Defining “High Quality”


Bruce,

Do you have any experience with or know about Pedro Arrizabalaga shotguns? I read that they are the very top end of the Spanish guns. Lion Country is a dealer but info on them seems to be hard to come by.

One thing that is in question to me is when, this or that gun is suppose to be ‘high’ quality. My question is, high quality in comparison to what? What do you use for a ‘standard’? If we say a Spanish gun is ‘high quality’ is it the equal or the same quality as a ‘high quality’ Italian gun?

I have a Cogswell & Harrison, ‘Markor’, purchased new in 1957. In his book Double Shotgun, Don Zutz said this particular model is of “indifferent quality”. Now, in comparison to what is being made today is the Cogy still of indifferent quality or would it be considered something better? The Cogy literature from the 50’s never rated this model has high quality, quite the contrary, it was listed as a “knock-about gun; made of good materials”, etc.

Hope you can help with these questions.

Best regards,

Mike

Dear Mike,

“High quality”? Sounds like “Brighter! Whiter! Longer lasting!” Comparitors without comparisons have been an adman’s staple for centuries. The Arrizabalagas I have seen have been of very nice quality.

How do you judge gun quality? That’s pretty subjective. Personally, I start with three basics:

1) Does the gun “feel” right. This is extremely personal. Price isn’t definitive. I’ve handled some Purdey’s that felt like clunkers . They were built that way because that’s what someone ordered. Still, if a gun doesn’t have the feel and balance I want, I stop there. No other quality matters if the gun doesn’t feel right.

2) Is the gun mechanically correct? Another loaded question, but easier. By mechanically correct, I mean that it should function as it was designed to. Everything should work, barrel convergence should be correct, chokes should pattern properly for their constrictions, that sort of thing.

3) Is the gun durable? This is much harder to judge. It goes to basic design, assembly quality and material use. You can spot good design and general assembly quality, but it’s hard to test metal hardness in the store. Generally, time and a whole bunch of rounds are the only way to test durability. This is why you rely on reputation. You don’t want a gun that feels right and is mechanically correct, but which breaks all the time.

After that it’s gingerbread. Engraving, bluing, wood to metal, all that is just icing on the cake. Of course, some people prefer icing to the cake. I have no argument with that at all. Often exterior cosmetics give a good indication of interior quality. But not always. It is rare to see a gun with first class cosmetics that is garbage inside, but I have seen quite a number of guns with very average cosmetics that were well designed and durable inside. Quite a few Birmingham British A&D boxlocks are like that. Not much sizzle, but good steak.

According to my three criteria above, a gun like today’s Browning Citori would classify as a good quality gun if it passed the first test for feel. No one would ever call a Citori a “fine” gun because it lacks handwork. Still, they are well designed, well made and they last just about forever. Personally, I don’t care whether a machine or a person takes the credit for that. Fabbri is extremely mechanized too.

Arrizabalaga has a good reputation among Spanish gunmakers. A pal of mine has an Orvis Arrizabalaga in 28 gauge. It has been shot a fair amount (maybe 5,000 rounds) and has given no problems at all.

My impression of Spanish gun makers, in so far as you can generalize, is that you get very good value these days when you buy a sidelock gun in the $3500 to $5500 area. These guns are copies of English bests, but they definitely are not English bests. Of course, they don’t have that extra zero on the price tag either. The guns do meet my three criteria. They generally have a good feel, the H&H design most copy is proven and the guns are surprisingly durable.

As to cosmetic flaws on the Spanish guns in the price range I have mentioned, yes, you should expect some. Spanish wood isn’t the best. Most of it looks the same whether you take the standard wood or order the extra deluxe. Of course, there are exceptions. Engraving is most often only adequate. I have seen one super deluxe Arrieta with “Boss-style” engraving that was superlative, but it was a more expensive gun. Most Spanish engraving is best viewed through the mask of heavy case coloring. There are usually several other little things that will draw your attention.

Three friends of mine all ordered Arrietas at the same time. The guns were the same model. When the guns arrived, all three were of different quality levels. One was just about prefect. The other two had some minor holidays- some sloppy inletting or a sidelock detachment screw that wasn’t properly indexed. That sort of thing. Arrieta is a pretty good maker too. Lack of uniform quality is what you have to expect when each gun is mostly hand made.

All the Spanish makers are about equal if the gun retails for the same price. Don’t expect a $4500 AyA to differ in quality from a $4500 Arrieta. Elgoibar is a small town. They mostly get their barrels from the same sources as well as forged actions. It’s really a cottage industry. It’s done the same way among the small shops in Suhl and Val Trompia too. Arrieta is one of the biggest makers and they only make 400 guns a year for the entire world. I’ll bet that Arrizabalaga doesn’t have more than six workers in their shop, if that.

The Beretta 470s are tremendously strong single trigger boxlocks. The feel is typically and very different from the feel of an English gun or a Spanish copy of an English gun. Not better. Not worse. Just different. The 470 wood is pretty plain, the chromed receiver is a bit tacky and the “engraving” is uninspired. But, they are shooting machines if you can deal with a single trigger SxS. Whether you consider a 470 good quality or not is up to you. It sure won’t compare to the Piotti Piuma boxlock as far as fit, finish and aesthetics go, but it’s at least as strong and the balance may be just what someone is looking for. Look at all the people who consider the Winchester Model 21 to be a well balanced gun.

Bottom line: What constitutes high quality? Darned if I know. After we get past the “well designed and doesn’t break” part, it’s all personal.

Best regards,

Bruce Buck
The Technoid writing for Shotgun Report, LLC
(Often in error. Never in doubt.)

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