Three Classy Custom Classics - Massad Ayoob

This is an excerpt from Massad Ayoob's article "Three Classy Custom Classics" that appeared in the 1999 The Complete Book of Handguns by Massad Ayoob.

The last story I did on "classy custom classics" hit uniformly positive chords in the many readers who responded. Thus, it was only natural to say, 'We ought to do that again!"

"Classy custom classics." Let's pick through all that alliteration. It's classic if it was so good it became famous, the standard by which its type was subsequently judged. We can safely say that's true of these three candidates.

It's classy if it's finely made. Quality is the operative term. Obviously, it has to work. But that's just the baseline. It has to work with style, with panache, with the craftsmanship that bespeaks absolute excellence above and beyond the call of duty. The three candidates for this year pass that standard, too.

Finally, it's custom if to create that zenith of excellence, there had to be perfect handwork on top of perfect machinework. A human touch. A sense that whoever put the handgun together not only knew exactly what it was for, but how to make it do its job the best that job could be done. We hope you'll agree that in this, too, these three fine handguns make that lofty grade at the very top of the curve.


Dane Burns Custom "Ladies' 1911"

Nobody needs to explain that the 1911 pistol is classic. Nobody needs to explain that the fine machining of Jericho, as done on key 1911 parts for Wilson Custom and Kimber and others, is classy. Their work is top shelf, rivaling the fine output of Les Baer, ParaOrdnance, and the newest Colt stuff. The "custom" in this gun comes from Dane Burns, who built this particular gun for those with small hands. He had the female shooter in mind, but as we shall see, men can benefit from this technology, too.

The first such gun I saw was way back in the early '80s. Mike Plaxco had built it for Sally Sayle, the lovely wife of the ace shooter who later became a force in directing IPSC. The frame had been trimmed, slim grips had been affixed, and, of course, a short-reach trigger had been installed. Mike Plaxco has been out of the pistolsmithing business for some time, doing a great job as an ambassador for Smith & Wesson. The Gunsite Gunsmithy picked up on the concept, and has made a bunch of slimline .45 autos, not just for women. Men have been ordering them ever since Jeff Cooper decreed that the slimline design was more advantageous to the male hand as well. Enter Burns, a big guy who carries a full-size 1911 he built for himself in caliber 9X23 Winchester. In his eye, the slimline 1911 made more sense for petite females than for anyone else, and he designed the gun accordingly. Wilson parts were used exclusively except for the BarSto barrel, which Burns warrants for 1.5-inch groups at 25 yards. There is no spring guide rod, which makes the gun easier to take down and reassemble with small hands. Dane shaves down the gripframe, reshapes the trigger guard for high-hand grasp, and likewise installs a high-hand position beavertail. He knows slender arms need the lowest bore axis they can get to gain optimum control of recoil in accurate, rapid defensive firing with powerful ammunition.

Dane installed the shortest trigger Videcki makes, and adjusted it to a 4.25 pound pull, per my recommendation. It's easy to shoot fast and straight, but less likely to go off by accident or to allow a ruthless opposing lawyer to falsely claim that it did.

The big mag well makes speedloading easy. Dane installed Wilson's new adjustable sight, "buried" low in the slide. The front post holds one of Bill's "Night Eyes" tritium inserts. The rear, Wilson's copy of the BoMar, is the first of the many such copies I've seen that is actually an improvement over the original design. The rear face is removable. You can have the black target-shooting rear sight, or you can have the Night Eyes insert with the two glowing green dots. The edges have been rounded for comfortable, snag-free carry in a concealment holster.

Dane had built the gun for women. Fortunately, there were several ladies in LFI classes who were willing to test-drive the pistol.

Gila May-Hayes has won open matches against men with 1911s. "I like the feel of this gun," she said. "it fits my hand just right."

Peggy Jo Nulsen defies the "little and weak" stereotype of women. Little, yes. Weak, no. She works in the emergency medical service, and she has seen man's inhumanity to man-and to woman-which is why she carries a gun,. "I love this pistol," she said. She proved it at seven yards putting every 230-grain ball round from the Burns/Wilson .45 into a pleasingly tight group. "The checkering is a little too sharp, though."

Loren Neill is chief statistical officer at Bianchi Cup, and the wife of IPSC and Cup historian Guy Neill. She knows her guns, and has learned from the best and the brightest of shooters. Loren takes a GLOCK 17 to class, because she teaches women to shoot with guns they can buy in a gunshop, but her carry pistol is the neat little Laughridge Adventurer shrunken .45 that Guy bought her for their anniversary. "This Burns gun is beautiful," proclaimed Loren, about 5'6" tall with proportional hands. "The checkering is too sharp, but everything else is just right."

Debbe Stein is a practicing trial lawyer, tiny in size, but huge in the daily conflicts her work demands. Her dad is a gunfight survivor, and she has met more in her practice, which is what brought her to LFI. "It's the easiest .45 I ever shot," she said after firing the test gun. "I like it. The checkering is too sharp, though."

My youngest daughter Justine is 13, stands 68" with proportional hands, and won two of the three events she entered in the National Junior Handgun Championships of 1998 in Central Lake, Michigan. She's about as blase as her nearly six-foot mother. "It's cool. Nah, you don't have to buy it for me. Tell him the checkering is too sharp." (This kid plays violin with her school orchestra. If they issued her a Stradivarius she'd probably say, "Yeah, it's cool. Kinda old, though." She gets it from her mom.)

Theresa Hecht has to get on tiptoes to reach five feet, and she might weigh 90 pounds with her gun on. She shoots LAR Grizzly .45 Magnum automatics and 10-gauge Magnum RoadBlocker shotguns for fun, and is known to laugh maniacally when she triggers a long burst from a .50 caliber Browning M2 machinegun. She brought a regular .45 auto to LFI...and then she shot the Dane Burns Custom.

It was like it was made for her. Theresa shot her LFI-I police-style qualification run with this pistol, and beat many of the men, finishing high in the ninetieth percentile. At double speed in LFI-II the following week, she also shot a good score with the Burns/Wilson pistol.

Her response was simple. "I love this gun. I want this gun!" Her husband, Dan Hecht, a pistolsmith by avocation, took copious notes and measurements. "The checkering shouldn't be so sharp, though," Theresa commented.

Finally, Bev LaCrone shot this gun at LFI-l. Beverly is a tough little woman, short in the fingers but long in courage, who has walked in cold and shot IDPA matches with her carry guns. She loved her Beretta 9mm, but its trigger reach was too long for her hand. With the Burns/Wilson 1911 .45, she placed in the top five in her LFI class shootoff.

She didn't like the sharp checkering. She adored everything else about it. She wrote down two things: Dane Burns' phone number to order a gun, and a piece of paper that she put on the gun club bulletin board that announced her doublestack 9mm DA auto was for sale.

Finally, Jim Carr test-drove this gun too. He was helping us teach the LFI-I class Bev was in, and used the Burns/Wilson

11911 she' was using on the "pace-setter drill," where the instructors show the students how to shoot the qualification course. He beat me and everybody else, his perfect 300-point score being in a tighter group than mine.

Jim is not a big guy, and he has short fingers. The run he did with the Burns gun was the best he has ever shot in several LFI quals. He, too, is now on the list-of customers for a "trimmed, slim-gripped .45" of the kind Burns builds. As has been noted by Jeff Cooper, a man of large physical stature who will never be accused of being girlish with guns, a slimline .45 is as efficient in a male's hand as in a female's. It's an ergonomics thing, not an X or Y chromosome thing.

Classic? You can't say less of any 1911 pistol. Custom? Burns busted his butt making this pistol fit small hands. Classy? When that many people do personal bests with it under pressure, the answer is simple.

Yes. The Burns Custom has class to spare. Sometimes, what endears a pistol to you is not how well it makes you look or perform, but how well it makes people you care about finish and perform.

But Dane has got to subdue that checkering a little bit...

That finely made pistol as I tested it is $2500 complete. For only $200, Dane will take your 1911 and cut down the frame in the area of the trigger and guard, and it's only $40 to fit the short Videcki trigger and $55 for the Ultra Slim grips. For info contact R.D. Burns, 700 Gilman Ave. #116, Dept. CH, Issaquah, WA 98027, or e-mail him at He has a web page at

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