While this site is perhaps geared more for people who want to either build their own rifle or customize it, there is still something to be said for buying a complete rifle. Some manufacturers offer some products that are only available if you buy their complete rifle, though this is more true of .308 AR’s than AR-15’s. Regardless, I still love to buy complete rifles when I have the money available.
you may start out with a stock DPMS rifle, but then you do a little customization. Then some more. And pretty soon your "stock"rifle ends up looking more like this. Photo and rifle thanks to Kevin G.
Most brands offer a decent rifle right out of the box. I have heard negative and positive on virtually any brand. DPMS gets a hard time sometimes, but I have ran several of them and never had a problem. I know many people who refer to Bushmaster as “Crapmaster” but I have carried many, over the course of years and again, never had a problem. I even have good buddies that love Olympic Arms, despite their continuing rep from when they made cast parts.
It is possible to have a good or bad experience with any brand though some companies stand by their product more than others. For instance I personally like Daniel Defense products, but a buddy of mine purchased an upper from them and had feeding issues. He sent it in to them and it came back, months later, still having issues. He sent it in again and once more the problems continued. An armorer we knew from a less reputable brand took a look at it and hand ground the feed ramps to more or less M4 spec, which fixed the issue and my buddy, ever the good guy was happy with that. However the story continues – a DD rep came out to out work one day and heard about my buddies experience. On the spot he apologized for everything and gave my buddy a brand new complete upper. So, my point is, any weapon can be the one made on a Friday afternoon by the guy who is thinking about the weekend and while it is much less likely with some companies, that bad rifle may make it past quality control and into your hands. Or or 2 bad incidents don't make for a bad company. But trends do and I am tracking the bigger trends.
Unless otherwise stated, I either own, or used to own, or used to carry the weapons recommended below
They are top of my list. I love their work. If money is not a problem, I highly recommend them. Yes, some of their rifles are more for match but they also make duty weapons. Also, what they consider more of a race set up (sacrificing some reliability for speed) is far from an unreliable weapon. I bought a race gun from them and ran it like a duty weapon. I put over 60 mags through it over a few days without cleaning and it still never had a single malfunction. I didn't add oil, I just wanted to see when it would stop. By about mag 55 it started to have issues chambering the first round off a fresh mag, but once chambered it ran the whole mag fine. A little oil at the 60 mag mark and it went back to chambering fine. At which point I relented, cleaned it and promised it I would never do that to it again. While a JP does require a large initial investment, you get more for your money than with many non-custom brands - like a great trigger, upraded BCG etc. The only negative is you can wait over 3 months for a custom build or even over a month for an "in stock" upper or rifle. However, they will tell you straight up how the long the wait is and if they say 14 days, it will be 14 days.
They also do great work. They have great barrels and the fact they offer VLTOR VIS is awesome. For better or worse, they also have great marketing, which sadly reflects in the price. But buying a rifle from Noveske is an still an investment for life. Just don't trust their wait times. If they say a week. It might be a week. Or 2 months. And nagging Sheri does not speed it up. They also have awful triggers for what you are paying. Really, what you get is a really solid stock gun for the price of an upgraded match gun, but if you have the money, you will be pleased. Or at least you should be
If you want to go with a gas piston, LWRCI is my #1 suggestion. I had heard some mixed reviews of them and there was certainly some localized politics-type controversy in the recent past that may affect opinions of them regarding the departure of Leitner Wise. If there was some junk put out in the transition period back then? I don’t know. That type of drama is not my thing. What I do know is right now they are putting out an awesome product. When I first picked up a worn-in 10.5in full auto and cleared it I was blown away by how smooth everything was. It had been shot all the previous day and left, unoiled or cleaned overnight, along with about 30 others and they were all smoother than many brands are when well lubricated. And after being run hot for years and mistreated, they still held impressive accuracy for a 10.5in barrel. Everything about them is well constructed and designed. If you decide to go the gas piston route, I highly recommend them.
Another top company that makes an awesome product. Their website is not as friendly as some, but don’t let that put you off (besides, it is still better than many). If you call they are helpful. Everything they make is solid. If you want a quality, moderately priced no frills rifle that will last forever, you will not go wrong with LMT.
They also makes a great rifle. I rank them perhaps a shade under LMT for the price. (I can almost hear some of you gasp) but I am not saying you would go wrong with one. Many a guy I trust and respect swears by Colt as the only brand to buy. Though they all get LEO discount and I do not… Colt's name is unquestionably great in the industry and they earned that name from putting out an excellent rifle that has perhaps the greatest mass quality control process of anyone who has put out thousands and thousands of weapons. But as an individual you are competing with large government buyers. That gets reflected in the price. The MSRP for Colt is high for what you get. Their lower parts kit price is outrageous.
PredatAR deserves a mention. I have not personally shot one so I am reluctant to weigh in heavily on it, but the price is very reasonable and I have several buddies that love theirs and speak highly of them in terms of quality and accuracy. I also have buddies that are waiting, waiting, waiting for theirs and when they get it, I should be able to give a better review.
There are a few brands that quite literally have zero quality control. Essential Arms is a little known brand. I was offered a heavy discount on their custom lower with match trigger. I bought 2, one with a regular trigger, one with the match. The “match” trigger failed a function check out of the box. Had I shot it, it would have been full auto. All they had done was grind the disconnector to the point that it would not catch. I have polished my disconnector on stock triggers for a smoother reset and never screwed it up, but even if a guy is having a bad day and over-does it, I have to wonder how they can ship lowers that they have not even done a basic function check on. Or how they can call a polished disconnector a match trigger. I also have to put Rock River on this list. I used to love them and I even still own one that has been awesome. But I was witness to a mass purchase of Rock River rifles and watched gun after gun go down. Many of the barrels were out of spec and some would not chamber, some would not extract, rails came loose and numerous other problems happened. After that I have sworn myself off buying anything from Rock River again. While mostly, they make a decent product, they put out about 80 pieces of junk with their name on it and their support was awful when they started going down.
Lastly, a word on gunshows: You often see incredibly cheap deals. At first I wondered how they could sell a brand name rifle for such a great deal. Then I realized they were just buying stripped lowers and parting it out as cheaply as possible. The lower might be brand X, but everything else could be second hand for all you know. I am sure some people have gotten good deals at gun shows, but for me, I would rather build my own and know every part's history.