In March of 2018, while helping Sergey Levkov, of Lapco and Technical Trouble Shooting, sort through 20 years of treasure/junk, Thad “Weltman” Drum and I came across a collection of Sergey’s scattered polaroids.
Some of these photos had grease on them and who knows how many others we missed, but these pictures offer valuable insight into Sergey’s decades of modifying paintguns and developing accessories which would be marketed through other companies.
Sergey Levkov’s Paintball History
Sergey’s involvement in the paintball industry began while working with Colin Thompson at The Los Angeles Paintgun Co (LAPCO). In 1987/1988(?) Colin was living in Los Angeles and likely building Colin guns. The Colin gun was Colin’s first complete marker, a black nelson based pump which featured a few of Colin’s innovations which would eventually become the Grey Ghost.
Sergey has told me owned a Lapco Ghost, so it’s likely he started working for Colin in about 1988-89. Release date on the Ghost is likely 1988 with a Nelspot frame and Sergey’s, I believe, had the Carter/NW frame, which would be 1989.
During this time Colin was employed by Dave Bassman at Conquest in Malibu. Bassman likely had a fleet of Nelson based rentals (likely Colin guns, or similar bodies from Sigma, in Chatsworth) and Colin worked on keeping those paintguns firing.
Colin worked with various shops in the Southern California to create his line of Lapco accessories. And perfected his process of the step honing technique, which was used on the Ghost and many Lapco barrels afterwards.
In around 1990 Colin moved down to San Diego to work with Jon Sivers, of Paintball Connection.
In 1989-90, as Sergey was finishing high school, while living in Northridge, California, he continued modifying paintguns under his own business name, Technical Trouble Shooting.
Sergey and Semis
Sergey has always been drawn to semi automatics and his earliest modifications were for Tippmanns. Sergey explains that at the time “I did not do pump stuff…because I can’t play pump.” Sort of ironic since Sergey would eventually be manufacturing Lapco Ghosts and hold himself to the same quality standard Colin would years before.
As laid out in the advertisement above, Technical Trouble Shooting’s early modifications included the selector switch modifications on SMGs, sight rails, .68 caliber SMG conversions, RVAs and the mechanical clip advancer. The selector switch was developed by an associate, Don King, and Sergey continued the modification.
In the years to follow, from 1990 until 1996, Levkov, under Technical Trouble Shooting, offered a variety of services and after market parts for every semi automatic on the market. Sergey also built completely customized semi autos and sold runs of custom innovative aftermarket upgrade parts to well known manufacturers.
The Green Technical Trouble Shooting VM-68
While Weltman and I helped Sergey throw more and more pieces of his green Technical Trouble Shooting green VM-68 into a box, with hopes it will be reassembled and hang in his office at Lapco, we came across many other items he modified over the years which play an important part in his history.
Six months later, as Sergey and I reviewed these photos, he listed the upgrades to the VM68s pictured. His work really went above and beyond many of the other airsmiths of that era. He didn’t deal with strictly aesthetics, Levkov re-worked the VM-68 inside and out, to the degree of what the Pro Comp would offer in upcoming years. He machined entirely custom internals, barrels and receivers.
Sergey lists the Green VM68’s upgrades as:
•PVC foregrips with expansion chamber inside. Likely similar to Colins (Lapco knurled asa expansion chambers) or as Sergey says, “my hex knockoff [for ANS].”
•Anti full auto hammer to prevent chopping.
•Custom sight rail.
•Billet 3/4 inch and 1/2 inch 45 frames / blocks. This VM-68 featured his 1/2 45 frame block.
•Quick release top and lower tube covers with a pull pin.
•Aluminum match anodized trigger guards.
•Aluminum side receiver panels.
•Custom bolt (not sure if venturi or open face)
•Custom barrel cut from a WGP bull barrel blank.
•Bottom tapped valve to run an airline to a bottomline.
Probably the most interesting modifications which I don’t recall hearing about before, is Sergey’s Anti Full Auto hammer. He describes this mod, telling me, “You can see that there are two slots on the hammer so that’s a lightened hammer with the anti full auto notch.”
Going into more detail on the “Anti Full Auto Notch” Levkov says, it “basically catches the hammer if it doesn’t go back far enough, passes the first notch, catches on the second notch and hammer is all the way back.
If the gun doesn’t put out enough gas to kick the hammer all the way back, normally the hammer will fly back forward and do the full auto thing, and if it’s opening almost enough to catch on the proper sear position then it’s enough space for a ball to come in three quarters of the way and it cut them but [with this modification the hammer is caught and the vm-68 is not able to] pinch the ball all the way.
I didn’t make production versions of the hammer per say but i customized hammers. [I also] Might have made aluminum hammers for VM 68s because i remember putting c clips in them.”
The High Boy Sight Rail
Another interesting feature on this VM is Sergey’s High Boy Sight rail. Sergey explains that fellow Southern California Machinist Stanley Russell created these initial blanks for him which were used on VMs and Tippmanns.
“This vm also has my high boy sight rail that i used to use on the Tippmanns. I had them on 68 specials, I had them on SMG 68s, and the first batch of then I had Stan Russell make me the blanks. So this is a full size blank that i used to cut the bottom of it out to make it look like a bridge when i mounted it on Tippmanns.”
My initial thought was that Sergey’s sights reminded me of the tricked out variants Colin Thompson produced of his sight rails.
Sergey described some of the differences, “[Colin” made them narrow at the bottom. He made the vertical narrower and I never did because the rear sight and the back on the 68 special was wide so i didn’t want it to be narrower than that.
Many of Sergey’s parts are extremely planned out, with the end user’s ease of addition in mind.
On his sight rails he “put the radius on the bottom” so they would fit the top of a VM-68 or Tippmann 68 special.
Sergey’s fully Custom VM also featured extremely fancy 45 grips. He explains that they were “Stone, malimite (sp?) [or Corian].”
The back tube plug was also a well thought out modification. Sergey says he “made a little plate to connect the pieces together. Screws in the back indicate it’s all one piece. You pull the pin and the plate comes off with the two plugs.”
Seeing the green anodized to match aluminum trigger guard I asked whether he produced models in brass. I later realized the brass models were from Paintball Connection. Pro Teams products used aluminum single trigger guards on the Car 68 (which Sergey machined). PTP also used aluminum guards on the VMX but Sergey doesn’t remember machining for the VMX. He explains, “I never made brass [single trigger guards]. I made [Pro Team Products’] car 68 [trigger guards].”
Technical Trouble Shooting PMI 3
Another series of Sergey’s photos shows a similarly modified black PMI 3 (only one long side cocking hammer notch).
Sergey explains. “This is a black [PMI 3], and it looks like i flattened the sides, bottom tapped [the valve], and it also has the high boy sight rail and based on that hole in the top left corner i probably had the [quick release pin] going through it. I made aluminum side plates. [This PMI 3 also] has the notched hammer.”
Sergey’s pre Lapco TTS barrels
Looking at the barrel, Sergey’s green VM-68 has the muzzle break style I’ve found on a few of his other custom barrels.
He describes that style as being “[his] muzzle break.” Sergey’s early custom barrels were milled down WGP Bull barrel blanks. Lapco/Paintball Connection and other manufacturers around the US were doing the same with Bud Orr’s WGP barrel blanks.
Although these two VM68s do not feature vertical asas, Sergey made a style for Pro Team Products’ Car-68 where he contoured the bottom so they could be easily attached and an oring would seal them.
Sergey explains the idea behind contouring the top of the Car-68 asa, “That way you didn’t have to flatten the bottom of the body, [and] if I sold it to somebody who was going to install it themselves, all they had to do was drill a 1/4-20 hole to attach it and an air hole and they could slap it on there.”
On his aftermarket vertical asas for Line SI’s Promasters Levkov again recessed an oring into the base to have it mate on the body.
A similar style to Sergey’s vertical asa eventually became the standard on ICD paintguns. He mentions, “I made the vertical asa and then it became standard on the fox/cat [line].”
The SMG Selector Switch
Prior to seeing these photos I wasn’t aware of the extent that Sergey modified VM-68s this early on. I really had only seen a few of the Tippmann’s he worked on doing the selector switches and sight rails.
Sergey shows the plate he used to drill for the selector switches in the video above. He explains, “[Here] is the block that I made from my first Tippmann SMG 60. The external gas line body SMG 60 that I bought from Don [King]. I took the side of the gun and I milled it out and I put a drill bushing in it so i could drill out regular Tippmann bodies.
I would take that old side plate, I would pin it on the pins and I would drill the hole for the selector switch.”
Sergey also cut Anti Full Auto hammers for Tippmanns. The [Anti Full Auto Hammer] on a VM wouldn’t let people know you’re out of gas and prevent the farting. When a SMG-60 runs out of gas though, it will “barely fire and dump your stripper clips. On the 68 special it would chop paint and make soup.” The Anti Full Auto Hammers prevented both of these, Sergey explained.
Pictured above is a 68 Special with the break breech modifications. Likely not Sergey’s work but a good example of the mod.
Along with the anti full hammer modifications, Levkov’s other 68 Special modifications included:
Folding / Break Breech mod. He said, “I wasn’t the first to do them but I did them.”
High efficiency valve seat. He explains this modification in detail, stating, “[I modified] The rear valve seat [(rear donut)] with a smaller hole so it wouldn’t put as much air to blow the hammer back, because it didn’t need that much air. Tippmann had it all set up for massive overkill.
I don’t believe their valve changed from the old gas valve to when they went to liquid for the 68 caliber. The hammer weight didn’t change, but now we’re pumping a lot more gas out because we are running liquid. So now we need more gas to propel but we don’t need more gas going backwards and we’re putting a lot of gas out [as the liquid changes to gas].”
Sergey also built aftermarket bolts for many semi automatics of that era. Some innovations in bolt styles will be covered in videos later, but his most common bolt style is the ANS Quick Pull Bolt (Autococker) and the ANS phase II venturi bolt (Automag).
Other bolts include a model for the F1 Illustrator that implemented the BB adjustment chocker method used on stock VM-68 bolts.
Sergey details the F1 bolt, explaining, “I made blue bolts for the F1 illustrator for Pro Teams Products out of aluminum. I made them work the same way that [VM-68] factory bolt worked. Where there was an allen screw and a ball under the oring.”
Unfortunately examples of Sergey’s markers are few and far between and I’ve never come across one of his fully modified 68 specials.
Most of Sergey’s 68 specials were given back to his associate Don King and as Sergey explains all were lost, “I gave all the [modified Tippmann 68 Specials] to Don King and one of his son’s tweaker friends stole everything.”
Another photos shows a co2 tank in a vice. Sergey was likely disassembling tanks and adding siphon tubes for 68 specials. He explains, “This tank is pictured in a vice so i could take the valve off. In my bridgeport at the house.”
Sergey continued building paintguns and doing runs of parts for various manufacturers throughout the 90s. His most common parts were made for ANS and include the Jackhammer 2 regs, switches, ANS frames, body cuts and many other items. He also manufactured for Pro Teams Products, Mark Thompson of Marker Products, Boston Paintball (Twister Autococker), Jackal Machine (RDL), Ops Gear and many others.
Reconnecting with Colin Thompson
In 1996 Sergey connected with Colin Thompson again through Al Iba at I&I.
“I talked to Colin [over the years] but I didn’t do any business with Colin until I got a call in 1995/96 from Al Iba that Paintball Connection shut down and Colin needed somebody to make his stuff. So I made stainless barrels and that was the first product we did together.”
These early barrels were solid stainless.
Sergey remembers, “The first ones didn’t have any flutting, they were just stainless with the flare and tappering up to the flare with one inch in the back.”
In this picture, Sergey holds his custom Technical Trouble Shooting VM-68 while wearing a poncho over his Tiger Stripe jacket.
On top of his mask is a fan he built because he “wears glasses and they fog,” although Sergey thinks he must have been wearing his contacts that day.
Reflecting back, Sergey remembers a cocker he built for Charles “Happy” Holton, “[He] had a cocker of mine that ran for like 10 years with no modifications or tuning. I’d make them really fast but not on the bleeding edge. I’m one of those guys that always backs it off from the bleeding edges so it’s always reliable.”
Look for more articles on Sergey’s history in the near future and buy great barrels from Lapco Paintball.
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