This article came from a question that gets asked often on the usenet newsgroup rec sport paintball. Considering the number of paintball guns currently on the market, it’s certainly a legitimate question. Most people want to get the best bang for his or her buck, but with so many from which to choose, which way do you go? What follows is based entirely on my opinion developed from my personal experience. Although I talk about specific guns, my purpose here is not to endorse or attack a particular product, but to give my opinion on what that item represents in overall value for the user. If you are someone who has money to burn and doesn’t care where it goes, then this article is not for you. However, if you are looking to get the most for you paintball dollar, I hope this helps.
First off, let me say, that I would not recommend anyone seriously invest in a paintball gun without playing the game first. Sure, if you want to buy a $30 plastic gun at a discount store to experiment with, that’s fine, just don’t overlook the safety aspects of it. Even a cheap gun can put someone’s eye out, and discount stores do nothing to promote the use of eye protection. However, you’ll get a much better sense of what paintball is all about if you take that same $30 to a commercial paintball field, and rent the equipment you need to play for a day. You’ll find out if paintball is something you actually want to play. At the same time you’ll get an idea of the performance level of different guns, while being schooled in the proper safety procedures of the game.
If you decide paintball is something you like, I highly recommend a relatively inexpensive gun for new players. More money is capable of buying higher overall performance, but with that performance you also increase complexity. Also, if you are a new player, increased performance in a gun is something you shouldn’t worry about until you are a) certain you want to invest serious money into this game, and b) convinced the performance level of the gun is somehow holding you back. Even if money is no object, that concept may come back to haunt you if you find out paintball is just a passing fad for you, or you realize that you could have done just as well for less money. I have seen a lot of people buy expensive equipment only to find out it didn’t magically make them a better player. That can be disappointing and the end result is often hundreds of dollars worth of merchandise collecting dust in a closet.
When friends ask me about a first gun purchase, I usually recommend something along the lines of the PMI Piranha, because it’s a good functional gun, simple to operate and clean, easily upgradable, accurate, efficient, and one of the better values for the money. It is not perfect – nothing is. There are plenty of other guns that will work as well or better. However, in a “bang for your buck” sense, few paintball guns can compete directly with the Piranha. It’s a solid, yet low price investment. Kingman Spyders are also good starter guns (I own 3.2 of them myself), but when compared to the almost identical Piranha, fall slightly behind on features .vs price.
My second recommendation is usually a Tippmann gun such as the Model 98 or Pro/Carbine. Both are durable and reliable. Tippmann guns are well built, and they tend to be heavier and longer than stacked blow-backs like the Piranha. However, some people prefer that heavier, solid feel. Tippman makes an excellent product, and stands behind it with a well known reputation for “outstanding” customer service. If you want something you can sling over your shoulder and accidentally drop every once in a while, you might consider a Tippman.
Third I would recommend a pump gun (any number of them) if you are the type of person who likes a challenge. A new player with a pump gun will be at a disadvantage in a field full of semi-automatics, but sticking with it will force you to learn how to play smarter. The Maverick/Trracer (same gun) is an excellent value, although I recommend the “deluxe” model, which for $10 more gives you easily adjustable velocity. Also the Phantom should be considered a bargain even at twice the price of a Maverick. It’s accurate, quiet, efficient, smooth and offers a variety of unique upgrade options.
All of the above guns can be obtained for under $200, and represent a good value for the money invested. That’s basically the criteria I have for recommending guns for first time buyers. It is also the criteria that leads to a list of guns I do not recommend for first time buyers, which is probably more important than the previous list. Let me say here that I am not trying to discourage anyone from buying any of these guns, but I hope to point out why they don’t represent the overall value of the under $200 crowd.
I would not recommend an AGD Automag as a first gun simply because the initial investment is too high. Although a mechanically sound and reliable gun, Automags do not like to run on Co2, especially in stock form. That means an additional investment of an anti-liquid system of some sort or HPA. Automags also tend to have more expensive upgrades, such as the barrels. In my opinion, if you are going to keep the stock barrel on an Automag, you would have done just as well in performance to buy one of the cheaper guns.
Once again, the entry price keeps me from recommending electronic guns as first time guns. For many (but not all) electronic guns the investment will also need to include the price of HPA. Also, to get your money’s worth of performance on these guns, you’ll need to figure in the cost of an agitated hopper. There are lower price electronic guns coming onto the market, but even those are in the $400 price range for the gun alone.
I personally wouldn’t recommend an Autococker, automated Palmers, or the ATS guns as a first gun because of their complexity. A lot of this depends on how mechanical minded you are, but the guns have a myriad of adjustments or parts, and those who cannot resist tinkering before understanding should not buy these as a first gun. The result will be more time playing with the gun off field than on. That’s not to say that any of these guns are bad – I have owned one type of each of them and they work fine, especially if you leave them alone. But if you are not mechanically minded, a more simplified gun will give you more playing time. Also, you’re still looking at close to $400 for the initial investment into the Autococker, or Palmer gun, while ATS guns start around $500.
The suggestions on this page don’t take much into account for style or cosmetics. Those things cost additional money and do nothing for performance. While I am certainly not the person to argue against having something that’s pleasing to the eye, that’s not really the focus of this page. As a paintball enthusiast, I think it’s more important that new players have a positive experience with a well functioning paintball gun, than to have something flashy that impresses his friends. I also think it’s more important for a new player to have a gun he can use every time he plays, rather than a so-called “tournament level” marker he can’t keep functioning. However, if you can do it all within your price range, then more power to you.