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The Pilot Custom 74(x)/8xx Family


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32 replies to this topic

#1 ParkerBeta

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Posted 03 December 2009 - 07:49

At a time when the European (and the formerly American) fountain pen manufacturers have mostly retreated upmarket, preferring to sell high-end pens mostly based on bling but with the same old EF/F/M/B/BB nib selection (with the odd OB/OBB/CI -- thank you, Aurora and Conway Stewart!), it is refreshing to see the Japanese makers Pilot and Sailor continue to experiment and innovate in the one thing that above all distinguishes a fountain pen from any other writing instrument -- the nib. (Platinum's nib offerings, alas, are undistinguished, with the notable exception of their Music nib.) Indeed, the Pilot Custom 742 and 743 (of which more below) are available with a mind-blowing selection of 15 nibs! Either the Japanese must be great fountain pen users, or Pilot continues to make these nibs even in the absence of anything that could be called a market for them. But I'm getting ahead of myself. This is meant to be an entirely subjective overview and comparative review of the five pens in the Pilot Custom 74(x) and 8xx family that I have collected over the last year or so: 74, 742, 743, 823, and 845. I got started with the 742 with SU nib, and there was no looking back -- before long, I knew I had to collect all of them.

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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]:

EF
F
SF (soft fine)
FM (fine medium)
SFM (soft fine medium)
M
SM (soft medium)
B
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.

Posted Image
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).
Posted Image

Edited by ParkerBeta, 03 December 2009 - 08:27.

S.T. Dupont Ellipsis 18kt M nib
Opus 88 Flow steel M nib
Waterman Man 100 Patrician Coral Red 18kt factory stub nib
Franklin-Christoph Model 19 with Masuyama 0.7mm steel cursive italic nib

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#2 dandelion

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Posted 03 December 2009 - 14:34

What an informative comparison! Thanks! The writing samples are real helpful - you have a very pleasant handwriting!
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#3 Mindstorm

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Posted 03 December 2009 - 17:25

Excellent review :clap1: , and very good information for me as I'm in the process of desciding which Pilot custom to get. I first had my eyes firmly pinned on the 823, but as I've read good things about the CON-70 I've started to glance at either the 742 :unsure: or the 743. Out of those two, which would you recommend as a first Custom? Also, the SU or the SFM?

Kind regards,
Karl

#4 ParkerBeta

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Posted 03 December 2009 - 18:40

Excellent review :clap1: , and very good information for me as I'm in the process of desciding which Pilot custom to get. I first had my eyes firmly pinned on the 823, but as I've read good things about the CON-70 I've started to glance at either the 742 :unsure: or the 743. Out of those two, which would you recommend as a first Custom? Also, the SU or the SFM?

Kind regards,
Karl


Choosing between the 742/743 and 823 is a tradeoff between the nib and filling system: the 742/743 give you the "cool" nibs, while the 823 gets you the "cool" filling system, though it must be added that of all converters currently on the market, the CON-70 is the best (and also has the largest capacity, though dwarfed by the gargantuan capacity of the 823). If you're starting out with the Custom series, the best value for money is in the 742, in my opinion. I don't have the SFM and don't know if it is a semi-flex like the SF nib on my Pilot Falcon. If it is, you can have a lot of fun getting line-width variation, but you'll have to practice. I've seen several Falcons put up for sale in the marketplace because the buyer expected flex like with vintage pens, and instead got only a smooth modern fine nib, though a little "springy." To go beyond "springy" to "flex," you have to hold the pen at a "flatter" angle with respect to the paper (I do this by gripping the section close the point where it meets the barrel), pressing firmly (the Falcon nib won't be damaged -- you can push down quite hard), and writing slowly. Otherwise, for the sort of line-width variation that comes from a rigid stub, the SU is quite good. However, it is a stub, not a cursive italic, so the edges of your lines won't be as crisp as with the latter. To get a good idea of what a cursive italic looks like, you can try the $6 Pilot Plumix, available at Target.
S.T. Dupont Ellipsis 18kt M nib
Opus 88 Flow steel M nib
Waterman Man 100 Patrician Coral Red 18kt factory stub nib
Franklin-Christoph Model 19 with Masuyama 0.7mm steel cursive italic nib

#5 PatientType

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Posted 03 December 2009 - 18:52

One of the best reviews I have ever read on FPN. You provided a lot of salient information and clearly identified the differences in the Pilot line. Opinion was intermixed nicely with the facts. Great job!

I have enjoyed my 823. An excellent writer which, as your sample shows, gives enough line variation to be interesting. Now I'll have keep my eye out for a Pilot 743 with a stub nib.

#6 Mindstorm

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Posted 03 December 2009 - 21:54

Choosing between the 742/743 and 823 is a tradeoff between the nib and filling system: the 742/743 give you the "cool" nibs, while the 823 gets you the "cool" filling system, though it must be added that of all converters currently on the market, the CON-70 is the best (and also has the largest capacity, though dwarfed by the gargantuan capacity of the 823). If you're starting out with the Custom series, the best value for money is in the 742, in my opinion. I don't have the SFM and don't know if it is a semi-flex like the SF nib on my Pilot Falcon.

Thank your for your advice :) I already own a Falcon so I'm familiar with it's carachter. I didn't expect it to be like a vintage flex nib, I like the soft and springy feeling of it. I suspect the SFM is similiar but a bit wider.

Is there any quality differences between the 742 and the 743, or is it only nib size?

Otherwise, for the sort of line-width variation that comes from a rigid stub, the SU is quite good. However, it is a stub, not a cursive italic, so the edges of your lines won't be as crisp as with the latter. To get a good idea of what a cursive italic looks like, you can try the $6 Pilot Plumix, available at Target.


Is the SU a broad nib or is it medium? I'm considering the SU partly because I'm just curious and partly because I'd like to get some line variation but without the papper snagging a italic nib can cause.

#7 DAYoung

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Posted 03 December 2009 - 22:02

Fascinating - thank you, ParkerBeta.

(I just swapped my Falcon for a Pelikan M200!)
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#8 Flourish

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Posted 03 December 2009 - 22:05

Fantastic comparison review! I've got these pens as well and I must admit that they are some of my favorites with my Custom 823 with XXXF Falcon Nib fast becoming my favorite pen of all time, sorry Pelikan and Nakaya. I've flexed out my 74 demonstrator and it is the best nib for microscopic roundhand styles that I've used. The 743's new #15 Fine nib is about to get a makeover to XXXF Full Flex so it doesn't feel so neglected since I always reach for the 823 first. Like you I absolutely love these pens.

And DAYoung why'd you do that? You need both pens. You're a writer for goodness sakes, and any self respecting writer needs a Falcon and an M200.

Edited by Flourish, 03 December 2009 - 22:07.


#9 DAYoung

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Posted 03 December 2009 - 22:17

The Falcon is a fascinating, beautiful pen. But for everyday writing, the Pelikans have won me over. I wanted to try a fine nib.
Damon Young
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#10 Brian

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Posted 03 December 2009 - 23:07

A really good review full of information and details about the range of 74x models. I want one or two or three or...this review makes these pens look that good.

Thanks

#11 ParkerBeta

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Posted 03 December 2009 - 23:07

Is there any quality differences between the 742 and the 743, or is it only nib size?

Is the SU a broad nib or is it medium? I'm considering the SU partly because I'm just curious and partly because I'd like to get some line variation but without the papper snagging a italic nib can cause.


There are no quality differences between the 742 and 743 at all. It's not easy to tell the two apart if they are capped, unless you look closely at the trim.

The SU is supposed to be a broad, but that's a Japanese broad, equivalent to a Western medium. It is certainly less wide than my Bexley stub (now that's a "real" broad nib!) The SU is definitely smooth, so no fear of snagging the paper with it. Go for it, would be my recommendation!
S.T. Dupont Ellipsis 18kt M nib
Opus 88 Flow steel M nib
Waterman Man 100 Patrician Coral Red 18kt factory stub nib
Franklin-Christoph Model 19 with Masuyama 0.7mm steel cursive italic nib

#12 HenryLouis

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Posted 04 December 2009 - 00:35

awesome review!
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#13 Gojira

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Posted 04 December 2009 - 02:12

I've always wanted to try the 'Sutab" nib and this is probably the first time I've seen a review on one. Definitely pushed me to include one as a future purchase. I only wish they had the stub nib on the Pilot 823...that will really be a great combo!


#14 Garageboy

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Posted 04 December 2009 - 03:15

I'm still having a hard time choosing between the 742 and 743 if I were to get the same width nib...

#15 MYU

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Posted 04 December 2009 - 13:58

Superb review! I'm especially thankful to see the full range of nibs available. I've got an 845 and find your opinion about spot-on with mine. The weight and balance of this pen is top notch. I'd also agree that the medium nib is an excellent choice. I've got a B nib and it's just a little bit wide for my taste.

It's also great to see a writing comparison of the nibs from the 74, 742, 743, 823, and 845 Customs. Thanks! :thumbup:

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#16 rokurinpapa

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Posted 04 December 2009 - 14:29

Thank you for your detailed excellent review.Regarding the naming rule, Custom98 is exceptional. In this
case, 98 means 1998.I asked a staff of Pilot Pen Station the reason. He did not know it.

As I stated in the review of Pilot 70 , black Con -70 are special version for high end pens,but the black is
not urushi.

rokurinpapa

#17 ParkerBeta

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Posted 04 December 2009 - 15:45

Thank you for your detailed excellent review.Regarding the naming rule, Custom98 is exceptional. In this
case, 98 means 1998.I asked a staff of Pilot Pen Station the reason. He did not know it.

As I stated in the review of Pilot 70 , black Con -70 are special version for high end pens,but the black is
not urushi.

rokurinpapa


Rokurinpapa, thanks for the information on the naming of the Custom 98, and for correcting my wrong impression of the black-painted CON-70. Unfortunately, I can no longer edit the original review, but I hope readers of the review will follow the thread and read your correction as well. Thanks again!
S.T. Dupont Ellipsis 18kt M nib
Opus 88 Flow steel M nib
Waterman Man 100 Patrician Coral Red 18kt factory stub nib
Franklin-Christoph Model 19 with Masuyama 0.7mm steel cursive italic nib

#18 georges zaslavsky

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Posted 04 December 2009 - 19:48

very good review of the whole top of the line pilot custom range :thumbup: :clap1: :blush:
Pens are like watches , once you start a collection, you can hardly go back. And pens like all fine luxury items do improve with time

#19 Mindstorm

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Posted 07 December 2009 - 15:52

...If you're starting out with the Custom series, the best value for money is in the 742, in my opinion...

A 742 with FA nib is on it's way :puddle: My local dealer couldn't get the SU nib, but if I like the Custom I might get a 743 with SU on eBay... or a 823... or a 845... or a... :P

#20 PatientType

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Posted 07 December 2009 - 16:52

...If you're starting out with the Custom series, the best value for money is in the 742, in my opinion...

A 742 with FA nib is on it's way :puddle: My local dealer couldn't get the SU nib, but if I like the Custom I might get a 743 with SU on eBay... or a 823... or a 845... or a... :P



I've been watching Ebay and have yet to find a 742 or 743 with stub nib posted by any of the dealers. I DID find an 823 with broad nib. Most dealers only have those in fine or medium. So, I purchased that one.

Edited by PatientType, 07 December 2009 - 16:53.







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