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August Gold RAW preview update March Vintage crook update May The latest, and perhaps the greatest, pro model saxophone from the house of Trevor James If you were in the market for a pro-level tenor a few years back and had drawn up a shortlist of brands to try, the name 'Trevor James' probably wouldn't have been on it.
To be sure, the TJ brand has been a solid performer down the years - they've made a very respectable name for themselves with their student range and many's the player who has started out on one of their instruments, such as 'The Horn' and the TJ Revolution.
But it's been rather more of a struggle for TJ to break into the pro market. Their Signature Custom range was introduced a few years ago in order to raise the bar, but despite being a decent enough horn it never seemed to really make it into the limelight.
Probably because being merely 'decent enough' isn't quite enough - there's some hot competition around, and while such a sax might have cut the mustard a few decades ago, it takes rather more to stand out from the crowd these days.
The boffins at TJ were aware of this, and for the last couple of custom writing pads australia time have been working on a new model - the Signature Custom Raw. What makes this horn rather different from its predecessors and a great many other horns on the market is the way in which it's been developed.
Rather than come up with a design and put it into production, the SC Raw has been through a number of prototype stages - with each version being thrown out into the marketplace for review, criticism and feedback. I should know - they threw one at me. To be honest it's not all that unusual for manufacturers to do this - review samples are often sent out for appraisal, but in most cases all the manufacturer really wants to know is whether it works or not.
In other words it's a thinly-veiled rubber-stamping operation. Trevor James' approach differed in that they acted upon the comments fed back to them - from techs, players and dealers - in an effort to improve the product. The first model I saw impressed me very much, but I found a number of flaws.
I passed on my comments, half expecting a polite 'thank you' and never hearing from the company again.
How wrong I was. I did hear from them again, and what I heard sent a tingle down my spine. And so what we have here is the finished product - and the question now is 'Is it good enough to stand out from the crowd?
The pillars and fittings are neatly made too and well-fitted with no signs of sloppy solderwork, and include all the modern features such as a removable side F key guard, adjustable thumb hook and a triple-point bell stay. The pillars are fitted to ribs - also known a 'ribbed construction' - and those that are standalone feature generously-sized bases, which will help prevent them being dislodged in the event of a knock.
I would have liked to have seen slightly larger guard mount feet though, as these are quite vulnerable and often prone to being knocked off. I would also have liked to have seen a slightly beefier sling ring.
It's strong enough as it is, but a little extra meat here never goes amiss and adds to a feeling of solidity.
No complaints with the thumb rest though - it's big and wide, and the logo carved into it helps to give a bit of grip when the going gets hot and sweaty. The body finish is, well, it's not really a finish at all, which seems to be all the rage these days. As the horn's name suggests, it's bare-brass finish - it's simply dipped in a cleaner to remove the manufacturing grime and then given a coat of wax polish.
At the time I reviewed this horn I had three similarly-finished tenors to hand, all from different companies. Some manufacturers appear to be better at it than others - the SC Raw looks quite good, I think - but if you take a few steps back they all look like brown saxes.
I guess it's a finish you either like or you don't, but TJ have sweetened the pill a little with some rather nice engraving on the bell, as well as the model name engraved into the crook.
Because there's no lacquer on the horn the finish will change over time with use - but because of the oxidisation from the dip and the wax polish it's unlikely to go green, as many plain bare-brass horns do.
But if you feel that even this pre-tarnished finished is too much, there's always the XS version I've reviewed the alto here - which is exactly the same horn but one that's been hand finished to bring the horn back to completely bare brass.
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