Fred Soll – Pinon, Copal Negro, Magical Copal, Egyptian Musk, Ginger & Ginseng, Santa Fe Spice

This article will be the first in what should be a long series of exposés on the venerable American incense company Fred Soll who creates one of the finest and most original styles of incense sticks (and in some cases cones) available, a true domestic treasure. There are about 50 different blends available most of which seem to have a base of pinon pine resin and what we’d assume is some sort of charcoal or other method to keep the stick lit, although in nearly every case the type of off smells associated with charcoal or inferior methods of keeping a stick lit are totally missing. In fact for stick incenses these could be among the nicest bases around, usually exuding a sweet and fragrant resin scent that bolsters nearly every top scent for each incense.

Fred Soll sticks are actually something of a sight to behold. They’re quite long for one thing and usually rolled in whatever ingredient the specific incense has with the herbs resins and woods often surrounding the stick in a pleasantly rough fashion. In some cases there are additional natural ingredient applications to enhance the packaging. Often these sticks are semiwet and very sticky and are often so redolent in aroma that the smell will exude just sitting a stick in a holder and letting it sit. It should be mentioned that all these sticks are designed to be burned horizontally, although I will say in most cases you’ll have no trouble with a vertical application either. In a few cases the only downside is keeping a stick lit, in some of the formulas (none in this particular article) this can be problematic at times, which probably indicates a very low amount of material used to keep the incense lit. Generally these are all very natural with a high level of craftsmanship and as such they’re fairly expensive, although this is more so the case in incenses using rarer ingredients, such as the company’s champa scents. But in nearly all cases you’re definitely getting what you pay for.

I wanted to start this series by writing about the company’s Pinon stick as it seemed to me it was the closest in style to Fred’s base stick, which seems to me to always exude a little pine resin. However the Pinon stick is much more than the base itself. Incense lovers speak frequently about resins like frankincense, myrrh, benzoin and such, but I’m always surprised how little Pine pitch comes up given what a gorgeous aroma it is (perhaps it’s so inexpensive to escape notice?) This is the perfect example of why it’s such a brilliant addition to forest resin blends and such, as not only does it exude the classic pine needle fragrance, but the pitch itself moves into both apple- and pear-like territories, enough to make your mouth water. Only pinon resin on charcoal or a heater is richer than this stick, which could be the finest pine incense anywhere and is perfect for freshening up an area. One could do worse than starting here on a journey through the Fred Soll line.

The two copal incenses, Copal Negro and Magical Copal, demonstrate what a terribly sticky resin Copal can be and in stick form this stickiness perhaps doesn’t work so well with the packaging (but then again I can’t imagine what they wouldn’t stick to). All of the sticks adhere to each other and the packaging like glue making them problematic to remove, although you’ll be very glad you did so. In both cases I’ve had to remove the entire batch of sticks from the package (fairly ruined in the process) and separate them all to get a stick and in doing so it’s easy to damage and pull resin globs off the other sticks. But at the same time there’s something very visceral and interesting about the process. I suppose this is why you rarely find copal in stick form, but it’s worth the effort, with the cool, smoky, resin in both forms a delight. In Copal Negro’s case the top notes are somewhat muted leaving the scent vaguely similar to quality benzoin, however the Magical Copal, I would assume, uses Golden Copal or perhaps even Blanco, giving the top end the lime-like notes you tend to associate with great quality resin. Copal in all its forms is one of my all time favorite incense scents so I find both sticks fantastic and the additional pinon base actually enhances them both. There’s really nothing else like these in all of incense and it’s hard to not have impressions of shamanic rituals and ancient Mayan ruins and jungles while experiencing either.

Soll’s Egyptian Musk is one of the finest musk incenses you’ll find outside of those that use the real thing, so for those concerned over ecological issues when it comes to the use of animal products, this will be among the best of the herbal blends. I’ve experienced oil blends in this vein before, slighty vanilla-like, creamy, sultry and mysterious and Soll definitely uses a very fine quality blend to go with the sweet resin base. Again, it’s very different from powerful Tibetan musks but at the same time its difference is its strength and you’re unlikely to find a better musk in perfumes, incenses or anything else. It’s a real gem of this line and highly recommended.

Ginger & Ginseng is something of an unusual blend and one little tried in incense. For one thing, I’ve personally never thought of ginseng as having much of a pleasant aroma, usually one you’ll smell in strength with herbal supplements. On the other hand Ginger can smell quite nice, but it’s often too sharp or powerful, which made me wonder what it would be like in incense. However together the two herbs tend to cancel out the problems with the ginseng tempering the ginger’s stronger qualities and the ginger overwhelming the more negative aspects of the ginseng. With both herbs powdered and rolled on a Soll resin base stick, the herbs are balanced out even further with that sweet pinon-like smell. While I’m not sure I’d call it a success necessarily, which may only indicate my ambivalence to the ingredients, it’s certainly an interesting experiment and those who like the scents should certainly investigate. Perhaps I’m even only a few sticks away from truly appreciating the scent.

The final incense in this batch, Santa Fe Spice, was apparently imagined  while “enjoying hot chocolate and cinnamon cookies,” experiencing “the aroma of Pinon and Cedar as it drifted down the mountains.” This is a spice masterpiece. So often the combinations of cinnamon and clove like spices can fall flat in an incense but here the combination of cinnamon oil, which is very powerful on top, with pinon and cedar is dead perfect. I’m not aware of the origin of the other touches (for instance if there’s chocolate in the mix it’s fairly buried), but there are some unidentifables in smaller quantities. It’s a very powerful stick overall and perhaps best burned in parts as a full stick of this will be very potent. While many Solls are best described as the stated ingredients mixed with a resin base, here the concoction is a bit more complex. But truly, this is brilliant stuff.

We’ve got a lot more of Fred’s work to talk about in the near and not so near future. I’ll be writing about his champas and jasmine incenses in my next article and I believe Ross will also be joining in on this series at some point, so there will be plenty to talk about and rest assured there are a lot of brilliant scents in this line and few if any poor ones. This is a company with a deservedly strong reputation and joins Mermade and Nu Essence as one of the stalwarts of American incense.

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35 Comments

  1. September 25, 2014 at 11:58 am

    I’ve been a frequent visitor to ORS but this is the first time I’ve been prompted to comment. Just received my first order of Fred Soll’s incense. I ordered a lot of samples (love that you can do that) and a few packs. The first two I burned are Egyptian Musk and Ceremonial Rain. First, the musk is divine! That’s the musk I remember from its heyday in the 70s. And speaking of heydays, my first reaction to Ceremonial Rain was like coming home. This is the smell I remember from my youth, walking into record stores and head shops. This is what incense USED to smell like, that quality that, while I know is missing in the post-halmaddi era, I could never quite put my finger on. Lighting this is like stepping into a time capsule. I can’t wait to burn the rest of my samples. I have a feeling a large Fred Soll’s order is in my future.

    • Josh said,

      September 25, 2014 at 3:53 pm

      Oh yea! I just discovered Fred Soll like 3 weeks ago – love his incense.. So many great varieties – he does the evergeen/fresh forest types so well.. The Cedar, pinon, Taos Pine, Rosemary/white sage, dragon’s bllod white sage, and copal – that whole family of scents is just awesome..

      Nothing else like it that I’ve found except my newest discovery – Mermade – have you heard of them? Just got their electric incense heater and that is so worth it – their forest blends heated in this thing are out of this world – and you can drop pretty much any incense into the heater and it’ll aromatize the heavenly fragrance without the smoke..

      If you like the halmaddi for sure check Fred’s champa varieties – they are the real deal!

      • September 25, 2014 at 5:27 pm

        Hey Josh, Mermade is next on my list. Enjoying all these new natural scents after mostly living in the Indian/Japanese realm for so long.

        As far as Soll’s Champas, I ordered several. Burning Patchoulie Champa right now. I detect a soft floral champa with the patchoulie hiding in the bottom, but the stick doesn’t deliver the room-filling scent bomb of the other Soll’s I’ve been burning. From across the room all I smell is the pinon. A shame because I was really looking forward to this one.

        • Josh said,

          September 25, 2014 at 9:37 pm

          Yea I’m not big on patchouli and can’t recall if I liked that one – I def dig the sandalwood champa, the frankincense champa, and the plain nag champa.. I think there’s another I like too – haven’t tried all the Soll’s by any stretch, but have tried a good 20 or so..

          There’s a few that I don’t care much for but most of them are really great…

  2. Josh said,

    September 19, 2014 at 6:07 pm

    Does anyone know if Fred Soll uses synthetic oils and perfumes?

    He sells a “Fresh Peaches” incense and to my knowledge there is no natural aromatic oil of peach – it is all synthetic..

    I’m burning his “Frankincense and Gardenia” and this one is great – smells indeed like Gardenia (but not really of that citrusy frankincense he has) – but I know that essential oil of Gardenia is expensive and rare – I wonder if this is a synthetic as well..

    • Mike said,

      September 23, 2014 at 1:49 pm

      I’ve always thought Soll’s peach was a pretty clever way of using the pine base to approximate the peach with other ingredients. As far as I know the company doesn’t use any synthetics. Gardenia oil expensive? Is it now? I always seem to remember it being the usual go to because Rose was expensive. But perhaps my memory fails me.

      • Mike said,

        September 23, 2014 at 1:49 pm

        Actually I’m probably thinking Geranium now that I think about it!

        • Josh said,

          September 25, 2014 at 3:57 pm

          Yes it might be – I was checking prices for higher grade gardenia oil and they are quite steep..

          Gardenia is maybe my favorite flower scent though – it’s just spectacular – if you haven’t ever smelled a fresh gardenia flower then def add that to your bucket list – to me they smell sort of like Jasmine on steroids, or Jasmine x Rose or some such – very sweet but whereas Jasmine is sort of a lovely but one-dimensional sweet almost vanilla scent, gardenia has this sort of floral rose twist to it.. How it strikes me anyway..

  3. Josh Matthews said,

    September 10, 2014 at 7:05 am

    Just sampled the Pinon stick – lovely – it’s a mellow but rich pine scent with some sweetness.. I also sampled his Taos Pine stick which is a richer, more pungent, and “pinier” incense than is the Pinon – if you like the Pinon definitely try the Taos Pine – the Taos Pine is less sweet but more of a fresh, vivid pine smell…

    • Mike said,

      September 10, 2014 at 2:07 pm

      Pine incenses are tremendously underrated in my opinion especially when you consider how wonderfully inexpensive pine pitch still is.

      • Josh Matthews said,

        September 10, 2014 at 5:17 pm

        Yes this is my first experience with them and I’m super impressed – the Cedar and Juniper Berry is fantastic also – I’ll have to burn more of each but that one may be the freshest and “piniest” of the three – smells like a fresh cut christmas tree in here lol..

        • Josh Matthews said,

          September 10, 2014 at 7:10 pm

          My favorite so far of these incenses, in the vein of fresh evergreen scents, is probably the Albuquerque Mountain Cedar – this is a fantastic and pungent scent – has a lot of depth too – all sorts of fuel and turpentine type smells to it along with that minty evergreen fresh smell..

        • Mike said,

          September 11, 2014 at 9:35 am

          In general I really like what Fred Soll does, I tend to find the incenses in the range I like less have to do with my preferences in scent rather than it being a problem with the manufacturing. They’re really the foremost company when it comes to “southwest US” style incenses. I do miss a lot of the scents they’ve discontinued, but I respect very much that they decided to discontinue rather than make something inferior. Their champa incenses back in the day in particular were stupendously good.

          • Josh said,

            September 11, 2014 at 12:01 pm

            Hhhmmm – they have champas now – is it a different formula or something? I got a couple sample sticks of them in my recent order – Patchouli Champa, Nag Champa with Amber and Vanilla, and Sandalwood Champa..

            I have tried the first two and I think they’re amazing – they seem at the same level of deliciousness and similar in style as Mother’s India’s nag champas..

            • Mike said,

              September 18, 2014 at 2:21 pm

              Oh that’s good news, it really does look like they’ve gotten some of their champa incenses back (don’t see Strawberry Champa though, that one was amazing). For a while they were unavailable but I think maybe the halmaddi supply might have jumped back up again. Great!

  4. italiano215 said,

    June 2, 2013 at 7:48 pm

    Been wanting an incense that smells like CdG Avignon I know they have an incense stick made with the Avignon fragrance but doubt it’s natural. Any of the Fred solls or other incense houses have an all natural stick that smells like Avignon?

    • drummagick said,

      June 4, 2013 at 10:29 pm

      Cdg Avignon smells to me to be very close to the church incense I mentioned in my post below a couple years ago. I did find some incense recently that smells very close to Avignon. It’s a church resin blend called Jerusalem. I got a small sample container from somewhere….maybe it was Azure Green? None of the Fred Solls I tried smelled like this to me.

      Yes, it was Azure Green
      http://www.azuregreen.net/Jerusalem-Granular-Incense/productinfo/IGJER/

      btw, I’m tincturing that Jerusalem resin blend hoping to be able to turn it into perfume 😉

  5. Alex said,

    January 23, 2010 at 1:57 pm

    I bought a good sized order from Fred Sol about a month ago (including Benzoin, Frankincense and Myrrh), and my favorite of the batch was, without a doubt, Magical Copal. I’m sure most people here remember my asking about incenses that resemble church blends: well, this one hit the nail on the head. It has a beautiful, sweet smelling smoke to it with a lime-like scent hiding in the top that really comes out when you get closer to the burning stick. A truly fantastic incense and resin.

    On another note, I have had no troubles at all with the stickiness. Yes, the sticks are quite gummy, but I have been able to split them apart without breaking anything.

    In addition, I have had no problems with sticks going out. There’s a bit of a method to lighting them, but it requires only a small amount of tinkering and it works well. I generally light each stick and blow it out twice before it stays lit properly (the first two times it burns like a torch). If you blow on the ember (or whatever you’d like to call the lit portion of the stick) to make it larger right away, it’ll ensure that the stick doesn’t burn out later.

    • Carrie said,

      July 5, 2011 at 4:20 pm

      I’ve been looking for an incense that reminded me of some church incense I smelled many years ago. I saw your post today about the Magical Copal and ordered some.

      I would have made a Fred Soll order today in any case. I received my first 2 packets of Soll incense today and I was hooked before I even got the packets open. Resin on a stick is no exaggeration!

      I received Frankincense and Myrrh Ancient Blend and Classic Frankincense and they are both wonderful! Today I ordered the Magical Copal and Ceremonial Rain.

      A new resin junkie is born!

      • Carrie said,

        July 9, 2011 at 1:22 pm

        Well, the Magical Copal doesn’t remind me of the church incense I’ve been looking for, but it is very nice.

        I found that by slitting the whole side of the cellophane with a very sharp pocketknife, it’s pretty easy to get out a stick and it keeps the packaging relatively intact.

        I’m just glad I had some 99% rubbing alcohol to get the goo off my fingers. 😉

        • Carrie said,

          July 13, 2011 at 7:52 pm

          Received packages of Frankincense and Sandalwood, and Pinon today.

          The Frank and Sandalwood is kind of odd smelling to me, although it seems like there’s a pretty good sandalwood used.

          The Pinon is FANTASTIC and I will probably get a few more packages of that one. This is probably my favorite out of all the Fred Solls that I have so far. It smells so fresh and clear and just perfectly of pine. A slight touch of sweetness.

          Oh, I just LOVE this incense!

    • italiano215 said,

      June 2, 2013 at 7:47 pm

      Been wanting an incense that smells like CdG Avignon I know they have an incense stick made with the Avignon fragrance but doubt it’s natural. Any of the Fred solls or other incense houses have an all natural stick that smells like Avignon?

  6. Lori said,

    July 2, 2009 at 8:38 am

    As a Fred Soll fan, I’ve been looking forward to these reviews. I hope you will enjoy this incense as much as I do.

    I like the Ginger & Ginseng. It’s unusual and refreshing, and it really does work for me as a mood lifter. Fresh Peaches was a pleasant surprise, as I tend not to believe the hype with fruity incense: I lit a stick thinking “Yeah, right” and left the room for a few minutes. When I came back – whoa, fresh peaches! Honey Amber is incredible once you manage to wrestle a stick out of the package and get it lit – it is REALLY sticky and a bit messy to handle; however, there’s something so sensual and almost decadent about all those gorgeous-smelling crystals of amber resin coating the sticks that you don’t even mind the hassle.

    My only problem with Fred Soll is that sometimes you have to keep relighting the stick. The price seems steep, but since the product is high quality and so strong that you don’t need to burn a whole stick at once, it works out to a pretty good deal.

  7. Hamid said,

    June 30, 2009 at 2:12 am

    I am a big fan of Soll’s Joyous Rose. I know you are not too keen on Rose incense sticks Mike, but I would be interested in your view on this one, also the Absolute Rose and Connoisseur Rose from Pure Incense, the latter to my taste, is one of The Geat Incenses Of The World..

    • Mike said,

      June 30, 2009 at 10:02 am

      I’ve not tried the Joyous Rose yet, but will add it to my next Soll shopping trip. I will clarify however that I do like rose incenses if I feel they’re done well, for example I enjoy the Rose incense in the Shoyeido Floral World line and although not pure, I loved the Purelands Saffron and Rose. I think I have tried just a touch of the Pure Incense Absolute Rose, although not enough to say much of now except that did indeed seem quite nice. And the Rose Masala in the stick line Mermade carries was also quite good (not to mention Katlyn’s Aphrodesia cone). I think it’s just a shame that in the general incense world, due to the scarcity of quality oils, that Rose incenses often fail. I certainly love the smell of the fresh flowers, so anything that gets close to that will get good grades on my end. And I have no doubt Soll must have gotten it right based on his track record.

    • Mike said,

      July 7, 2009 at 8:42 am

      Hamid, I did get to try the Connoisser Rose incense, I realized I did have a sample. It’s indeed as good as you said it was and I added a pack to my last order which should be on the way soon. In general I think Pure Incense’s Absolute line is pretty fantastic but they lift their game even higher in the connoissuer line which is startling in its strength and clarity. As an initial batch I got 4 from each line, from the absolutes the Agarwood, Golden Champa, Green Champa and Vrindavan Champa and from the connoisseurs the Agarwood, Blue Lotus, Hari-Leela and Rose.. I also had to add a second box of Purelands Saffron and Rose, which I’m over the moon about. So I must say at this point in my life I think I’ve tried enough quality rose incenses to move the style out of the danger zone. I’m also looking forward to the Soll version which is also on the way.

      • Janet said,

        July 7, 2009 at 1:52 pm

        Although I don’t think I am equal to describing it, I can put in a wholehearted recommendation for the Pure Incense connoisseur Parijata.
        This seems like the scent that would come from some sort of exotic white flower – pungent and sharp, not at all sweet, and sappy/resinous. Very strong and piercing aroma with a lot of longevity, but without a lot of smoke.
        I have the Nepal Musk on the way, and look forward to hearing more about other varieties.
        So far I have only tried the Fred Soll Patchouli/Frankincense, and have found it pretty addictive, as earthy and resinous fragrances often are with me. I have many samples on the way, although I have not worked up my courage to try the fruit varieties yet!
        I will agree with all those who have said they are quite reasonable in cost given how little of the stick is needed to scent a large area.

        • Mike said,

          July 7, 2009 at 1:56 pm

          Fred Soll patchoulis are to die for. While he does use a similar oil to the type of patchouli oils often disliked due to their associations with hippies and such, I think Soll uses a much higher quality oil and I find the aroma utterly addicting in every way and I’m amazed how well it works in every collaboration (and the one with Frank is excellent, although it’s also one of those that’s difficult to keep lit).

          Thanks a bunch for the extra recommendations for pure-incense, there is a whole lot there and I’ve barely been able to sample a fraction so far so every bit helps. But definitely enough to see what a fine line it is. I’ll be trying to work up something of an overview in the next couple weeks on the one I’ve tried.

          • Janet said,

            July 13, 2009 at 12:01 pm

            Have you tried the Desert Patchouli? It’s a patchouli/pinon blend, and I’m amazed at how perfectly those two elements work together. Incredible stuff.

            • Mike said,

              July 13, 2009 at 12:12 pm

              Yes, that’s a fantastic one! I’m down with all their patchoulis, but think I like that one and the champa the most.

  8. Laurie said,

    June 29, 2009 at 4:51 pm

    Ah, I’ve been looking forward to hearing about the Fred Solls! I’ve been intensely curious about them, but a little resistant to buying any since they’re rather expensive for something I’m sure not to burn all that often due to the style. Maybe I can find someone to split packages with, though.

    • Ross Urrere said,

      June 30, 2009 at 11:10 am

      I have been using the Honey Amber( review coming) for awhile now and I think it is a great deal. One thing I notice is that you really do not need to use much more then a 1/4 to a 1/3 of a stick to do up a large room. SO in that regard I find the price pretty good. Plus, I am willing to pay more for better quality, in fact I would rather do that then get stuck with something that ends up giving me a sore head 😮 )
      My general hit/impression on the Soll line is that they use the best materials they can find at a realistic price point and create a really good product. I am about to place a large order for myself later today just to try more. The “cutie cones” look interesting!
      -Ross

  9. Mike said,

    June 29, 2009 at 3:36 pm

    I adore the Strawberry Champa, I’ll have that one in the next batch, but I’ve never tried the other one and you have my attention now. I do love their Fresh Peaches though, that’s one of the few fruity incenses I’ve really warmed to. Does what it says on the package.

  10. Hamid said,

    June 29, 2009 at 3:21 pm

    Wonderful incenses, such depth amd almost muscular power. In fact as I write I am taking a wee break from the world of Shroff and burning one of Soll’s Strawberry sticks, which I like a lot.


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