I’m going to jump a little out of order here: my best friend helped me buy a Pilot Custom 742 with an FA nib from Itoya Ginza in January 2016, which I only received in July when we were finally in the same country again. I originally wanted the one in burgundy, but then found out Pilot only has interesting nibs in their black cigars. So I ended up with a great nib in a very classic design, which is all good, but why do that when you can have this?
I had this delivered from Kingdom Note’s magical online second-hand store to a Japanese friend in October, and got to it just after Christmas. So this is a pen that’s taken a year to put together. And it’s beautiful: when I saw it in person, it looked better than any of Kingdom Note’s photos, and they take really good photos.
Because each pen is turned from a different cut of wood, the grain differs from pen to pen. Pilot have treated the body and cap with a waterproof resin, so it does not warp from washing or sweaty hands, yet it is still possible to feel the wooden texture. Some sort of technological magic at work here… Even better, the pen feels slightly lighter than the resin of the 742, but in no way delicate. This is quite possibly my favourite Pilot, and it takes second position in my favourites list only because the Grand Place is such a gorgeous pen!
The real wonder of the pen is the FA nib. Very plain on the front, it has a distinctive shape due to the shoulder cutouts and is Pilot’s only nib that is shaped this way. The cutouts help the nib to flex more, and the plain front is (according to Pilot) for structural strength, since scrollwork causes additional stress in the nib during flex. Among modern soft and flexible nibs, it’s the one that comes closest to vintage flex for me. (Disclaimer: I have not tried the new Aurora offering or the Wahl-Eversharp Decoband, which are supposed to be great flexers too.)
This pen is the same size as the 742 but lacks the trim ring at the bottom of the barrel. The cap band says CUSTOM ART CRAFT instead of Kaede, but Kaede just means “maple”. There are other wood pens in the 845 size as well — priced accordingly as you’d expect. A cartridge/converter pen, it takes Pilot’s largest converter (the CON-70), though it is pictured with the smaller CON-50 here.
But many people have commented on the FA nib and its tendency to railroad. In Pilot’s defence the pen was designed to be brush-like for kanji writing, which involves short strokes with variation. The stock feed won’t keep up with Western-style calligraphy, which is a massive waste, but there is a fix for this:
Start by taking the pen apart. In the picture above, from left to right and top to bottom, are the cap, FA nib, breather tube, feed, O-ring, section, CON-50, CON-70, and the barrel. Obviously, only one converter can be used at once, but I had a spare, so I took this picture showing both. The key to this modification is really the feed and the breather tube: Pilot make their feeds for the Custom series in two parts, unlike any other feed I own. The feed for the FA was taken from the 742; the original M nib this pen came with was shaped slightly differently to accommodate a differently-shaped nib. The O-ring was taken from the feed on the Kaede, since the 742 does not need one. The interior of the two sections are different, and the screw threads are also at a different pitch, so it was not just a matter of swapping the section assemblies.
Step 2: a dissembly video for removing the breather tube.
As suggested by @junkyardsam: a dissembly video for modifying ink flow! The FA nib that is available on Pilot's Custom pens is not intended for Western calligraphy and the feed only supplies ink for short flexed strokes as in East-Asian characters or kana. By dissembling the feed and cutting into the channels, one can get enough ink for full-flex writing. I've turned the parts so that the channels one must deepen are facing the camera at the end of the video. (My pen is a Custom Kaede/Maple onto which I've swapped the FA nib from my 742.) #fountainpens #penandink #mod #flexible #fa #pilot #custom #kaede #742 #inkyfingers #diamine #ancientcopper #maple
Now take the two parts of the breather tube and dry them. Deepen the ink channels using very careful cuts with a penknife or other cutting tool. Err on the side of extreme caution: you can always take more off, but you can’t undo mistakes that go too far! And since Pilot do not sell nibs or feeds separately, you’ll have to buy a whole new pen.
Now wash off the dust and reassmble the pen. The flow will be much wetter, and I have noticed I need to use almost zero pressure before I can get a line as fine as it used to be — an advertised line width of 0.35mm! But the increased flow means the pen writes more smoothly, and I no longer have any railroading problems with sensible use. It still breaks when I try to go above 2mm flex, but that kind of swell is best left to vintage flex and dip pens…