Stephen Howard Woodwind - Repairs, reviews, advice, tips and tales...
Haynes woodwind maintenance manuals
Reviews from the repairer's workbench
Haynes woodwind maintenance manuals
 

Yanagisawa 992 alto saxophone

Yanagisawa 992 altoOrigin: Japan (www.yanagisawasax.co.jp)
Guide price : £3000
Weight: -
Date of manufacture: 2004
Date reviewed: May 2004

A very good-looking professional quality horn with some useful features

There's been some debate for some time in the saxophone community as to the merits of using different materials for body construction - so I welcomed the chance to review Yanagisawa's bronze-bodied alto.
On first sight it's not actually that obvious that the body is bronze - the slightly reddish hue could just as easily be down to the colour of the lacquer. Indeed, it caught me out - and it was only when I glanced at the model number that I realised the body was bronze. It looks quite obvious now though, when pictured against this pale background.

Will it make a difference to the tone?
I don't mind admitting that I'm entirely sceptical - and for very good scientific reasons - but there's no denying that the 992 is a bit of a looker. Brass is all well and good, and I've got nothing against it - but bronze just has such a lovely warmth to its colour...so much so that even if it doesn't make a jot of difference to the tone, I don't really care.

But bronze costs more than brass - and given the price premium, what do you get for your money?
Well, it's undoubtedly a very well built instrument. The pillars and fittings are neatly soldered on (ribbed construction), the keys are nicely put together and the whole lot is finished off with what looks to be an excellent lacquer job.
There are the usual modern body features, such as a detachable bell and and adjustable thumb rest as well as a sturdy triple-point bell stay, which should help to keep the bell in line in the event of a light knock or two - and the bell key bumper felt are adjustable.
I'll knock a few marks off for the sling ring though. Oh, it's beefy enough - it's just that the diameter is a little on the small side, and this may limit the choice of slings due to the size of their hooks.

Yanagisawa 992 alto bell keys I was particularly pleased to see a very substantial bell key pillar arrangement. I've often commented before where horns have lacked what I consider to be this essential feature, namely good support to a complex pillar that's first in line for a whack if the horn takes a tumble.
Not content with merely providing a beefy pillar, Yanagisawa have made it removable. Top marks there from the repairer's workbench.

Note too the bridged roller between the low C# and B touchpieces.
This is a simple but effective design that makes for a smoother finger transition between the two notes.
It works very well, though other manufacturers tackle the same problem by adding a slope to the facing edges of the two touchpieces.

The keywork has some nice features. Yanagisawa are big on braces, and this horn features a double arm on the low C and B keys, and an F# helper arm - which is a secondary adjustable brace for the link between the low F key and the Auxiliary F key above it. I have my doubts as to whether such a brace works effectively on larger horns (due to the whip in the arm) but it seems to work fine on this alto.

The keys are well laid out, and with the blue steel springs and proper point screws the whole action has a very positive and agile feel to it. The setup was very good indeed - so much so that I rather suspect the retailer may have tweaked it, though I still found the main stack action to be a tad too heavily sprung. Rather surprisingly I had to strengthen the bell key springing...it was a just a bit too weak, which leads to a bit of bounce if you're not careful.

A couple of minor points (and we were doing so well)...I didn't think much of the placement of the auto F key. It was so far offline that I even wondered whether it had been bent, but it appears to be where it's supposed to be. It way too far back on the B key, and needs to be brought much more into line with the key pearl. No big deal - this key can be bent to suit the individual.
I found the top D touchpiece to be a tad too far down the body, so that whenever I played a top D the base of my finger hit the point of the touchpiece.
I have quite long fingers, and I hold my left hand at an angle, so this might not be an issue for you - but if it is it will get on your nerves in no short time. The fix for this would be to round off the upper point on the touchpiece - or, if you really wanted to go to town, have the whole touchpiece moved up slightly. Bear this in mind when testing the horn - it really is no fun to have that key dig into your palm every time you hit the top D.

A minor gripe is that there are no regulation adjusters fitted to the bar at the rear of the stack keys - but that's more an issue for us repairers.

Yanagisawa 992 thumb restThe body is topped off with one of the largest thumb rests I've ever seen, and an octave key touchpiece to match. Comfortable? Oh, only a lot!
The horn also features a thumb hook with a dimpled base - which I've commented upon in the 901 baritone review.

Yanagisawa 992 alto crookThe horn is advertised as having an underslung crook. In fact it's not a true underslung like the Conn 6M, where the octave key hole is on the underside of the crook (and the mechanism works in reverse - rather, it's just a plain octave key that's been redesigned. Having said that, it's been designed very well and will certainly be a lot sturdier than the traditional design. The keywork is finished off with a nice set of pads that have been well fitted and well set - and the whole package comes with a sturdy but light case that offers very good protection for the instrument.

And what a lovely horn to blow! Under the fingers the action feels eager and responsive. I'd prefer it slightly lower, and lightly sprung - but even the standard setup is more than adequate. It blows easily throughout its range - whether you scream down it or smooch away with subtones, it doesn't miss a beat...and glides effortlessly between the extremes.

Tonewise it has a well rounded sound, and I get the impression that it'll produce just about any tone you want with the right mouthpiece. Tuning is excellent, and the tone is even across the range. It perhaps lacks the power and cut of the YAS62, but then again not everyone wants that. The client that bought this horn was looking for a darker, more classical sound - and I'd agree that the horn has the potential to deliver that.
I can't really say any more about it - it's all there.

As to how much difference the bronze body makes - who can say? I'd certainly advise comparing it with the 991, which has a plain brass body - you might find the extra £500 or so for the bronze body could be better spent on a mouthpiece that would give the same tonal response...and still leave you with change for a few pints. If you can do without the underslung octave key arrangement, you can save even more pennies.
I played the horn side-by-side with a couple of brass-bodied instruments, but couldn't really tell whether it was the bronze body that made the difference or the horn's design. If any comparison is going to be valid then it'll only be the one between the 991 and the 992...and even then the differences will be down to the individual horns.
My advice is to ignore the hype, disregard the body material debate, and judge the horn simply on its merits...of which there are quite a few. Definitely a horn for the top of the shopping list.

Copyright © Stephen Howard Woodwind 2015