Updated 5th October 2018

When looking for an intermediate or professional saxophone, many players have Yamaha and Yanagisawa on their list of makes to consider. Both of these brands are very popular in the saxophone world, as they offer excellent build quality, precise intonation and are all-round beautiful instruments, so it often comes down to the finer details when choosing between the two, and players often have a favourite out of the two brands.

I would always recommend visiting our shop and test playing instruments of this level and cost so that you can make the right choice for you, as although reading advice about the instruments can offer some guidance, it doesn’t allow you to hear and feel what the sax is like when played.

Soprano

Yanagisawa S901 vs Yamaha YSS475 & YSS875EX

S901 YSS875EXYSS475

The Yanagisawa S901 is the first level of professional soprano sax that the company makes, and comprises of a lacquered brass, hand-engraved solid body (the neck is not detachable). All the keys sit on durable, blue-steel springs which give a great action, and feature indented white shell buttons, which offer a good amount of grip under your fingers when tackling fast, technical passages. The tone of this soprano is usually on the brighter side compared to other models and has a good projection but, as the saxophone has a flexibility of tone, the player’s choice of mouthpiece and ligature can alter the tonal qualities of the instrument to suit individual needs. A possible problem with this saxophone is that it does not have a detachable neck, which means you cannot change or upgrade to a different one to suit personal playing preferences. The S901 is in essence, a very well built and reliable instrument as you would expect from Yanagisawa.

The Yamaha YSS475II is the least expensive of the 3 saxes and is marketed by Yamaha as an intermediate saxophone. It has a engraved, solid lacquered brass body, so is quite similar aesthetically to the S901. Again this means that it has the same issue as the S901, in that you cannot change or upgrade to a different neck to suit personal playing preferences, but this by no means detracts from the saxophone. The 475 shares many of the features of the higher 875EX model, including Yamaha’s characteristic warm tone, highly accurate intonation, and quick response. The Key buttons on this model are made of polyester, which makes them very durable and tactile under the fingers, but not as luxurious as white shell or mother of pearl buttons. I feel that this a good model for someone who already plays another saxophone to a high standard, and is looking to purchase a well-priced, quality soprano as a secondary instrument.

The YSS875EX is what you would expect from a top-end professional saxophone, starting off with the impeccable build quality. This model benefits from having mother of pearl buttons on the keys that, like the white shell buttons of the S901, offer a good amount of grip under your fingers when playing fast, technical passages. It also has high quality steel springs and a good key action, and this saxophone has the added bonus of two detachable necks, a straight and curved one that are supplied as standard, meaning that the instrument can be set up to an individual’s preference. I would say that the YSS875EX isn’t as bright in tone as the S901, and overall has a more mellow sound, with a richness and depth to the tone, but the sound certainly projects well thanks to a larger bell. This is the most expensive, but arguably the top-end soprano we have on offer, and I definitely feel it is worth the money if you are planning to play the instrument a lot.

Alto and Tenor

Yanagisawa AWO1 & TWO1 vs Yamaha YAS62 & YTS62

AWO1 TWO1 YAS62

The AWO1 Alto and TWO1 Tenor saxophones are Yanagisawa’s upgraded replacements for the famous 901 series, featuring newly designed front F keys, palm keys, and spatula keys, making the saxophone more ergonomic. The standard AWO1/TWO1 come in a lacquered brass finish with an engraved design on the bell, and feature white shell buttons on the keys, offering grip underneath the fingers when playing technical passages. The keys are mounted directly onto the body of the saxophone and feature blue-steel springs for a fast action, giving the saxophone a good feel under the fingers. Like many of Yanagisawa’s saxophones, the AWO1 and TWO1 have a strong tonal core, and a bright, clear sound with a good projection and good intonation, making it a favourite amongst students and professionals.

The Yamaha 62 Alto and Tenor saxophones are a modern classic of the saxophone world, having been the first choice for many professional players over the years. Similar to the WO1 range, these saxophones are known for their accurate intonation and comfortable response, and this has been further improved since Yamaha started supplying the now famous G1 neck with the 62 range as standard. This saxophone features a hand engraved bell and polyester key buttons that are smooth and tactile under the fingers, and comprises of a ribbed brass body, which adds weight to the sax and therefore a warmer tone. This alto is well liked for its rich, yet brilliant sound and superb projection, but perhaps isn’t as bright as the AWO1 when playing the instruments side-by-side. However, the flexibility of this sax lends itself to a variety of genres and musical styles, which is why it remains a firm favourite with many players.

Yanagisawa AWO10 & TWO10 vs Yamaha 875EX

AWO10 YAS875EXTWO10

Yanagisawa’s AWO10 and TWO10 saxophones are a step up from the WO1 range, placing them in Yanagisawa’s “elite” level of professional saxophones. Made from a lacquered brass, this model features the famous Yanagisawa under slung octave mechanism, subtly altering the weight and balance of the neck, creating a warmth of tone as well as delivering better response and reliability.

The other main difference from the AWO1 is the “ribbing” that runs the length of the instrument’s body to which the key pillars are fixed. This adds weight to the instrument, which enhances the instruments projection and tone. Again, as standard this saxophone features the hand engraving on the bell and the white-shell keys for extra grip under the fingers. The bright, clear, well projected sound of the WO10 range is one that fans of Yanagisawa saxophones have become accustomed to, which is why it is often a favourable choice for players of any genre.

The Yamaha Custom 875EX Alto and Tenor saxophones are their top-level of professional instrument. We currently stock the lacquered brass finish, but the saxophone is also produced with silver plating, or a black lacquer upon request. Yamaha have worked with some of their performance artists in the design of the instrument to make sure it is comfortable under the fingers, and sounds great in all situations. An ergonomic redesign of the keys on the most recent model has made the 875EX even more comfortable to play, making hand adjustments smooth and stress-free. It has Yamaha’s characteristic clear sound, which is bright, but also has a richness and depth, making it a versatile saxophone with excellent projection. Yamaha have worked hard to create an instrument that is easy to play with excellent intonation, and its reliability makes it a favourite of many professionals. The keys feature mother of pearl buttons that offer a good amount of grip under your fingers when playing fast, technical passages, and the bell features an attractive engraved lily design.

Baritone

Yanagisawa B901 vs Yamaha YBS32 & YBS62

B901 YBS62YBS32

Considered to be the reference point for professional baritone saxes, the Yanagisawa B901 has long been a favourite with concert bands and professionals world-over. It is particularly favoured by Jazz players due to its bright, “punchy” sound that suits the genre, but is also often found used in many concert and school bands, as it has an immediate response, a strong tonal core, and is a very reliable instrument. The air-tight waterproof key pads provide an excellent seal preventing air leaks, and the blue-steel springs provide a fast key-action and rapid response. Again, this saxophone features the Yanagisawa white-shell buttons as standard for good grip under the fingers and a floral engraving on the bell, making it as attractive as it is playable. The bottom A key is ergonomically designed to help you hit the low note in confidence, and the overall key work is excellent due to the precision engineering synonymous with Yanagisawa. The B901 certainly doesn’t disappoint!

The Yamaha YBS32 baritone sax, marketed as their intermediate model, is also a favourite when it comes to providing a beefy bass line in many concert bands and jazz outfits. Offering outstanding response, tone and intonation, the YBS32 gives many professional baritones a run for their money. The keys have been ergonomically designed for optimum comfort when playing, with the low A key being placed for a smooth hand adjustment. The thicker ribbing on the body gives increased projection and greater tonal colouring to Yamaha’s already rich, clear sound. The key buttons are made from a strong and durable polyester, and the bell is not engraved, making aesthetically different to the higher YBS62 model. This great, reasonably priced saxophone is particularly suited to doublers who don’t want the expense of at top-end model, but need a reliable instrument of excellent build quality.

Yamaha’s YBS62 has become a modern-classic, played by students and professional players all over the world. Its rich yet bright, versatile sound lends the sax to many different genres, and the accurate intonation and clear projection makes it a reliable choice. A specially designed octave mechanism allows for smooth octave transitions and an ergonomic key design allows for overall ease of play, from the lowest to the highest notes. Again the ribbed key mounts add weight and strength to the body of the sax, and the annealed bell gives a greater projection of sound. Another excellent feature of this sax is the three-vent octave mechanism, which works to eliminate fuzzy, unclear tones when playing G, G# and A with the octave key. Finally, the YBS62 features durable polyester key buttons and an attractive hand engraved design on the bell, distinguishing it from the intermediate, YBS32 model.

About the author

A graduate from the University of Huddersfield Music Department, Isabelle has played both Clarinet and Saxophone for over 13 years, in many ensembles both in the Staffordshire area and at university, and currently performs in a function band. With her experience of woodwind and performance, this is obviously what she loves to write about.

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