Best 1911 Upgrades: 10 Ways to Customize Your 1911

Best 1911 Upgrades: 10 Ways to Customize Your 1911

May 15th 2024

Few guns have the success and longevity of the 1911. With its timeless design, rugged reliability, and unparalleled performance, this pistol has become an American icon.

And these days, just about every pistol manufacturer has a 1911 or two in their lineup, so you have options aplenty.

But what if none of those seem to be exactly what you want? Or maybe you already have a 1911 but it’s not quite right — or maybe you want something truly unique.

Fortunately for you, the 1911 platform is ripe for customization and enhancement. From precision grips to advanced sighting systems, the 1911 is the perfect platform for shooters to tailor their firearm, taking both aesthetics and performance to the next level.

Now, let’s dive into the world of 1911 upgrades, exploring some of the most popular and most impactful modifications to turn your 1911 into a one-of-a-kind piece. Whether you're a seasoned competitor, a dedicated enthusiast, or a discerning collector, these upgrades will help you unlock the full potential of your 1911.

Best 1911 Upgrades

Signature Series Custom 1911 Desert Ironwood Burl Grip Set on a Colt 1911

1. Custom Grips

Adding custom 1911 grips is one of the easiest ways to make a major difference in the look of your pistol. And the right ones can make a big difference in the feel and handling as well.

We may be a little biased, but we don’t think you can go wrong with Wicked Grips. We provide shooters with a variety of options, ranging from traditional wood to modern materials like G10 or aluminum. We even offer grip panels made from more exotic materials like meteorite, mammoth tusk, and dinosaur bone.

Whether you prioritize aesthetics, ergonomics, or functionality, custom 1911 grips offer a versatile, affordable method for personalizing your 1911 to meet your specific needs and preferences. We have options available for a wide range of 1911 models, so we’re sure to have what you need to build your perfect gun.

2. Safety

Aftermarket grip safety for 1911

The standard safety for the 1911 platform is, generally speaking, a grip safety.

It’s a convenient design, preventing the pistol from firing unless the shooter has a proper grip on their firearm. But depending on hand size and grip technique, some shooters may find their factory grip safety a little uncomfortable or tricky to operate.

An upgraded grip safety can make it easier to depress, more comfortable, and even reduce hammer bite with a beavertail.

Some 1911s offer manual safeties in addition to — or instead of — grip safeties. In fact, while grip safeties are more common now, the original Colt M1911 had a manual safety.

Aftermarket options for manual safeties include extended or ambidextrous designs, offering improved accessibility and ease of use for shooters with different hand sizes or shooting preferences.

Check out upgraded grip safeties

3. Recoil Spring

Recoil spring for 1911

The recoil spring plays a vital role in the function and reliability of the 1911 pistol. It’s responsible for controlling slide movement and absorbing recoil energy during firing. But over time, it can weaken or become worn, leading to malfunctions and greater felt recoil.

And the impact isn’t limited to the recoil spring itself; the greater recoil can lead to damage to other internal components, forcing you to replace them earlier than you would otherwise.

Upgrading to a new recoil spring can restore proper function and improve shooting accuracy. In fact, even if your current recoil spring is in good condition, swapping to a higher-quality option can still reduce felt recoil, minimize malfunctions, and preserve the function of other internal components.

The type of recoil spring you opt for can also have a major impact on your 1911’s performance. Heavier recoil springs can help reduce felt recoil and muzzle flip, resulting in faster follow-up shots and improved shooting control. On the other hand, lighter recoil springs may enhance slide cycling speed, particularly with lighter loads or competition-oriented ammunition.

And to top it off, new springs are incredibly affordable, generally available for only a few bucks, and they often pay for themselves by enhancing the longevity of your pistol’s other parts.

Check out some recoil springs

4. Sights

Upgrading your sights can significantly enhance your shooting experience, especially in low-light conditions or when shooting at longer distances. One sight upgrade option is the addition of night sights.

Tritium night sights are equipped with tritium inserts that glow in low-light environments, making them ideal for self-defense and home defense applications. These sights provide quick and intuitive target acquisition in low-light conditions.

Fiber optic sights perform similarly, but the fiber optic rods enhance sight visibility across all light levels for faster, easier target acquisition, making them popular among competitive shooters.

Of course, you can also just stick with more traditional iron sights if you prefer. If you do, look for a taller front blade sight. This style of front sight can help with improved target focus and faster sight acquisition, even without any illuminated bits.

Regardless of which of the above options you prefer, it’s a good idea to look for an adjustable rear sight. Adjustable sights allow for precise windage and elevation adjustments to compensate for individual shooting preferences and ammunition variations.

Another good option for competitive shooters is a red dot sight. These are even more effective for fast target acquisition than fiber optic sights, but they’re also pricier and can be trickier to install.

Speaking of which, no matter which sight style you choose, make sure it’s compatible with your 1911 model, or at least that you can get an adapter to make it compatible.

Check out some sights

5. Trigger

The trigger is perhaps the most critical interface between the shooter and the firearm, so a trigger job can make a huge impact on the feel and performance of your handgun.

Trigger upgrades can include match-grade trigger components, adjustable trigger shoes, or specialized trigger designs optimized for competition or tactical shooting. For example, upgrading to a trigger with a lighter trigger pull can result in smoother, more predictable trigger control and reduced muzzle movement for greater accuracy and faster follow up shots.

In addition to upgrading the trigger itself, modifying the trigger guard can make a big difference in ergonomics, improving shooting comfort and control. Options include undercutting the trigger guard to allow for a higher grip on the gun or adding texture to enhance grip traction.

Check out some triggers

6. Full-Length Guide Rod

Traditional guide rods only extend partway through the frame, while a full-length guide rod extends the full length of the recoil spring, helping keep it aligned and providing extra support.

Some people prefer the traditional style, but more and more 1911 owners are opting to go the full-length route (and more and more 1911 manufacturers are making their 1911s with full-length guide rods already installed).

The primary benefit of a full-length guide rod is reduced muzzle flip and felt recoil which, as we’ve already established, allows for faster follow-up shots and improved shooting accuracy.

Additionally, full-length guide rods can enhance the overall durability and longevity of your 1911 pistol by reducing wear and stress on the recoil spring and frame. We already discussed how a recoil spring that’s in good shape results in smoother operation and reduced maintenance requirements over time, and a full length guide rod just enhances that effect.

Check out some guide rods

7. Mainspring Housing

Upgrading the mainspring housing of your 1911 can improve both the comfort and functionality of the pistol, which in turn improves your grip and control.

Many aftermarket mainspring housings feature checkering or stippling to improve grip traction and prevent slippage during shooting. Some housings also incorporate ergonomic contours or palm swells for enhanced comfort and control.

Plus, a new mainspring housing can make your gun look that much cooler, with a variety of materials, textures, and shapes to choose from.

Check out some mainspring housing

8. Barrel

Ultimately, a lot of the factors around choosing a barrel upgrade are subjective, but you’ll want to consider factors like barrel length, rifling, and chambering options.

For example, longer barrels may offer increased muzzle velocity and improved accuracy, while different rifling patterns can affect bullet stability and performance, with different effects on different bullet weights.

Aftermarket barrels for the 1911 are typically made from high-quality materials such as stainless steel or match-grade carbon steel. These barrels are precision-machined to tight tolerances, ensuring consistent accuracy and reliable performance, but there’s generally a trade off between weight, durability, and price.

Finally, opting for a barrel with a threaded muzzle opens up the option to use different muzzle devices such as compensators or suppressors.

Check out some barrels

9. Hammer

Aftermarket hammers can feature enhanced geometry or surface treatments for improved durability and ease of use. Match-grade hammers are precision-machined to tight tolerances, ensuring consistent ignition and reliable performance.

In addition, a hammer upgrade can avoid one common issue with the standard 1911 hammer: hammer bite. Hammer bite occurs when the hammer spur bites into the shooter's hand during recoil, causing pain and injury.

Upgrading to a beavertail or Commander-style hammer can prevent hammer bite by providing additional clearance between the hammer and the shooter's hand.

Check out some hammers

10. Magazine Release

Magazine releases are one of the most popularly upgraded parts on any firearm, not just 1911s. Factory mag releases can be small, hard to locate without looking, and tricky to operate. Mag release upgrades fix all that.

Aftermarket magazine releases come in a huge range of shapes, sizes, and materials, so there’s something out there to suit pretty much all preferences and shooting styles.

Oversized and extended magazine releases provide a larger surface area and greater leverage for easier activation for greater leverage and quicker mag changes.

Some magazine releases feature serrations or textured surfaces for improved grip traction, which is especially handy in damp conditions or when you’re wearing gloves.

Check out magazine releases

Ready to Upgrade Your 1911?

Black 1911 on black background

The 1911 boasts a long legacy with plenty to brag about, and despite its age, it remains as relevant as ever. In part, that’s thanks to the platform’s adaptability and capacity for customization.

From custom grips to match-grade barrels, your options are pretty much limitless when it comes to making your 1911 your own. And upgrading your 1911 isn’t just about the tangible improvements in aesthetics and performance — though that’s certainly a large part of it. There’s also a sense of pride and ownership that comes with crafting a firearm to fit your exact specifications.

Whether you're honing your skills on the range, shooting competitively, or simply admiring your handiwork at home, there’s something about a 1911 that you’ve customized yourself that evokes a sense of pride.