So You Want to Buy a Lightsaber…
A first-timer’s guide by Ryan Clifford, SG-082 Golden Gate Temple
With contributions from Paul Trupia, SG-131, Jakku Temple
*handwave* These are the sabers you are looking for...
We figured it's time we shared all the information about this lightsaber hobby as we can. The rabbit hole goes pretty deep, and can be a bit daunting to leap into without any warning. So here's a (not completely) unbiased guide to usable prop lightsabers.The Basics
In the prop lightsaber hobby, there's a lot of terminology that gets thrown around and won't make sense unless you've been around the block a few times, so we’ll break down what a lot of these things mean.
First of all, prop lightsabers that can be used for Saber Guild choreography have two main parts: the hilt and the blade.
The hilts are where all the electronic magic happens. These sabers are built to have all of the electronics, such as LED units, batteries, switches, sound boards, and more, fully contained and protected within the hilt body, which are usually made of aircraft-grade aluminum or other sturdy metals. The complexity can vary wildly from simple sink tubes to fully CNC-machined works of art.
The blades are what makes things usable and (for the most part) safe for contact. They are made of polycarbonate in various lengths and thicknesses, with an internally mirrored tip at one end to reflect light cast into it from the LED inside the hilt. Also inside the polycarbonate tube is some form of diffuser, like thin Styrofoam, thin plastic, or layered cellophane. Different diffusers create different effects with the light from the LED. Other blade materials (acrylic, glass, and other lower quality plastics) are not permitted for use in Saber Guild.
Blades also come in different sizes and different thicknesses. Most Saber Guild Temples use “Heavy Grade” blades. These are one inch outside diameter (1” OD) polycarbonate blades and have a wall thickness of 1/8”. A few temples use “Mid-Grade” or “Thin Walled” Blades. These are one inch outside diameter (1” OD) polycarbonate blades and have a wall thickness of 1/16”. The blade thickness that you will use will depend on your Temple, usually the Local Director will make that determination so check with them. The key thing to remember here is that in Saber Guild, a thin-walled blade should never go against a thick-walled blade. Only blades of similar thicknesses should ever be used in practice or performance.
Now that we have discussed blades, let’s discuss how to top them off. There are two types of blade tips, round tips and bullet tips. Bullet (pointed) tips should never be used in a choreography performance. Round tips provide an extra layer of safety and should be used.
There are two basic classes of prop lightsaber: Stunt sabers and Sabers with Sound. Stunt sabers are the simplest (and more budget friendly), as the hilts only contain the basics: a battery, a switch, and an LED (think bladed flashlight). These are great for starting off in the hobby or maybe as a beater for practicing your moves for a convention or performance.
Sound sabers get more features, but also cost more. Various sound cards get added into these hilts along with speakers and rechargeable batteries, so you don't have to make the whooshing noises yourself like a kid with a painted broom handle in the backyard. Higher-end sound cards have more complex features like multiple banks of sounds, flashing effects, color changing, and the like.
Another consideration is your battery set up. There are three main types to consider. There are hilts that have a AAA-battery set up, a Lithium-Ion (LiOn) set up, or there are hilts with in-hilt charge ports. The lower end stunt sabers will have a AAA-battery set up. These set ups run on 2, 3, or 4 AAA-batteries depending on the manufacturer. Though you get a break on the overall price, you will quickly surpass other battery builds in price by the amount of batteries you will eventually go through. The next option is a LiOn set up. Depending on the manufacturer you may get a set up with 2 14500mHa batteries or a set up with 1 18650 mha battery. These batteries are removable and rechargeable. You can always have a set on the charger and a set in your hilt and you will never be without power. The last option is an in-hilt charge port. The hilt has a port where a plug gets connected and it charges to a wall outlet. Manufacturers tout this as the best option ever, however, for performers, it falls short. Once you are a member of Saber Guild you will see that your blade is often needed for photo ops, performances, demonstrations, panels, and other events. With an in-hilt charger port, your saber will miss out on action if it needs a charge. Stunt Sabers
So where can I get these?
Here's where I'll provide a list of options for both Stunt sabers and Sound sabers. I'll keep their basic descriptions as free of bias as I can, and leave some editorial sections for later.Stunt Saber VendorsUltrasabers
Stunt price range: $65 and up
Ultrasabers is where a lot of people get their first taste of the lightsaber hobby. They have a wide range of hilt designs and options, and keep their costs low through mass production. The cheapest entry level option, and the fastest lead times.SaberForge
- http://www.saberforge.com/ or http://www.etsy.com/shop/Saberforge/
Stunt price range: $125 and up
SaberForge is another company that has been around for years, but was just one guy so it took a while to grow. Now he's got a couple dozen or so custom hilt designs, some original and some modeled after movie and game hilts. Stunt hilts on this site are listed as "Warrior Tier" sabers. Tends to have longer lead times depending on options, anywhere from 6-14 weeks.LDM Custom Sabers
Stunt price range: ~$190
LDM is another high end commission builder that created two lines of high quality stunt sabers to offer on a wider basis. His Malakyte and 51st Commando hilt designs are designed with heavy use in mind.PachStore
Stunt Price Range - $80-120
The Hitoren series of sabers sold by PachStore have been through numerous iterations in recent years, and have become a decent, affordable option with simple designs. They are based in Singapore, so shipping will cost more.The Custom Saber Shop
Stunt price range - varies with parts chosen
The Custom Saber Shop is the place to go for those with the DIY itch. Everything available here is parts necessary to create your own personal lightsaber. Their Modular Hilt System makes assembling the hilt design easy, and all of the electronics you could need are here as well. If you can solder electronics, you're in good shape to start building your own.Sound Sabers with Sound
If you really want the full experience, adding sound is the way to go. There are four major sound board suppliers, each with their own line of electronics. Some boards are simple and only have a few sounds you can't change, others are extremely complex and can house hundreds of sound bytes to use and switch between, along with extra features like auxiliary switches to trigger other sounds, flashing for different moments, changing blade colors, all sorts of stuff. These all come at additional cost though. All of the suppliers above do sound upgrades to their stunt sabers, along with another vendor that only does sound-equipped sabers.Sound Saber VendorsUltrasabers
Sound price range: $225 and up
Ultrasabers uses their own soundboard called the Obsidian. It’s a entry-to-mid-range sound board that connects through a USB port to change settings and sounds. It is not recommended to go with their Obsidian Lite sound board. It is a very basic sound board and is powered with AAA-batteries. You will go quickly go through batteries using this configuration making it more expensive in the long run. Note: their website is not immediately clear on the price of Obsidian-equipped sabers, in some cases you must add a saber to your cart before seeing the full price. SaberForge
- http://www.saberforge.com/ or http://www.etsy.com/shop/Saberforge/
Sound price range: $350 and up
SaberForge offers two levels of sound upgrades. The first level upgrade is their "Champion Tier", which uses an entry level sound board called the SaberCore. It has a fixed set of sounds and only a few settings to change, along with only one blade color. Their second sound option, the "Hero Tier", uses a mid-range board called the Spark, which allows for two sets of sounds and two different blade colors to swap between. Also with this board is a contact flash feature which flashes a different color blade when the clash sensor inside triggers. Adds to the coolness.Genesis Custom Sabers
- http://genesiscustomsabers.com/?p=20595 , http://genesiscustomsabers.com/?p=1347 , http://genesiscustomsabers.com/?p=3904
Sound price range: $500 and up
Genesis Custom Sabers' Ascend saber has a sound upgrade with a Plecter Labs board called the Crystal Shard, which is a tiny-sized entry level board. It can have one or two blade colors and two sound sets to swap between. Also available in a sound-only version is the first production-line curved hilt lightsaber (think Dooku), the BadAxx. GCS takes incredible pride in his work and is one of the elite crafters in the hobby.LDM Custom Sabers
Sound price range: $325 and up
LDM's Malakyte and 51st Commando sabers also have Crystal Shard sound upgrade options. Upper level of build quality here as well.Vader's Vault
Sound price range: $399 and up
Vader's Vault was one of the first companies to make entry-level sound upgrades as a standard in thinner diameter hilts, using the Crystal Shard sound board. Their Fury and Havoc lines are smaller in size but just as excellent in quality as the sabers from LDM and Genesis. No pure stunt versions are available though. Lead times have grown in recent months and are in the 12 week range.The Custom Saber Shop
Sound price range - varies with parts chosen
If you're building your own saber from parts, you can purchase a sound card separate depending on the features you want and wire that sucker in yourself. Definitely not for the faint of heart or first-time builders though. Parts are expensive to be burning out by fucking them up. Features all levels of Plecter Labs soundboards.
We hope this document helps and gets you on your way to your saber purchase. These vendor lists are not all inclusive and there are some vendors, like Kyberlight, that are not up to the performance standards of Saber Guild.
Want more information?
Then explore! There are a few major forums within the lightsaber hobby. Each has positives and negatives. I'll spare you guys the long, sordid history though.
http://www.saberforum.com/ - This forum is owned and operated by Ultrasabers, so you'll only find discussion fo their products there.
http://forums.thecustomsabershop.com/ - The forum at The Custom Saber Shop is a long running, go-to source for DIY saber building, everything from electronics to hilt design.
http://www.fx-sabers.com/forum/index.php - Where most DIY and part-time builders ply their craft and talk shop. Bad blood with Ultrasabers and SaberForge, so their stuff is forbidden there.
http://imperialroyalarms.proboards.com/ - (takes you to the Rebel Armory) A third-party, more neutral forum where up-and-coming builders and companies can set up and get their name out in the wild without being ridiculed by elitism.
So there you go. Have at it. Go buy your lightsaber and choreograph a performance with it. Maybe you’ll become a powerful Sith Lord or virtuous Jedi one day.
01-18-18: Added language for battery configurations, blade thicknesses, and blade tips; Updated prices and verified vendor listings, overall editing of the document language for all Saber Guild use.