I currently model in 009, and would consider myself a fairly experienced kit builder - having built a lot of the Backwoods range including thier NG16 and part way through a stalled K1. Etched brass is great, whitemetal less so ! Quartering outside cranks doesn't scare me, nor does miniature valve gear.
The reason for the e-mail is that I really fancy building a 4mm standard gauge kit, but without knowing the market I'm weary of choosing something horrific and making an expensive mistake.
Have you any suggestions ?
Any manufacturers to be avoided ? Or recommended ? I'd love to build a Cambrian coast model one day so maybe a loco that worked on that. Or I quite like shunting locos...
I realise that this is quite an open question but I'd be interested in some pointers. I model 009 partly because I enjoy kit building so much, but I need a break from these tiny engines !
Good question ! Normally this runs along the lines of "Can you suggest a beginners kit..." but for a change we have an experienced modeller wanting a crack at something different. This leaves me with a lot of scope because by the sound of it, Alistair could probably make a good job of pretty much anything on the market. Let's face it, once you reach a certain proficiency with brass, you can take a rubbish kit, throw the contents of the box away and still make end up with a good model. It just takes longer that way.
So, where to start ? Well I don't know a lot about the Cambrian other that it's in Wales, GWR country. This means locos with tapered boilers which are a pain to form, not impossible but something with parallel sides is a whole lot easier. A bigger problem is that a lot of the locos you'll need will be available ready to run (If you are howling at your computer that this is wrong, then let me know via the comments section) and I find this a disincentive to get the soldering iron out as I know the results will be greeted with the question "Is it Hornby ?"
Which would tend to point me in the direction of shunting locos. The RTR makers have tended to leave these alone as the variety precludes the sort of sales required to make the model commercial viable. There are several possible ranges to look at but if you simply want a model that you can enjoy building, I'd suggest the High Level Models range. For your money you get a well designed kit with plenty of detail and enough challenges to satisfy the experienced builder - not the "bit doesn't fit and needs to be modified" challenges but the sort where care and a little patience is rewarded. Prices are slightly higher than most other ranges but I think this comes down to more extensive R&D and excellent instructions.
If you really must have something mainline, I'll first fall back on my usual suggestion of Craftsman Kits. A lot are suitable IMHO for beginners but they are good, solids, well designed models. Perhaps a bit more basic than some but you should be confident of ending up with a nice model at the end of the process. Be warned that nothing has been updated with the 1980's so you still get suggestions for DS10 motors whereas something from Mashima and a nice gearbox is a much better bet.
Alternatively I've some experience of stuff from London Road Models which is usually pretty good. Since their market is definitely the finescale, and therefore pretty gobby if they aren't happy, modeller you can be reasonably sure everything goes together.
Finally I'll give an honourable mention to Mercian Models whose kits are regular features in this blog. There's plenty of good kits in the range and the after sales service is second to none. Ruin a part and is will be replaced for you. I've seen this happen at shows and know it is appreciated by the more kack-handed amongst us !
Ranges to avoid ? Well this is much more difficult as what some people find a nightmare, others love. It can also be the case that experience with a single duff kit in a range will unfairly colour the attitude towards the rest. My best suggestion would be to look for anything designed in the last ten years. Standards started to rise in the 1980s but the last decade has seen increased use of CAD and higher standards of draughtsmanship. As I said earlier, every kit can be built but the process isn't always as fun as it should be. However some people will delight in saving themselves a few quid by assembling a horrid old bag of bits dug out from under a second hand stall even though it's consumed 2 years of the their modelling time and the results still aren't pretty or owe much to the purchased parts. If you are building for fun, spend the money and get something that you'll enjoy.
Hope this helps - let us know how you get on.