Few razors cause as much polarization as the Parkers. Some people love them, others...well, hate them. Some have claimed crazy aggressive shaves; others have said the Parker is somewhat of a wimp. I always figure first hand experience has to be worth something...so I went out and bought a Parker 98R locally to see what all the fuss was about.
Mens Direct is about 20 minutes from me so I drove down to see Max (one of the owners) to pick one up. I'm not affiliated with Mens Direct by they way; they just happen to be fairly close.
My first apprehension with the Parker was with the quality. I asked Max to bring several of his 98Rs out, which he was happy to do. I told him my concerns and he offered to inspect them with me. So...we began to unwrap them to check each one for any potential issues. So, armed with my magnifier/light, we went to work.
The handles on each one were all very good. Very heavy (the razor weighs in at 121 grams with a blade), a decent grip and pretty much as good or better than anything that I've seen anywhere near the Parker's price of $30.
The top caps however proved to be more problematic. The actual top caps of the 98R were very "uneven" in their manufacturing quality. When running our fingers along the edges of the caps (the edge that would be touching your face right above the blade), the vast majority of them were still "rough" and somewhat unfinished. After sorting through nearly a dozen 98Rs, we finally found the "smooth" ones and continued to our next inspection process.
What I was concerned about now, was how a blade actually seated itself in the 98R once you tightened it up. This proved to be the biggest problem of all...drawing more than just a few negative comments from Max himself. Blade position was very poor with the 98Rs...in one instant, the blade looked great but when you traced it down the comb/cap...there was a considerably different angle....very "uneven" if you will. On others, the blade would be fairly straight/even on one side, but when looking at the other side - it was as if you were looking at two completely different razors. One side would be showing a fair amount of blade - the other side would be showing hardly any at all. This was maddening as we continued to swap out caps, combs and handles in our attempts to actually find one that was A) well finished and B) seated a DE blade properly from every angle visible.
We both worked at this for about an hour, mixing and matching 98R plates, caps and handles...until FINALLY, we found one that was pretty much perfect and then another, which was right behind it...I mean it was very, very close. So, it took us 1 hour and a dozen brand new Parker 98Rs in order to find two that would be "shave worthy" and for me...one that I would actually buy - which I did - buying the "pick of the litter" if you will...Max taking the 2nd one for himself to try.
My concern with this whole process (as was Max's), was that there are a lot of Parkers being sold out there that simply would not pass the test that we were putting these through. Although this is hardly a "test model", I can say this - it took us a dozen brand new out of the box razors to build 2 that we would actually take home with us. Max, not particularly pleased with our findings, will be contacting Parker first thing Monday morning to get this issue reconciled.
After all the hassle in actually getting one that was pretty much perfect as a Parker is likely to get; I was anxious to see how it actually shaved.
So today, I took it for a test drive. Since I'm home, I decided to use some Nancy Boy Signature along with my custom Rudy Vey 32/55 2 Band Finest (which is a whole other story - you spend much time loading that brush with a cream like Nancy Boy and if you're not paying attention - you will quickly drain your container by a considerable amount). Loaded with a new Voskhod blade and a prepped face covered in Nancy Boy...I was ready to go.
I've spent a fair amount of time with aggressive razors (DEs, SEs, Rolls, Straights and Kamisoris) and had read many reviews where "I had better be careful" with the Parkers. Well, a Muhle R41 it is not. As matter of fact, it's not a Fatip, Gillette Old OC...or even a Mariner. What it was, was a pretty good mid-aggressive shaver that felt very good in the hand, was very forgiving while shaving and provided an outstanding shave after my normal three passes and touch up.
The 98R is a big and heavy razor - probably heavier (121 grams) than a lot of people would like - the angle needed takes a minute or two to dial in - it's not an "automatic" thing like some razors. Once found however, it's not exactly rocket science and the 98R's added weight, makes it very easy to perform a no pressure to light pressure, excellent shaving experience going WTG, XTG and ATG.
The Parker 98R - which uses the exact same head as the 65R, 71R, 91R and the 94R (Max and I took time to compare those as well) will give you a shave very much akin to my Weber/DLC Classic. It's more aggressive than my Gillette Techs, Schick Krona and EJ DE89L; it's not in the same universe as my R41, Fatip, Gillette 1920 Big Fellow Old or the Vision 2000 opened up.
The Mariner (without any question in my mind) is more aggressive - the Weber/DLC, less so. The Parker 98R fits solidly in the middle (at least on my face and in my hand). It's a very good razor...PROVIDED...you can get one that passes quality control. Once you do that, you're in great shape.
If someone wanted to stay with more of a semi-safety bar, 3-piece type of razor - the progression from mild to wild goes like this:
1: Edwin Jagger DE89 - Gillette Tech - Feather AS D1 - Schick Krona (all are variations of mild, but very, very good razors).
2: Weber DLC - a razor which I dearly love - just the right amount of aggression to provide "auto pilot" but excellent shaves.
3: Parker 98R - ever so slightly more aggressive than the Weber - very smooth - pretty much "auto pilot with one eye open"
4: Mariner - noticeably more aggressive than the Parker 98R - you pretty much need to fly this one yourself and leave the auto pilot for other shavers.
Of course all of this is moot - unless you get one that actually is finished properly and one that is able to seat a DE blade as it should. In my experience with Max at Mens Direct - it took us a dozen Parkers to find two. There are no shortage of people who sell Parkers - but knowing what I know now; I would not buy one UNLESS someone on the selling end took the time to quality control it like we did. If Parker would do the proper quality control, it wouldn't be an issue and I would recommend it as an excellent $30 razor. Since Parker apparently does not look at them nearly as closely as Max and I did...I would exercise a bit more caution. It took some time, but I got a "good" one...if I had simply ordered it; there's a 10 out of 12 chance (or more) that I would have gotten a dud.
In all fairness, most people probably don't take a magnifier and led lights to check their razors - and they probably wouldn't care. On the other hand, for someone who is just venturing into DE shaving, getting a bad one could turn out to be a very real deterrent from the wonderful DE experience.
Comparing the Vision 2000, Parker 98R and the Merkur 39C Slant
Comparing the Muhle R41 Grande, Parker 98R and the Edwin Jagger DE89L
A few more comparisons to follow...