I’ve been trying to find out what is the best saxophone. I tested a Trevor James Signature Custom Raw and I was really impressed.
I caught up with Trevor James’ saxophone designer David Farley to find out more about their story.
In Sax School we’ve heard great things about the Signature Custom Raw saxophone from Trevor James, from pro players we’ve talked to like Andy Snitzer, Steve Cole and Jeff Kashiwa. When I tested it I loved its big, fat vintage sound, alongside its reliable, modern mechanism. David filled me in on the background to this great saxophone.
The Trevor James Story
The company started 40 years ago when Trevor James met a Taiwanese flute maker. Trevor set up a workshop in the UK and they soon started exploring saxophones. “The saxophone market was new and exciting and we thought we had something to offer,”says David.
After initial success with their student and classic instruments, the company began developing step-up models. They began by talking to players, and to technicians. “They have the pool of knowledge that we needed” says David. “It’s taken 20 years to get to this stage. It’s a tribute to everybody who has contributed to this project.”
The Custom Raw Approach
This saxophone has a big, fat round sound. It’s set up so well too – it played perfectly right out of the box.
I asked David how they had achieved this blend of a vintage sound with a reliable, modern mechanism. “We looked at what makes the sound work….It’s to do with everything we’ve been doing ‘under the bonnet’ of the saxophone for years,” says David.
By working together, we can produce something that Sax would have been really happy to know exists today
This included many hours working with Trevor James artist Mornington Lockett on developing the scale, and nine years devoted to finding the perfect brass alloy for the instrument.
But you won’t see any fancy engraving on this saxophone, as David explains. “It’s called Raw because we’re not trying to make the instrument appeal from an ‘eye candy’ point of view…. The message that we’re trying to put across… is that by working together, we can produce something that Sax would have been really happy to know exists today.”
A Player’s Perspective
As well as the sound of the saxophone, Trevor James focussed on how it feels as a player. When I tested the Custom Raw the mechanism felt really positive. Again, this was the result of talking to sax players.
“It was an interesting process trying to find vintage horn players who are willing to try new instruments – new incarnations of what they hold dear,” says David.
I’ve always been a fan of modern horns. When I was starting out, vintage horns were always too expensive. Now, I want a reliable, working horn that I can play all day.
However, vintage horns can teach us something about what makes a great, playable saxophone mechanism, as David explained. “Looking into these vintage instruments, there are small elements of performance that we’ve forgotten. But you can find them and use them to do what they are designed to do, which was to give a better sound.”
With the Custom Raw, Trevor James are aiming to produce a saxophone that looks and feels great, and is also reliable. The saxophones are hand built in Kent, in the UK. “Build quality is very important,” says David, “we only use the best pads, the best springs, the best everything!”
The process of developing the Custom Raw is a continuous one, and listening to feedback from players is key to this. “We are all ears,” says David – “get involved!”
Let me know if you’ve played a saxophone like this, or if there’s a saxophone you think I should test.