Saturday, January 28, 2012

TSD Combat Systems AKs and the World of AK Value

Gabe Suarez has started a new gunsmithing company called TSD Combat Systems. They got their start putting mini red dots onto Glocks and other pistols. Of course, since it is a Suarez ran company, AKs weren't far behind. The first ones are just now starting to get to their owners. Overall, I think it has some very interesting additions that shows a large shift for Suarez's doctrine. They look more "tactical" and similar to a Krebs' rifle, while in the past Suarez has been a more traditional AK setup with some modern accouterments.

Here are the accessories that mark a change:
1. M4 style stock with a riser. Suarez originally was not a big fan of these unless you had a specific need like really long arms or a couple with a large size difference used the same rifle. The previous though process was that a Warsaw Pact length stock was more of a one size fits all solution and the large majority of AKs out there have that length. Also the traditional AK stock were seen as more robust. Now, the M4 styles are added for better overall accuracy, a reoccurring theme with the TSD AKs. The Magpul MOE with a riser allows for better cheekweld and length of pull for more accurate shooting. In the past, Suarez focused on good enough "minute of man" accuracy with the reasoning being most people don't really need that much accuracy or range.

2. Tabbed Safety. These where not encouraged since they changed the manual of arms from a standard AK to something more individualized. Some of the models have these pictured on them, but not listed in the parts changes. I think this is more Suarez accomdating the changes in tastes than a major shift, but in the past he and Sonny Puzikas were not big supporters of them. Like a lot of other people, Matt over at Jerking the Trigger, really likes them I used to use one up until a picture of one of my AKs with one was used in Puzikas excellent DVD, Beyond the Firearm 2. Puzikas was mentioning how you needed to be careful not to hit the tab while trying to run the bolt from underneath the receiver, while somewhat showing my rifle as an example of what not to do. So now I personally look at them as training wheels and was nearing that conclusion before that rifle cameo. I'm totally comfortable sweeping off the safety right handed with my index and middle fingers. While it does slightly break firing grip, works with all AKs, even the tabbed ones. There isn't really any useful speed difference between the safety types, just personal comfort.

3. Texas Weapon Systems Dogleg Rail.
These without a doubt are bringing a new capability to AKs. Krebs, the Polish on the Beryl, and others have created similar rails but they have all been wanting in either the price or overall stability until the TWS rail system. The main way this differs is that you can now use a centerline and low mounted optic that before only side mounts did only moderately well. While I like side rail mounts, they do have a lot of issues like weight and position in relation to bore/cheek weld. This new accessory allows for the shooter to get accuracy the AK is capable of getting with good ammo and sighting systems are combined.

4. Optics all but required.
Optics bring a lot to any modern rifle platform. Red Dots will be fast at CQB ranges but yet still add some performance at long ranges. The new AK ACOG or a nice 1-4x scope brings a much more long range capable AK. These magnified optics will allow easier 500m+ hits. However in the past Suarez doctrine, the irons were sufficient for CQB due to the "caveman EoTech" method, were best at medium distance, and could still be used to effect well past the normal range civilians would probably ever need (I am a big believer in slightly widening your rear sights to about .080", I think Fuller does slightly wider). Back then, a red dot would be a good investment upgrade down the road especially for those with older eyes.

5. Rear Peep backup sight.
The TWS rail allows a peep sight to be positioned where it should be. I've tried a Mojo rear peep for an AK. But since it replaced the normal rear sight leaf, it never felt right for me, as I sure the Krebs would have felt wrong as well (even if you want to try these, stay away from the Williams). It doesn't bring the added accuracy of a true rear aperture and doesn't bring all the speed a ghost ring does if it is wider. This is a change in Suarez's doctrine since for a long time he advocated the traditional rear being good enough for intended use, and there is the system commonality between the vast majority of AKs along with practically all pistols. Due to the increase accuracy requirements, a peep seems the way to go for TSD's AKs besides for the CQB version. However, I am still mostly a post and notch guy. Ever since my Red Ryder BB gun, it has been the primary sighting method (and honestly just a few years later I was shooting AKs). I can use peep systems just fine if I need to, but right now I only own 1 firearm with an aperture rear. For guys like me, Texas Weapon Systems is developing a notch rear backup sight which makes it more attractive. If you prefer a peep, this is a good option while allowing an easy optics upgrade later and also makes the Tech Sight AK sight almost obsolete.

6. Railed Aluminum Handguards
The railed handguard does bring the extra capability in quickly and easily mounting picatinny accessories. This is a good thing as long as you don't go crazy trying to fill every piece of "rail estate" with the next greatest accessory. Almost all of my AKs have a small piece of rail to mount a light. Besides for the personal aesthetic issue of changing the traditional look, railed handguards only downsides are the extra length of used rails that must be covered so they don't act like cheese graters when it contacts skin. Most of the newer handguard systems only weigh slightly more than a normal handguard, or in the case of the Midwest Industries X models offer an extended handguard for a just a few extra ounces of weight. Suarez still is a believer in the bare minimum bolted onto your rifle, it is that handguards like this offer the most options. Honestly, I do think these are a nice upgrade as long as you keep it simple still. I have added my own small single rail sections to traditional handguards and also have used the Hogue, CAA, and ATI handguards that have some rail options. I am waiting for Primary Arms to get the new Midwest Industries AK-SS along with a micro red dot. For me, this handguard should be the best of both worlds. With the small, re-positionable rail sections, I won't have to use rail covers since I can put rails only were I want them and have even less weight. Other than the lack of traditional look, I think this will be the sweet spot for my personal requirements.

Overall, the TSD AKs seem like a customized Mustang (follow me through this car analogy, I think a lot of people will relate, but honestly I'm not a big car guy). For a long time Mustangs have been the more affordable, entry level American sports car. You can spend a lot of money to get Corvette or Viper performance in your Mustang especially by getting the Roush or Shelby upgrade shops to do it for you. At that point of the upgrades you could have potentially spent the same or more on one of the other cars but it is your personal devotion to the Mustang that keeps you improving it. For a lot of people, a traditionally restored or just slightly modified Mustang is enough for them. Not to mention in "normal" driving often the high end performance upgrades have minimal valve besides for a little extra fun from stop light to stop light.

The TSD AKs (and Krebs) are that custom performance shop upgrades that bring a new level of performance to the platform. However, often by the time you have spent the money you could have gotten an nice AR or even a next generation carbine like the SCAR, ACR, or XCR that bring a new level of blending of the to platforms together with gas piston system and AR ergonomics. Personally, I think that level of money it might be hard not to buy one of those three newer rifle platforms, just like if I had the money for either I might go for a Lamborghini instead of the tricked out '70s muscle car.

You can also do the DIY upgrades to your personal tastes to improve where you think the specific aspects of your AK, much like the home garage car mods. While not always as nice as a custom rifle, it will make noticeable changes in speed and/or accuracy. Then for the next level there are the Rifle Dynamics of the world that will do an amazing traditional or custom AKs.

There will still be a lot of purist out there that want their AKs traditional, and I get that too. From the moment I saw it in person, I fell in love with Plum furniture, even though I originally though I would hate it looking at it in photos and by name (a fruit color on my rifle?). I will also always a sweet spot for a '79 Ford Mustang even though it was one of the worst stock performance years of the model. It was my first car, and the performance was still enough for me to get to where I needed to go while having a certain aesthetic.

When it comes down to, the vast majority of our civilian rifles are only used for range shooting. In the rare case they might be used for self defense, it would be at a close enough range with a small number of assailants where most of these upgrades wouldn't matter. However if you are going into a war zone, things change and more of the TSD upgrades could become a necessity. Just like you might need an armored Humvee to get to work in Afghanistan, all you really need to get to work everyday in America is a basic vehicle that reliably runs and hauls a few passengers or cargo. Just like leaving the road for the track at different levels of racing, if you are using your AK in competition, you need to tailor it to the level you are competing in. Indy Car Drivers need Indy Cars, open division 3 gunners need race guns (but ARs dominate this division anyway).

For most of us though, as unabashedly capitalist Suarez says, "the America I know was not formed on needs, but rather on wants." Figure out where your personal value level is. For me, even a basic good quality AK is enough and has its own draw, however I do have a few extra add-ons more for personal fulfillment that would make the more useful in a dire emergency. That said, I do think there is a certain level of pay-to-play if you have any expectations of an AK being a self defense tool. Screw builds on poorly heat treated receivers, crooked gas blocks, wobble free pistons (yes it is suppose to move some), and ProMag magazines loaded with Eygptian surplus ammo should not apply to that job. The TSD line shows Suarez's shift from value of good enough AKs to top end performance that will rival many accurcized ARs and even the next gen carbines. The question is if you will shift too.


  1. This is a great write up and summary of what Gabe is doing. While there's much about the TSD AK's that I find attractive, I have to admit that Gabe's doctrinal drift makes me a bit leery of what he's selling. I've been following Warriortalk for a couple of years, and Gabe's blog for a little longer. I've been very impressed by his AK DVD's and have heard nothing but good about his training courses. There's also a wealth of great information on WT.

    But over the past year, as the TSD's release drew closer, Gabe's tone has changed considerably. He's always heavily promoted the products his store sells, but I've seen several about-faces on some of them. Even as recently as last spring he was advising folks that they didn't need a high end AK to have a decent fighting rifle. At one point in the not so distant past he said a Century built Bulgarian 5.45 he bought from J&G was a great rifle that put many expensive rifles to shame. But now that he's fully invested himself as an ak builder, I find his advice much less helpful, as everything but his rifles seem to be crap, and 'minute of man' accuracy is now as outdated as a muzzleloader.

    Granted, he's a businessman and needs to promote his product. And I have no doubt that it's a good one. But I think that his repeated admonitions to "Think Rolex, not Timex." about his rifles is going to somewhat limit his potential market. Between that and his dismissal of most shooters as fat lazy slobs, it seems that he's more interested in cashing in on the top 2% of the ak market. That's his choice and whoever wants his product will get a fine rifle, but in the process the AK community has lost Gabe and Warriortalk as sources of unvarnished truth.

    1. My thoughts exactly. I posted a thread "vepr vs. ptr" and got a nasty email from admin saying they would not allow this obfuscation of tsd product. Sounds like someone fears the truth. Right on about the about faces and lack of impartiality

    2. Yep, Gabe is an interesting fellow. Lots to like, lots to really scratch your head about.

      It's not uncommon for posts at WT that make Gabe and company look bad to disappear-- sometimes with the authors asking why that happened to them without so much as the admin reply you mention.

    3. Thanks for the link (as long as I don't get disappeared for it LOL). Like your guest's article says, if your are trying to stay on top of the AK market like I am, you have to follow Gabe and TSD at least on some level. I'm trying not to burn all the bridges if you know what I mean. At the same time I want my readers to be able to see some of the changes, which is why I did my article the way I did.

      Cool blog in general, mind if I add you to the Blogroll here?

    4. If you "disappear from Wt for linking a blog then it it reenforce the blog.

  2. Thanks! I understand exactly where you are coming from.

    I too remember that and have one of those 74s. Also there were the times he would talk about how their rental WASRs would run well. Yes, not as nice as a RD custom rifle but they worked.

  3. "but in the process the AK community has lost Gabe and Warriortalk as sources of unvarnished truth"
    i couldnt agree more. i miss the days of honest reviews, just the reviews from his people reviewing his stuff.

  4. Gabe is all about the money. When he first started, a wasr was fine because that is what people had and what they would bring to his classes. Now if you don't have one of his custom rifles (which are nothing special and overpriced) you have a mere POS. He flaunts his wealth to him mindless minions on his forum while charging them more than competing sites would for the same product and these goons eat it up and praise him. Warriortalk is like America, Suarez like Obama, and the forum members there are like the mindless Obama supporters who can't see the man they are praising gives two shits about them.

  5. When I first discovered WT I was impressed by Gabe's minimalist, common sense approach to the AK. I liked his articles on the differences between the AK and the AR. In that I owned neither the AK nor AR, what I learned from Gabe lead me to purchase what I consider to be an excellent AK. I purchased his instructional DVDs on the AK and BELIEVED I was given honest, quality input. Now, a short time later, all the down-to-earth, common sense analysis about what makes an excellent battle rifle has gone out the window and has been replaced by the notion that one should add all kinds of accessories to fix what really isn't broken.
    This is not to say the AK cannot be improved upon, but just because one can add an accessory, does not mean one should. Remember, the old Gabe favored the lightweight, fast handling AK and that made sense to me.

    Regarding TSD's rifles, when it was first announced they would be building custom AKs, the first thing that entered my mind is who will do the gunsmithing. There are a finite number of good gunsmiths in America and if Gabe did not attract one or more of those folks to his operation, I could not understand how he could produce a quality custom AK. To me, a custom rifle involves more than attaching rails, grips, flashlights and so on. I can do that at my kitchen table and believe me, I'm no gunsmith. So, I have reservations about the TSD rifles and increasingly, the honesty and objectivity of Gabe's input.


  6. Ok guys, Gabe has been aware of this article and comments thread. FWIW, We have had a discussion about it and I can say he was entirely reasonable and I was not disappeared and still am a member at Warrior Talk.

    I'm going to close out this discussion in a few days because the same points are getting rehashed. But I am keeping it open awhile so that you can post your thoughts on this post or new points that come out of it. I was hoping some Gabe supporters might chime in to give the other side, but I don't think many of them come here. I guess I will somewhat do that in this post.

    Bill, I know that TSD rifles maybe aren't as custom work as a Rifle Dynamics or Kreb's, but they do some gunsmithing to them in the process, like converting the Saigas, barrel cut down with hider pining, trigger job, etc. Yes, they don't have a big name gunsmith and they are doing a lot of drop in parts, but Kreb's proprietary stuff can often be pretty expensive and hard to get. TSDs still have different features than what is available before, like the "Spartan" AK's level top rail from gas block to back of the dust cover. And, yes, you can DIY a similar setup. One Source Tactical (Gabe's store) in the past has offered kits for AK with their recommended upgrades, TSD rifles are a similar concept with rifles provided to meet the level of quality that they want. Again though, you need to find your personal value level in AKs. Honestly TSD is too pricey for me now, mostly since I have two young children. Also while it does bring AKs to a different level, if I was going to spend that much money for one that "tactical" of an AK I might even get a different platform at that point (and might do the same instead of going for a Krebs). Honestly, when I go for a custom AK it will probably be lightly modernized like what Jim Fuller does. I guess I am more of a traditionalist than I thought.

    I think part of the issue is that Gabe is tired of dealing with the "how cheap can I get my AK tricked out" over the years. He has wanted to get out of the UTG/Tapco low-middle grade stuff and bring the AK market to more on par with the quality in the AR market. He sees everybody cheaping out means that we have far fewer quality producers in the AK world. Look how many high quality producers of AR stuff is out there, Knights Aramament, LaRue, MagPul, just to name a few. On the AK side of accessories you have US Palm, Midwest Industries (which is more mod-level AR), TWS, Krebs and RS Regulate. Most of those are small operations in comparison.

    Gabe still supports a certain level of "basic AK" that isn't TSD, I just think this is higher than it used to be and higher than a lot of AK owners are now. To quote him: "Where I simply turn my back is when people want to say that a Rolex is not needed because their Walmart Armitron is "just as good". When what they are saying is "I am too cheap or too poor to buy a Rolex, therefore I will convince myself that it sucks and that I don't want it and will repeat that to everyone in my sphere to validate my own choices"."

    Part 2 to follow due to post limit

  7. Part 2
    Warrior Talk has always been about Gabe furthering his business and giving like minded people a chance to discuss things as long as it doesn't hurt Gabe's business in the process. As people say there "Gabe's house, Gabe's rules." Gabe's advice has shifted as his views have shifted. Gabe is unabashedly Christian and Capitalist as well, he is trying to do best for him and his "tribe" and honestly tells you that. You too can be part of Gabe's gulch, but he expects some loyalty. It's not for everybody and I know that basis for membership and the changes over the years frustrates a lot of people, as has been voiced here.

    I try to see both sides of this, and that was what I was trying to show objectively in the article. I tried to keep it all fact based, you are the ones that need to decide where you are at. It seems that most of you aren't at Gabe's TSD level of cost, newer less traditional features, or his persona. I can understand that. I know where am at too. Gabe with TSD is pushing AKs out further so he can't be ignored, but neither can Kreb's, RS Regulate, Travis Haley, Sonny Puzikas, Jim Fuller, TWS, Midwest Industries, etc. if you want to see what is going on out there. That is what I am trying to do here, show what is out there. Follow your own path, but make sure you are looking through the trees to see what is out there.

  8. Good evening,

    Well....I have tried to give Gabe/WT the benifit of the doubt. I belive that if you are a student of the AK you simply cannot consider him or his "Instructors" associated thru WT as a creditable source of info. WT has denigrated into a sounding broad for him and his minuns to promote his TSD AK. Gabes "Philosophy of Use" changes day to day depending on what he is selling at that moment. I dont think for a minute his TSD is pushing the envolope at all. Aftermarket bolt on's that you did not design is not original. His "Tier 2" Vepr....has a painted forearm. Ground breaking...I don't think so. What I find reprehenceable is his attidude toward others in the gun world. Simply put if it is not part of the TSD model....he or his "instructors" trash it and the person who is marketing it. This has been going for awhile now. Its funny that you mention RS Regulate. When the RS siderail first came out, a brillant design that modernized the siderail for the AK.....Gabe trashed it. Why, he was promoting the TWS toprail. This is his pattern. Its called guerrilla marketing. Just look to some posts last year on WT on the first series of TSD AK's from last year. State of the art SAGIA' ever produced according to him. Now that he uses VEPR's .....SAGIA's are POS....what are we to belive? The TSD AK is not about advancing the AK about Gabe selling all of the parts that are one it. Think about it $150 here...$200 there...alot of money for Gabe. Thats harm in good old capitalism!! But it comes at a price...crediblity. And for me....Gabe has none.


  9. I think you are quite right in saying that it boils down to a question of taste regarding Gabe's prices, product and attitude. Like many of the folks who've posted here, I was drawn to WT and Gabe's videos for the gold mine of solid information. I actually don't have a problem with the way WT is moderated, as it's his place and he's footing the bill for a great venue. (Although some of the departed members are missed by the rest of us.) And I still plan on attending some SI courses.

    But I think Bill had a good point in his post. It is disconcerting when a business changes it's product, or its philosophy, as frequently as Gabe has. I looked forward to the advent of the TSD rifles and shotguns, but it's as if we are watching the R&D process unfolding before our eyes, which is kind of cool, but when it comes time to plunk down money on something that I hope I will never have to use to defend my family, I don't want to be a beta tester. In a word, I'll pay for stability. If one buys a Rolex, they know that they are getting exactly what Rolex has been excelling at since before they were born. They may update their styles to change with the times, but the inner quality and workmanship is proven. As Gabe releases each new incarnation of his rifles and swears that now, at last, the Kalashnikov has reached the pinnacle of its development, it makes it seem as though he's not exactly sure what he's looking for and won't know until he finds it. Those who feel like accompanying him on the journey certainly can, but I decided to do business with Jim Fuller, who until recently was touted by Gabe as the premiere AK smith in the country. After all, if it was good enough for Gabe a couple of years ago, and for a whole host of happy customers who posted on WT, I figure it will do the job for me today.

    And finally, could we be dealing with the phenomenon that accompanies who achieves some degree of celebrity? Is there a difference between the public persona of the infidel warlord or taipan, or whatever his current title is, and the real Gabe Suarez, businessman and family man? Folks who know him say that in their personal dealings with Gabe he's a class act, a generous, even humble man who tells you straight up what you need and don't need. I don't have any reason to doubt them. Maybe in his effort to market his businesses Gabe projects a persona that some people find engaging or entertaining and others find off-putting? Regardless of how he ran his business some people would still reject him , but then that's life in the gun industry, and life in general. But I can't help but wonder what would happen if the real Gabe Suarez stood up. In the long run, I don't think it would be anything but good for his business. Or maybe I'm completely off-base. But again, it comes down to a personal decision about what one is looking for in a trainer, gun builder, forum moderator, etc. Let folks choose for themselves and try to learn as much as they can from the talented guys, like Gabe, who make the gun world such a wild and fascinating community to be a part of.