This post was originally titled “The Aftermarket – Model Media Complex” when I first started working on it a few months ago. At that point I was looking at the idea that the aftermarket industry was working hand-in-hand with model review sites and print media to push product on us. And, that it seemed to be the creation of aftermarket for the sake of selling us more aftermarket.
So, seeing that I was only writing the obvious, I shelved the post for a few months. But, I took a listen to the most recent PMM podcast with their special segment on aftermarket. Their point was that aftermarket components may not always be worth the trouble. I agree with their assessment. But it took me some time to get to that point.
My Initial Aftermarket Love Affair
I’ll admit, I was bitten by the aftermarket bug almost from day 1 and I think that most modelers get that initial love affair. Especially after seeing magazine and internet builds with seemingly impossible levels of fine detail. I think back to the second model built upon returning to this wonderful hobby of ours. That was Tamiya’s ‘Birdcage’ Corsair and I had specific goals for that build: To improve my construction and painting skills and to finally incorporate AFTERMARKET! I went out and got me some of those resin “flattened wheels” and a full Eduard PE set designed specifically for the Birdcage Corsair. I don’t recall any big issues with using these components but I recall that build ultimately suffered from my inexperienced canopy masking and very flat tires.
For a period of time I included significant aftermarket elements in all of my builds. Following the Birdcage I tackled a a decked out (with resin, photoetch & decals) F4U-5NL Korean war night fighter. Once that was conquered, I then faced most challenging and highest percentage-by-volume resin aftermarket model in my collection: the Tamiya Corsair & the CMK F4U-4 conversion set. That had all sorts of competing and near-impossible-to-fit resin conversion sets as well a photo etch:
So, why did I do these things? Well, when I got back into the hobby I saw the inclusion of aftermarket components as the ticket to ‘better’ and ‘more serious’ builds. It was to the point where I couldn’t have a model in my stash without some form of aftermarket. I certainly could not start a build without securing the associated sets – or at least have them in transit!
After many, many builds featuring aftermarket components, I have revised my stance on them. So yes, I agree with Mike and Dave at the Moj: Aftermarket is not necessarily ‘all that and a bag of Au Gratin potato chips‘1. Resin, photoetch and 3d printed components are sold on the basis they improve the look your build, but there is no guarantee of that result.
Let me explain
My initial love affair with aftermarket was based on the assumption that all aftermarket is an improvement over what came in the box. I can tell you without hesitation, that is not the case. I won’t pick on any one photo etch manufacturer but let’s be honest: how much of that fret is good stuff vs how much of it is fret filler? I’m talking the rudder foot straps, the 2d wiring harnesses, the generic levers and the generic black box tops. I’ve also seen a lot of resin sets with parts that actually look less detailed than the kit components. I’ve tossed many a resin “instrument panel” because the kit part had much better detail with round instruments or because the component simply will not fit. So no, not all aftermarket is worth the time or expense even if it is expertly installed.
I now add aftermarket where it meets a combination of two required elements:
- Time Savings; and
- Detail Enhancement
“Time Savings” can mean many things but I will boil it down to this; Where detail is lacking, will the aftermarket part save me time over scratch building or other improvement strategies? And, will that aftermarket component add days or weeks to the build because of all of the time necessary to prep the parts and get them to fit? I am thinking of all the work to saw off casting blocks and all the filing and sanding to get the correct fit.
“Detail Enhancement” is really a function of the quality of the aftermarket component and whether it will even be seen on the completed build. Think of a high end ejection seat in a teen fighter or burner cans which are both very noticeable enhancements vs photoetch ribbing in the bomb bay in a WW2 bomber.
Bottom line, if a given aftermarket component does not give you Time Savings and Detail Enhancement, then what is the point?
Worthwhile Aftermarket Elements
Generally speaking, the following aftermarket components are almost always time savers and detail enhancers:
- Good decals (I can’t emphasize this enough)
- Pitot tubes and gun barrels
- Ejection Seats
You’ll notice that ‘resin cockpit sets’ are not on the list. That’s because of the time they take to prepare the parts and get them to fit. As well, a large majority of them are not that good. But when I used the Quinta Studio Hind Cockpit set, the components were so perfectly made that they were a drop fit into the cockpit. An entire aftermarket cockpit installed in minutes and was far better than the kit or what I could do on my own.
But Will You Even Remember It?
I have a theory about aftermarket. The recollection of the number of aftermarket bits that were used in a build is inversely related to the amount of time since the completion of that build. In fact, I have had to look back at some build pictures of my models to remember a few of the aftermarket components I have used. Now this might say something about (i) the speed at which I build; (ii) how quick I am to move on from a completed project; or (iii) the possibility of early onset insanity. Let’s not dwell on that for now.
The point is that aftermarket seems so shiny and chrome when it is in its packaging. After it gets primed and painted? Meh, not so much. At that point, the impact of the aftermarket is overshadowed by how well the kit is built and finished. Ask yourself, when have you been blown away by the look of a finished model because of how much aftermarket was used? Or were you blown away by how awesome the model looked?
I’ve come to the conclusion that if you are looking for a surefire way to improve your builds, the solution does not come in a bubble pack or on a photo etch fret. Your better solution is to practice to improve on your build and finishing skills. Part of that improvement can be incorporating aftermarket. Just know that some of it may be a waste of your time.
I’d love to hear about your trials and triumphs with aftermarket. Did I get it right? Or is all of it useful and should be celebrated? Let me know in the comments.
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1: This is very likely not a direct quote but I’m going to assume this is what they wished they said!