The Pilot Custom 74(x)/8xx lineup. From top to bottom: 74, 742, 743, 823, 845.
Let's begin with the model numbers. Thanks to Rokurinpapa's review of the Custom 748 (I never even knew it existed before his review), we know that the first two digits make up the number of years since the founding of Pilot in 1918. Thus the Custom 74x series were all launched in 1992, for example. [As an aside, the Custom 98 clearly does not conform to this naming rule, but the M90 does.] The third digit refers to the launch price, as a multiple of JPY 10000. Thus the Custom 742 was launched priced at JPY 20000, for example. Since the launch price of the Custom 74 was JPY 10000, it really should have been the Custom 741, but the 1 was suppressed.
The Custom 74 would appear to be Pilot's answer to the Sailor 1911m and Sapporo lines. It is priced about the same and has a 14kt nib (no exotic options here, though, and in fact the Sailors have more options, including Music and Zoom nibs). It is the only one of the line sold with a CON-50 piston-type converter, and is the smallest and lightest of the lot. It also has the smallest nib in terms of size, the #5. That said, it is a perfectly fine pen in its own right, very well executed, but lacking something to make it stand out from its rivals in this class of pen. The demonstrator version provides that something, but I'm a black-with-gold-trim traditionalist. Weight: 17.4g. Length: 143mm (capped); 153.5mm (posted). Diameter : 14.7mm. In keeping with my philosophy that the line width should be proportional to the size of the pen, I have this pen with an F nib. It is a tad toothier than the very smooth F nib on my M90, but Pilot appears to have excellent quality control -- every Pilot nib marked, say, F, regardless of the pen it is mounted on, has the same line width.
Next, we come to the Custom 742, the pen that started it all for me. This pen, and its sibling the Custom 743 have the astonishing array of 15 nib choices, with the main difference being that the Custom 742 gets the #10 nib and the Custom 743 gets the larger (actually, largest-sized nib made by Pilot) #15 nib (and has a couple of extra rings on the barrel to mark this distinction and justify the extra JPY 10000 asked for it). The pens are offered in black and in red, and for some mysterious reason, the red models have only 6 or so nib choices -- only the black ones get all 15! Anyway, here are the nibs available for the Custom 742 and 743 (courtesy the description at pengallery.com) [all 14kt single-tone]:
SF (soft fine)
FM (fine medium)
SFM (soft fine medium)
SM (soft medium)
BB (double broad)
PO (for very fine writing)
FA (falcon nib, very flexible nib)
WA (soft medium nib, turn upward)
SU (Stub nib)
C (Coarse nib)
MS (Music nib)
How and why these kinds of nibs came to be produced and sold in Japan is a fascinating story, which you can find explained in Ron's illuminating essay. I had the great good luck to land a Custom 742 with an SU nib, my first-ever stub, and I was fascinated by it. Like other Japanese nibs, this stub also writes a little finer than a western stub, for example the one on my recently-acquired Bexley Submariner Grande.
Later, when I wanted to acquire its sibling the Custom 743, none but the FA nib would do. I am delighted by the flex I get with it -- the sole modern nib that has flex matching that of vintage nibs, and definitely much more flexible than the semiflex nib on the Pilot Falcon (an excellent, but entirely different pen in a totally different price class too). However, the feed does not keep up with the flow required unless one writes very slowly (see the writing sample below). Both the Custom 742 and 743 are bigger and heavier than the Custom 74, and are really quite substantial pens. They probably represent the sweet spot of the lineup, especially since you can get a Custom 742 with the #10 FA nib new for $200. Compare this with the minimum of $300 you would have to pay for an Omas Emotica with its semiflex Titanium nib, for example, and the Pilot represents quite a bargain. However, the 742 and 743 are not distributed in the US, probably because of legal problems as their cigar shape is reminiscent of a certain design by a well-known European manufacturer. Pilot Custom 742 specs: Length: 146mm (capped); 155mm (posted); Diameter: 15.7mm; Weight: 25g. The Custom 743 is 149mm when capped and weighs 26g. These pens come with CON-70 button-fill converters, with large capacity -- another interesting twist on the old converter.
The nibs (clockwise from top): #15 M (823), #15 18kt M (845), #15 FA (743), #10 SU (742), #5 F (74).
Next, we come to the Custom 823. The Custom 8xx pens are bigger and heavier than the Custom 74x ones, but use the same #15 nib size as the Custom 743. They have only the standard nib choices: nothing exotic here. However, the Custom 823 is the only one in the entire Custom lineup that does not fill via converter: it's bottle-fill only, using a plunger system (see PDF filling instructions on the Namiki website). Since the barrel is quite large, the ink capacity is immense. Further, by screwing shut the plunger knob, you can seal off the ink flow entirely, making it safe to take on a flight. This filling system is the chief novelty of the 823, and Pilot distributes only the amber-bodied model in the US. I sought a black body to match the rest of the Custom lineup, and it happens to be translucent, not opaque, but not as easy to see through as the amber one. The most interesting model, given the filling system, would be the clear demonstrator model, whose availability, especially in the US, seems very limited. Given that the 823 uses the #15 nibs, one wonders why Pilot does not offer the exotic choices available with the 743 for the 823 as well. Indeed, Siv, who sold me the 743 with FA nib (and owns, or owned, the clear 823) suggested that mounting the FA nib on the 823 body should allow one to loosen the plunger knob enough to increase ink flow to allow the FA nib to be used at normal writing speed, but I have been too chicken to do this experiment. Anyway, the 14kt M nib on my custom 823 is a perfectly good writer and I have no complaints about it at all. Length: 149mm (capped); 162mm (posted); Diameter: 15.7mm; Weight: 29.5g
Finally, we come to the flagship of the line, the Custom 845. In contrast to the other pens in the line, this is a flat-top design, which I prefer to the torpedo/cigar shape. Further, the #15 nib is a two-tone job, in contrast to the single-tone nibs on the Custom 743 and 823, and it is 18kt, not 14kt. Like on the 823, there are no exotic options offered. However, there is something special about this pen that is not readily apparent unless you are told: the pen body, unlike the plastic (er, "resin") of the rest of the lineup, is actually ebonite, but you won't feel it because it is coated with Urushi. It uses the same CON-70 converter as the 742 and 743, but this converter is special in that it is also coated with Urushi (see J-san's review). This pen is meant to be used, to be written with for several hours a day, and the only "bling" to it is the Urushi (hence not "bling" at all, since it is so understated). So how does it write? Magnificently! Indeed, the balance in my hand is simply perfect -- better than with any other Pilot Custom, or indeed any other pen I own save three others (if you must know, they are the similarly-sized flat-top Parker Duofold Centennial, the Bexley Submariner Grande, and, strangely enough, the Bexley Simplicity). Needless to say, the nib is absolutely flawless, superbly smooth, and a beauty to look at too. If somebody forced me (at gunpoint, no doubt) to use only one pen the rest of my life, I would choose this one. That's how good it is! This pen has a slightly wider girth than the 823, with a diameter of 15.9mm, but it is a little shorter because of the flat-top design, at 147mm capped. The weight is also slightly lower than the 823, at 28g. I got this pen with an M nib, like the 823, and it is just right: I think a B nib would make it less suited for day-to-day writing.
Warning: the dimension information of all these pens was collected from a variety of sources, mostly seller's pages on the internet. Having neither callipers nor balance, I could not measure the weight or diameter of these pens. The capped length is the most reliable measurement, as I found full agreement among all the web sites, but the other dimensions have differences from one website to another.
Finally, a writing sample which I believe shows the variety of nibs in the Pilot lineup and the tight quality control that ensures that any nib labeled, say, M, writes the same width. Apologies for the shadow that showed up on the right side of the page. I included a sample from a Falcon with an SF nib just to show that under light pressure (no flexing of the nib), it writes the same width as the F nib on the Custom 74 (and indeed, the same width as the F nib on the M90 which was used to write the header).
Edited by ParkerBeta, 03 December 2009 - 08:27.