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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Hi All:


I have recently had the good fortune to play a few of the TM Custom horns. One that a friend of mine purchased, and the other 2 at Randy's shop in Iowa. I am writing this as an informative review to aid in peoples curiosity in these horns, with the hope that this thread does not runoff into a some type of oversarcastic inflated ranting.

Let me say first off that I am a repair technician, and that for the most part am not a big fan of alot of the asian made horns due to their shabby workmanship, and with a large percentage of modern horns, their sound leaves me feeling as though they are lacking something that the great vintage horns have personified so well. I personally play a 45,000 silver plated SBA, and a 27,000 series silver plated BA. with a Florida USA STM Link that was was closed from 8* to an 8 by Brian Powell

The first TM horn I played was a vintage gold lacquered with High F#. This horn was purchased a friend of mine thats a prominent Chicagoland sax player. He has currently been playing a 125,000 series VI with 95% original lacquer that is a very fine player. The horn he picked from Randy's shop was not one of the ones that Randy went through. The only thing Randy did before the horn left his shope was solder the bow to the body tube. My first impression just in overlooking the instrument was that the padding was done pretty well on this instrument, and the rolled toneholes were actually pretty level just from what I could see from my naked eye. The spring tensions on the LH palm keys, and the RH little finger were a little heavy so I lightened the spring tensions to make easier. The biggest complaint that I have and this is a very common with alot of the Taiwan horns is that the LH little finger table is not very ergonomicaly well placed. I have a relatively small span with my little finger and I have to stretch and reach a pretty descnet distance to get the Low Bb. I wish the bulk of these brands could get this right for a change!! The necks that my friend selected were a vintage lacquer neck and an annealed neck that were bore tapered to be more like Selmer necks. I will get to neck details in the following paragraphs.

I tried playing the horn at first with the lacquer neck. I was at first quite dissappointed with the first impression as the horn seemed to be quite stuffy and unresponsive. My friend said he got the same impression, but to try it with the annealed neck. The annealed neck made a huge difference!!! It was more open. had a much bigger dynamic range, and a massive dark but centered core to the sound. I couldnt help but wonder what the big deal was that made the lacquered neck play so stuffy. I looked at the neck very carefully and found there was a huge lip in the neck right at the mouthpiece end. A typical bore measurement on most Selmer necks is .500-.510 this measured .470!! My friend told me the only reason he picked this neck was because it was the original to the horn, and that he felt the neck best suited was one of the matte finished nickel necks he had tried. We got in touch with Randy about exchanging the neck. I told my friend I would be more than happy to take the neck back to Iowa as I was planning on goign out to try a few of Randy's early Babbit Link mouthpieces and picking up a few for myself. Randy was more than happy to do this, and a few days later off I went to Waterloo.

Upon arrival I was cordially greeted by Randy. He was so kind and gracious, and I have to say he is by far one of the most knowledgable sax techs I have come into contact with. It truly was wonderful to sit and talk design and acoustics with him. The first thing I did was pick out mouthpieces. For you mouthpiece junkies out there, I have to say these mouthpieces personify vintage to the fullest extent, but the thing that really blows my mind is how consistent they really play. I played through about 15 mouthpieces and they all felt rather similar, and it really boiled down to subtle nuances that distinguished each one. I wound up picking an 8 that Randy took the baffle down slightly in, and a 7* that was pretty much stock. The next thing I did was play the 2 other TM Custom saxes 1 that was unlacquered and one that was dark vintage lacquer. Both of these horns had been through Randy's adjustments, and set up. I did share my complaints that I found in my friends horn, and Randy was very appreciative, and is very well aware of some of the faults I had pinpointed. He said these problems are being addressed in various ways, and are for the majority alleviated in the horns he completely sets up for every customers needs. Again he was right, The two horns he adjusted and set up were much more comfortable under the fingers, and had very fast quick action. I also pinpointed out the flaw in the neck I had brought back with me. He immediately adjust the neck and we tried it. The neck came to life finally with a very quick response. and a rich dark sound. I still felt though that this neck was not going to be the answer to what my friend was looking for. He has a pretty die hard VI concept of sound and I felt the lacquered neck lacked the punchiness, and broadness that he would be seeking. So i asked Randy if we could try the nickel necks. It was no surpise to me that these necks were going to be the answer they had a very broad, centered sound, that added depth and guts to the sound. Randy suggested I take both the nickel neck I selected, and the lacquered neck back to my friend and let him pick from the two. My friend did wind up selecting the nickel neck for his arsenal.

My overall impression of the 3 saxes were that they are very fine instruments. They do not totally emulate a particular brand or model sax, in alot of respects they have their own sound, but I find it really personifying a vintage horn in that it is not a generic sounding horn. It has character, and the ability to color the sound like a vintage horn, the articulation of notes is more pronounced than what I get with alot of modern horns, yet it plays very well in tune with itself. From the acoustical perspective I was always a believer that to get the flexibility, tone coloring abilities, and ease of articulation, you have to trade off eveness of tuning and voicing to achieve that. This is what my overall perspective has been with the majority of modern horns in that the play very even, and have excellent tuning, yet i feel confined because they seem too just, and inflexible to do what i want to do stylistically, and musically. Hence why I always gravitated towards Pre Mark VI because of their quirks and eccentricities in how they play. I felt that was the reason why I could have the wide open abilities when I would play. Randy's horn seems to somewhat break that mold in that it has character, flexibility, but yet its very well in tune, and even. I think it has the best qualities of the BA, SBA, and VI rolled into a unique, and different package all together. The best part is with all the different material and bore options Randy offers with necks it is possible to take the same sax body and transform it into something different with changing the neck. Out of the 3 horns I played I think I would pick the unlacquered horn. It just felt more alive, and resonant due to the fact it didnt have a coating choking it down.

My overall feeling for those of us looking for a modern backup to our vintage gear, or begining to semi pro players looking for an affordable horn to upgrade their current gear, this definitely is the way to go.

If anyone wishes to ask further questions, Please feel free to contact me.

Best Regards,
Chad Taylor
Chicago, IL
 

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Great write up, thanks for taking the time!

I'm curious about this :
I wound up picking an 8 that Randy took the baffle down slightly in, and a 7* that was pretty much stock.
Is this something Randy does himself and is it something that's offered on a regular basis or is it some kind of custom work that comes at an extra charge? Why did you end up choosing these modified ones over the stock ones? I had one of these and sold it to fund the restoration of a great metal Link but I'm looking for a rubber alternative / backup and I'm ready to get one of these again. The one thing I would complain about these pieces is they're just a little too bright and their facing is not perfect and the table not flat. Table concavity is something I'm really not a fan of. So if these could be addressed, it would be great.

Also, have you talked with Randy about the possibility of better ergonomics for the horn? I tried some of Randy's horns with his annealed necks and they're great horns - although they don't exactly sound like a SBA or MKVI - but I have found the weight of the horn and ergonomics could have been better, especially since the sound and response were so good.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Randy is doing some tweeking of his mouthpieces to customers needs. I was originally just goign to have him send me a couple, but he suggested I come out to pick them out. The 7* is a pretty much stock mouthpiece and its great on my BA. But the SBA is a little more centered and brighter and I wanted something a little rounder and warmer sounding for that instrument. The 8 has the baffle taken down slightly and the facing curve changed slightly. Randy said hes not going to get into mouthpiece refacing heavily but he wanted to be able to offer some options to be able to hone in on the customers needs for their sound concept and gear. Obviously, it is easier to remove material from a mouthpiece than to add material and expect it to vibrate and play the same as if it were the original material to the mouthpiece. Like you, I am a firm believer in flat reed tables, especially since the concavity seems to vary on Babbitts pieces. But I will say it is nice to be able to get a mouthpiece that has the sound characteristics of a vintage piece, the ability to get it customized at its price range, Your going to be hard pressed to find something similar for its price.

As far as the ergonomics of the horns. Randy did not go into excessive details on this. I know the LH little finger in particular can be bent and manipulated higher and closer to the hand. I owned a Saxgourmet Model Six that had this problem quite badly. I actually went as far as bending them so much that the rocker tab that pivots on the Low C# was then too wide to fit back into the instrument properly, so I wound up putting the key on my milling machine, and machining off some of the brass on the rocker tab so I could attach the Low Bb touchpiece back onto the key. I was finally able to get around on the LH little finger table very comfortably. Alot of the ergonomic problems on theses horns can be addressed, its just a matter of time and money with your sax technician. I am quite sure that Randy is willing to adjust the keywork to make more comfortable for any potential buyer of his horn. He is more than capable and equipped to do so. The only Taiwanese horn I found that had great key positioning was the Berkeley Virtuoso but that instrument uses much different key castings, and has different playing characteristics all together

As far as the sound of the horn, its like I said I dont think its a die hard copy of any horn it does have its own distinctive voice. But When i do play it theres several vibes of different vintage horns I have played all culminated into one. Its kind of a "mut" in some way and thats not a bad thing!!!! I just find it refreshing there is a modern horn out there though that I can approach like playing a vintage horn. It really gets annoying when I would playtest modern saxes at work, and they dont even play close to what they are proclaimed to emulate. The TM team has never proclaimed it to emulate one horn specifically, and it really doesnt. It does however have several vintage horns characteristics within itself.
 

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Thanks for the review.

I wasn't aware that buying a TM without a setup was an option.

Did you discuss the ergos with Randy? You say that he "did not go into excessive details" - does he modify the ergos on the horns that he sets up? Is he happy with the factory spec?

Thanks.
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
I dont know the details of what was involved when my friend purchased his TM. He was beyond p***ed off with trying to play his Reference 54 the last 2 years and bought this 125,xxx series VI that was a closet horn with all of its original pads in it. While VI plays great it starting to leak since the pads are old, and he didnt have time to wait to get it overhauled. He went out to Randy's to find a backup horn and took the Refernce to use a s a trade in. He wound up trading in the Refernce staright up for the TM. Do i think it was the greatest move? probably not but it was his horn and he was running out of time before goign out on tour. He said he played a bunch of lacquered horns and a gold plated one and he liked this particular horn the best. So thats all i know about that whole deal.

Im pretty sure I touched on all the points about the horns Randy sets up in my review by saying the keywork felt much more comfortable, and that Randy makes the necessary adjustments in the setups per the buyers request. I know in dealing with these manufacturers it can be sometimes very difficult to get them to change anything on their instruments, and I hope for their sake they start to get the ergonomics under control. Only time will tell.

I hope this helps.

Hope this helps.
 

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Thanks for your reply, very interesting. I'll talk to Drew or Randy about it.

I know in dealing with these manufacturers it can be sometimes very difficult to get them to change anything on their instruments, and I hope for their sake they start to get the ergonomics under control. Only time will tell.
One thing I'd like to see being addressed in the manufacturing of modern horns, Asian or not, is the weight of the instrument itself and the automatic post-MKVI ergonomics. Holding a SBA and pressing the keys is a joy due to the horn being very light and the feeling of every key falling under your finger. The horn being light also I believe contributes to a resonance you can feel playing the horn.
 

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Whaler,
Did you really have to be so dismissive after reedplayer 1981 put a lot of time, thought and effort into his review?
Just plain rude behavior IMO. The kind of rudeness that just ruins the value of this Forum.
How about a PM if you feel so strongly about it.
Nora
 

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Here are some recent videos courtesy of Saxquest of Doug Lawrence demonstrating the TM Custom tenors. I like the combination of TM Custom with the Schucht neck the best.

 

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Thanks for the review! It's nice to hear a tech's point of view in these.
 
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