this gets to my one small gripe with the gun. It came fitted with Ed Brown’s G10 grips that were comfortable in hand. However, they really don’t showcase the gun’s beauty. I opted for a pair of Kim Ahrend’s superb 1911 grips, cut from cocobolo and finished in tung oil.

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    The Competition

    Ed Brown competes in the rarified world of high end 1911 manufacturers that include Wilson Combat, STI, Les Baer, Nighthawk, Cabot Arms, Stan Chen, and a few others. At the price point that these guns live at, it’s going to be difficult to objectively compare them. Each demonstrates the same commitment to the zenith of fine gunmaking, and each is its own interpretation of perfection.

    One of the competition – Wilson Combat The CQB 1911 RRP $2865


    What is perhaps worth mentioning is the tier of 1911’s that are higher-end, but that don’t live in the price stratosphere of the Ed Brown. I’m thinking about the Sig Sauer Equinox, the Smith & Wesson Performance Center 1911, Colt’s Royal Blue 1911 Classic, and at least a dozen other 1911’s that live in the $1,000 to $2,000 price range. All of these guns will probably shoot as well as the Ed Brown. But they won’t have the same joie de vivre as a truly handmade gun, and most won’t offer the deluge of options that can be selected in the configuration of a particular gun.

    Like a Rolls Royce, the beauty is in the bespoke details

    An icon of bespoke design, the Rolls Royce 1959 Silver Cloud

    The bespoke 1911 is where Ed Brown really shines. A custom built Ed Brown can be had in seven different frame/finish configurations, in three different calibers (45 ACP, 9mm, or 10mm), and with dozens of options for the textures, serrations, slide configuration, thumb safety, magazine well, etc. This gives a discriminating buyer the opportunity to get a truly bespoke 1911, but without sacrificing the quality and reliability of a firearm made under one roof.

    My Verdict

    It’s easy to say that the Ed Brown Classic Custom is one maker’s idea of perfection in the 1911 platform, and that would be a correct assertion. It’s probably more useful to comment on how versatile the Classic Custom is.

    The Custom Classic aesthetics do not disappoint

    Its impeccable fit and finish mean that the Classic Custom will always look great in your safe, at the range, or on display. Quality is its own aesthetic, and the Ed Brown Classic Custom will give no disappointment here.

    Ed Brown’s legacy of excellent gunsmithing delivers

    At the range, the Classic Custom will hold its own against its peers. This gun benefits from over 40 years of gunsmithing talents in the Brown family, and an unwavering commitment to manufacture guns that are made for shooters.

    The Ed Brown 1911 is a heirloom-quality piece, and potentially a clever investment

    Investments are something we don’t always think of in the world of firearms, but it’s also worth noting that the Ed Brown 1911 is as blue chip of a firearms investment as one could ask for. There will always be a market for quality, and an Ed Brown 1911 is an heirloom-quality piece that can (and should) be handed down to an appreciative younger generation.

    Want to buy one?

    Of course, you can go straight to Ed Brown. However, you can always find the occasional deal on Guns.com both new and used. Though not the 1911, here’s one we found that may interest you.

    Further 1911 reading

    We’ve put together various guides on the 1911 pistol which you may want to check out. If you’re looking for a budget 1911 (around $500) check out this guide. If you’re especially interested in 1911s chambered for the 9mm, check out this one.

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