Music Nibs – Not Really For Writing Music?

I am a music-lover, and used to be a student of music. All that time spent drawing crotchets and quavers, treble clefs and bar lines, has been memorable indeed. It is not until my interest in fountain pens started that I learnt about the existence of music nibs. Did the composers in the past really use nibs like that to write their music? Here is a picture of a handwritten musical manuscript:

Source: http://musicmachineacademy.com

The style is characterized by very thin strokes for stems and lines, big saturated blobs for the notes, and thick fat lines for joining notes together. You can also see line variation in the handwriting. I’ve decided to investigate whether music nibs are able to produce a similar effect.

Thanks to Parkablogs, I have managed to try out a Sailor music nib for myself. Previously, I have reviewed the Platinum music nib and liked it pretty much. I had spent quite a bit of time deciding between the Pilot, Platinum, and Sailor music nibs, and finally decided on the Platinum because of the writing feel on paper. Sailor’s music nib does not have 3 tines like the Platinum, and I had felt that it didn’t look as special, and that was why I decided to forgo that.

Sailor-platinum-music-nibs

Left: Sailor music nib with only 2 tines like a normal pen Right: Platinum music nib with 3 tines

My Platinum music nib was fitted onto a Platinum 3776 body, while Parka’s Sailor music nib was fitted onto a Sailor 1911 body.

Sailor-platinum-music-pens

The two pens look really similar, but you can tell the difference by observing the ends of the pens. The Sailor has more pointy, tapered ends, while the Platinum has rounder ends.

Sailor-platinum-music-caps

The clips on both pens also look very similar. The Sailor has a thinner clip than the Platinum, and an extra gold trim around the cap. Are they trying to knock each other off?!

Sailor-platinum-music-nib-close

If we take a close look at the nib tips, you can see that the Platinum (on the left) has a rounder tip while the Sailor nib looks a little more crisp. I’ll have to have a look at how these two nibs write on paper.

Sailor-music-pen-writing-sample

I admit that this test hasn’t been exactly very representative because of my poor selection of inks initially. But we can still spot some differences. Parka has lent me his Sailor music pen with Noodler’s Bulletproof Black loaded in the converter (which I didn’t want to flush out). I didn’t have Bullerproof Black, so I initially chose Wahl Everberry for my Platinum music pen. It was a bad choice because that ink spreads and feathers badly on the paper. I later on changed it to Aurora Blue which is a better-behaved ink, and found that it works much better! Also, Aurora Blue in my Platinum pen does give a rather representative experience compared to when I have used other inks in my Platinum pen.

Sailor-platinum-music-writing-sample

Note: Black – Sailor; blue – Platinum.

As expected, the Sailor pen gave finer strokes when you draw lines parallel to the chisel of the nib. the Platinum pen gives slightly broaker strokes in comparison.

Sailor-platinum-music-line-width

When you draw a fat line perpendicular to the chisel of the nibs, you also spot a difference in the line widths. I used my digital vernier calipers to measure the line widths produced by the two pens. The Sailor gave 1.17mm while the Platinum gave 1.12mm.

This goes to show that the Sailor nib produces a greater line variation than the Platinum, being able to draw thin fine strokes and thick, broad strokes. In this way, it is probably able to achieve the kind of variation exhibited in the old manuscript above.

However, when I looked closer at the manuscript, I find that it is rather difficult to reproduce the kinds of thick-thin variations using a chiselled nib like a stub, italic, or music nib. There are a few characteristics I observed:

1) When writing with a chiselled nib, there is a tendency to produce lines at similar angles due to the way one would hold the pen and write. In the manuscript, they isn’t really a distinct angle that I can superimpose a chiselled nib on

2) When writing with a chiselled nib, the width of the broad strokes would tend to be more consistent. Even if you casually drew a quick line across, you would either get a consistent width, or a scraggly tapered line due to the lack of contact of the full width of the nib in some parts. The manuscript’s broad tapering lines are much more fluid and tapers gradually, which doesn’t seem characteristic of lines drawn with a chiselled nib

3) In the manuscript, some of the broad strokes start with a very round edge – something that is really not very possible with a chiselled nib. Some of them start with a sharp point, then opens up into a broad stroke, and closes back into a sharp point. I could not replicate that either, unless I keep turning my pen in various directions.

4) If you compare my drawings of the quaver tails with the ones in the manuscript, you’ll notice that they are very different. Yes, I am left-handed but I turned the nib such that the angle of the nib would be the same as when written by a right-hander. I am not able to reproduce the kind of curve if I had to draw the quaver tail with a chiselled nib.

I am inclined to think that such a manuscript has been written with a flexible nib, instead of a chiselled nib like a music nib. With a flexible nib, all the angles of the strokes and the styles of the lines would make much more sense, and it would be much easier to replicate those writing!

As Brian Goulet has written, “a music nib is nothing more than an italic nib, or a stub nib”, and “very (VERY) few people actually use these pens for writing music”. Check out his comments on music nibs in this link here.

All-in-all, I still love my Platinum music pen and I’m not going to give it up so readily! If you ask me, a REAL “music nib” that can really be used in music writing would be this Brause 5-point music nib – this has been designed to allow us to draw the 5-line staves of music manuscripts for writing our notes on!

9 Responses

  1. Recoil Rob 22 January 2017 / 6:28 AM

    I think I remember reading somewhere that when using a music nib when composing music the pen is held 90° opposite of how is normal pen is held, i.e. the side of the nib faces up. This allows narrow down strokes and thick cross strokes when reaching out to a music sheet that is on a stand. Much like an Architects nib

  2. Y 27 May 2015 / 11:45 PM

    First, thanks for the review!

    Second, re: the whole music nib thing: I always understood that the actual vintage music nibs were both stubby *and* flexible, and used to write music, whereas the modern “music” nibs by Platinum and Sailor are–as you said–basically stubs, because they don’t flex. Would a flexible vintage music nib produce the variation seen in your example, do you think?

    • Maybelline T. 28 May 2015 / 9:20 AM

      Yes, good observation. It is most likely possible that they used a flex stub type of nib for this writing.

  3. Teoh Yi Chie 24 May 2015 / 6:43 PM

    I prefer the Platinum also mainly because it has more feedback of paper. I find the Sailor music nib smoother though. No problems with ink flow with both of mine.

    I don’t think the nib is for writing music though. How can there be so many musicians, enough to form a market to buy so many pens? LOL.

    • Maybelline T. 25 May 2015 / 7:21 AM

      Haha, have you tried the Franklin Christoph music nib? Been wanting to try that.

  4. miatagrrl 24 May 2015 / 2:22 AM

    Thorough review — thanks! I have both the Platinum and Sailor music nibs. While the Platinum writes and draws like a dream every time, the Sailor is less reliable and sometimes skips. I also prefer the 3776 body.

    Tina

    • Maybelline T. 24 May 2015 / 2:24 AM

      Thanks for dropping by. Yes, the Sailor tends to be drier, which it should not be, given that music nibs are expected to have better flow of ink!

I would love to hear your thoughts!