Review: Ed Brown Compact

Review: Ed Brown Compact
Ed Brown's new compact combines an Officer's frame with a Commander slide to create an ideal carry 9mm 1911.

Ever wonder what type of car Matt Kenseth drives to the grocery store or which restaurant Emeril Lagasse and Wolfgang Puck choose to meet for a business lunch? Perhaps you'd be interested to take a peek at George Strait's workout playlist, or maybe you'd like to know where Kevin VanDam launches his boat when he's headed out for a personal weekend on the lake.

It's very telling to know the behind-the-scenes secrets of the pros, and when it comes to building custom 1911 pistols, it's safe to say the team at Ed Brown are among the elites. And while I can't offer any insight into Andrew Zimmern's favorite antacid or Dwayne Johnson's secret bicep workout, I can tell you what kind of carry gun the Ed Brown family likes.

It would begin with an Officer's-size steel frame that was machined to the tightest tolerances and mate it with a Commander-length steel slide. Why? According to Ed Brown's director of sales and marketing John May, the Officer's frame/Commander slide combination is the ideal balance for a carry 1911- especially in 9mm.

"A gun's concealability has more to do with frame size and less with barrel length," May says.

And he's not the only one who thinks so. There are a lot of 1911 purists who think this compact design is the most favorable for personal protection. Realistically, the Officer's model reduces the frame height by about a half-inch when compared to the Government model, but that half-inch is significant if you've ever carried a concealed 1911.

May says the decision to go with a Commander-length slide was an easy one.

"There are certain issues that are inherent when you shorten barrels," he says. "Three-inch 1911s begin to eat up springs, and we wanted to go with something longer."

It's been May's experience- and he has plenty of experience since the 1911 has played a major role in his career and personal life for the last two decades- that the 4.25-inch Commander barrel works well with the 9mm in 1911s. Plus, the added barrel length doesn't significantly affect portability and concealability, but it does lengthen the sight radius and change the balance point of the pistol- both for the better.

So the architecture of the ultimate Ed Brown carry gun was established. But what has set Ed Brown's company (which is now overseen by his son Travis) apart from the many other 1911 builders is its attention to details and material selection. When Brown began building pistols in the 1960s, he was working full-time as a machinist. When his sideline job turned into a career and made him a celebrity among 1911 fans, Brown's first order of business was to examine every single component of the original 1911 design- improving key elements and machining. Brown also worked with CNC equipment and started minimizing tolerances to maximize performance in his pistols.

It goes without saying that the ultimate Ed Brown carry gun would be built from the finest materials and machined to tight tolerances. Brown's background as a machinist spurred him to begin machining the parts for his guns in-house instead of ordering parts from suppliers where the quality was sometimes questionable and where low-cost machining threatened the integrity of the finished product.

If the Ed Brown Compact is indeed the gun that Ed Brown himself would carry, then it needed to be built from quality materials in his Perry, Missouri, machine shop. And, in fact, it is.

Ed Brown makes all its own parts (except grips and springs), and the extended, narrow safety and beavertail design are user-friendly additions to the standard 1911 layout.

Every component of the Ed Brown 1911 Compact is machined in-house with the exception of the grips and springs. In addition, the frame and slide are forged and the component parts are hand-fitted, so the resulting guns are a considerable step above production models. Everything about the 1911 Compact I tested- from the manual safety to the slide-frame fit and the function of the slide release- was extremely smooth.


The Compact uses a bushing barrel, and Fitzpatrick's test gun came with a bead-blasted matte stainless finish. All Ed Brown guns are treated to a high level of hand fitting and finishing.

It's interesting that the barrel of the Compact 9mm isn't ramped. According to May, the 9mm doesn't require the support offered by a ramp, so it was removed. The Compact comes with a bushing barrel and carry cuts, 25 lpi checkering on the mainspring housing and the frontstrap and an Ed Brown three-hole 1911 trigger. The grips are brown laminate with partial diamond checkering, and there is an extended beavertail grip safety.

So we're beginning to see how the ultimate Ed Brown carry gun takes shape, but here we hit a bit of a detour in the design process. That's because the Compact is ultimately a custom gun, and as such the basic design might remain the same, but the buyer has a long list of options from which to choose.

In fact, nearly 100 different custom options are available on these guns, as outlined on the Ed Brown order form on the website, so you can customize everything from the finish to the grips to the magazine release and the mainspring housing. Essentially, the final product is completely up to your tastes and preferences. The basic Compact model begins at $2,695.

The gun I was sent for evaluation had a bead-blasted matte stainless finish, a fixed rounded rear sight and a red fiber-optic front sight, both sights were dovetailed into the receiver. The oversize magazine well added a bit of length to the gun, but it certainly made magazine changes fast and simple. Hard corners resulting from machining were removed in the hand-finishing process.

The 9mm Compact holds eight rounds in the magazine, which is a round or two more than you'll get with small polymer-frame single-stack 9mms. All-steel construction means it isn't as light as a polymer gun, but the unmistakable 1911 balance and added heft makes the gun very manageable to shoot. The version I tested measures around eight inches in length with a height of about 5.5 inches, and it weighs 37 ounces unloaded.

The enlarged magazine well makes reloads easy, and the 9mm version comes with two eight-round magazines- giving you a round or two edge over some polymer carry 9mms.

Every Ed Brown Custom 1911 is backed with a comprehensive full lifetime warranty, and the brand's service policy includes free shipping both ways. You can send your Compact in for an ultrasonic cleaning and inspection. And Ed Brown is one of the few companies that actually offers retrofitting on its pistols. If you decide you want a different finish, trigger or grips or decide to add engraving, that's all possible with the Compact.

Since this is a Compact pistol designed from the ground-up for personal defense, competition-level accuracy is not absolutely required. Nevertheless, the Ed Brown Compact performed quite well at the range when fired from a fixed rest from 25 yards. The best groups produced with the five different loads tested hovered just above an inch, and of the 25 groups fired only three averaged above two inches for five shots.

It's that level of accuracy that helps set the Ed Brown Compact apart from production 1911s- and even other custom 1911s. The accuracy potential of this gun is enhanced by the addition of that Ed Brown trigger, which is adjustable from 3.5 to 4.5 pounds and came from the Ed Brown shop set at just under four pounds. The trigger pull is as smooth and creep-free as you hope it would be on a gun with a starting price just under three grand.

As well as the Ed Brown Compact performed on the bench, it was even better offhand. As previously mentioned, the gun has exceptional balance, and the added slide length on the Officer's frame keeps muzzle rise to a minimum. The trimmed-down Ed Brown 9mm carries better than a Government 1911, yet this gun certainly has that big gun feel with an ample sight radius and plenty of grip space.

The fiber-optic front sight is easy to see in both bright and dim light, and the short, light, smooth single-action trigger makes it easy to maintain control of this gun when delivering a series of fast shots.

During a series of vertical and horizontal movement drills, I managed to stay on target noticeably better with this gun than with most polymer 9mms thanks to the weight and feel of the pistol, and that bright fiber-optic red dot never left my eyes searching for my front sight even when switching from one target to the next while on the move. You can dump a whole magazine worth of bullets into the target at lightning-fast speeds with this pistol.

Most of the 1911s that come through my office for testing are production guns, and some of those guns are really excellent. But custom 1911s are built (or should be built) to a very different standard, and while some shooters scoff at the idea of buying a gun that starts at just under $3,000 there's an appreciable difference in build quality.

Hand fitting and finishing makes the Ed Brown a gun that functions at the highest level. Functionally, the Compact performed nearly perfectly- with one hiccup that I don't think was the fault of the pistol.

Although the Ed Brown performed well with SIG Sauer's Elite Performance V-Crown ammo in terms of accuracy, there were two instances when these rounds failed to allow the slide to close completely. I would imagine that's a product of the V-Crown's bullet-nose profile combined with the tight chamber on the Ed Brown Compact.

Except for that, the pistol performed flawlessly.

Some shooters can't justify buying a $2,700 pistol, and that's understandable. But if you want a 1911 carry gun that performs on the highest level, the Ed Brown Compact fits the bill. In fact, in the rarefied world of custom-built high-performance 1911s, the Ed Brown is actually competitively priced, considering the mechanical components and attention that go in to building each of these pistols.

I may not know all the secrets of the pros, but when it comes to what type of 1911 the most serious shooters in the world would carry for personal defense, I've got a pretty good idea what it looks like- and whose name is engraved on the slide.

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