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Trevor James TJ SR tenor sax header
 

Trevor James TJ SR tenor saxophone
Origin: Taiwan
Guide price : £1600
Weight: 3.4kg
Date of manufacture: May 2012
Date reviewed : June 2012

Description : A mid-range horn that punches well above its weight.

TJ SR tenor saxThe mid-range saxophone market has always been a tough nut to crack. On the one side there are some excellent 'student' horns, such as the Yamaha 275 series, and on the other are some pretty serious heavyweights, such as the Yamaha 62. As if that wasn't bad enough, slap-bang in the middle is the formidable Yamaha 475.
There's also a certain amount of ambivalence from buyers towards this sector of the market - with perhaps the perception that it's neither one thing nor the other. Horns in this category are neither cheap nor the best in the range. While this was certainly true a good few years ago now, times have changed and the arrival of quality horns from Taiwan have served to muddy traditional distinctions somewhat - and if you spend wisely you can get rather more than you might have expected.

The TJ SR follows in the footsteps of the rather impressive CS RAW from the same stable, and in some ways sets itself a rather hard target - and as we'll see there are a number of similarities...some obvious, some less so.
The body is pretty much standard fare these days: brass body tube, plain drawn tone holes and ribbed construction (pillars fitted to strips of brass). It has the usual embellishments such as a detachable bell, adjustable thumb rest and a removable side F# key guard.
The build quality is good, with all the pillars and fitting neatly and securely attached - and a nice set of level tone holes. Better still, they have smooth rims. Nice to see this at this price point - you'd be surprised how many manufacturers skip this step, which often leads to problem with sticking pads and shorter pad life.

The finish is good too - but then it would be, because it doesn't have one. Yep, it's another unlacquered horn.
Players often write in and ask what the pros and cons are of unlacquered horns, and I have to say that as far as the pros go...there aren't any - at least not unless you feel the absence of lacquer makes a difference to the tone. As far as the cons go there are quite a few, mostly centred around the fact that brass is a pretty reactive metal and will tarnish quite quickly. If you're lucky this will mean the horn goes a nice shade of dull browny yellow...but in most cases it goes rather blotchy with patches of red and green.
It's interesting to note that I'm now getting emails asking me whether I'm able to put a coat of lacquer on a horn that was bought without one. I find it very hard to resist saying "Told ya so!".
Mind you, there is one advantage that springs to mind - if you ever need to have any dent or solder work done to the horn you won't have to worry about it affecting the finish, which will help maintain the horn's resale value over time.
Simply polish off the marks, rub your hands over the area to start it tarnishing and in a few weeks no-one will be able to tell there was any work done.
Fortunately the SR is also available in a lacquered finish, which is a rather more sensible option.

As per the RAW, I would have liked to have seen larger guard feet fitted. It just helps to spread the load in the event of a knock, and may mean the difference between having to deal with just a dent and having to sort out a stoved-in tone hole.
TJ SR top F sharp pillarI also noticed the relatively small size of the top F# key upper pillar base. This is another vulnerable spot - if the horn takes a tumble there's nearly always some damage around this area, but what's more likely to happen is that the horn cops a whack just as you're getting up on stage and the pillar gets knocked off-line. This will cause a leak at the top F# pad, and that's the horn out of action for the duration of the gig...and until you can get it repaired.
It's the same on the RAW - which is something I missed when I did the review.
Mind you, there's a school of thought that says it's often better that a pillar gets knocked off in a fall rather than hanging on and creasing the body tube. Swings and roundabouts really, but I tend to favour the 'belt and braces' approach.

The keywork is well-constructed. Being pretty much the same as the RAW it's bound to be, though it lacks the double-arm features of the flagship model. On the plus side though the pearls are proper Mother-of-pearl, which makes for a nice feel...and an extra nice touch is the perfectly placed and slightly domed BisBb key pearl against the slightly concave main stack pearls. This makes for a very comfortable transition from the B to the Bb.
TJ SR tenor octave keyAnother nice feature is the use of Teflon sleeves on the octave key rocker arm. This helps to both quieten the mechanism and ensure it runs smoothly - it also helps to prevent wear. When the sleeves wear out they're easily replaced...none of that nasty metal-on-metal business that so many octave mechs make do with.
The point screws are of the pseudo variety. At the time of review the action was nice and tight - but it won't stay that way forever, and there's no provision for adjustment with these screws. I'm told that TJ are still looking into using proper point screws (particularly on the RAW).
There are adjusters fitted to both main stacks, which makes tweaking the regulation much easier than having to muck about with bits of cork and sandpaper - and, of course, there are the usual adjusters for the G#, forked Bb and low C# - as well as adjustable key arms on the G# and front top F.
Topping off and powering the action is a set of blued steel springs.

As the key layout is the same as the RAW I had no problems getting my fingers around it - though I'm still finding the G# touchpiece just a mite too small for my tastes.
The setup out of the box was rather good - I didn't feel the need to make any adjustments to the key height, and nor did I have to sort out any niggling double-action issues. Even better, the pads were all nicely seated (and fitted with standard riveted domed reflectors).
As expected, the octave key mech felt nice and slick, as did the bell key table (below)- and the side Bb/C keys, which feature a no-nonsense fork and pin link.
I missed the feel of the RAW's shaped metal thumb rest though - the SR has a bog-standard plastic one. I think it might have felt better if it had been ever so slightly domed, or at least rounded off a bit more at the edge.


TJ SR tenor bell key spatulasSo the bottom line on the SR is that it appears to be a budget version of the RAW, at least in terms of the features and the layout of the keywork.
But then there are the extras.
TJ haven't skimped here. Not only do you get a hefty ProTec case (with a zip fastener though, and not shaped, though this may be on the cards), you also get a genuine Bari Hybrid mouthpiece. That's some pretty serious kit on its own. Also included is an accessory pack which contains a polishing cloth, a pull-through, cork grease - and a proper BG sax strap, complete with swivelling plastic hook. Very nice. There's even a couple of mouthpiece patches too, and a Vandoren reed...and a resealable bag to keep it all in.
I have to say I was very impressed - accessory bundles are usually a bit, well, crap really - but I spent a good few minutes oohing and aahing as I pulled goodies out of the case.
Top marks there, though I'm knocking half a point off for not including a signed photo of Stan Getz and a year's free membership to Ronnie Scott's.

Tonewise it's a very 'confident' blower, a sense of being very assured,very stable. The evenness across the range is extremely good, with just a nice bit of bloom down at the bottom end that really comes into its own when the horn is subtoned. Positively creamy. It's not without sparkle though, but it's a gentle sparkle - not so much like the fizz you'd get from Champagne, rather it's the more subtle bubbles you'd find in a glass of freshly-poured Guinness. And Guinness is a good analogy, it captures this horn's inherent laid-back smokiness. You can pep up the fizz by putting a bright mouthpiece on this horn, and it will sing for you, but you'd be missing out on its forte - it's got mainstream jazzer written all over it.
It doesn't run away with you when you push it hard, and when you back it off it does so with dignity. That's a feature worth having - too many horns these days do just fine when they're shouting the odds, but when they're asked to back off they have nothing to say.

The obvious comparison is with the RAW, and at around £1000 more there ought to be some significant differences.
Or so you'd think.
The handling is pretty much the same, what with the identical key layout - so that's a good start.
Playing the horns side-by-side it becomes apparent that there's a TJ philosophy of tone - you can hear it in both of them, that sense of balance.
The RAW is livelier, it has 'more of everything' aside from the warmth that the SR puts out down the bottom end. It's very close though - and such is the nature of pro-quality horns these day that you'll find yourself paying another grand for what doesn't really seem like that much at all on paper.
If I had to put a number on it I suppose 8-10% would be somewhere about right - and that's only just about outside the region of the difference (4-5%) you might commonly find between two apparently identical horns...same make, same model.
That makes the SR rather a lot of bang for bucks - I'm pretty sure that if I spent an hour or so fiddling with mouthpieces I could bring the response of the SR even closer to the RAW...but I'm not actually sure that would be a good idea. I feel there's a large market for horns that have more than a passing nod to the richness of yesteryear's horns without any of the associated ergonomic and tuning problems - and as such the SR enters the market in a very strong position.

Add in the case, the mouthpiece and the accessories and for the price this horn is going to be very, very hard to beat.

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