A look at the Sailor Pro Gear Slim fountain pen, with Music nib.

After my last post about the Sailor 1911, it seems timely to follow up with a look at the Pro Gear Slim. Also, a reader asked in the comments, how the music nib compared to a conventional stub and so I will cover that here.

It is getting on for a year now since I received my Pro Gear Slim. It came to me in very happy circumstances, won in a giveaway competition hosted by John Hall, of Write Here, stationery shop in Shrewsbury. The brief had been to write a short piece extolling the virtues of the pen and to include a music suggestion. I spent an enjoyable hour brainstorming some music-themed puns on the names of composers and assembling them into a letter to John. At the risk of blowing my own trumpet, I will include my successful entry as published in John’s newsletter of 22 November 2019, at the end of this post.

Sailor Pro Gear Slim, in black with gold colour fittings. 14k gold music nib.

This was my first introduction to the Pro Gear Slim, apart from seeing a few at our monthly pen club meetings, which I miss now that such gatherings are currently not possible.

The Pro Gear Slim is a small pen. However, I think that the name “Slim” is rather a misnomer and could put some people off, before even picking one up. Certainly it is a short pen, and slimmer than the Pro Gear Classic. But I find the girth very comfortable. It feels solid and of good quality, not plasticky. There are many pens which are slimmer which are not called slim. The grip is not slippery. I think most people would use the pen posted and for me, holding the pen around the base of the barrel, with the short section resting on my second finger, feels comfortable and natural so that I soon forget that I am holding it. I am not very proficient with the measuring calipers but think it is about 11mm wide at the threads where I hold the pen. It is certainly short though: at just 110mm uncapped or 143mm posted.

Like the Sailor 1911, it is a cartridge-converter pen, and was supplied with a Sailor-fit converter or else needs Sailor’s proprietary cartridges.

The real interest however, lies in the nib. Available with a range of nibs, mine has the Music nib. This is 14k gold (although there is a 21k nib option for a slightly higher price). It is a stub nib, in that the tip is wide to give broad down strokes and narrow cross strokes. I believe the name comes from being suited to writing musical notation, squiggling a quick circle to make your crotchets, quavers and minims and so on, without having to go back and ink them in, as the loop will already be filled in by the wide writing surface. This ironically is just what you want to avoid when forming letters with loops in. You need to write a bit larger than normal if writing with a music or stub nib, to avoid this.

But unlike a conventional stub nib where the tipping is cut off and ground, there is a blob of tipping material on the nib. This is flattened on the face and reverse sides of the nib, but rounded at the tip which is the writing surface. Also it still provides that special Sailor feedback.

Some music nibs, such as on the Platinum 3776, have three tines and two slits, to provide better ink coverage for the writing surface. The Sailor music nib has just the usual two tines yet works very well.

It is perhaps easier to show in a photograph than it is to describe.

Music nib. Note the stub-shaped tipping for broad down strokes.
The underside of the music nib. The tipping is flattened, front and back, but rounded at the writing surface.

Here is a quick sample of how it writes, bearing in mind I am a left handed overwriter by nature, (writing from above the line rather than from below). Thus the nib is pointing towards me as I write, rather than away from me as an under-writer would hold it. Experience shows that when holding the pen this way, whilst it feels more natural for me, the nib needs a better ink flow. This is because it is pulling less downstrokes to spread the tines and re-charge the nib. There is more pushing of upstrokes where you do not apply pressure to the nib, do not open the tines and do not increase ink supply.

Writing sample from Sailor music nib. Note the line variation in the capital A. I love doing those! But I also need to remember to go large and not fill in the loops.

Fortunately, the Sailor music nib (or at least my example) is a nice wet writer and copes with my writing style very well. And the benefit of using such a pen, for a lefty overwriter, is that it gives you that lovely attractive line width variation between down strokes and cross strokes that otherwise would require a flexible nib and skillful handling to apply variation in writing pressure to open and close the tines.

Since receiving this pen, I went on to order my first Pro Gear Classic, from Write Here, which is a bit more girthy and with a larger nib too. I chose a broad nib which from Sailor, equates to a typical western medium. It is a good pen undoubtedly and feels in size rather like holding a Montblanc 146. Yet, I find that I do not use it as much as my Pro Gear Slim. It is subjective, admittedly but the classic is just not as cute (dinky, petite and adorable) as the slim.

My winning entry:

“A Sailor fountain pen with a music nib has long been on my Chopin Liszt even though I have not had a chance to Handel one.A black resin body would be perfect for me although the maki-e editions have the Mozart on them. Also the new Faure special editions look wonderful. It is an exquisite pen, not for just any Dvorak-the-lad. I would buy one myself but am a bit Bruch at the moment and don’t want to put my hand in my Purcell. If I could Gershwin one competition, this would be the one! If not, it is Bach to the drawing board. I have not entered a giveaway before. This is my Debussy? So, if you could Delius a Sailor PG Slim, with a music nib, that would be Verdi kind of you. I trust you can find one, Haydn in a cupboard somewhere. I so look forward to receiving your Purcell in the post.  My music suggestion: Had this been a different music nib, I would have suggested Lionel Richie’s Once, Twice, Three tines a lady. However, instead in anticipation of my success I will go with Abba’s Thank you for the Music.”

I thank you.

A look at the Sailor 1911 standard fountain pen.

Recently after hearing of the imminent price rises of Sailor pens, I decided to pull the trigger on a 1911 standard, to go with my Pro Gear Slim which I love.

I have had my eye on a 1911 for some time. I have been tempted by the yellow version, with black ends and had almost bought one, a couple of times. But when the time came to chose, I was swayed by a gorgeous dark blue model with gold coloured fittings. The dark blue is one of those which has matching ends and grip section, rather than the black ends and grip which some of the other colours have. In the photographs, the dark blue looked very appealing.

The nib is 14 carat gold and I opted for a medium, thinking that this would be a good all-rounder for general use.

Pleased with myself for getting in ahead of the price hike, I looked forward to the pen’s arrival. At the unboxing, the first impression was that the dark blue is seriously dark. In artificial light it looks for all intents and purposes, like a black pen. But shining a bright light on the pen, it certainly is a lovely rich dark navy blue.

Unboxing the Sailor 1911 standard.

I was delighted. It is an exquisite pen. Not large, but not too small either. Personally I find this size to be very comfortable. The grip looks to be the same diameter as the Pro Gear Slim.

The sleek lines of the Sailor 1911. Whoever said this pen is “dark blue” was not wrong.

The Sailor size designations are a bit confusing: with the Pro Gear range you have the classic (in the middle) and then the Slim which is smaller and the King of Pen which is larger. But with the 1911 you have the standard and the large – yet the 1911 standard is the same girth as the Pro Gear Slim. The main difference is that in the Pro Gear both ends are flattened whereas on the 1911 they are rounded and bullet shaped.

Rounded ends, top and bottom.

For a modest price, (at least, before the price rise) you get a gold nibbed pen with a very smart, nice quality body. The cap unscrews in about two complete turns. When capping the pen again, it tightens nicely towards the last stage and so you have confidence that this is not a pen that will unscrew itself in your pocket or bag.

Similarly, when unscrewing the barrel, you see the tiny O-ring at the base of the metal threads which helps to stop the barrel from loosening. The pen came with a Sailor fit converter.

For some reason, this was to be one of those pens in which I struggle to settle on an ink. In less than two weeks I have already tried four: Diamine Pelham Blue, Graf von Faber-Castell Cobalt Blue, Rohrer and Klingner Salix and currently, Montblanc Toffee Brown. This happened with my Montblanc 145 Classique too and I must have gone through about eight inks before discovering Montblanc William Shakespeare Velvet Red and I have not looked back since. I am still happily working through my inks with the Sailor.

The real story with the pen though, is the nib. It pays to know what to expect with a Sailor nib. They have a reputation for being well tuned, right out of the box. However there are two issues to be aware of. First, the width will be about one grade finer than a typical western nib, so that a Sailor medium equates to a western fine, and so on. Secondly, there is that legendary Sailor “feedback”, which at first might feel like a defect. However, it is not a case of misaligned tines but rather a deliberate toothy feel which Sailor somehow gives to its nibs.

That nib though!

Looked at under a loupe it is possible to see that this medium nib appears to have a rounded blob of tipping material on the end but with the two sides towards the front end, flattened and angled inwards like the prow of a ship. The result seems to be that when the pen is held with both tines on the paper evenly, the pen is at its smoothest but if the nib is rotated, or rolled to one side or the other, the sharpened edge of the tipping scrapes the paper giving a slightly gritty feeling and sound, commonly likened to writing with a pencil. It is very different from the feel of your typical steel medium nib on say, a Lamy Safari. It is, you might say, not very forgiving.

For me, as a lefty overwriter much of the time, these Sailor nibs seem better suited to my underwriter style. Funnily enough the opposite is true of my music nib, (fitted in my Sailor Pro Gear Slim) which writes like a dream for me in overwriter mode, but is very awkward in underwriting style.

So it is important to know what to expect with a Sailor pen. Provided you like the feel of the nib, you get an excellent Japanese pen, impeccably well mannered and which writes whenever required, does not hard start, blob or burp or come undone in your jacket. It is a smart looking pen too, not ostentatious but unassuming with a quiet quality and confidence of its own. And that is probably why a Sailor is a staple of every pen enthusiast’s collection.

The End.

My Sailor Lapis Lazuli Limited Edition with 21k Zoom nib.

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I have put off doing a post about this pen because, frankly, I did not know quite what it was. I bought it on a bit of an impulse, during a live auction in January without having inspected it.  It is not a current model.

I did know that Sailor fountain pens and nibs are very well regarded. I have not owned one before, but had a brief look at a new Sailor Pro Gear at the London Pen Show in October and was very taken with the 21k gold nib.

There was brief description of the pen on the auction web site and a few photos. It was described as a limited edition, number 114 of 150, with a 21k gold nib. The pen was boxed, with original Sailor cleaning cloth, two packets of two cartridges and the Instruction Manual. It included a converter and was said to be inked, which was a worry but also rather appealing to someone who loves to clean pens.

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Having successfully bid for the pen at auction, I went to Hampstead Auctions the following day to collect it. At the same auction I had bought the lovely 1950’s Pelikan M400 tortoise and over the following days it was the Pelikan that got more of my attention.

The Sailor was in a good condition, save that the nib and feed were encrusted in dried ink and the converter almost cemented into the section. However, with a bit of soaking, the 21k gold nib cleaned up spectacularly, like new. I was also able to get the converter out and give it a good clean, as it still had remnants of blue ink inside. I was not familiar with the Sailor converter which has an unusually large opening, like the proprietary Sailor cartridges.

The cap, section and barrel are all of a mottled light and dark blue resin. The number 114/150 is stamped on the barrel. The cap band reads “Sailor Japan founded 1911.”  The barrel does screw on very securely to the section, as a result of an O ring and so there is no danger of it coming unscrewed in your pocket. The pocket clip ends in a large ball, which gives a bit of a clue in this case, as to what you find at the tip of the nib.

The nib, bearing the Sailor name and anchor emblem and “21K” has a “Z”on the side although I confess that at first I thought this might be an “N” the other way up. Clearly, the nib looked to be very broad, with a giant blob of tipping material. I assumed it to be a Japanese double broad or similar.

I filled the pen with Diamine Oxblood and gave it a go. Immediate impressions were that the nib was (a) extremely smooth and (b) extremely broad. In fact it was too broad to use for my usual smallish handwriting but well suited to writing headings in capital letters. Apart from trying it out a bit, I did not put the pen into regular use and instead, cleaned it again and returned it to its box.

I was keen to try to find out what model it was and how old it was. The Instruction Manual was generic for a range of different writing implements. It did have a number in the corner, 99-3027-000 which I guessed might perhaps indicate that it was issued in 1999.

Revisiting the pen earlier this week, I googled “How to identify a Sailor fountain pen” and was taken to a thread on Fountain Pen Network. Following the trail I was thrilled to find an entry from 22 June 2005 by “The Noble Savage” with photos of the same model, described as a Sailor Lapis Lazuli Limited Editions, bearing number 127/150! I understand that it is based on the Sailor Magellan but with a different colour and name. It is unclear when it was introduced but I read opinions that it was in the mid 1990’s or early 2000’s.

I was also interested to discover (and you probably knew this already) that the nib, with the “Z” mark,  is called a Zoom. Rather like a zoom lens gives you a range of options, this nib has multiple surfaces which give differing line widths. It has a large blob of tipping material and the main writing surface on the underside, is in a triangular shape and slightly convex, with the apex of the triangle at the tip of the nib. Thus, if you hold the pen towards the vertical as you write, there is a narrower surface touching the paper whereas if you lay the pen down low, there is a very wide surface area of tipping material in contact with the paper, giving you a very broad line.

Naturally, as soon as I read this, I could not wait to ink the pen again and try this out for myself. This time I went for the familiar Waterman Serenity Blue. The serene sailor.

Well, it certainly works. What you have is a gadget, a handy multi-purpose nib that you can use to create a range of lines from fine to double or triple broad. I found that using the reverse side of the nib gave a nice fine line for general purpose writing whilst the normal writing position gave a broad line, which can be made even more broad by lowering the back of the pen towards the paper. It is fun to try.

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FPN-ers had varying experiences with this. Some did not get on with it and preferred to exchange the nib. Others compared it to a music nib, such as is available from another Japanese pen company, Platinum, but which has two slits and gives a wide, crisp line one way or a very narrow line the other way.

I can see that it has its uses. Perhaps it is more suited to writing Japanese characters or for being held upright like a calligraphy ink brush.

Whilst they had not appeared on my radar until now, I see that Sailor Zoom nibs are still available although the Sailor Magellan is no longer made. I gather that it was sold with the option of a Titanium nib or 14k or 21k gold. Like a music nib, the Zoom nib is good for blocking in large areas of ink quickly if drawing but is rather a specialised tool and not ideally suited to normal writing unless you happen to have huge hand writing and like a double broad line.

I would be interested to hear your comments if anyone can provide more information on this model or share their experiences of the Sailor Zoom nib.

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