Like all things in life, timing is critical for a pistolsmith. There are a few reasons the good and some of the not so good pistolsmiths have backlogs.
Here are a couple of my thoughts on the subject:
First there is Richard Heinie who has had a stellar reputation for over 25 years. People are willing to wait the seven years for one of his pistols. I own a Heinie gun and the waiting list was 3 years long when I ordered and 5 years long when I received my pistol.
They are very nice guns. At the time though, I had no idea what I would be doing from one year to the next, so the wait was a bit uncomfortable for me.
That is one end of the spectrum. Then there are the smiths who just back-log guns and never give you a realistic idea of when your gun will be done or why it's taking so long. Worse yet, those that produce guns on an assembly line and the guns aren't worth what you pay for them.
The stories about pistolsmith problems can make a Steven King horror novel look like Disneyland.
Here are the common reasons that pistolsmiths get behind. Parts availability. If you are dead-set about building a custom gun and only want certain parts (and I do this myself) you had better be prepared to wait. Bar-Sto is a good example: 6 to 8 weeks on a barrel. I try to keep them in stock but I'm a small one man shop. I can't afford to have 20 barrels at $150 or more a pop tied up in inventory. I try to keep a dozen or so around at any given time, but sometimes you have to wait.
Most of us job out specific services. Plating and night sights are a good example. If I send out a gun to be plated I relay to the customer what I'm told about how long the plating will take. I have no control over what actually does happen time-wise. Trust me, it's even more uncomfortable for me as a smith than you as a customer. I want you to have your gun and you to be happy and satisfied with your relationship with me!
I use a lot of Heinie's sight packages and there is never a wait because I buy them from a wholesaler. On the other hand, Kimber, Bomar, and Novak's all get sent out. That is out of my control again, once UPS picks it up.
I have had guns that have taken longer to plate or night sight than build! Crazy isn't it?
I've had customers suggest I get new platers and my night sites done elsewhere. Truth is I get my out of house work done by the best I can find. Like Bar-Sto, if you are good at something you'll get found out and get back logged yourself. I can always get something done cheaper and faster, just not done as well.
You didn't search me out to get it done cheap or fast. If you did, you have the wrong pistolsmith. You will get from me the very best 1911 I can build. That takes a fair amount of money and a serious investment in my time as well as yours. The results of your patience will be fully rewarded by my end product. I guarantee it. Customer satisfaction, period.
Did I mention that I am a one man shop? I thought I did. The facts are many of the best are one man shops. That means we answer the phone, or screen our calls so we can actually get some work done. Believe it or not some of the things that go into building a 1911 do take some concentration. You don't want your smith constantly interrupted. We also do the shipping, test fire the guns, and reload the ammo that gets run through them. As you can see, production isn't high for any of the one man shops. We get sick, have to shoot the monthly match and usually donate some time to benefit the shooting sports. Some of us but not many actually have another live outside of shooting!
These reasons aren't offered as a apology, just a explanation for how the business works for many of us, myself in particular.
Now my commitment to you as a customer. I try not to take on work that will take over a year UNLESS it is a full house gun. If I do commit to that work, I will tell you why it will be longer and a credible estimate on how long. Some of my full house guns have taken 4 years. 5 years will be the norm shortly with my current volume. I have other smiths that I trust that I will happily refer you to if I am jammed for time. One of the ways I am trying to limit wait time is to not offer to work on modified guns any more, the majority of my work is building full-house guns. That use to irk the hell out of me when the better smiths wouldn't accept another's work. I now realize it wasn't the work, it was the TIME.
So at the moment, 12 to 18 months for the FED or Grey Ghost packages, 18 months or less for a Ultimate package. The best guns I can build? 2 years and more depending on the work load. I always put professional needs at the top of the work orders if it's necessary. Don't mention it, unless it truly IS necessary.
I hope this bit of info has helped you understand what I do for you a little better.