Metal Detecting Articles
Review of the Fisher 1266-X (classic review)
njminerals.org is mainly about [what else?] mineral collecting,
but Treasure Hunting is somewhat related, so here goes...
The Fisher 1266-X is still one of the best-known detector models among relic hunters, even though Fisher stopped making it more than ten years ago. The more experienced coinshooters-- at least the ones who've been around a while-- know this model, as well.
Fisher Labs discontinued the 1266 sometime around 2001. They replaced it with the 1270, which some users like better and some don't. The 1270 is still being made at the moment, but the company discontinued the great 1236-X2, the 1225-X, and the 1212-X. Later we'll talk a bit more about the 1270, but for now let's dive into the classic review.
For having been introduced in 1991 as best I can tell, this is not a bulky or heavy machine. In fact, some of the popular detectors made today weigh more than the 1266.
Manufacturers face a buying public that wants two features that tend to be mutually exclusive. On the one hand, buyers want heavy construction, but on the other hand, they want low weight. The 1266 seems to be "just right"; it's lightweight, but it's not cheesy. Those who still swing metal-boxed units made in 1985 might disagree, but to me the 1266 seems pretty well made.
I was expecting a C-battery monstrosity here, but nope. I was glad to see that it takes AA batteries.
The batteries are underneath the armrest, which is also where Tesoro put them for the Tejon. This allows the control box to be lightweight and the machine to balance well.
Features: Pre-set ground balance; Dual discrimination; Push-button battery test; 8-inch round concentric web coil; Operating frequency 4.8 KHz.
How's It Work?
You probably already know this is not a visual target ID model. In detecting jargon, analog-knob machines are known as "beep-dig" units. There is no digital readout, no visual information, not even multiple audio pitches.
The important thing to realize is that a one-pitch audio metal detector has subtle nuances that allow an experienced user to gain a surprising amount of information about a buried target. The human brain is the most remarkable computer of all, even if it is a bit slow compared to the chip-powered ones. Within a single-pitch audio tone, you can have clipping, fade-in / fade-out, asymmetry, and so forth. This is analog data; thus, "beep-dig" is actually a bit of a misnomer, because that implies 1 versus 0, "dig" versus "no dig". In reality, you have to do some thinking. Analog is all about shades of gray. There's no bell tone here; you get a spectrum, from good to iffy and beyond.
The Fisher 1266 offers even a little more complexity to the single audio tone. In fact, it can be a little off-putting to a newcomer. When you pass the coil over a high-target area, the detector comes alive: buzz, click, pop, beep, whine, and seemingly every combination of these one can imagine. There is a lot of information in there. This model was available on the new market for some ten years; it can take that long to master the nuances of its audio.
The 1266 reminds me of the Tesoro Tejon quite a bit, all the way down to the 3-position trigger switch. Yes, even the positions are the same. (It seems possible that the engineers at Tesoro took note of what was really good in the past, and they learned from it. It's also possible that both makers simply found the 3-position switch to be the natural choice. I don't know which it is, but I do know that "classics" are classics for a reason.)
If you are good with a Tejon, you shouldn't take long to become reasonably good with a 1266-X. The converse holds true, as well. Of course, there's that paradox: you can go out in the yard and start finding stuff in 10 minutes with an analog machine, yet it can quite literally take years to master. Of course, you can become reasonably proficient within just a few months of use.
Dual discrimination is a feature that's hard to do without, once you're tried it. Both the Tejon and the 1266 have it. I can't think of any other machines offhand that have this feature, actually. Using dual discrimination, you can "notch" out a target or identify a specific one. Nickels are a favorite example. Set Disc #1 to where it just gives a nice, solid signal on a nickel, then set Disc #2 to where it just breaks up on a nickel, and you've got your nickel finder.
In The Iron
While other units (e.g., the Tejon) give a more silent search in nail-infested spots, the 1266 is quite chatty. Even when these targets don't give solid signals, they still sound off on the machine. Working the 1266 in such a spot can be a little distracting until you train yourself not to bother with those clipped tones and fragmented beeps. As a beginner, you may find yoursef digging much more junk at first, but this will teach you what types of object correspond to what sounds. With the Disc knob set at 3 to 4, many nails will still give solid signals, and you will certainly dig larger bits of foil. Nails that have had time to rust thoroughly are going to sound better.
Just as on the Tejon or any other analog-type machine, when you run your Disc settings too high, it will cost you some depth. On the 1266-X, I decided to run Disc #1 as low as 3. Yes, I managed to dig up a lot of square nails this way, but you never know when one of those signals is going to be something good that you would have overlooked (small gold, thin silver, an old button). The 1266-X, like the Tejon, is very sensitive to tiny targets. I found an extremely tiny hand-made tack with the 1266, so small that I'd never seen another one like it. Before trying the 1266, I used to think only the Tejon had such an ability.
Smaller or deeper targets tend to give a buzzing or whiny sound on the 1266, as opposed to the shallower coins that have a harder-edged audio tone. This is one more dimension to that seemingly no-frills, one-pitch audio.
When a target is very large and shallow, on the other hand, it gives a tone that sounds like it's going to burn through your headphones. It's hard to describe, but you'll know it after a short while.
Like other detectors I have tried, the 1266X sometimes cannot pinpoint nails accurately. Even after checking in all-metal mode, the nails often end up being shallow and in the side of a hole that's dug far too deep in search of the target. That is not really a drawback to the 1266 per se, because I have yet to use a machine that doesn't do this at least occasionally with nails. However, the 1266 does seem to find more old nails than the other machines I've tried. "It likes deep nails" is a common sentiment among those who've used the machine. Of course, some of those "deep nail" signals that your friend passes up with his $1,500 detector are going to turn out to be coins. How many... well, you'll have to dig them to know for sure. The fact remains that an experienced user with a 1266 can come along and find good targets that others miss... even today.
Just as with the other analog detectors, when you hit on a "round" signal, you'll know it's worth digging. When it comes to shallower coins (less than 6"), it's actually pretty easy to be selective with a dual discrimination unit such as a 1266. Once you get the knob settings down, which really isn't that hard, you can cherry-pick shallower coins with the best of them. The only advantage your friend with his $1,500 detector will have is less "think" time required before deciding to dig a signal or not. However, an experienced 1266 user can narrow this gap quite a bit.
Once I learned to turn Disc #1 above 4 (and closer to 5) to get rid of most nail signals, my first good signal on Day Two of the test proved to be an early flat button. It was in the front yard, in a place littered with bits of aluminum flashing and modern junk. Who knew? I was happy just to dig various bits of junk, learning their sound. The Fisher went ahead and sniffed out probably the only good relic in that little area. Coincidence? Hmmm... it just gave such a smooth, round signal.
The button says "BEST STRONG" in Old English style letters. If I had to guess, I'd say it probably dates from 1790-1820.
Having put in more time on the 1266 since then, I have found it to be a very capable, very likeable machine. I have dug a lot more of those deep "fly-buzz" signals; some were older relics, and some were old nails: as expected. Lately I have been hunting a site where a guy with a tone-ID machine cleaned out all the older coins to about 6 or 7 inches depth. The place has yet to yield an older coin to me (update: found a couple deep Indian head pennies), but I am quite sure one more of these deep signals will turn out to be something good he missed. That's because I know what they sounded like on his machine... they didn't. His newer machine couldn't detect them, period.
Here we have a machine made ten-plus years ago, yet its depth can still keep up with many of the newer models. In the hands of a pro, the 1266-X continues to find good targets that others miss. On 75% sensitivity and with stock coils, the Tejon and the 1266-X seem to air test about equal on a silver dime; the 1266 that was tested did seem to pick up silver quarters just a little farther away than the Tejon that was tested, at least in air. The Tejon would be expected to have the edge on nickels, bullets, and small brass or pewter objects, thanks to the higher frequency that gives better sensitivity toward mid-conductive objects. Furthermore, the Tejon seems to edge out the 1266 on coins when both units are cranked to the maximum sensitivity. Then again, who can predict what happens in a particular set of soil conditions?
Actually, the 1266 I tested did not have any noticeable air test difference between 80% and 100% sensitivity. However, it did chatter more. On the other hand, below 80% it definitely lost depth, but it also wasn't as chatty when the coil was moved over iron-infested spots.
The 1266 seems to have a slightly wider discrimination gap between signal break-up and signal disappearance. In other words, when you turn the knob to reject small iron, you can still hear the pops and clicks until you turn it considerably higher. This can be either good or bad, depending on your hunting style.
It is important to realize that success with a machine depends largely on operator skill and perserverance. Any of the upper-level models from any of the big-name manufacturers ought to be roughly on par with one another. It has been proven many times, at least to my own satisfaction, that one detector might go really deep in one set of conditions, while another might be superior in some other set of conditions. This is at least the rationale for why you ended up with like 5 detectors in your garage. The wife quietly doesn't buy that reason, but you don't hassle her too much about her purses or shoes.
Whatever Fisher did when designing the guts of the 1266, they did it right. If you ask around, a common sentiment is that the 1266 is still one of the best detectors ever made. The fact that something from the early to mid-Nineties can still stand with today's top-dollar machines-- or at least not too far behind them-- is remarkable. Of course, this point is not lost on the buyers of used detectors; 1266's in really nice condition with accessories bring as much as $425 on the 'bay, with typical (working) units in good condition selling for perhaps $300. (Be patient and you can get one for $250). The problem is, not many people want to part with their 1266. Like the White's Eagle Spectrum and a couple other classic machines from 10+ years ago, the 1266 is still in demand many years after it's been discontinued. (Maybe that should be a hint that the company should start making them again... though unfortunately they've moved in a primarily "digital" direction.)
Can You Still Buy the 1266 Today?
Not unless you can find someone who will sell you a used one, and many detectorists don't want to part with theirs. 1266's do sometimes appear for sale on Ebay. (If you shop for yours through that link, it really helps me keep this site going. I can't guarantee there's always one available on there at any given time.)
The Fisher 1270 and Other Alternatives
When I first wrote this article, the current replacement for the 1266 was the Fisher 1270. You can still buy the 1270 brand-new, but unfortunately Fisher is no longer showing them in their lineup as of September 2013. A lot of 1270 owners do not want to part with these machines, either.
The biggest technical difference is that the 1270 runs at a higher frequency, making it better for mid-conductive targets like gold and lead. That said, it reportedly does just fine when searching for coins. The other thing I'm told about the 1270 is that it doesn't have that light, perfectly-balanced feeling in your hand. Not really an issue if you're accustomed to swinging a metal-boxed detector from 1985.
If you're considering a Fisher 1270, you can still get one brand-new through this link (price: currently about $599 plus shipping). It helps me keep njminerals.org on-line when you shop through any of these links, for just about any of your stuff.
If you're interested in classic Fisher detectors, I don't think you'll regret buying a 1270 at all (get one new while you still can). Like I said, I don't know of many 1270 owners who want to part with their machines! However, since even the 1270 is not going to be available brand-new for much longer as dealer stocks run out, Tesoro Electronics is now the undisputed king of the hill when it comes to analog machines.
Tesoro is still making a whole lineup of great units, and Tesoro users tend to stay with the brand for life. That should tell you something right there. Check out my review of the excellent Tesoro Tejon, or pick yours up through sponsored links at the bottom of this page and you can really help me out.
Thanks for reading!
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