September 03, 2020
The custom handgun has evolved significantly over the years, shifting from mostly 1911s to accessorizing and rebuilding popular polymer-framed pistols. Though Ed Brown Products is well known for the former, it has recently moved toward the latter in a big way. The MP-F3, one of the custom handguns in the company’s “Fueled by Ed Brown” series, starts as a Smith & Wesson M&P 2.0 and ends up as a handgun that is about as tricked-out as one can be without going full race gun.
Ed Brown has been customizing pistols for more than 50 years. What began as a passion project to supplement his work as a tool and die maker became a full-time business back in 1988. Brown took his capable custom gun making, product design and precision manufacturing backgrounds and put them to use making high-quality parts for the 1911.
All the while he continued to build custom guns, earning Pistolsmith of the Year honors in 1991 from the American Pistolsmiths Guild—joining a list of names that includes such industry greats as Hamilton Bowen, James Clark and Bill Wilson.
Today, Ed Brown Products is one of the true success stories of the firearms world, where members of the Brown family still run the operations of the company’s 20,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Perry, Missouri. Ed is retired, and his son, Travis, serves as the company’s CEO.
Ed Brown Products hasn’t forgotten its roots, and the company continues to build high-quality 1911s as well as component parts. But the firm has diversified, introducing models such as the innovative KC9 that arrived in 2018. And 2020 brought another chapter in the Brown legacy when the company launched its “Fueled By” series of handguns based on the Smith & Wesson M&P 2.0 pistol.
The striker-fired M&P, introduced by Smith & Wesson back in 2005, has become immensely popular in the hands of both law enforcement and armed citizens, making it a great candidate for a tune-up. Many capable and credible shooters feel the M&P improves on several of the shortcomings of other polymer-framed handguns, and when I attended Rogers Shooting School a few years back, I noticed that all of the instructors carried and shot M&Ps as they demonstrated their drills.
Notable M&P features include steel sights, a comfortable grip angle, steel-bodied magazines, an ambidextrous slide stop and the option of a manual safety. But there’s always room for improvement, and in the case of the M&P, it was the trigger.
Smith & Wesson raised the bar with the M&P 2.0 model in 2017. The 2.0 came with an upgraded trigger system, a full-length chassis that added rigidity, a more aggressively textured polymer grip and a set of four interchangeable backstraps to better fit a wide variety of shooters. Ed Brown Products took things a bit further.
When the team at Ed Brown set out to improve upon a production handgun, the M&P was the natural choice.
“As 1911 guys, we all liked it better than the others,” said John May, Ed Brown’s head of sales and marketing. “It was a bonus that it wasn’t a crowded market.”
As a company with decades of experience making great guns better, the team sat down to examine what could be improved. The “Fueled By” pistols begin with a stock M&P 2.0 frame assembly, but the slide, barrel, trigger assembly and chassis are all produced in-house by Ed Brown. Additionally, every factory cast or metal injection-molded (MIM) part on the M&P is discarded and replaced with fully machined components.
One of the biggest improvements is the custom accuracy rail. Factory guns mean factory tolerances, which aren’t always tight. Ed Brown replaces the steel front rail block that mates the frame to the slide with an oversize unit that is hand-fitted to the gun’s upper half. The result is a tighter slide-to-frame fit and improved barrel lock-up, two important factors in semiauto handgun accuracy.
The rail is held in place by stainless steel pins turned on Swiss-type machines for a precise fit with the frame. The pins improved the consistency of the trigger pull, which May calls “a happy accident.”
Apex Tactical Specialties’ triggers have been the go-to source for aftermarket M&P triggers for years, so they were a natural choice for an upgrade. The flat-faced aluminum Apex trigger significantly improves the weight and quality of the trigger pull.
A skeletonized striker that Ed Brown designed and built also plays a role. My test sample’s trigger broke cleanly and consistently at a crisp 3.5 pounds with a reset that was short and tactile. Triggers are a subjective area, but to me, this trigger is the closest I’ve found to a really good 1911 trigger on a polymer-framed handgun. It is that good.
The 416 stainless barrel is threaded 1/2x28, so the MP-F3 is suppressor-ready right out of the box. The 4.65-inch barrel is button-rifled with a 1:10 twist, and thanks to the traditional lands and grooves, these guns are compatible with both jacketed and lead bullets. The outside of the barrel is milled with angular flutes that are visible through the slide windows, and barrels are available in black diamond-like coating (DLC) or a “spectrum” multi-colored finish. A thread protector caps things off if a suppressor is not in use.
A visible loaded-chamber indicator is located on the top of the barrel hood. Because the slide and barrel are both produced in-house, the fit is excellent.
Slides are machined from 17-4 stainless steel billets at Ed Brown and are visually and functionally different from the factory design. CNC mills have changed the slide game in recent years, and Solidworks software allows machinists to produce just about anything the designers can engineer.
The slide on the MP-F3 is radically machined, with forward and rear cocking serrations, a trio of window cuts milled to lighten the slide and a mounting surface for the Trijicon RMR series of sights.
Lightening slides actually reduce muzzle rise, however slightly, so the cuts aren’t just for looks. The slide is available in either raw bead-blasted stainless or with a black DLC finish. Coupled with the fluted barrel, this slide will turn heads.
Many of the small parts on the slide are custom additions as well. The frame-mounted extractor is made in-house, taking advantage of the company’s long expertise in making handguns function reliably. The drop-in extractor is fully machined from heat-treated 4340 alloy and replaces the MIM factory part. Like many of the components of this handgun, Ed Brown sells them as accessory parts also.
The MP-F3 maintains the factory full-length guide rod, which is made from steel. The flat recoil spring promises a long functional life.
The sights are upgraded with an AmeriGlo Pro-Glo tritium front and a plain steel rear that dovetails into the slide just behind the Trijicon RMR cut. Since the sights are suppressor height, they can be co-witnessed with the optic, and of course, they are compatible with suppressors.
My MP-F3 came with a Trijicon Specialized Reflex Optic (SRO), which has the same base footprint as that company’s RMR. In addition to the SRO, Ed Brown offers the MP-F3 with a black RMR, coyote brown RMR or without an optic of any kind.
The SRO offers a large field of view, a 2.5-m.o.a. red dot that is adjustable manually or automatically for brightness and a reported three-year battery life. I have some experience with handguns equipped with red dots, but this was my first time out with the SRO, and I was impressed. The most comforting element of this setup for me was that in the unlikely event that the optic failed the open sights would still be still visible and usable.
The frame on the MP-F3 is more or less stock except for the machined aluminum, low-profile, beveled magazine well, which speeds up reloads without adding much in terms of bulk. The magazine release, slide stop and takedown levers are as-is from Smith & Wesson.
The frame’s texture is aggressive without being abrasive. My hands are about average in size, and I found the grip to be comfortable without swapping the medium backstrap for another size. Just like the stock M&P, the MP-F3 comes with all four backstrap sizes: small, medium (installed), medium-large and large.
Like other full-size M&P 9mms, the MP-F3 feeds from dual-column, 17-round steel magazines, although Ed Brown added machined aluminum base plates that extend slightly below the magazine well. The MP-F3 maintains compatibility with factory magazines and base plates, so by buying one you’re not costing yourself anything in terms of magazine availability or price.
I’m a sucker for a gun that looks cool, and this one looks like it’s going fast while it’s standing still. After getting my hands on this pistol, I was pretty excited to shoot it. The first thing I did was hang a fresh IDPA target and, starting from Low Ready, empty a magazine into the center-mass of the cardboard.
My immediate impressions were that this is a very shootable handgun thanks to the red-dot optic, the excellent trigger and the comfortable grip. It’s an impressive handgun, particularly given its price.
After running several “fun” drills, it was time for formal accuracy testing. With a rock-solid rest, an optic and a great trigger, I expected great things. First, the MP-F3 functioned with 100 percent reliability throughout my test, despite the wide variety of bullet weights, types and loads I used.
The star of the accuracy show was Winchester’s Active Duty 115-grain FMJ load, which is identical to the M1152 training round used in the military’s new M17/18 pistols. The best-shooting defensive load was Hornady’s 115-grain XTP, which also has proven to be very accurate in the last several handguns I have evaluated.
The threaded barrel makes this handgun a natural suppressor host. I used both a DeGroat Tactical Armaments and a SilencerCo Osprey with this handgun. Both suppressors cut down the already-light recoil of the MP-F3 and, of course, significantly reduced the sound signature and muzzle blast.
This was my first exposure to Hornady’s Subsonic 147-grain 9mm load, and I was impressed with how accurate and quiet it was. Thanks to the optic and tall sights, neither suppressor obscured my ability to aim effectively.
So what is a handgun like the MP-F3 good for? One could call it a “crossover gun” since it can be used for defensive, competition and recreational purposes. It’s not a compact pistol, but its footprint is no larger than many of the full-size handguns many citizens carry concealed on a daily basis.
If you think about the lengths of the aisles of a big box store, having a handgun that is capable of making hits at extended ranges is not a terrible idea. According to my interpretation of the IDPA rule book, the MP-F3 would meet the requirements for the Carry Optics division and, with the optic removed, could be used in the Enhanced Service Pistol category. Above all, it is a really fun gun to shoot.
There are companies out there building guns using a series of drop-in parts, and they call them “custom.” Ed Brown Products is not one of those companies. The MP-F3 is the result of careful engineering from people who know what makes guns run well. At its core, it’s a polymer-frame handgun built to be the best it can be—and not to meet a consumer price point. This isn’t the last word from the company on this platform. It’s just the beginning. I can’t wait to see what’s next.
Ed Brown MP-3 Specs
- Type: Striker-fired semiauto centerfire
- Caliber: 9mm Luger
- Capacity: 17+1
- Barrel: 4.65 in.
- Weight: 29.2 oz.
- Construction: Steel-reinforced, textured polymer frame; machined stainless steel slide
- Sights: Trijicon SRO (as tested); suppressor-height black rear, AmeriGlo tritium front
- Trigger: Apex, 3.5 lb. pull (measured)
- Safeties: Passive trigger blade
- Price: $1,995 base; $2,544 (as tested)
- Manufacturer: Ed Brown Products, EdBrown.com
Ed Brown MP-3 Accuracy Results