Single Action Cartridge Guns. Pietta vs Uberti, which is better quality and why?
It is surprising how often this question is asked. And you'd think that the answer to your question would be simple. Ford vs.Chevy, (Oy!) But, it's not. All Ubertis are not alike. All Piettas are not alike. Uberti's Colt-repro cartridge guns are broken down into 3 main categories. The "Conversion" guns, (Open Tops), the "Old Models", (copies of the Colt SAA Black Powder Frames), and the Pre-War models, (copies of the Colt SAA, after 1900) with the more convenient, spring-loaded cylinder pin release.
Pietta Models are broken down into specialty lines available through some major distributors.
For a comparison to the first Colt Single Action Army revolvers, the Uberti "Old Models" comes very close, for a mid-priced revolver. They are pretty faithful reproductions. You can tell which ones they are, the cylinder pin is retained by a locking screw in the front of the frame. These are easily found on the Cimarron Firearms website.
Then comes the most numerous of the Uberti models, the "Pre-War" (WWI), with the more convenient cross-pin cylinder pin latch... in 2016 Uberti announced a new "safety system" that would safely allow the carrying of 6 rounds in your 6-shooter. For those who do not know, conventional 6-shooters could only be safely carried with 5, and the hammer down on an empty chamber. That is because the firing pin would rest directly on the primer of the 6th round, dropping the gun, (as many have done, even Wyatt Earp), or even knocking something against the hammer, has resulted in unfortunate consequences and a number of lawsuits. This is what caused Ruger to go to a Transfer Bar Safety in all their revolvers in 1972.
Anyway, Uberti went a different way with their Pre-War models, with a Retractable Firing Pin. in 2017 the first reports of light primer strikes and Failure to Fire started cropping up. Some of it is user error. The new system requires that the shooter hold the trigger all the way back locking the firing pin forward. This intentional over-travel in the trigger is designed in, and those used to black powder revolvers or other single-action revolvers were not used to this slightly different trigger-hammer mechanism. Some of it was a mechanical error. As in all relatively inexpensive, mass-produced items, roughness of fitting at either the trigger end, the actuator bar, or at the hammer end of the mechanism, caused light primer strikes.
This happened with a minority of Uberti's guns. More disconcerting to a number of shooters is that this mechanism has only "3-clicks" as the hammer is pulled back instead of the customary "4-clicks". Those who want a more historically accurate gun, do not like this. Please note, that if everything is working properly there is no difference in the final operation between the 3-clicks and the 4-clicks. Except for the trigger pull and those guns with mechanical difficulties that caused the light hammer strikes, the guns have, for the most part, proven satisfactory.
In competition guns, as in Cowboy Action Shooting, there was a big push to get the new Uberti pre-war models to operate the same as they had before. Stocks of older hammers sold out quickly for all the distributors and parts houses. There are gunsmiths who have converted over hundreds of these guns, back to the functioning of the "Old Models". When Cimarron or Taylors gets a small shipment of replacement Old Model hammers they are quickly sold out.
There are several ways for the handy user to defeat the Retractable Firing Pin System, including some that are completely reversible, should you ever wish to part with the gun. A converted Uberti's action is smoother and lighter than that of a gun with a functioning Retractable Firing Pin. Uberti has not put this new safety system in its "Old Model" guns or its Conversion, or Open Top models. If you wish to have a reproduction of the Single Action Army of the 1800s, Uberti does a nice job.
Pietta: As with Uberti, all Piettas are not alike. As with Ruger and Uberti, Pietta found that many of the buyers on the mass market are not aware of the need to carry only 5 rounds in a 6-shooter. So, those models sold through Cabelas, Heritage, and many mass marketers, have a Transfer Bar Safety. Unfortunately, Pietta's Transfer Bar was found to be fragile. Many of them failed, and energy could no longer be transferred from the hammer to the frame-mounted firing pin. Of course, this is completely covered under warranty, but the user is without a gun until it comes back from repair. People described the Pietta Transfer Bar as being made of "pot metal". Pietta, realizing the problem, has now upgraded their Transfer Bars. But, if buying a used gun, or one that has been in a dealer's stock for a while, be aware of at least the potential for a breakage.
All that being said, Pietta did not put a Transfer Bar Safety in all its single-action revolvers. Pietta bought the distributor, EMF. On the EMF website, Pietta markets a line of revolvers called the "Great Western II" This is an extensive line of revolvers that is as close to a "Pre-War" Colt Single Action Army as one can get in a mid-priced gun. Cimarron, another distributor of Old West firearms, began marketing some Pietta guns. They now have many models without a Transfer Bar Safety, starting with the lower cost Brass back-strap and trigger guard model called the "Pistolero". which is limited to one barrel length, 4-3/4". It also comes in stainless steel at a little higher price, where the backstrap and trigger guard are all steel. These guns also appear on Bud's site occasionally.
Cimarron also markets an extensive line of "Frontier" revolvers, similar to EMF's "Great Western II" line. They have many with Black Powder Frames, including one that looks and feels like the original 1873 Cavalry Colt, and many of the "Pre-War" frames. Quite a lot to choose from.
Back to the original question, "Which is better, Uberti or Pietta?" The answer is "both". For an "Old Model" Black Powder Frame reproduction of the Colt Single Action Army, the Uberti and Pietta have some very nice examples. For a more convenient, post-1900 model, the "Pre-War" frame, certain Pietta models seem to hold an edge over the Uberti. But both Uberti and Pietta have very nice black powder frame models that are faithful to the 1800's Colt.
Of course, there is always another option. For sheer reliability and longevity, it is hard to beat a Ruger. Yes, the New Vaquero is one ounce heavier than the same caliber and barrel length of Pietta or Uberti, and it balances in the hand a bit differently, but when shooting, the differences seem to go away. 1970's technology over the 1840's technology. It is probably best to add in an inexpensive lighter spring kit when investing in a Ruger.
There seems to be endless choices. So, you, the buyer, have to factor in a number of "wants" along with your budget considerations, before you buy.
(first printed on SASS and Cowboy Action Shooting FB page )