There are many posts about the Lamy Al-Star here at FPN and here is another, this time my own review of the instrument. It’s common for reviewers to describe the Aluminum Al-Star and its sibling the plastic Safari as “good pens for the money” as though we should expect more expensive pens to out perform them in head to head competition. My experience is that the Al-Star is as good a writer as any pen and its relative inexpensiveness is from its placement in a more utilitarian, less luxury segment of the market. The steel nib (as stiff as a Sailor gold nib) is a wonderful writer:
Even Lamy’s German web site puts the Al-Star in the category of “kids’ pens” (junges Schreiben) along with the Safari and Balloon, but mechanically and functionally there really isn’t much separating it from the “fine writing” (hochwertiges Schreiben) Studios, Accents, et al. In fact, the Al-Star shares main mechanical components of nib, feed, and cartridge/converter with a number of higher echelon Lamy pens. The top of the line Dialog 3 has a complicated nib retraction mechanism, and the venerable and beloved 2000 features a piston feed, and to an extent, these features at least partially justify the higher price of those pens.
The pen itself was designed by Wolfgang Fabian for Lamy following Bauhaus principles. There is no superfluous ornamentation and they are in fact a bit too starkly industrial for some tastes. To each his own. In any case the look of the Al-Star is a result of intent and not neglect -- it’s supposed to look the way it does. I must like the look -- I have accumulated five of them over the years:
While on the subject of design and taste, I mention that I have only one Safari, a clear demonstrator Vista. I find the almost identical plastic Safari to look “cheap” while the anodized aluminum Al-Stars impress me as mechanical instruments. Go figure.
My first Al-Star was in the grey graphit (graphite) finish. A good match for my PowerBook, I thought:
I think it first came with a F nib, but that was many nibs ago. I’ve bought a large assortment of nibs over the years, and that just points out one of the advantages of the Lamy pens that use these easily swappable steel nibs. I’ve replaced all the black nibs with bright stainless, and I have an variety F, EF, 1.1mm italic, and self-ground italic nibs.
The graphit looks very much like the silverblau (silverblue) finish which mysteriously changes hue depending on light source. This is one of the most subtle pen body colors there is:
There seems to have been a movement toward more strident colors recently. My black purple version contains Noodler’s North African Violet, the only purple/violet ink I’ve found that I can use.
What motivated me to review these pens was my experience with them on a couple of recent trips. I took the bright metal aluminum and ocean blue with me. One or the other was always in pocket and the other in carry-on. Long trips with a lot of layovers can be rigorous for both the traveler and his writing instruments. I left the plastic pens at home (as pretty as some of them are) and opted for the sturdier aluminum Al-Star. Here’s a hotel room shot with the bright aluminum version as part of my traveling rig.
They came through with flying colors. And they’re a pleasure to write with. The triangulated grip forces a schoolbook tripod grip on your hand, and if you don’t have such, or are a lefty, you might not be able to come to terms with either the Al-Star or Safari.
One interesting difference between the Safari and Al-Star is that the all Al-Stars use a smoky grey translucent section. You can see the internal feed through it. The feed saturates during filling and provides an ink flow monitor which comes in handy.
While on the subject of internals, here’s a shot of the converter mechanism. Note the tiny converter “ears” and the matching receptacle on the pen side. I really appreciate that kind of attention to detail. (That gouge in the plastic is damage caused by me.)
The pen itself is very light. The section -- being a kids’ pen -- is rather narrow, but the length posted rather long. I write half the time with it unposted.
When I got home from my trips, I continued to write with my traveling Al-Stars just because I enjoyed writing with them. My own handwriting is smallish -- x-height around 2mm -- and I usually use an EF nib or a self ground italic made from an F nib. I notice the EF nibs tend to be a little Arabic/Hebrew in that they produce slightly finer lines in the up and down direction, than they do side to side. That’s from a sample of perhaps half a dozen EFs both bright stainless and black. I don’t know if others can expect the same sort of characteristic. I have found variation in line size and smoothness among the EF nibs, although my swapping and smoothing have resulted in fine lines and smooth writing.
So in the final analysis, these Lamy Al-Stars aren’t so much jewelry as they are writing instruments. Not designed to impress, but this one in ocean blue still gets a “wow” when I use it in public.