Yes, J&J Performance is an advertiser on the site (a loyal, trusted and true advertiser), but that has nothing to do with this article. You’re reading this because I’ve been a fan and user of J&J Barrels since, oh, 1990 or thereabouts.
Let me tell you a little bit about that relationship.
A few years before this all began my team and I had scored a ‘test team’ sponsorship with Pro-Team/Armson barrels. We got barrels in, tried them out on the field of competition and then reported our findings back – findings that led to many new Armson barrel products.
We loved those barrels (still do) – particularly at the time when they turned out a ‘shorty’ Automag barrel for us – a barrel that made such a huge bark that we chased players across the field shooting blanks. No one wanted to get hit with what they imagined was a gun shooting in excess of 500 fps.
We were impressed with our ability to shoot the barrel clean (shooting through breaks) and the accuracy.
Along about 1990 I was without a team and pretty much writing articles for every paintball publication under the sun. I was on a mission to acquire and test as many pieces of paintball equipment as I could get my hands on.
Which meant that I attended a lot of events in my quest for copy.
My requesting product for test became such a regular thing that I even had a bunch of t-shirts made up that said “Be Nice To Me Or I Will Write About You” (which was a serious threat as my ‘acid tongue’ had by this time become legendary).
I got stuff from PMI, from ZAP, from National Paintball Supply (BOTH NPSs), from Smart Parts and a whole host of other companies that have come and gone and most of you have never even heard of.
But one nut I couldn’t crack was J&J. Joe West – ‘Westie’ as we’ve come to call him.
Westie was one tough cookie – but I strongly suspect that his refusal was based far more on confidence than on any desire to simply frustrate me. (Well, actually, Joe has a pretty good sense of humor and frustrating me was right up his funny-bone alley.)
He seemed to be engaged in some kind of reverse guerilla marketing; maybe if his was the only barrel I didn’t have, the thinking seems to go, it would acquire some kind of special significance.
So there I was at the first International Amateur Open in sunny Cranberry PA (the up-coming site of this year’s Paintball Festival), having a grand old time and spending most of it parked smack dab in front of the J&J Performance booth, deliberately blocking paying customers.
(Which you should never do of course. I can be excused a bit because in this special case, I was merely ratcheting up the contest.)
I pointed out the shirt. For three days I pointedly displayed that shirt (three different colors too!) Joe was like a rock. He smiled. He wisecracked. We discussed business and teams and people.
But no barrel.
On the last day of the event I’d pretty much resigned myself to going home empty handed. I’d already checked out of my hotel and I asked Joe if I could stash my gear behind his booth. No problem, of course. (It was my last ditch effort; with the gear there, I’d be seeing him at least one last time.)
I started making the rounds, following up on stories, chit-chatting, checking the scoreboard, when Joe came pounding up to me.
“Do you have a gun in your gear?” he asked me, nearly breathless from running back from the playing fields. He’d been asked to sub in some semi-final games.
“Can I borrow it?”
“Sure. But it’s going to cost you.”
Big grin. “What do you want?”
“I want that barrel I’ve been begging after.”
Ever the contrarian, Joe said “We’ll see.”
“Yes we will.”
So Joe goes and plays, using all of my gear, and he has a great time and as we’re packing up he hands me a barrel.
A ten inch, .689 diameter, internally straight-rifled, all brass, Automag barrel.
Which is a good thing because I have an Automag. (Joe even scared up some nubbins for me.)
At the time, brass was the rage. It was, in fact, the original barrel material. It doesn’t rust, it’s pretty easy to work with and it’s ‘ductile’, which, for our purposes, basically means that it expands and contracts with changes in temperature (without ill effect).
A lot of us believed that this ductility helped our accuracy. When it’s cold, paintballs shrink. So did our barrel. When it’s hot, paintballs expand. So did our barrel.
To this day I don’t think anyone has tested this rigorously. (Let me know if they have.)
Anyway. Suffice to say that brass barrels, even though they were fairly heavy, were the shiznitz of the barrel world. And of course, Joe made the best ones out there.
Now straight rifling is a different matter. I was very familiar with spiral rifling (which is what the Armson’s had back then and still do, along with straight). We all knew internal rifling in paintball barrels didn’t spin the ball for stability. We figured that air channels inside the barrel – gas going around the ball was controlled as opposed to chaotic – was what gave them their accuracy.
But straight rifling in the J&J’s case meant four grooves only, arranged in a cross or ‘X’ pattern.
Perhaps it did the same thing as spiral rifling. We would soon see.
The following week I was able to conduct a torture test. My practice field had acquired the entire output of paintballs from a company that was merely experimenting with the possibility of manufacturing and decided not to. The field ended up with a lot of cheap paint.
And I mean CHEAP paint. We called it Brand X, the field sold it at a steep discount and we were all happy when we got three or four shots out of the gun without breaking one. (Hitting something? Right.)
I tuned up my Automag, put the J&J in, stepped out onto the field and shot ropes.
Laser beams. Darts. One shot – one kills. With amazingly crappy paint.
‘Wow’, I said to me. “Wow”, I said out loud to my teammates. “Check this out”.
And they did.
They shot darts and laser beams and….
It shot crappy paint accurately. It shot decent paint way accurately. It shot really good paint way, way, way accurately.
A little while later I was playing in the second-ever NPPL tournament near Boston with a pick up team. By that time I had learned to trust my little ten inch, .689 id, internally rifled, all brass, J&J Performance barrel.
In fact, that barrel had turned my Automag into what I referred to as a ‘fire and forget’ weapon.
Here’s what I mean. Standing still or on a full tilt boogie, if I was on a target within 75 feet, when I pulled the trigger I didn’t even have to look to see if I’d gotten a hit. Not having to confirm the hit made me all that much faster, and, during the tournament, helped us win a game.
Because of fire-and-forget, I was able to run through three opponents, taking out all three with one-shots, and doing that allowed me to take out the other two follow-on players.
Now I’m sure that being alone on one whole side of the field during a major tournament game had a little something to do with that special adrenaline-zen you’re sometimes gifted with that allows you to perform miracles, but I’m also pretty sure that that barrel had at least a little something to do with it too.
Seven years later I took it with me to Thailand.
Now, by this point, barrels had really arrived at the peak of their development: we had aluminum and stainless steel and titanium and cermaic lined and glass lined and internal rifling and external rifling and porting and whatever.
Most people playing the game had never seen a brass barrel and brass, when you don’t polish it, gets this really nasty greenish patina all over it. (Oxidation.) Since I never polished it (no one wants a gleaming reflector in the woods), it looked way gnarly and I was always getting asked “What the heck is that thing!?”.
Which is a nice way of saying the words that were actually used. And my answer was always the same: Here. Shoot it.
And their response was always. “Wow.”
Which is a nice way of saying what they really said in approval.
So out at the Thailand tournament (the first one ever, hosted by good friend Dan Colby, then of Air America) we’ve got teams from the US and the UK and France and Russia of all places – not to mention the Thai teams – and here I am at the target range letting all these guys shoot my gun at tennis balls hanging from strings.
See, there were 6 of them, I’d say at about 60 feet from the firing line, and when I was testing my gun I walked that line of tennis balls with single shots several times in a row, and one of the Ironmen players there said like “Wow, let me try”, and he did the same thing and then ran off to tell his buddies and one of the Brits stepped in and took his turn and he said “Wow” and talked it up with his mates and….
Just about a decade after that I was coaching a team down in Florida and they got caught short a player and I had to step in. I decided I was going to use the ‘Mag, and I hooked up the ten inch, 689 id, straight-rifled, all brass, J&J Performance barrel, and the kids I was coaching all said “OMG, you’re not going to use THAT thing are ya?” and I said “Yes, I am and if you know what’s good for you, you’ll do your job and it won’t be an issue.” and they all mumbled and kicked the dirt and made faces at me.
We won that game, but only after a three-on-one that I won. (Apparently my guys didn’t listen to me.) Yep. Fire-and-forget.
I STILL have that barrel. (I still have my Armson Shorty too!)
I’ve also acquired J&J’s barrel kit – The Edge, and even though it’s aluminum, it obviously shares the same genes. Somewhere down inside there where you can’t see, that barrel kit’s great-great-great-great-great granddad was a
ten inch, 689 id, internally straight rifled, all brass, J&J Performance barrel.