When I first saw a spoiler video of this pencil, I was convinced I wasn't going to like it. And while I still don't really care for the idea behind the theme, I really like the pencil itself, its color, roundness, and core. This edition is named for Guy Clark, a country music singer / songwriter from the 70s that had a debut album called Old No. 1 which Blackwing claims is regarded as one of the most influential records ever made. Ok... Maybe among musicians who are fans of the sub-genre of the sub-genre of country music that Clark plays, but At Folsom Prison this is not. Dylan, Muir, DiMaggio, Steinbeck...Guy Clark? For what it's worth, I did know who Guy Clark was coming into this, but I would venture a guess that a lot of people don't know him. As someone who thought this iconic pencil series was supposed to feature icons, well, this feels like a swing-and-miss in that department. I mean, you may not have known the name of the photographer (Dorothea Lange) behind Vol. 344, but you surely had seen the picture. I'm more of a fan of the themes when they don't reference a person, but rather a place or an idea. In fact, why reference anything at all? Make a cool pencil in a different colorway, throw a random number on it, and be done.
I like the looks of this pencil, particularly the paint job. They call it Grey Washcoat, and it's thin, but feels complete, like it covers the whole pencil evenly. It's kind of neat how you can see the grain through the lacquer, but it doesn't feel like "just a thin and crappy" paint job. It's solid. The color is nice and subdued, which I like versus the BLUE blue of the Lake Tahoe release last time. I like muted colors. Silver goes perfectly with it, so the silver ferrule and imprint were a foregone conclusion in my eyes. And, in a first for the Blackwing series, a round pencil. I like round pencils, but rarely use them. This one feels really great in the hand, a lot of it due to the roundness and matte finish. Like most Blackwings, it will feel more balanced once you get about 1/4 of the way through the pencil. I find Blackwings feel best between 1/4 gone and "Steinbeck Stage".
Of course, this is incense cedar. It smells great and has beautiful grain that you can see through the lacquer. The cores are all centered, of course...I've never had a Blackwing that wasn't. They've put the "Balanced" core in this one. For those uninitiated, that's the one that's in the Pearl. In my testing, however, I found that they aren't exactly the same. Very-very-very similar, but I find the original Pearl core to be a bit smudgy and a little bit crumbly. It's not darker than the MMX but feels softer. Well, that's not the case with this one. I dunno if it's just batch variation or a reformulation, but it feels more like it should, being the core that is supposed to sit between the MMX and the 602. I should also add that the Pearl I tested the № 1 against was an early version, possibly first batch, with the horse logo. They are now redesigned with gold lettering and a different logo, so the Balanced core in that updated version of the Pearl could be the same.
We've got a dusty, faded blue "denim" eraser this time around. It's darker than the blue eraser of the 56 from last year. It's also one of the new non-dust erasers that Palomino have been moving to. It seems to be nicer than the non-dust erasers that first launched a year ago with the fall 2016 Vol. 344 edition. The pieces gum up better after being rubbed away. And if you're a subscriber, you get an extra sleeve of these erasers, like they did with the 211s when they came out.
Speaking of subscriber extras, in the box was a sticker and a patch of a neckless guitar logo with the words "Stuff That Works" on it. That's one of Guy Clark's signature tunes, though not from the album that № 1 references.
That brings me to the use of "№ 1" for this edition. No offense to Guy Clark (or to speak ill of the dead; he passed in 2016) but using that number seems like a waste on him. The number ONE is a big deal, and there's no take backs. I would like to see this number used on something a little more important. I mean, this one would be perfect for the 100 year anniversary of Cal-Cedar. I like what Mr. Gamber says, that he's thinking more of this as a fall pencil than anything else, and looking at the theme through that lens, it's wonderful.
Separating the theme and the man behind it from the pencil, I will say this is a lovely pencil with a lot of positives. I love the colors and looks, the round barrel, the core is a nice one to revisit. You know what you're getting into when it comes to Blackwings, price-wise. Yeah, they're expensive. And when the limited editions are good, they're worth every penny.
Available from Blackwing, $24.95.