The Peter Heeschen Experience
24th October, 2000
It's been a weird but wonderful night, full of synchronous events. I broke the high E string on my black Stratocaster. No big deal - I need a gentle reminder to change strings a little more often, and a broken E is as good a hint as any. But, I couldn't be bothered at the moment, so I switched on the tunes (KFOG, my favorite radio station in the Bay Area). There was Hendrix, blowing his way-cool, red-hot "Red House" through my loudspeakers, almost as if to say, "Man, this is what a Strat is s'pose to sound like." Awesome. Thanks for the lesson, Jimi. There's nothing like a Hendrix driven Strat heating up the bottles in a vintage Marshall stack. Nothing. Awesome.
One song wasn't enough, so I popped "Are You Experienced" into the CD spinner, grabbed a pipe, and figured I'd kick back and write a few words about it. The pipe, not the disk. No work of literary import, this, just the idle ramblings of a guy who busted an E string on his favorite Strat and wanted something to do while smoking a great pipe... Have you ever been experienced?
This pipe is a beauty; a Heeschen sandblast "P" shape, one of my dedicated Virginia smokers. The blast is deep and craggy. The pipe started out a light tan color, but after a couple dozen smokes, it's now a rich medium brown, with some lovely dark accents in the grain. The synthetic amber stem is a deep gold, with swirls of milky yellow and red, and is as comfortable as every other Heeschen I have. That is, VERY comfortable. In fact, I wish all pipe stems were cut like this. The combination of the comfortable stem, the graceful bend and the light weight of the pipe make it effortless to hold in my teeth while I puff up a Purple Haze, and write, clouds of contentment swirling, dancing about my head. Just like a Hendrix concert, only legal...
I remember the first smoke from this pipe like it was yesterday. This is the fifth Heeschen I ever bought, and the second I got directly from Peter. The previous four had been dedicated to Latakia blends from the get-go, so I figured I'd try something different with this one. It's never had anything but Virginias in it, and from bowl one, it's been one amazing smoke. I've got 8 Heeschens, now, and all but one have been like this one, seeming to break in almost instantly, almost by themselves. The "difficult" one took a few bowls, maybe 8, to come into its own. Not a bad record, in my book. (I've heard similar reports from other Heeschen smokers, so it's unlikely that I've just been lucky. The man just makes a great pipe!)
The draw is open, which I really like, as it seems to entice the best out of the tobacco, effortlessly bringing out the full flavor and aroma. There's never been even a hint of harshness, or the faintest gurgle. It's just a perfectly engineered, perfectly crafted smoking machine. Big flavor. Like a Marshall stack turned up to 11.
Now, the everything is in "the zone." It's cool, sweet and rich. I'm getting a little nicotine hit from the tobacco.
Don't think I've never met a pipe I didn't like. So far, I realize, my reviews have been very positive. When I reach for a pipe, I tend to reach for something I know will make me happy. I'm sure I'll be inspired, some day, to write about a pipe I don't really care for, one that doesn't sing to me, but that will have to wait. Maybe I'll have to listen to "Manic Depression" for inspiration for that one...
So, yeah. I like this pipe a lot. My only criticism about Peter's pipes, and it's not really a criticism, is that he doesn't make very many large ones. This matters little to me, since I tend to prefer smaller pipes for the most part, but Heeschens smoke so damn well that I'm always a little sorry that the bowl is over. I suppose that would happen no matter how large they were, though.
After over 30 years of pipe making, it's pretty evident that Heeschen has the science and the art down. If Hendrix smoked a pipe, I wonder if it would be a Heeschen. All his pipes are made from well cured Corsican briar, and sport either a saddle or half-saddle stem, in "synthetic amber," cumberland or vulcanite. He grades according to some mysterious combination of the wood's grain and the number of tiny sandpits that are left behind once the finishing is done. I've seen some AMAZING pieces of wood downgraded because of microscopic sandpits that all but disappear once the pipe's been smoked a few times, and some flawless wood that isn't spectacularly grained that carry the highest grade. As I said, it's somewhat mysterious, but I've learned to accept the master's word in this area, and not question it. He knows a lot of stuff that I don't.
These represent an excellent value in hand-made Danish pipes. The shapes are not for everyone, but if you DO like them, once you try one, you'll almost certainly buy another. And another. I hear there's a guy in Denmark with over 50 Heeschens. It seems I've got a long way to go before I am the world's foremost collector of these pipes!
Artistry A - I suppose it would be nice if he made a wider range of shapes, but I really like the shapes he does, and I have noticed him branching out a little lately. The slightly bent "P", named after his stylized letter "P" logo that inspired it, is truly a trademark shape, and several of his shapes could be seen as variations on this theme. His interpretation of some of the classic shapes is done with his own unique flair; his billiards are slightly more like a brandy glass than the classic billiard, and are very elegant, while his bulldogs and rhodesians, often with 6-sided shanks, are fantastic. His new volcano shape is based on a design I sent him, and I like his version a LOT better than mine!
Finish A/B - Sometimes, not often, a pipe escapes his scrutiny with a slightly less than a mirror-like polish on the stem. These occasional slip-ups are still better than any mass produced pipe I've ever seen, but are not up to the high standards I've come to expect from Heeschen. Fortunately, this is rare, and in the majority of cases, the fit and finish are superb. (In fact, since I called this to Peter's attention, I haven't seen one that wasn't first rate!)
Engineering A+ - In every example I've smoked, the airway is perfectly drilled, the airway is open, the flow through the stem perfectly tapered, and the exit aperture nicely flared. Excellent!
Smoking Qualities A+ - What more is there to say?
Now, both the smoke and "Are You Experienced" have come to an end, for now, and a black Fender Stratocaster patiently waits for a new set of Ernie Ball Super Slinkies. There are other things in life besides pipes, after all...
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