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Yamaha YAS62 alto saxophone - with Mark II/III supplementary reviews

Yamaha YAS62 MkI (purple logo)Origin: Japan (uk.yamaha.com)
Guide price: £1730 (MkIII)
Weight: 2.47Kg (MkI purple logo)
Date of manufacture: 1979 (MkI) / 2008 (MkII) / 2013 (MkIII)
Date reviewed: October 2014 / November 2009 (62 MkII) / November 2013 (62 MkIII)

Yamaha's basic professional level horn, at a price that won't break the bank

Ah, the ubiquitous Yamaha 62 alto.
These first appeared in the 1970s, seemingly from out of nowhere, as the YAS61. At that time there were very few choices for the budding professional sax player, you either settled for a Selmer (MKVII - which was never a popular horn), a Buffet (even less popular) or one of the American horns (which were rare in the UK, and were not nearly as well regarded as their earlier namesakes). And then suddenly there was this 'new kid on the block'.
To say that it took the market by storm is something of an understatement - and to my mind it heralded the dawn of a new age in saxophone manufacturing.

The 61 version held sway for a number of years before Yamaha tweaked it and reissued it as the 62 in the late 1970s - though for the most part the changes appeared to be cosmetic. And just as with any other 'grande marque', the 62 underwent several revisions down the years - a process that continues to this day.
The first model (pictured on the right) is now known as the MkI - though its silk-screened manufacturer's label on the bell has led to it being popularly known as the 'purple logo' model. Another distinguishing feature is the use of a non-tilting table for the bell key spatulas - and, of course, the single-piece bell key guard that extends from the low C to the Bb.

Over time all three of these features changed; the purple logo gave way to an embossed one, the bell key table gained a tilting mechanism and the single piece guard was replaced by individual guards for the low C and low B/Bb. Some of these changes overlapped - for example, you might well come across a model with a tilting table and the single-piece bell key guard.
But - and this is the important bit - it remained a MkI.
What that means, or should mean at least, is that the example pictured here should be exactly the same as any of the later MkI models in terms of feel and playability. That's the theory - but as the words 'purple logo' begin to be heard along the hallowed corridors of the saxophone hall of fame I can only suppose that it's because there's some value in the notion that something built 40 or so years ago will be better made than something built yesterday. Given that we now seem to live in the 'age of accountants', there's probably some small truth in that.

The body design is pretty much standard; drawn (and level) tone holes, detachable bell, two-point bell brace, semi-ribbed construction (ribbed top stack only, though it runs all the way down to the low C upper pillar), adjustable bumper felts and an adjustable thumb hook.
The way in which it's all put together was a benchmark for build quality - which makes it all the more piquant that the latest incarnation of the series seems to lack the finesse and craftsmanship that can be seen on these early models.


The finish is worthy of note - Yamaha's epoxy lacquer is incredibly resilient, so much so that it's quite possible to perform minor soldering jobs on the body and stand a very good chance of not losing any lacquer in the process. And when it does get damaged or scratched it tends not to start flaking off.

YAS62 Bell BraceI like the design of the bell brace. It provides ample support for the bell, and in the event of a knock the little crossbar on the body mount will act as a pivot, taking most of the load. I've seen a fair few 62s down the years that have taken a whack to the bell, and while I've had to realign many a bent bell stay I've seldom had to deal with creases beneath the stay's mounting plates.

As mentioned earlier, the tone holes are nice and level - which is just as well as there's very little 'meat' left to play with from the G tone hole downwards. These are not tall tone holes, and a bash to the bottom bow and a consequently warped low C tone hole will require the attention of a meticulous repairer. Hack away at these tone holes with a file and you'll very soon end up with little or no tone hole at all.

And while we're on the subject, I've always felt the size of some of the key cups in relation to the tone holes is a tad on the small side. This means that the pads have very little 'overhang', which in turn means the seat impression is rather close to the edge of the pad. Not too much of a problem when the pads are new and supple, but once they start to firm up with age it tends to mean they're more likely to leak. It also means that some pads (such as the low D and C) require extra care when seating...and it's these two pads in particular that you should keep an eye on for leaks.

Yamaha YAS62 adjustersLike the body, the keywork is similarly well-designed, built and finished - and sports a fine set of genuine Mother of Pearl key pearls...a feature that was dropped from later models.
Of particular interest to repairers and home tweakers is a full set of regulation adjusters on the main stacks, which allow the action to be precisely adjusted 'on the fly' without any of that monkeying about with strips of sandpaper. Such things are commonplace now, but were quite the 'mod con' when the 62 hit the market.

Note too the simple fork and pin connector for the side trill keys. This no-nonsense design is slick, reliable and, provided you lubricate the keys from time to time, quiet in use.

Proper points screws are fitted, which allow for the action to be adjusted as and when it wears. The screws themselves are fitted with a nylon insert which acts as a thread lock, and there's a bit of leeway already built in to the pillars - so when the time comes to adjust the point screw action it's simply a matter of giving the screw quarter of a turn or so and the job's a good 'un...with no fuss or bother with having to ream out pillars or deal with loose screws.

Yamaha YAS62 purple logo bell key tableThis model, being an early purple logo, features the non-tilting bell key table.
I like this arrangement, and on the whole prefer it to a tilting mech - it just feel more responsive under my fingers.
Some thought has clearly been given to the design of the spatulas; the Bb has a raised section at the rear, there's a drop-off on the lower outside edge of the C# and a chamfer on the rollered edge of the B - all all topped off with a very generously-proportioned G# touchpiece.

As with the regulation adjusters, such a design is commonplace these days - but back in the 70s it was a hot feature.

YAS62 Bell SpatulasOn the right is a shot of the later, tilting mech - as fitted to a MkI with an embossed logo and a single-piece bell key guard. As you can see, not much has changed - the Bb spatula is rather more square and there's less of a drop-off on the low C#, but everything else is much as it was along with the obvious addition of the tilting mechanism. And as with the seesaw octave key mech, it's very much a nod to Selmer, who pioneered both of these design features.

The keywork as a whole is beautifully laid out - even players who aren't particular fans of the Yamaha sound will often comment on the layout. From a repairer's point of view, assembling the horn is a doddle - with no quirky mechanisms to figure out.
I do have one reservation about the keywork though - and that is that it's inclined to be a tad on the soft side. Having said that, there appear to be a few anomalies. I've noticed that the main stack keys are easy enough to manipulate, but the bell and ancillary keys appear to be as tough as old boots.
It seems to me that earlier models have sturdier keywork - so perhaps there was a change in the alloy used over the years?

The whole outfit is bunged into a very respectable case, complete with very solid catches. The early models came with a sort of purpley-brown case, and while it never had the 'coolness' of the shaped cases that came to dominate the market in later years, it was nonetheless one of the best sax cases ever made. Mine's getting on for forty years old now, and it's still going strong - though I've had to pop a couple of brass corner braces on the rear of the lid, as this seems to be a weak spot.
From new the 62 was shipped with a basic Yamaha mouthpiece - which although perhaps too basic for a pro player is perfectly adequate for a beginner, and makes a handy emergency spare in case you ever need such a thing.

In use, the action is remarkably slick. Yamaha have used stainless springs throughout; normally these can make an action feel heavy, but as the keys have been designed and balanced to suit the springs the result is an action that can be easily modified to suit the individual player's requirements. And it's worth having this done, as the factory setup was always a bit on the high and heavy side. Slacken the springs off a tad, lower the stack action a couple of mil and it really changes how this horn feels and responds.
Under the fingers, everything is where you'd expect it to be - and even the palm keys seem to suit the majority of players. I see far fewer palm key risers (little rubber cushions that players stick on to raise the height on the palm key touchpieces) on Yamahas than on any other pro horn.
Round the neck the horn feels nicely balanced, and remarkably light.

Tonewise, well, I have to put my cards firmly on the table and say that the 62 is my alto of choice.
In the decades that I've been repairing and playing I must have played thousands of horns. Yes, I've come across some wonderful Selmers, some remarkable vintage horns, not a few interesting horns from other eastern manufacturers - and even a few surprisingly good student horns....but not one of them has given me what the 62 gives to me.
Many manufacturers seem to have an 'in house' sound. When you pick up one of their horns you also pick up the tone that's manufactured in. That's no bad thing, if you like the tone - and even if you don't it's possible to work around it and change it with your own choice of mouthpiece.
But you don't get that with the 62 - it has a tone that carries with it a remarkable purity and clarity, it places you firmly in the driving seat, it lets you makes the running, hands you the choices. The sound you get from it isn't you playing a Selmer, or a King, or a Conn - it's just you, playing.

And I've never come across a horn so accommodating when it comes to mouthpieces. You can bung anything on a 62 and it won't so much as miss a beat - though it would probably protest (and quite rightly so) if you tried to turn it into a 1920's 'woofler'.
Given this characteristic you should very much think of the 62 as a two-part instrument....the horn itself, and the mouthpiece you fit to it.

To my mind it stands up there as one of the legendary horns, and I sincerely hope that Yamaha never make the mistake of assuming it's time to move on. This one's a keeper.
If you're in the market for a pro horn you cannot ignore the 62 (though see my review of the YAS61).

YAS62 Mark II

In 2000 Yamaha introduced the mark two version of the YAS62. Improvements were cited as an annealed body, a redesigned crook socket and the inclusion of the G1 crook - as fitted to the Custom Series horns. There were a few cosmetics changes too, the most noticeable being the bell key guards - and the change from real mother-of-peal touchpieces to plastic ones.
For fans of the original model there was much debate about whether the new model would be as good or better, a debate not helped by some players having noticeable tuning problems with the new 62 tenor. Things were sorted out and the debate settled somewhat, but there are still players who feel the original YAS62 is best.
So, are they right?

The overall build quality remains much the same, though the use of plastic key pearls hints at a cheapening of production costs - and my personal perspective of the instrument is that it doesn't seem quite so well put together.
It used to be that Yamaha's were pretty much perfect straight out of the box, but many repairers will tell you that's no longer the case.
It's still true, though, that the action is one of the finest fitted to any saxophone.

The bell key guards now match pretty much every other horn on the market, and although I know they're an improvement over the old design I can't help but wish they'd hung on to the single-piece guard. Yes, it was more inclined to get bent out of shape, and yes, it wasn't as sturdy as it should have been - but it looked distinctive. It made the horn stand out from the crowd.

In terms of improvements the neck socket (or receiver) is a genuine upgrade. The clamp has been beefed up, and as this part of the horn is subject to a lot of stress it's good to see a bit more metal being used.
It looks good too - like it means business.

The horn is supplied with the G1 crook as standard, but there's also an M1 and and F1 crook available. The G1 is an all-rounder with good projection a clean top end, the M1 is said to be more centred and a little brighter while the F1 is rather more dark.

There are some subtle changes in the action, the most noticeable being the use of blued steel springs - the mark one version had stainless springs - which impart a little extra snappiness to the action. However, this is offset by the plastic key pearls which tend to feel a bit slippery at times.

Yamaha YAS62 crooksThe really big question is whether or how the tone has changed.
It has, and I wouldn't say the changes have all been for the better. It certainly has a more open tone at the top end, but I found it made the top C a little growly. The mid to bottom end is also more open, but there's a slight hint of boxiness about it...a bit too much midrange boom. This affects the clarity of the horn, particularly at speed.
Even when blown quietly the horn has a tendency to over-present the midrange, and I got the sense of a horn that's a bit 'shouty' on the whole.
On the positive side the altissimo range is cleaner and easier, and there's an overall feeling that the horn blows more freely than the original - and it's certainly louder.
I'd say the mark one is a more focussed horn, and more evenly balanced tonally. It seems to have more intensity than the mark two when blown softly, and there's a general feel of more 'soul and perhaps a little more authority.

A lot of the changes can be put down to the crook, but even with the original crook fitted most of them remain.
It's interesting to compare the design of the G1 crook with the original - on the left is the original, the G1 is on the right.
Straightaway you can see it's a slightly longer tube, and the placement of the octave key pip is around a centimetre or so lower. Nonetheless, the original crook seems to work just fine when fitted to the mark two horn.

In summing up, then, Yamaha have taken an arguably legendary horn and applied a few tweaks and updates. In so doing they've managed to retain much of the character of the original horn, but even the slightest change is still a change. For some players the changes won't make much difference, for others they will be significant.
In terms of quality I don't think there's much in it, and certainly not enough to put the new horn down as flimsier and less well-built on the whole - which hopefully reassures prospective buyers who may have heard otherwise.

As a long-time player of a mark one YAS62 I feel the new version has lost a little of what made it such a great horn - though it has to be said that the mark two can still stand on its own merits. There's definitely a relationship between the two horns in a sort of 'chip off the old block' kind of way - but I think I'll stick with the old block.

YAS62 Mark III

Yamaha YAS62 MKIII alto saxYet another revamp for the 62 in early 2013, taking it to the third version of this stalwart model in Yamaha's ever-expanding range of horns.

I'll admit to being a little puzzled as to why Yamaha felt it was necessary to make a Mark III version of the YAS62. The original was a great horn, the MkII was fine - so I really couldn't see what needed updating, unless they'd decided to go back to the original specs (fat chance).
As usual, I read the manufacturer's blurb - but reading the ad copy is a little like reading the personal ads in the back of the local newspaper. You all know the score - VGSOH (very good sense of humour) means 'miserable bugger'; bubbly means a penchant for pies and puddings, effervescent means a pain in the arse - and 'quietly thoughtful, considerate and objective' means sullen and moody.
And so I read buzzwords such as tuning, response and control and figured that these probably count as what I call 'ethereal' upgrades. Call me old-fashioned, but I like my upgrades to come with a few facts and figures...and some measurements, or at least a few things you can point at and say "Ooh, would ya look at that..."

It could just be that I'm getting grumpier in my old middle age, or maybe I'm just more cynical after all these years in the trade - or it could be that so much of what's touted as 'new and improved' these days is actually 'cheaper to build'.

So when a client asked if I'd be interested in doing a setup on a brand new MkIII I jumped at the opportunity to have a good, close look at the new version of one of my all-time favourite altos.

Out of the box it all looks pretty standard - I've always liked how 'unfussy' the 62 looks when compared to the competition. I dare say one modern alto looks much the same as any other, but Yamaha seem to have a knack of making things look neat and tidy...at least from a few feet away.
And from a few feet away the only visible difference to the MkII appears to be the engraving on the bell - which is very nice if you like that sort of thing.

Up close there's a little more to see.

YAS62 III low C sharpAs far as physical upgrades from the previous model goes, there doesn't seem to be a lot to shout about. There's a new crook and a new case (more of which later) and there's an all-new low B to low C# adjuster.
Now, before you break out the bunting and the champagne it's worth taking a closer look at this little gizmo. Yamaha claim that it will ensure a proper seal and thus boost the response of the lower notes.
Being generous I'd say that it was perhaps a little bit better than the older designs, with a slightly longer arm coming off the C# key barrel, but low C# closing mechs in general suffer from mechanical flaws and even the best of them are only just about adequate. It's all to do with leverage, and wear, and things settling down - and out in the real world the best that you can hope for is that these mechs will at least ensure you get some kind of note out if you make a fluff when reaching for the low B key. In any case, there seems little point in improving the mechanism and then stuffing a thick, square-ended cylinder of cork in the adjuster (though it's at least composite cork, which is less compressible than plain cork). You can see in the photo that its just the front edge of the cork that's making contact with the C# arm - and it would have been so much better if they'd fitted a thinner buffer with a domed head. It might have helped, too, if they'd got the adjuster plate lined up centrally with the adjuster - not that it does on my MkI either...

YAS62 MkIII and MkI solderSomething that caught my eye was the way in which the pillars and fittings had been soldered to the body. Now, I like to see a little hint of solder around the base of fittings - it provides a quick visual indication that they're secure and that they're likely to stay that way. A lack of any visible solder causes me to wonder just how little there is holding the fitting in place, or whether it's evenly distributed over the mating surfaces.
But there's a fine line between 'just enough' and 'a bit too much' - and the MkIII crosses that line by some margin. The two photos show the MkIII on the left and my own MkI on the right. The MkI gets it right - there's a thin band of solder that's just about visible beneath the strap. It gives the appearance of someone having drawn a thin line around all the fitting bases with a thin, dark grey felt-tip pen. All nice and neat.
The MkIII, on the other hand, looks positively sloppy in comparison. It wouldn't perhaps be so bad if the solder was clean and consistent, but as you can see in the photo it's distinctly blotchy. I'm told that Yamaha use lead-free solder, and the results are typical for this alloy - it rarely seems to flow as well as traditional leaded solder and doesn't seem to provide a uniform surface finish on cooling. Of course, the way around this is to be more careful when applying it and spending a bit more time cleaning up afterwards...neither of which appears to have taken place.

Yamaha YAS62 MkIII caseOne thing I very definitely don't like is the new case.
Bloody zips!
Y'know, nothing beats the sound and the feel of popping open a brace of case catches prior to a gig - and nothing gives you that sense of security and a job well done of popping them closed at the end. It's simple, quick and reliable. Job done.
Zips are cheap and tacky, stuff gets caught in them (sometimes painfully so), they jam, they squeak...and then they break, and can't be fixed.
Ranting aside, the addition of a music pocket on the outside of the case is a sensible move, particularly given the target market, as are the 'backpack' straps - but the 'tongue' that has to be slid under the handle and secured with a magnetic popper is a proper faff.
Other than that it's a good case.

The setup was dreadful.
It honestly pains me to say as much. It used to be that Yamaha set the benchmark for out-of-the-box playability, but the standard on this horn was well below my expectations. Every single pad on the main stacks, bar the G and the G#, was leaking at the rear...and, on a couple of the pads, from the lower side too. The G# articulation was out of regulation (thus knocking out the bell notes) and the lower stack action had been set too high relative to the upper stack - resulting in double-action on the Bis Bb key arm (see photo) - and the tilting table of the low Bb was clanking due to lack of lubrication. There was also a leak from the outer side of the side C key pad.
YAS62 III setupAnd this horn had come straight from the factory barely a month ago via mail order, with no dealer setup inbetween.
Transit damage, perhaps? Not likely - not unless the case received at least three distinct and precise whacks which managed to shift the top stack one way and the lower the other way, and without putting a bend in the body.
Now, I'm used to clients bringing in brand new horns for a setup and a tweak, but this is usually about them wanting to get the very best from their new horns right from the off. Fair enough - but what I don't expect to see at this level are clients bringing in new horns because they simply don't work. I'm sure that had the owner been able to try the horn out before purchase he would have passed this example over for another - but I can remember when it used to be said that you could walk into a music shop anywhere in the world, pick a 62 off the wall and it would play as well as any other. Times have changed, and I'm a bit sad about that because the 62 was an historically important horn that freed many players from the shackles of vintage horn ownership and provided a credible alternative to a Selmer. Like it or not, it was a landmark horn - and it still is, and it deserves better than this.

According to the specs the pads have been treated with silicone, presumably to help prevent them from sticking.
Only time will tell whether or not this is effective, but I noted some slight stickiness from the usual suspects (G#/C# and the octave key pads). Treating them with cigarette lighter fluid might help, but I've no idea how this will affect the silicone treatment.

Perhaps the biggest change is that of the new crook, touted as being "specifically designed to appeal to a broader range of saxophonists".
I'm always wary of such statements because it so often means that rather than a product being made more exciting - and thus giving it wider appeal - things are made more bland, so as not to upset anyone. It's the 'beige' effect - nobody really minds it as a colour, but at the same time nobody really gives it much thought.
Tonewise I felt that the comments I made regarding the difference between the MkI and the MkII pretty much apply to the difference between the MkI and the MkIII. It's quite evident that the newer horn lacks the pizzazz and sparkle of the original, though on the plus side you get a more rounded bottom end. You also gain a bit more depth in the midrange, but this is at the cost of some brightness - which becomes ever more evident as you go up the scale.
Swapping the crooks around reveals just how much of the tone comes from them, though it's fair to say that the body tube plays a small part - the MkI crook on the MkIII body brings back a lot of the characteristic glitter and graunch, but some of it is tempered by the slightly darker tendencies of the new body. At a rough guess I'd say it's 90% in the crook, 10% in the body.
I should say that although new crook fits the MkI tenon socket, the ring on the octave key sits a little too high to make contact with the octave key pin - so if you decide to use a MkI 62 with a newer crook you'll either have to have the octave key pin extended, or the crook key's ring bent down.

I'm told that the tuning has been improved. This sounds a bit iffy to me, given that it's always been said that if you can't play a Yamaha in tune then you might be better of taking up the banjo. Can't say that I noticed any particular improvement over the MkI. At a pinch I'd say the MkIII had more stability...which in horn terms tends to mean it's less exciting.
One last little point to note - compared to the MkI the sling ring is slightly more over to the left of the tube, which makes the horn hang a little differently. No big deal really, as the holding position isn't uncomfortable, and you'll only really notice it if switching between the two models.

I can see how the new 62 will appeal to a broader range of players - it's essentially a more 'vanilla' horn - but that's not what the original horn was all about. It arrived on the scene at a time when the choice for a professional player was a Selmer MkVI or a vintage horn, and it made its mark because of its build quality, its price and its unashamed clarity of tone in a market awash with 'fat' altos.
Granted, a great many players love those full-bodied altos - and that's great - but there are still a great many players who don't want a 'small tenor', and who prefer their altos to have fire and brilliance by the bucketload.
The new 62 is still a great horn, and newcomers to the marque will find that it can still stand up against the competition - but my feeling is that the light that once shined so brightly has dimmed again. However, if someone at Yamaha were to suggest that they could reissue the original crook as an optional extra...it just might rekindle that old flame.
Oh, and put proper key pearls back on it...and set it up properly.

*Update: Following the publication of the Mk III update I had an email from a chap who'd just bought a MkIII tenor and had noted similar setup problems. Naturally, I'm unable to confirm the existence or the extent of any problems, but at the very least it suggests to me that buyers would be well-advised to check these horns carefully before purchase.
As usual, I'll update this review as and when other examples appear on my workbench.

Copyright © Stephen Howard Woodwind 2015