Stephen Howard Woodwind - Repairs, reviews, advice, tips and tales...
Haynes woodwind maintenance manuals
Notes from a small workshop - anecdotes & musings from the workbench
Haynes woodwind maintenance manuals

TJ RAW redux header



Of all the horns I've reviewed on this site (and it's over a hundred now), the TJ RAW has generated the most correspondence. In fact I get more emails about this horn than all the rest put together - and barely a week goes by without someone writing in to ask me whether or not they should get one. My answer is always the same - try one, and see what you think.
A fair number of correspondents want to know how I'm getting on with the RAW in the long term - specifically whether I've found any shortcomings or even just a few niggles, and whether I'm still as happy with it as the day I got it. I mentioned this common line of enquiry to a recent correspondent, and he suggested I write a postscript to the review - to which I said "I'll think about it"...which is repairer-speak for "Now why didn't I think of that?"

It's been about five years since I swapped my Yamaha 23 for the RAW, and I think perhaps the most telling thing is that I really haven't given it a moment's thought. Whenever you change one brand for another - be it a car, a washing machine, a power drill or even a tin of soup - there are bound to be comparisons. Assuming a like-for-like quality, you nearly always find things that your old brand did better, even if the new brand wins on balance. So your new car might handle better...but the old one had better brakes - or your new washing machine is quieter...but the old one was quicker. It's par for the course, but assuming you made the right choice you'll always be happier with the new model.
But I've had (almost) none of that. I dare say a few people will say that's because the 23 was crap - but I would say that it's because the RAW has such versatility that it's able to build on the best of what you had before...and take you that much further. In that sense it's been an effortless transition, which is really the best that you can wish for when moving on from a horn you've played for a number of decades.

Now, I said I had almost none of the brand comparison thing, because I do have a couple of niggles. The first is that it took some time to get used to the extra weight. The RAW is almost half a kilo heavier than the 23. And that's not an insignificant weight gain. Such things make a big difference, especially if you're having to stand on stage for three hours at a time. It took me some time to adjust to this, but with a combination of posture tweaks, fewer pies and a couple more sit-ups, I got used to the extra weight. If you're coming from a heavier horn I doubt you'll notice the difference - but if you're moving on from the Selmer MKVI (and it seems quite a few players are), you too might find the extra weight takes some time to get used to.
The other niggle is the thumb hook. There's absolutely nothing wrong with it - it's the same design as used on just about any other horn since the late '50s - but I guess I just got used to the simple, static thumb hook on the 23. I tried moving it this way and that, but could never quite find the sweet spot - so I swapped it out for the Kooiman Forza (which is an impressive piece of kit), which allows for a greater degree of adjustability and comfort. But it's still not quite right - and as daft as it sounds I'm beginning to think that I might replace the RAW's thumb hook with one from the 23. For most players that would be a retrograde step...but I guess it's just what you get used to.
I should also say I ditched the case immediately - not because it wasn't any good but simply because it has a zippered fastener...and I hate the damned things. The RAW now lives in a Bam Hightech case, which replaced my old Hiscox - both of which have proper, no-nonsense, replace-'em-when-they-break catches.

I also get asked about how the finish is holding up.
I'm probably the wrong person to ask, because I'm not a very 'messy' player. I doubt there's much about it that's down to technique rather than just luck, but I don't seem to come off stage with my horn looking like I've spent the last couple of hours gobbing on it - and I'm also not the kind of player who wants to faff around drying off and polishing my sax while the bar's still open and the bacon rolls are hot.
From what I've seen of other RAWs from, shall we say, 'less dry' players, they seem to vary from covered in grime to looking nicely played in. In other words exactly the same as any old Selmer that long ago dropped most of its lacquer. If it's an issue that bothers you, just go for one of the lacquered variants. It won't play or sound any different from the unlacquered models.
I've got a few bare patches where the fake patina has worn off which, I feel, just adds to the personal character of the horn.
In terms of reliability I haven't had a single issue. Nothing's gone wrong, nothing's fallen off...I haven't even needed to tweak anything yet. I replaced the crook key octave pad with one made from Sugru - but this was really by way of running up an article on the tweak rather than something that needed doing.

Playability-wise I've noticed the RAW's brought out a move to a deeper, richer tone. Now, I don't mind a bright tone - in fact I quite like it - but going for bright on a RAW seems a bit like asking for a pint of lager at a champagne reception. It's there, it's free - get in.
Something that may have hastened that move was being forced to use a stand-mounted mic at a recent gig. My AMT Roam is a single-channel radio mic, and it seems on this night there was some crossover...and nowhere for the Roam to go (hey, neat pun, eh?). Naturally, I whinged a bit - and, taking great pity on me, the soundman whipped out this huge beast of a mic (an Electrovoice RE320) and said "Why not try this, I think you'll be moderately impressed"...or words to that effect anyway. There may have been a "you ****" at the end, and a "you ********** *******" in the middle, and perhaps even a "FFS" at the beginning. We'd sack him, but good staff are soooo hard to get these days - and he's really very good indeed.
And impressed I was - but what was more impressive was just how much low-end grunt I was getting out of the RAW, even with a brightish setup (Bari Cyclone, Rico Plasticover 4).

This led me to wonder whether it might be worth revisiting Link pieces. I used to play a Link, many years ago - but as the 'modern tenor sound' became ever more brighter I switched to a succession of pokier pieces, and maybe, just maybe, it was time to 'come home'. So I got a whole bunch of new metal Links in and, with some anticipation, tried them all out. And they were all bloody awful.
Don't get me wrong - I don't mean they were unsuitable (which they were), they really were awful. I've played lots of good 'unsuitable' pieces, ranging from moderately cheap to cringingly expensive - and even though they weren't for me they at least blew very well. But I struggled to make the Links work. I'm sure they never used to be like that.

As it write this article it occurs to me that it's turned into something of a review - partly of the RAW itself, but also of my own experiences with it - and if there's one thing I like to get into my review, it's perspective. It's really why I started writing reviews, I got so fed up of reading glowing testimonials that were full of subjective statements and that rarely, if ever, took into account the fact that no matter how good the horn played for the reviewer, it didn't mean that everyone would like it.

So we need a bit of balance. And this is it.
I'm extremely flattered that people write in to ask how I'm getting on with the RAW, and for the most part I assume that they're wanting an answer based on the technical performance of the horn. No problem there, you can't argue with nuts and bolts. But some people ask for my impressions from a playing perspective, and it's here were the waters get a little muddier.
I consider myself to be a competent player. I'm sure I could be better, but I'm rather lazy. In fact I asked one of my clients (a notable player himself) for a few lessons - and the answer he gave me still echoes in my head like the voice-over in one of those classic Hollywood dream sequences ( "There's no place like home...there's no place like home"). "You don't need lessons, you know what needs to be done". He's right, of course - scales, scales, more scales, arpeggios, more scales...and yet more scales.
I remain happy to get by - and as many a client has heard, I get by pretty well.
I'd like to say I never practice - which is something I said to Pete Thomas once...who then asked me how many times a day I might find myself playtesting a horn, and for how long. Turns out I do practice.
So while I wouldn't consider myself to be a whizz-bang player I can nevertheless get on stage and pass muster (and I know when not to get on stage, which is equally as important). And every once in a while a player whose skills I admire will tip me a compliment. Which is nice.

But I have the benefit of having played an astonishing variety of horns, and this is where I feel I stand on far more solid ground. I get to see, work on and play a particular model of horn in various states - from brand new or in exceptional condition to slightly shabby and in need of a tweak - right through to completely neglected and falling to bits.
And that, I feel, is my perspective. It's not based on playing a mere handful of horns, nor just of playing perhaps one or two horns for decades - it's much more of a melting pot, with impressions formed from each of the many thousands of horns that have ended up on the workbench.
If people find that useful then that suits me - I shan't complain - but I still maintain that it's just one in the many factors that you should take into account when looking for a new horn.

You should also never forget that when it comes to how a horn plays, there's only one opinion that really counts - and it's yours.

So if I had to sum up my own impressions of playing the RAW these last few years I would say I could do it in just three words. Seamless, transparent progression.

Copyright © Stephen Howard Woodwind 2016