TJ Signature Custom
(SC) Raw tenor
you were in the market for a pro-level tenor and had drawn up a shortlist
of brands to try, the name 'Trevor James' probably wouldn't be on it.
The boffins at TJ were aware of this, and for the last couple of years
have been working on a new model - the Signature Custom Raw.
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.
The body is nicely built, with level and smooth tone holes, and features
a detachable bell section. The model featured here is the big-bell variant
(159mm - 6 1/4") and there's a standard bell model available for
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.
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.
keywork is nicely made, and features an interesting approach to the popular
double-arms on the key cups.
The rest of the keywork is pretty much standard fare, and I'm pleased
to see that TJ have been sensible and stuck to a simple fork and pin linkage
on the side Bb/C keys and a well-placed teardrop touchpiece for the front
top F key. A nice touch is the slightly domed pearl on the Bis Bb key,
which makes for a comfortable and swift transition between the B and the
One feature that's worthy of comment, if only because you probably won't notice it, is the quality of the regulation buffers fitted to the main stack keys. Most manufactures fit a piece of cork and leave it at that - but it makes sense to use a material that doesn't compress as much as cork and yet remains quiet and smooth in action. TJ have done exactly that. It's a small point, granted, but it makes quite a difference - and I was pleased too to see that regulation adjusters are fitted to both stacks.
the time of writing this review the RAW was fitted with pseudo
point screws. I had my usual moan about them, but noted that TJ intended
to switch to proper point screws once a few design tweaks were in place.
Well, that time (as of March 2013) has come - and here it is - a proper
point screw fitted to the RAW.
And if you've already bought one of these horns you're going to be delighted
to know that these screws will retro-fit onto your RAW. I think it's fair
to say that it'll be a little bit more involved than simply taking the
old screw out and popping the new one in, but it won't be too difficult.
I'll be upgrading my own RAW once I can get my hands on a set of these
screws - so I'll do an article about the upgrade and go through the procedure
In the hands the horn feels solid and well-balanced. It's not a particularly
light horn, but it's also not that heavy. What gives it the feeling of
solidity is the action - those double arms on the lower stack really seem
to make a difference. These, coupled with good-quality pads and blued
steel springs, give the action a very stable and responsive feel. Very
At present the horn comes in a large, semi-soft box case. It's big, it's tough, and it's a bit on the heavy side. No real complaints there, but TJ say they're working on a shaped case - so I'll keep you posted as and when I hear of anything.
So far then, what we have is a well-built modern horn with a few nice
features. On paper I could probably name at least half a dozen other horns
that could compete on features and price - and what TJ needs is for this
horn to be different from all the others. Special, even.
began this review by focussing on TJ's reputation as a manufacturer of
decent, solidly-built student horns - and mentioned one of the models...the
Revolution. I think they missed a trick with the SC Raw - they should
have named it the Revelation.
It's actually quite hard to describe the tone. Most horns have a 'central character', be it warmth, darkness or brightness - but this horn's centre seems to be whatever you want it to be. It has all these typical tonal characteristics, but they're balanced in such a way that a mere shift in your embouchure can bring one out in favour of the other. So I could tell you it's a dark horn, or a bright horn, or a warm horn - and it could be any one of those, or all of them. Your choice.
You know that taste sensation you get when you eat certain foods like,
say, Parmesan cheese? Well, there's a word for it. It's called umami,
and it's sort of the 'sixth sense' of flavours. Unlike sweet, sour or
salty it's much harder to define, but the literal translation is something
along the lines of 'tasty' and 'morish'. It's that pleasant combination
of taste sensations that makes you smack your lips in anticipation and
usually ends up with you eating far more than you planned.
The evenness is impressive too, there isn't that feeling that the horn
is divided up - you don't get a dramatic change over the octave break,
it doesn't get shrill at the top and the low notes don't boom excessively.
It still has a wide tonal spread - it's not an introverted horn, but it's
also not over-focussed either.
Long-term readers of this site will know of my love for my trusty old
Yamaha YTS23 tenor - a humble horn with a price-tag to match, and yet
for me it's one of the most 'alive' horns I've ever had the pleasure to
play. Some people have been quite surprised by my preference, incredulous
even - but some have been curious enough to try one out, and have been
more than a little surprised by the results. It's still a tough act to
beat, even today - and while I've played a great many horns that I've
liked, I've not yet been moved enough by them to consider changing (excluding
a few £5000+ horns that were divine but crushingly expensive)...until
The TJ boffins were looking for a horn that would break them into the pro market. They've found it, and in so doing have rewritten the shortlist. It's not just a good horn, it's a great horn - and for the price you'd have to be utterly, utterly insane not to try one before buying anything else.
*After much deliberation, play-testing and not a little soul-searching I've taken the plunge and got myself a TJ RAW tenor.