Yanagisawa A-WO2 alto saxophone
Guide price: £2500
Weight: 2.5kg (approx.)
Date of manufacture: 2015
Date reviewed: 30/05/2015
The Yanagisawa 902, reborn
In my recent review of the 902
alto I mentioned that Yanagisawa had a good track record of
consistency and production longevity - which was rather undermined
by their bringing out a whole bunch of updated models.
I suppose I ought to be thinking "Bloody typical", but
as it happens I rather think it was high time they came up with
something new. But not that new.
Y'see, I'm all for lengthy production runs - it gives you the sense
that the manufacturer got it right from the off, and that they've
been able to stand by their product down the years. That's confidence
for you, and it comes as an extra at no added cost when you buy
one of their products. I'm also somewhat cautious of 'new, improved'
versions of old classics - if only because it's so often the case
that what made the old product a classic is precisely what's missing
from the new one (cough, YAS62, cough).
I've always liked Yanagisawa horns...or rather
I've always like working on them. The build quality is usually very
good, as is the setup out of the box - and rather than have to muck
around with ill-fitting keys and sloppy corks, you can pull one
of these horns out of the box and get right on with tweaking it
to the client's needs. However, I've been less keen about them in
terms of playability. It's a personal thing, of course, but they've
rarely 'floated my boat', so to speak.
So when the WO2 arrived on my bench I was keen to see if the manufacturing
standards had been maintained, and whether the playability had changed...
From a distance there doesn't appear to be much
difference between the WO2 and the 902. The name has changed, obviously,
and the horns are now divided up into two groups - the Professional
range (AWO1 and O2) and the Elite (AWO10, O20 and O30) but for the
most part there aren't any significant visible differences. Indeed,
for the most part much of what I've written about the 902, at least
in terms of the build quality, will apply to the AWO2, and so rather
than run through it all again in this review I'm going to focus
more on the tweaks and changes.
I find the range names rather amusing - Professional and Elite.
It used to be that Student and Professional was good enough to mark
out the intended customer base - everyone knew where they stood.
Then along came Intermediate, which muddied the waters a little.
And now we have an Elite. In itself it's not a problem, but it causes
me to wonder what the next step might be. What if you wanted to
sell a range of horns that were better than the Elite models? Are
we talking Grand Vizier? Archduke du Bebop? Supreme Ruler of the
Multiverse? I'm half tempted to make a range of super-expensive
horns just so's I can stamp 'Wannabe' on them...
So let's take a closer look and see what's been
The most important changes are the least visible
- namely the bore and the toneholes. It's these features that really
define a horn, that give it its characteristic tone and response
- and even a small change can have a significant effect on the playability
of a horn. That's not to say, though, that there's no room for manoeuvre
- the old Selmer MkVI alto went though a number of such changes
in its lifetime, and yet still retained the essence of what made
it a MkVI.
I can't tell you precisely what's been changed - I'd have to sit
down with a stripped 902 and AWO2 and a handful of measuring tools
before I could come up with an answer...and, frankly, life's too
Aside from that the exterior of the body appears
to be largely unchanged from the 902 - you've got the adjustable
thumb rest (complete with dimples), the triple-point bell brace,
the detachable bell, the adjustable bumper guards (with the nice
coloured inserts) and a sling ring that's still a bit on a small
side for my liking. And as per the 902, the body is made in bronze.
Business as usual, in other words.
The more visible changes are to the keywork -
its design and layout. On the whole these are small changes with
perhaps the most significant being a redesign of the front top F
touchpiece. It was already pretty good, and had been putting other
designs to shame for many years now - but this new touchpiece is
just marvellous. If
there's a note of disappointment it's that they haven't taken the
opportunity to swap out the concave (real) mother-of-pearl touch
on the Bis Bb for a domed one.
The low C/Eb spatulas have been tweaked too, and they've added some
feet to the side key touchpieces. This is a nice mod - it gives
the keys a more definite stopping point when you press them, which
helps to improve the speed at which your fingers return to the main
stack position. I should point out, though, that side key touchpiece
buffers have a tendency to fall off - and when they do you'll lose
any advantage they might have given you...so it's worth checking
them from time to time.
The palm keys have also had a bit of an upgrade.
Previously they were mounted on box channel pillars - which although
quite functional were nonetheless rather industrial in appearance.
These have gone, and have been replaced by proper pillars mounted
on a single plate...which is pretty much what every other manufacturer
It looks much neater, and far more elegant.
that this will prevent the more cynical among you from pointing
out that the 992 (and above) series of horns have always had this
feature, and that using it across the board for the entire range
undoubtedly makes economic sense.
And that appears to be about it - everything else
seems to be much the same as the old 902.
There are still no adjusters on the main stack keys, though there
are the usual ones for the Bis Bb/G# and the low C#...plus the F#
helper arm. There's an anti-whip clamp on the side top E/F# keys,
proper (elliptical) point screws are used and the whole action is
powered by blued steel springs. And there's a decent set of pads
The crook (neck) has been jazzed up a bit with
the addition of a shield plate at the front.
I rather like this - it's a little like the badge you might have
on the bonnet/hood of your car...it's just a nice cosmetic feature
that adds a touch of bling. That said, I see claims are being made
to the effect that this plate will strengthen the crook, but to
be frank if it has any strengthening effect at all it will likely
be so small as to be negligible. Likewise, claims about it having
an effect on the tone will just be nonsense.
I also especially like the name stamped on the tenon sleeve ring.
See it? On the left hand side, just below the bottom of the octave
key? It says 'YANY'.
I don't recall ever having seen this feature before, and I'm not
entirely sure what it means...but I have a theory.
It's quite common to hear players say "Oh, I've got a Yani
alto" - as much as you'll hear players refer to a Yammy tenor.
a term of endearment, but I've often wondered if the manufacturers
were a bit bothered by it (some cultures are rather more, shall
we say, respectful of names than others).
The appearance of the name suggests two things; that Yanagisawa
either don't mind that players shorten the name, or that they've
come to accept the popular nickname - and that whereas we've all
been saying 'Yani', it should in fact be 'Yany'. Of course, it could
be neither of those things and simply a model name for that particular
crook. I'm sure we'll find out in due course.
But if it's an acceptance of the affectionate nickname, and I hope
it is, I rather feel it adds a nice homely touch to the brand. I
like it...I like it a lot.
The build quality of Yanagisawa horns has always
been good, even excellent, and the WO2 continues this fine tradition.
I'm half tempted to say it's even a little bit better - though I'm
going to reserve judgement on that 'til I've seen a few more examples.
It's looking good though.
The case has also had an upgrade, and on the whole
it's jolly nice. I much prefer a box-style case with proper catches
over a shaped one with zips (though a shaped one with catches trumps
the lot), and the old case was always pretty decent. The new one
is much the same, with the addition of an exterior pouch for music
and sundries and another which houses the built-in shoulder straps.
A nice touch. The old vinyl style exterior has gone - and about
time too...it was always vulnerable to knocks and scuffs, and would
often tear. There is, however, a bit of whinge due to the placement
of a catch right under the handle...which is always a bit of a faff.
It's made all the worse by a velcro'd tab that goes over the catch...presumably
to stop you from snagging your fingers on it when you pick the case
up. It's a (very) minor point, and from an engineering perspective
I can see the value of an additional case catch in the centre -
but would it have been so very bad to have shifted it to one side
of the handle? Might look odd, but then you could tout it as a feature.
It'd certainly have more credibility than some of the claims being
made for the new features on this horn.
The setup out of the box was pretty good. This
example had come by way of a large retailer and I assume it had
been given a pre-sale tweak. I still found some minor leaks at the
rear of a couple of the pads - nothing that would stop the horn
dead in its tracks, but enough to knock the edge off the overall
response - and the regulation buffers over the G#/Bis Bb keys needed
rounding off (they creaked in use). The spring tension, on the whole,
was set quite well, as was the height of the action. As far as a
factory/retailer setup goes, not too bad at all - and certainly
rather better than many others I've seen of late.
The keywork tweaks have paid dividends. I can't say that I ever
tripped over the low C/Eb keys on the old model, but the new layout
feels more agile and immediate. Likewise the new front top F touchpiece
is just a joy...and the side key tweaks, while small, add a touch
of solidity to the action. I'd still prefer to have a domed pearl
on the Bis Bb key though.
I guess it's all been quite upbeat thus far, so
now it's time to redress the balance a little...
Much has been made of the effects of all these tweaks to the tone
of the horn - and to be frank most of it is just plain marketing
spiel...or, as it's known in the trade, complete bollocks.
The 'killer tweak' is the redesign of the bore and bottom bow and
the tonehole size/placement. You can think of these things as the
engine - any changes made here will have a noticeable impact on
the way a horn blows and plays. Everything else is just cupholders
and go-faster stripes - the choice of metal, the fittings, the guards
and braces etc. Not that it stops the spread of BS...with claims
that the increase in the size of the palm key plate adds resonance
and projection due to 'increased core weight'. Increased core weight?
What does that even mean?? If all it takes is adding a bit of mass
then all you need to do to improve the tone and response of your
horn is to slap a lump of Blu-Tack on it.
Stuff like that really bugs me. I appreciate that manufacturers
need to create a buzz about their new products, and retailers need
to excite potential customers - but it's high time the industry
stopped treating the punters like marks at a hustler's convention.
Let's have some respect.
we get to the playtest, there's just time for a little chuckle.
Have you noticed that the model designation is AWO2 (with an 'O')
and not AW02 (with a zero)? I didn't either, until a reader dropped
me a line to point out the error...which I subsequently corrected.
I'll admit I was slightly horrified at having made such a terrible
faux pas - until I checked the model name at the UK Yanagisawa website
and saw it listed as both the AWO2 and the AW02 ("AW02 - Professional
Model. The upgraded replacement for the legendary A902 series, this
AWO2 bronze model..."). However, if you check the Japanese
site there's not a misplaced zero to be seen...which is what you'd
So how d'you explain this? The image on the right was sent in by
the reader who pointed out my error - it's the label on the box
in which his new horn came in - and there's the W0 again. If you
listen very carefully you might just hear a very faint "Doh!"
(in Japanese, of course) coming from Yanagisawa's factory...
Worse still, this error appears to have made its way into Yanagisawa's
dealer blurb...so it now pops up all over the place. It's probably
a typo - but to be frank, sticking an 'O' in front of a number is
just asking for trouble...unless you happen to be a very large mobile
As far as playability goes I've always been a
bit blasé about Yanagisawas. Don't get me wrong, it's not
that they're bad horns or that they lack anything - it's just that
they've never given me the feeling that I just want to keep on blowing
them. That said, the solid silver baritone I tried at Frankfurt
a few years ago was magnificent in every respect (including the
price). For me they've always stood between the punch and clarity
of Yamahas and the full midrange of the Selmers...yet without quite
hitting that sweet spot in the middle. But the AWO2 moves the goalposts.
Tonewise it seems to me to have retained that characteristic Yanagisawa
'middle ground' versatility, but now there's a bit of extra sparkle
in the mix. It's got more definition, more clarity...and it feels
like a more precise blow.
As an upgrade/improvement/call-it-what-you-will it's a fine piece
of work - the world of saxophones is littered with 'new, improved'
models that seem to have thrown the baby out with the bathwater...but
not the AWO2. The changes are subtle enough to keep the die-hard
Yani fans happy, and significant enough to make previously disinterested
players sit up and take notice. It's a commendable achievement.
And it's just as well, because the competition
is pretty stiff. At this price it's up against the Yamaha 82Z, the
Keilwerth MKX and the Rampone R1 - not to mention the fearsome TJ
Not having anything else handy, I tested it against a TJ RAW XS.
I didn't do this with the 902 because - to be very frank - I didn't
think it was fair on the Yani...so I put it up against a purple
logo 62, and it did OK.
But the AWO2 is a tougher challenge, so out came the RAW.
Let's be very clear - at this level there's no rubbish, and assuming
everything's equal on the build quality side it all boils down to
feel and personal tonal preference. From my perspective the new
Yanagisawa is more capable, more versatile than the old one...and
more interesting, but the RAW's still got the edge all round. It
feels more nimble, more expressive, and seems to paint its tone
with broader brush strokes.
But it's a close-run thing, and certainly a lot closer than the
902 could have come - and on that basis I give it a big, fat thumbs