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Monday, 8 June 2009

Review: Hero 329 Fountain Pen

I thought a while ago that I might be in the market for a new fountain pen. It was something of a 'slow burner' of a thought, having rattled round my head on and off for weeks, especially as the last time I'd lifted a fountain pen in anger was at school, where five years of furious note-taking, day-in-day-out had, metaphorically, beaten any enthusiasm I'd had for fountain pens out of me.

Now that I'm getting older, I wondered if it might be possible to learn to like them again, and to see if I could enjoy using a fountain pen for pleasure; I'll be ordering the pipe and slippers later!

I'd also begun a brief dalliance with a Moleskine notebook and I'd read that some users like to use a fountain pen with theirs, so I began looking around for something I thought I might like that would work with the 'skine.

It would have to be cheap as money is tight at the moment, it should have a pleasing grip (something my childhood Parkers and Sheaffers never had), and it needed to be something I could research online as my last remaining local pen shop closed down last year.

Enter the Hero 329. I'd read about it in connection with Moleskines and was impressed both by its price, and by what other enthusiasts were saying about its performance, so I set about trying to locate one for sale in the UK. If it hadn't been for the wonderful chap who runs Andy's Pens I might still have been looking. There were a few 329s on eBay, but the majority of examples I would have to import. Andy on the other hand, had a variety of 329s available for sale on his website (in the Vintage Pens section) and was very helpful in talking me through my first purchase.

The 'beast' soon arrived in the mail - an 'old stock' but brand new 329 in black with an F nib, and it was soon put through its paces filled with Aurora Black ink; a wonderfully opaque and velvety black ink by the way.

So, what did I make of it?

The short answer is - I loved it, absolutely loved it! I must have as I went back to Andy for another three, and a couple of Hero 616s for comparison; at around £7.00 apiece it would have been rude not to! The model I'm reviewing here is the old style Hero 329 (circa 1970s) with the rounded back end and 'Star Trek' arrow symbol above the nib. Now let's consider the 329 in more detail...

Dimensions are as follows:

Length (capped): 139mm
Length (uncapped): 120mm
Length (posted): 146mm
Weight (filled): 16.4g
Barrel diameter: 11mm
Nib: Fine, though with this being a Chinese made pen it equates to somewhere between a Fine and Extra Fine western nib. Feels very smooth straight from the box and produces a very nice wet line.

The cap is brushed steel with a chromed clip, which has the word 'HERO' stamped into it. Beneath the cap is a gold-plated hooded nib with an iridium tip, very reminiscent of the old Parker 51, which the 329 emulates. The barrel unscrews to reveal an aerometric (squeeze) filler system, which to be fair holds a decent amount of ink. A very thin metal clutch ring where the two sections of the barrel meet breaks up the overall black of the barrel nicely, and provides a biting point for the cap, which is pleasantly secure when posted and a reassuringly good fit when the pen is capped.

The only thing I had to compare my first 329 with was a Parker Reflex (M nib) which, to me, was like writing with a house painter's 2" emulsion brush! There's nothing intrinsically wrong with the Parker, but as you may have guessed I'm not a great fan of Medium nibs, neither am I much enamoured of Parker Quink ink - Quink Black is grey, I'm sorry but it is, and for that I don't like it, hence my changing over to Aurora Black which is most definitely BLACK!

Compared to the Parker, my Hero 329 put down a lovely fine line and was very pleasant to write with. As with most fountain pens it did take a while to get used to the feel of the 329 and there was a tiny amount of scratchiness about the nib until I got it bedded in, after that it wrote as smooth as you like.

Since that first day, my Hero 329 has tackled a variety of papers, including Moleskine, without bleed or feather and has given me no cause for complaint or worry - it does as its told and always performs. The paper used for the test in this review is 80gsm Pukka Pad Vellum paper - nice and smooth with a slight tooth, perfect for fountain pens.

For the price (£7.00) the Hero 329 is an excellent investment for the novice fountain pen user, those on the go who can't bear to be without 'wet' ink, or just about anyone who likes fountain pens. Mine has travelled all over the place with me without leakages or other problems, though I have yet to take it anywhere by air.

At a Glance:

Model: Hero 329 (old style)
Colour Choice: Black, Red or Green, all with brushed steel cap
Available from: Andy's Pens in the UK or in the US
Price: £7.00 at Andy's Pens; $15.00 at HisNibs
Nib: Extra Fine - Fine
Filler: Aerometric (squeeze)
Ink: Bottled ink only (no cartridges) as the filler is non-removable
Overall Rating: 5 out of 5



Erin said...

Thank you for your Hero review. I have been toying with the prospect of buying one. I do have one question: What do you mean by..."scratchiness about the nib until I got it bedded in..."

How does one get a pen bedded in if it is scratchy?

Thank you,

Sam said...

Hi Erin,

What I meant about scratchiness was that, when I first inked up the pen it didn't feel as silky smooth to write with as some of my other fountain pens do. This may also have something to do with the paper I was using when I first tried it - on the Pukka Pad paper used in the review it was fine.

I always find it takes a little while for a fountain pen nib to become suited to my handwriting style, though I don't profess to know how or why - I presume it's because, as I write, the nib (of any fountain pen) wears away a little and moulds itself to my style. It's been like this with every fountain pen I've ever owned, it's like we need a little time to get to know each other!

To 'bed in' a new fountain pen I tend to get a piece of cheap paper and try writing a few lines, drawing figure eights, lines, doodles, etc. which seems to very quickly knock any scratchiness out of the nib. With the Hero 329 in the review it took about five minutes, after which I re-wrote the few lines I'd begun the test with and the pen was smooth.

I did find this method online, which uses brown craft paper, that may help:

Seems quite similar to what I do.

I'd definitely recommend taking the plunge and ordering a 329, I have a bunch of them now and they all write like much more expensive pens.

Hope that helps?

The Old Geezer said...

Great review. Makes me want one!

Sam said...

Thanks. Go on, treat yourself! ;)

ChrisCP said...

I totally disagree with the quote in your writing sample. Cats certainnly do have a function. Many, in fact, and anyone who believes otherwise doesn't know diddly about cats.

On a more pen-related note, the one thing I'm not crazy about on those 329s is that Star Trek insignia. I've never understood why they did that.

Sam said...

Me too, but I thought that quote (which is not down to me I hasten to add) might get folks commenting, and it has. ;) As you know I have two cats, both of whom definitely have functions around the house.

As far as I know, the Star Trek symbol harks back to some of the Parker models the Hero emulates - there's a Parker 61 on which has a similar symbol above the nib.

Jodi MacArthur said...

This is awesome,Sam. I think I'm going to order for a belated xmas present for myself! I'll let you know what I think! Thanks for the review.

Sam said...

Jodi MacArthur - Excellent choice, I'm sure you'll love it. Aurora Black is a great ink to use with the Hero, though if you fancy something different, please check out The Writing Desk in my sidebar links - their site has about the best online ink swatches I've ever seen.

Yes, please do let me know what you think about the Hero 329, I'd be really interested to know. :)

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