Pilot Custom 74 Soft Fine
The Pilot Custom 74 is perhaps one of the most well known 14k next-step pens on the market. Its name comes from when it was first manufactured, in 1992, 74 years after Erich Drafahl and Ryosuke Namiki created the Namiki Manufacturing Company, which would go on to be named Pilot.
The Custom 74 looks extremely different in Pilot’s US and Japanese markets. In Japan, the pen is called the C74, and is available only in solid colors. Pilot’s official MSRP is ¥20,000 (~$168), however, it is available from most importers for around ¥8,500 (~$86). The Amazon vendor ‘Future Station,’ from where I purchased the pen, is currently selling it for $84.39. However, it is a direct Japan import, so it only ships with a cartridge, box, and papers (no converters included). Luckily, Con-70’s are not rare, so I ordered one with the pen for an added $9
The packaging the Japanese Market C74 arrives in is rather nondescript and utilitarian. There is a grey cardboard sleeve, with the Pilot logo embossed in a glossy gold finish on the top. Besides this, the box has a set of letters ‘Z-C-GN’ on the front, and some Japanese recycling notifications of the back.
Once the sleeve is open, the utilitarian focus continues. You are greeted by a black, lightweight plastic box—which I personally think looks more like a chest. It, like the sleeve, features the Pilot logo in gold on the top. Once opened, the box has the Pilot logo on a stitched fabric background, with the pen sitting in its plastic sleeve and clip tag on top of a plastic felt-ridged cover with a decorative ribbon.
Once you take out the plastic pen rest, you are left with a warranty card (in Japanese), a return policy guide and fulfillment form (if you are not satisfied with the product), and a sticker of some sort. Also included is an instruction manual with English, Japanese, and pictograms. It is very detailed.
In some similar reviews I’ve read, people often describe the box as being ‘cheap,’ and to some extent, they’re right. The box is in no way comparable to that of a Pelikan m205, or even perhaps a Conklin or Monteverde. However, the box serves its purpose excellently with no frills attached. It is protective of the pen, built well using the least expensive materials as possible, and is brilliantly functional. This seems to be a bit of a metaphor for the not only the box, but also for the entire pen itself.
This pen is the classic cigar shape. From end to end, I measured the Pen as being 14.1 cm with the cap, and 12.6 cm without the cap. By itself, the cap is 6.7 cm. Compared to my current pens, it’s just a couple millimeters longer than my TWSBI Eco, Lamy Safari, Platinum #3776 Century, and Waterman Kultur capped. With the cap off, it is longer than the Century, but shorter than everything else. However, it does stand out due to its narrowness. Its maximum circumference is 11 mm, and is 10 mm at the grip (about the same as the barrel of a Safari). Most of my other pens hover around 12 to 14 mm, and those two to four millimeters do make the pen seem thin.
Although it is not uncomfortable for me (my hands are about average size, erring towards slightly large), it definitely feels awkward compared to some of my other pens. For someone with big hands, it may be uncomfortable for long periods as time). It gets a little bit tiresome for me after 40 minutes of writing. (This week, I had final exams, and challenged myself to use each pen for the essay portion of the test.) However, this pen, by the end of the test, did make my hands cramp up.
The pen is made out of black resin (aka plastic) with gold-colored accents. It is very light, weighing 12 g without a converter or ink inside. Although it is light, and plastic-y, the build quality is excellent. It is sturdy and has so far received no cracks even after a small number of drops onto hardwood flooring. It also looks nice; it has a very classic, almost Montblanc-esque feel to it.
The clip is a triangle with a sphere on the end. It is connected to the cap by a simple gold ring separating the finial. It is stiff, but serves its purpose well. To keep things symmetrical, the pen also has a similar gold ring by the end of the barrel. At the end of the cap, there are two gold bands—one wider, raised band with the text ‘ ☆ Custom 74 ☆ Pilot Made in Japan’. Next to it, is another thin gold band like on the finial and barrel.
The cap screws on tightly in about two rotations. The threading is firm and there is no movement. In my short ownership, the pen has not once become loose without me unscrewing it. The cap is firmly attached to the barrel, and there is little to no movement. It does take a little force to unscrew if it has been screwed tightly. It friction posts posts securely. The pen is also well balanced, both with the cap on and off.
The pen, although it seems to be cheaply made, is very well made. It feels good in the hand, and is not cumbersome or obstructionist. It also looks good. It has an understated, functionalist beauty to it that some may not like. It is not gaudy or attention-calling, it just looks classic and feels sturdy.
Like the body of the pen, the grip is simple. It is a small section, only a centimeter in diameter and 1.6 mm long. There is no ledge between the threads and the grip, and the threads themselves are not sharp, so they can be used as a grip if need be. It is a normal, circular grip, and the pen feels nice in the hand.
Now, we get to the #5 nib, the golden portion of this instrument (pun not strictly intended). It is a 14 karat (58.5%) gold Soft Fine nib. (Roughly a JoWo—TWSBI, Goulet, Monteverde, etc.—EF size). It writes gorgeously. I inked it with my go-to Noodler’s black, and as soon as it touched my Rhodia paper, I was astonished. The nib is very smooth, with just the right amount of feedback (as I got to cheaper and cheaper paper the feedback got more and more intense). It feels incredible in the hand. Not only that, but it is gorgeous. It features some really nice scrollwork besides the pilot name, model and size number. It really gives the nib some visual character.
However, this is no normal fine nib, it is a soft fine, and it feels amazing. With it, you can get line variation going from a western EF to a western M or maybe even a B. Every once in a while, it will get to a BB, but it normally railroads before then. And although this is not a flex nib (and please, please do not use it that way—you will kill the poor tines), it does make it possible to add some panache to your writing quite easily. The feed keeps up with the nib no matter how fast, providing a nice, steady, wet flow of ink. It is really a joy to write with.
For $86, this pen is truly incredible. It has a 14k nib with great variation and wonderful characteristics. It is built well and it feels sturdy; the resin is wonderful. It is compatible with all Pilot converters—especially the incredible Con-70, and is all around an incredible pen. I really recommend it.
Final Score: 265/300 — 88%. Would recommend.