Sunday, March 22, 2015

Epic Pen Search and Discovery, Part 9: Franklin-Christoph Music Nib

2/24/15 Platinum Carbon ink, Pilot Petit1 pen, Van Gogh watercolors, Stillman &
Birn Alpha sketchbook
(This is part of a multi-post series about my ongoing search for the ultimate variable-line-width fountain pen. To read other posts in the series, choose “Epic Pen Search” in the label cloud at right, below.) 

The only experience I’d had with an inexpensive Chinese fountain pen was the Hero 501-1 calligraphy pen, which has a bent nib similar to the Sailor fude. I used it briefly more than a year ago and then rejected it, mainly because it did the same things the Sailor did, but not as well, was much heavier, and dried out quickly when left idle. As a result, during my Epic Search, whenever I’d heard mention of the Jinhao – another inexpensive Chinese brand – I generally dismissed it from consideration. Reviews varied widely – everything from “best-pen-I’ve-ever-used-even-better-than-my-$100-Pilot” to “piece-of-junk-threw-it-immediately-in-the-trash.” Who needs a pen with that kind of inconsistent quality?
2/13/15 Private Reserve Velvet Black ink, Pilot Petit1,
Fabriano Studio 140 lb. hot-press paper

Apparently, I do.

During a casual reading of the Fountain Pen Network’s Facebook group, I happened upon a thread that mentioned using the Jinhao X450 fountain pen body, which costs a whopping five bucks on, as the base for other nibs. I knew that people were doing this with Goulet’s nibs, but what turned my head was the Franklin-Christoph music nib (also known as the “Christoph”). That music nib, which has been getting rave reviews, could be purchased independently (for $35 from Franklin-Christoph) and put onto a cheap Jinhao body? Suddenly that five-dollar pen was sounding more interesting. I bit. It was my first step into the Frankenpen world.
Writing samples made with Franklin-Christoph music nib.

The mechanics of this particular Frankenpen combo were easy: Pull the nib and feed out of the Jinhao, align the Jinhao’s feed with the F-C music nib, and place both back into the Jinhao’s section collar. ( has an informative post about this.) To my surprise, they fit perfectly without any tweaking. And to my greater surprise, the combo writes beautifully (considering its Frankenpen origins) – smooth, wet and luscious.

The No. 6 size Christoph nib, which is essentially a 1.9mm stub nib, has two slits, making it a traditional music nib. According to Franklin-Christoph’s marketing copy, “The advantage of this nib is that the slits draw ink not only from the feed channel but from the comb as well, and spreads the ink evenly and consistently very well for a broad italicized tip.”

All I know is that compared to the Lamy 1.9 stub nib, which I tried briefly last fall, the F-C music nib is much smoother – the Lamy has sharper corners – and keeps up with the ink flow better. It was delightfully responsive when I sketched a pair of evergreens in Shoreline last month (see below), giving me interesting line variation without much effort. In my very first sketches with the Christoph, I was pleased that by using its thin edge, I could get enough control to sketch facial details in people (see the man below).

Line-width comparison of three music nibs.
You may recall from my review of Platinum’s music nib that I was surprised by how broad it is compared to the Sailor’s (my only previous experience with a music nib). The Christoph is even broader (see the sample at right comparing line strokes from all three) and acts more like a calligraphy stub nib compared to the Platinum, which has a rounder tip. I can write “normally” (whatever that is) with the Platinum, but the F-C nib requires making very large letters (and the writing would certainly be more attractive if I knew how to write in an italic script).
2/24/15 Iroshizuku Take-sumi ink, F-C music
nib, Clairefontaine notebook

In terms of line variation, the F-C nib really has only two: thick on the down stroke and thin on the horizontal stroke. I wasn’t able to get the finest of fine lines for the Arctic fox’s whiskers and fur (at left) as I was with other pens. I don’t think it would serve me as an all-purpose sketching pen, as it has no gradual change from thin to thick as the Sailor fude or zoom nibs do. It also has no extra-thin point when reversed as some other nibs do. Still, I have grown very fond of the Christoph’s broad yet easy-to-control line. I think it’s a keeper, if only because I have so much fun sketching fir trees with it.

Since this review is focused mainly on the fantastic music nib, I won’t dwell too long on the Jinhao X450 itself, which I chose in the marbly gray-brown “Magic Fog” pattern. I inked up its original nib (size M) briefly, and it is surprisingly flexy and wet. It would probably be a good writer and even a decent sketcher (though it isn’t flexy enough to consider it a variable-line-width nib in the same way that the Pilot Falcon nib is).

2/24/15 Trees sketched with F-C music nib.
But I don’t have much good to say about the rest of the pen. Although I like the size and girth, it’s too heavy for that size, especially the cap, which makes the pen feel unbalanced when posted. Even worse, however, is that the cap doesn’t post securely (a huge pet peeve of mine!). For some, the solution would be to simply use the pen unposted, which would probably improve its overall balance. But the only time I’d be using that pen is sketching on location, and if I can’t post the cap, I’ll probably lose it. (In fact, the first time I used it in the field, the cap fell off, hit the pavement and chipped.) An unpostable pen is a deal breaker for me.

The solution? I got a Nemosine Limited, another reasonably priced pen compatible with the Christoph nib. Indeed, not only does it accommodate the nib as easily as the Jinhao did – it is also lightweight, its cap posts perfectly, and it comes in purple!

Alas, it was too good to be true. The Nemosine’s feed apparently doesn’t fit exactly right with the nib, because the pen leaks profusely sometimes and goes dry at other times. It’s infuriating.

2/19/15 Iroshizuku Take-sumi ink, Canson XL 140 lb. paper
At this point, I don’t recommend either of these pen bodies (at least to pair with a Franklin-Christoph nib), and I’m beginning to regret that I didn’t simply spring for a Franklin-Christoph body initially, which would certainly support the F-C nib. But the lowest-priced F-C Model 27 Collegia is $69.50 – just a tad more than the five bucks I spent on the Jinhao or the $18 I paid for the Nemosine. There must be other pens that are compatible with No. 6 nibs. I’m going to keep looking.

Hmmm. I wonder if Dr. Frankenstein had these problems. (Next week: my Epic concludes!)

Updated 3/24/15: I tried the Christoph nib on another Jinhao X450 – exact same model, just a different color – and the cap on this one posts securely. Its just as heavy as the first, but as long as the cap posts, I can tolerate it. I guess the trick with these inexpensive pens is to try several, and they are made with such low quality control, that your chances are just as good of finding a good one as they are of finding a bad one.

(Just in case it’s not obvious, unlike many blogs that review fountain pens, my blog has no sponsors or affiliates. Every pen I mention here was purchased by me at retail price.)

Franklin-Christoph music nib on Jinhao X450 body.
Franklin-Christoph "Christoph" music nib.
Franklin-Christoph "Christoph" music nib on Nemosine Limited body.


  1. And the search for the perfect pen continues...

  2. If you are still "Frankenpening" I would have to wonder how a TWSBI 580 or 700 would write with your FC 1.9Music nib. I have a Vac700 with a 1.5mm stub\italic nib and the pen with the vent unscrewed has no problems keeping up with it. They also sell 1.5 nib for the 580 as well so I imagine that it should be able to keep up as well.

    1. Thanks for those suggestions. I'm still interested in finding a better body for the F-C music nib, which I really enjoy using, but at this point, I'm wondering if I should just spring for the F-C body! Frankenpenning is not all it's cracked up to be. ;-)

    2. This is a late reply, gullreefclub, but I finally got a TWSBI Vac700 to try with the F-C music nib. It fits perfectly, and the feed keeps up just fine. But it is one dang heavy pen -- very back-heavy when posted. I wish I could find the perfect body for that great nib. . .


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