Hard use fountain pens, until the Alpha Bamboo (hereafter Bamboo for simplicity), are like down escalators and “cable news”—obvious contradictions. The thin, precise tip of the nib and the resin body found on most fountain pens resulted in fountain pens coming in two levels of durability—fragile and, below that, TWSBI. There were some exceptions—the gawdawful Boker tactical fountain pen and the Karas Kustoms Ink. The Ink was a strange pen for sure, but it was pretty tough. The weakness there, in my opinion, was the less than great writing experience. The bulk of the pen made it feel like you were writing with an aluminum bratwurst and the nib...well...let’s just skip discussion of that nib.
The Bamboo, unlike many contenders to the “tough fountain pen” throne, is both resilient and writes beautifully. Though not side-of-the-road-writing-tickets-in-the-middle-of-winter hostile conditions, I recently used the Bamboo in a major trial. The stress of the trial process makes pens something of a binary thing—they either work and become invisible or they are a frustration. Because of its similar clip to my Prometheus Alpha (which is a go-to trial pen for me—thoughtlessly perfect), I grabbed the Bamboo. The first day it did wonderfully, so I kept using it. As I go back now and review notes for post-trial purposes (insert sad trombone sound effect), I find that they are clean, clear, and display zero fatigue over time. I took well over 100 pages of handwritten notes (closer to 150, actually) and yet they are almost transcript perfect in large part because the tool I used was functionally invisible. Time and again I just wrote without thought for the tool doing the writing and that, in the end, is the very highest compliment you can give a tool.
Jason’s effort here results in a pen that is easily among my favorite on the planet. I liked Jason’s art deco, Flash Gordon ray gun style, but I know not everyone did. The style morph to an organic look and feel, makes the Bamboo significantly more appeal and yet still Prometheus in its appearance. The pen is thin and balanced in the hand and that, coupled with a brilliant nib, makes it write like a dream. This is a truly great writing tool. There is no question you should buy this pen. It is awesome.The question is—does this pen warrant that black and white seal that I reserve for perfect items? I write the intros before I work out the score, so I genuinely don’t know, but as a hunch, I think it might.
Here is the product page on Kickstarter. The Kickstarter for this pen just started and is already funded, so pledge with confidence (also Jason is a KS pro, with lots of good experience). There are four models, aluminum, brass, copper, and titanium (in that order of expense from cheapest to most expensive). I am smitten with the electroplated aluminum on anything Jason does, so I’d opt for that one. The KS price for the aluminum model is $115. This appears to be the first of any kind.
And here is the review sample:
Twitter Review Summary: Tough enough to EDC, good enough to use for days.
As was mentioned above, there is no question who designed this pen. That distinctive style is a very good thing. Not only because I happen to like Jason’s style, but also because there are all sorts of elements that are just objectively good. Jason’s pocket clips, for instance, are just very, very good. They are simple, washer-style clips (hear that flashlight makers—washer-style). They have gentle bend to them. And they work like a charm. Incorporating one into my Surefire Titan Plus made that light go from good to great. I also like the rounded edges on the cap and the end, coupled with the ultra shiny electroplating. It makes Jason’s stuff look like it was built of the liquid metal that composed T-1000. The cool thing about the look and feel of the Bamboo is that while it still harkens back to the Alpha, it is different with a more organic look and a better feel in hand.
Fit and Finish: 2
Jason’s machining over the years has gotten better, which is a great thing because it started out at “superb.” Now we are in “flawless” territory. Honestly, I can’t find a single flaw on the Bamboo. Its just perfect.
The Prometheus clip is just amazing, as I said before, but here, the pen is a bit classier than the Alpha. Instead of the hex bolt finial, there is a tastefully done finial with the Prometheus logo. Not a big deal, but a sign that Jason is constantly tweaking things to make them better, even the little things. The pen is just the right size for me, comfortably between a pocket pen like the Kaweco Sport and a big honkin’ fountain pen (have you seen the Sailor King of Pen?).
The bright finish, great machining, and bamboo pattern on the pen just look great. Time and again when I use the pen in public people comment. Invariably it goes something like this:
THEM: “Can I see that?”
THEM: “Wow, this is fancy (with an extra bit of emphasis on “fancy”)”
[They unscrew the cap after a failed tug or two]
THEM: “Whoa, its a fountain pen...that is fancy...”
This is a unique looking pen and all the better for how it is different.
This is the first fountain pen that I have not had to worry about at all. With my Vanishing Point (which, appropriately enough seems to have vanished from my life...) I was constantly worried that the mechanism would get gummed up. It didn’t but it was always a worry. With my TWSBIs I am always waiting for them to self-destruct the like mission briefings from Inspector Gadget (which are, of course, an homage to the original Mission: Impossible TV, the remake on ABC in the 90s was okay and the less said about any movie with Tom Cruise the better). With the traditional acrylic bodied pens, I always have this vision in my head of sitting down or getting bumped and the thing turning to a pile of ink-covered plastic shards. Alas none of those fears exist here. This is a contradiction—a tough fountain pen. I will try to use it while riding a down escalator on the way to a seafood restaurant serving jumbo shrimp that’s located in an industrial park. The oxymoron stars have aligned.
Writing Performance/Refill: 2
While I prefer stub nibs now (they make anyone’s handwriting look twice as nice), this is an excellent nib (a good Boch nib, yep I was surprised too) with just the right amount of feedback. I imagine that for a lot of people, this pen will be there very first fountain pen (both because they follow Jason’s stuff and because it is a fountain pen easily capable of EDC) and so it will be the first time they have had the true pleasure of writing with a nib instead of piece of sharpened lead or a ball bearing. In a way I am envious of those people, not only because writing with a fountain pen is a true sensory pleasure, but because this nib is better than average. Its not as good as a gold nib (where for art thou Vanishing Point?), but there is no question that what you get here is very good.
One note—this takes a Pelikan Edelstein refill, which is ginormous compared to the fountain pen refills I am used to. It also happens to be a bit of a loose fit (which, apparently is by design). That said, I am going to get a converter for the pen as bottled ink is just better. Its both cheaper and available in better colors. Its not a ding, really, just a note.
Balance/In-hand Feel: 2
If there is anything that caught me by surprise about the Bamboo, it is this. By thinning out the grip section (see more below) and balancing the pen just right, the Bamboo feels so good in the hand that after a few pages of notes it disappears from your mind—you aren’t using the Bamboo, your just writing. This is among my favorite pens I have used based on in-hand feel, ever. You will be very surprised, especially if you opt for the electroplated aluminum (which you should), at just how balanced and airy this pen is. In many ways it accomplishes the same quickness in hand and lightness that a good fixed blade, like a tapered tang drop point hunter, possesses. The Bamboo is impressive all-around, but this, in my mind, is what makes the pen really great.
Just like with flashlights and their magic length to diameter ratio, pens too have some ineffable ratio between the thickness of the grip section and the length and weight of the pen. On a pen this size, my hands and my head simply do not process fat grips. I want something lean and quick and here that is just want to get. The threads for the cap are up out of the way and the grip has a smooth and nice looking flare to it. Just excellent.
Its worth mentioning again—the Bamboo’s impressive aesthetics are both exactly what Prometheus would do AND a clever twist on the visual theme that has come to define Jason’s work. The barrel also happens to be balanced just right and tough.
After enough destroyed shirts I have come to change my position entirely on the utility of caps. I like them better than nock-based designs (not Nock-based designs, I happen to like them a great deal). Here the cap, like the rest of the pen, is tough, good looking, and solidly made. The threading is machined nicely and 100% squeak free.
Overall Score: 20 out of 20; PERFECT
The Alpha Bamboo is one hell of a pen, unique in my stash of writers--tough and refined. This might be the best EDC out there (the MaxMadCo eyes me suspiciously as I write this. This is a delightfully perfect pen. It is a great writer. It is a tough little son of a bitch. And it is a wonderful treat for the eyes and the hands. If you are an EDC kind of guy (and if you are not how you found this site is beyond me), this could and should be your first fountain pen. For what you get the price is very modest and the end product looks and feels like something that should cost twice as much. Over time I have come to rely on Jason’s quality and his designs. The original Alpha (which is my favorite non-fountain pen—it takes the Mont Blanc Fineliner refill) is still one of the classics in my collection. I have no doubt that the Bamboo will join it. And the patina the Bamboo acquires over time will give it a wabi sabi look that jives with the Eastern influence of the design. Lovely. Few people have tapped into the quality EDC aesthetic better than Jason at Prometheus. I’d love to see what he would do with a folder. Jason, folder? Please?
The good thing about the Bamboo is that it is not terribly expensive for a fountain pen. At around $115 it is at an odd price point—well about the starter fountain pens like the Lamy Safari and the Kaweco Sport—but below the price of the enthusiast stuff like the high end Pelikans, Sailors, Franklin Christophes and Edisons. The closest competitor is the Vanishing Point and in that dog fight I have no idea who I’d pick. The VP has a better nib but is more complex (more possibilities for failure). The Bamboo feels MUCH better in hand, and this is coming from a person that likes the VP’s grip with its weird clip placement. In the end, I think most people that read this site will prefer the Bamboo. Personally, both are great and having both (yes, I am buying a replacement for my vanished Vanishing Point) is the EDC pen equivalent of having a Huayra and a La Ferrari in your garage. This is a highwater mark in EDC pens and the first “tough” fountain pen I can recommend.