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Yamaha YAS275 alto saxophone

Yamaha YAS275 altoOrigin: Japan (now made in Indonesia) (
Guide price: £800
Weight: 2.3kg
Date of manufacture: 2001
Date reviewed: April 02 (Addendum added, see below)

Yamaha's successor to the hugely popular YAS21

I should imagine that Yamaha's brief when designing their very first student range of saxophones was to make an instrument that was sturdy, simple, accurate, responsive and efficient - all at a budget price. They fulfilled that brief admirably with the YAS21, and continued to build on it as the series evolved into the YAS23, then the 25 and now the 275.
It was always going to be a hard act to follow - so how have they done?

The initial impression of this instrument is governed by the very smart case that's supplied with the sax. With its moulded dark grey exterior complete with embossed Yamaha logo, integral handle and large briefcase sliding locks it simply can't fail to impress. It's long been a trademark of Yamaha to house their saxes in distinctive cases - from the early buff coloured cases of the 21 series to the burgundy leather of the 62 series. Aside from the exterior appearance the case is well specified internally, making it a secure environment in which to keep a sax (but see second addendum).

The instrument itself fares no less better in its outward appearance with its clean lines and bright, clear lacquered finish.
The build quality is very good, with many of the individual pillars having generously sized bases - which lend a stouter feel to the overall build. The finish on the keywork is good too - though with a few machining marks evident here and there in common with many student model instruments.

Stainless springs are used throughout, which although will last are inclined to be rather on the heavy side unless the instrument is carefully balanced. It's common knowledge among 'those in the know' that Yamahas are set up far too highly sprung - which means they have a rather heavy feel to the action. Fortunately this is easily adjusted - but not every new sax player will realise this is a possibility.
Once adjusted the action is capable of feeling light, well-balanced and responsive. Side-by-side with the YAS25, the 275's action feels a bit slicker - though this can be down to something as simple as the profile of the key pearls fitted.

The pads used are of reasonable quality, though I have long had an issue with the relative size of the low D and C key cups in relation to the corresponding tone holes. The cups are too small, leaving very little room at the edge of the pad. This makes it difficult to set the pad, and doesn't make for a very long-lasting seat unless scrupulous care is paid to the setting up of the cup angles (for more details see the review of the YAS21).
A common problem with Yamaha saxes is leakage at the back of the low D pad, and at various points on the low C pad. If you own a Yamaha sax you might want to check out the article on testing for leaks.

Yamaha YAS275 bell key spatulasThe bell key spatula arrangement is basic, though well placed and set out. Not as slick as that found on the more upmarket horns, but nevertheless positive and firm in action and really quite comfortable in use.

Yamaha have used shoulderless point screws throughout, which mean that wear and tear is constantly adjustable down the years. Standard rod screws are used for the rest of the action - and it should be noted that Yamahas have always had a good track record with regard to the lack of wear on their keywork.

The bell is glued to the body. This seems to be a more common practice these days - the idea being that it allows the bell to be removed in the event of damage to the bell section. All good and well, but a good seal at this joint relies heavily on a good glued joint. From my experience with dropped Yamahas I have noted that the glue at this joint is inclined to crack, this potentially leading to leaks.
Having said that, I much prefer a glued joint over a clamped joint - though personally I'd prefer to see a proper soldered joint (even though this means losing the finish should the bell need to be removed). See addendum below for further notes.

I noted that the sling ring seemed to be of a rather small diameter. This might present a problem for those players who prefer to use a sling with a locking arrangement on the hook (as I thoroughly recommend). Just make sure you try the sling out before you buy it.

Yamaha have put a new design of crook on this saxophone - though to be honest I have never had a problem with any of their old designs, and I can't in all honesty say that I noticed any particular difference in the playing response of the instrument in comparison to an earlier model.
Subsequent testing has proved that there is a subtle difference - the new crook gives a warmer tone.
Some people have considered the student Yamahas to be a touch on the bright side tonewise, so this new crook evens the score somewhat, though I found that putting the crook from a YAS25 onto the 275 lifted the tone out considerably without detriment to the tuning.
This instrument has the typical Yamaha sound - clear and concise, with a neutral to bright tone and bags of projection, coupled with a very vibrant feel. The supplied mouthpiece (Yamaha's own brand) is as excellent as ever, and compliments the sax extremely well.
Tuning is good throughout the range, the inclusion of a top F# key is useful, as is an adjustable thumbrest.

Once again Yamaha sets the standards. Even with some excellent horns coming out of Taiwan the Yamaha maintains its position as the horn to beat at the price - and any prospective saxophone player should consider it an essential addition to their list of instruments to try out.

Addendum 21/08/03:

I'm seeing quite a few of these horns coming in for general servicing now, and I'm noticing a rather unsettling pattern.
Many of them seem to have problems with the bell notes - and this is due to the bell being knocked off line. I'm not talking about serious knocks either, I've seen very few examples with 'collateral damage' that would indicate a hefty fall or a decent bash.
What's happening is that the bell to body brace is bending, and this alters the angle of the bell and throws the seat out on the low B and Bb keys.

bell key leaks A simple test for this is to cup your hand around the rim of the bell to exclude the light, peer down the bell and press the low Bb key down with the same pressure you'd normally use when playing. This will close both the B and the Bb cups and if all is well you should see complete darkness around the tone holes.
On the left is a shot down the bell of a soprano sax. If the bell keys were sealing properly you'd see nothing but a black hole in the centre of the picture - but you can clearly see on the left of the bell that the low B and Bb pads aren't closing.
If you have a problem it will most likely show up as the distinct arcs of light seen coming in from the front of the cups...and you'll have no doubt noticed some difficulty in getting the low notes to speak clearly (if at all).

The movement of the bell stay has implications with regard to the glued bottom-bow joint. Any movement of the bell will stress the bottom bow of the saxophone and most likely result in the cracking of the glued joint, which may then leak.

As for why this is occurring, it may be that Yamaha have changed the alloy used for the bell brace for a softer one - and with less support the bell is prone to being knocked out of alignment. It may also be that the glued joint is less strong than on previous models, and it may now not be strong enough to provide additional support of the bell brace.
I have written to Yamaha and asked if any such changes have been made to the design - I have yet to hear back from them.

Either way, a leak as described above will require the bell stay to be bent back into shape to realign the bell, and the bottom bow will have to be removed so that the glued seal can be replaced. You could expect such a job to cost in the region of £30-£40.

UPDATE July 04:

I received a reply to my email sent to Yamaha regarding this issue, and they tell me that they were aware of the problem and that it has now been corrected. They didn't give any details though, so I don't know what they've done to the horns to fix the problem, nor precisely what might have caused it in the first place. I have just finished yet another bell job on a 275 that was purchased some 18 months ago - so I'll be keeping my eye on the new examples as and when they turn up on the workbench.

UPDATE April 05:

Just did a bell job on a 275 bought late 04, which I would assume was a sufficiently late-built model to have featured the 'fix' to the bell problem. Unfortunately this horn exhibited the same problem as previous examples, with the bell having been knocked slightly off line. I shall be watching out for more examples.

Addendum 02/02/04:

Yet another 275 came in for a bell job - though this time the horn had very clearly taken a significant whack.
The client, as the parent of the player, was somewhat surprised when I pointed out the damage - and much speculation ensued as to quite how the instrument came to be so damaged.
Upon returning the horn after completion of the work I placed the instrument in the case and closed the catches...and was just about to lift the case up by the handle when I noticed that the lid wasn't secure.
The case has recessed catches, rather like those found on a briefcase, and they will click shut even if the lid isn't fully home. Because of this feature, and the dark grey finish of the case, it's actually rather too easy to assume that the lid is fully down and the catches are securely fastened - and if they're not, the horn will fall straight out when the case is picked up.
I tried it a few times and noted the case not closing properly, hence this addendum.

I'd recommend special care when closing the case - and the addition of a couple of strips of light coloured tape where the two halves of the case meet would give a more positive indication as to whether the case is fully closed.

Addendum 19/09/07:

I've heard (unofficially) that the bell problem was due to lacquer on the mating surfaces of the glued bottom bow joint.
This could be a very likely explanation - the glue would bond to the lacquer and would have to rely on its tenacity to maintain a strong joint with the metal...and you don't often hear of lacquer being used as a glue.
In the last couple of years I haven't seen one example of the dreaded bell problem on a new horn, and on that basis I would consider the issue resolved.

I note that the 275 is now made in Indonesia, and examination and play-testing of these models shows that the build quality has been maintained.

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