Yamaha YBS62(S) baritone saxophone
Japan - 'E' suffix for models assembled in Europe (uk.yamaha.com)
Guide price: £6000
Date of manufacture: 2008
Date reviewed: May 2017
Possibly the definitive modern baritone
Aren't baritones great? No, really, they are, aren't they?
I've always felt them to be the most 'considered' choice among all
the saxes. I think most people end up playing an alto or a tenor
because that's what they started with. They get used to it, so they
stick with it. Some go for the soprano - but I have a sneaking suspicion
that most of them do so because the size appeals to them. I mean,
let's face it, it can't be the tone.
But what does the baritone have going for it? Not the size - the
bloody thing's enormous - nor the weight, of which it has plenty.
It can't really be the tone because, as nice as it is, it doesn't
really have the same range of expression as the alto or the tenor.
About the only thing it's got in its favour it that it can really
hit those low notes.
On paper that makes it a bit of a lemon - which is why, of all the
saxes, you'd really have to have a burning desire to play one. You
have to weigh up all the pros (not many)and the cons(quite a few)
and then decide that it's the horn for you. If that's not a considered
choice, I don't know what is.
And they're fun. Hand any other horn to a player and you might
get an appreciative nod or some conversation about how it compares
to such-and-such a horn. Hand them a bari and you get a great big
Trouble is, baritones have always had a bit of a reputation as
being a bit 'make do and mend'. They were seldom first to benefit
from the upgrades and improvements that were showered on their smaller
relations - and their sheer size meant that they were really pushing
the limits of what was mechanically achievable...at least in terms
Fortunately the baritone, in common with most bass instruments,
is a very forgiving beast - and while the design improved considerably
through the '50s and '60s, it wasn't until the 62 hit the shops
that it seemed like someone had started to take them seriously.
And by that I mean the designers didn't just 'make a bigger alto',
they sat down and really thought about what a baritone needs.
And here it is - so let's get it on the bench and see exactly what
the boffins had come up with.
The construction is largely ribbed. I say largely because with such
a long body you're never going to be able to fit all of the pillars
onto ribs (or even want to, unless you weren't planning on anyone
being able to lift it), so there are quite a few standalone and
grouped pillars. These all have respectably large bases.
The body is in three sections - you get a detachable bell and also
a detachable top bow.
have chosen to detach the top bow where it meets the main body tube
(Yanagisawas detach where the 'U-bend' meets the top bow). I feel
this is a very sensible arrangement as baritones are prone to taking
knocks and bashes, and having easy and speedy access to the bore
saves a lot of time (and thus money). Granted, you could always
remove the bell if you needed to get tooling up the main bore, but
it's one hell of a big job.
Remove a few keys and the detachable braces, pop the top joint off
and Bob's yer uncle. What's not to like?
You get an adjustable plastic thumb hook and a large plastic thumb
rest. It would have been nice had they been made of metal but they're
at least very comfortable in use.
The sling ring is of the usual 15/8 ratio (15mm outer diameter,
8mm inner) which I find a bit small even on smaller horns. It it,
however, fitted to a very large base...so it won't be dropping off
in a hurry.
There's a full set of bell key guards mounted on rather beefy stays
- including one for the vulnerable low C# key cup - and they're
all fitted with adjusters for the bumper felts. The side F# guard,
though, is fixed in place.
The toneholes are all drawn, and even after almost ten year's worth
of gigging they were all nice and level - and with tidily-finished
a triple-point bell brace, and it's quite an interesting design
- it's essentially a souped-up version of the one fitted to the
altos and tenors. It's certainly larger (as it needs to be) but
the real meat-and-potatoes is the addition of an extra arm fitted
to the centre of the main body tube.
The whole affair is quite stiff and sturdy, and yet it's been designed
to give way should the horn take a hefty bell-on impact. It seems
to work, too - as I don't see many of these baritones with bells
that have been knocked out of whack, and the ones that have don't
usually exhibit the typical body damage that results from such impacts.
I'll say this much though - if you ever manage to bend the bell
brace it's a complete sod to get it realigned again. You've got
to get the axis of the lower crossbar just right, and then you have
to match in the curvature of the body arm. It's an object lesson
in going back and forth.
The overall construction of the body is very good - all very neat
and tidy. I have to say that I've noticed something of a down-turn
in the build quality of recent 62 altos and tenors, but the baritone
seems to be maintaining the once-renowned Yamaha standard. I would
imagine this is down to current models being the same design as
earlier ones (baritones are always the last to get a look in when
they come round with the upgrades trolley), and perhaps this means
the production setup has remained the same? Who knows? I certainly
have no complaints.
So far so good, then - a well-built body of modern design...but
it's in the keywork where the real goodies are to be found...
such goodie is the Yamaha's low A mechanism.
It's always nice to find a killer feature on a horn - it means that
no matter what negativity is thrown at the horn, you can always
point to this feature and say "Yeah? Well, never mind that...look
at this!" - and people will be duly impressed.
It's one of those designs that's so obvious once you see it - and
when you look at what the competition has come with you can't help
but wonder what on earth they were thinking. It turns what was once
a clunky, mushy, typically approximate mechanism into something
akin to a switch.
Low A goes on...low A goes off. It's that simple. No messing.
It does so by virtue of having two lever arms off the thumb key
- one for the low B/Bb and a separate one for the A - as well as
some provision for adjusting the relationship between the two. It
also runs beneath the main stack rather than over it, so the lever
are kept as short as possible. It all adds up to a sublimely functional
mech - and in the saxophone innovation hall of fame I'd put it right
up there with swivelling octave mechs, adjustable thumb rests and
triple-point offset bell braces.
I have one of those infamous Chinese knock-off baritones that's
fitted with this design of low A key. It's nowhere near as well-built
- but here's the thing...even though it's probably only half as
good as the proper mech, it's still streets ahead of the mechs you'll
find on other baritones. Good design always works, and great design
carries on working even when it's not quite so well built.
Note the simple fork and pin link on the side C key - just below
the barrel of the thumb key. This is a simple, slick and efficient
design. Nothing more is needed. Note too the pillar cap just below
it. This helps to prevent the top E key barrel from flexing in use
(It's one hell of a long key barrel). It also provides a degree
of protection against knocks - and might just save your bacon if
you're a bit clumsy when lifting the horn out of the case. Straightening
bent top E baritone keys is a surprisingly common job.
get the usual bell key mech with the tilting table. Nothing much
to write home about here - it works, and it works very well. Yamaha
have done a good job in balancing the need for key stiffness with
the need to keep the horn's weight down, and it's typically here
where you'll most notice any flex in the keywork. There's some -
there's bound to be with such long keys - but it's well within my
You can't quite see it here, but the bell key pillars are divided
into two groups - low B and C# on one pillar, low Bb, A and G# on
This is a sensible arrangement and will help to prevent the pillars
being shunted backwards if the horn cops a jolt in the case (case
shock). A small note to would-be DIYers...reasssembling the bell
keys is a bit of a Chinese puzzle...it's one of those 'two steps
forward, one step back' layouts where you have to get the keys fitted
in just the right sequence or you'll end up holding a key that you
Speaking of stiff and sturdy keys, it's perhaps a bit surprising
that double key arms haven't been used for most of the bell keys
(there's one on the low C).
They're a big feature theses days on altos and tenors - and while
their worth on these horns is debatable, they'd make perfect sense
on a baritone. Maybe it goes back to that 'upgrade trolley' thing
- and if they ever decided to upgrade the bell keys they might also
decide to knock back the build quality. I know which I'd rather
been at least a couple of minutes since we had a killer feature,
so I reckon it's high time we had another - and this time it's the
twin body octave key vents.
The transition between octave G (with the body vent open) and A
(with the crook vent open) has always been tricky on saxes - and
even more so on baritones. Having just two octaves vents on a sax
has always been an acoustic compromise - and while the ideal would
be to perhaps have an octave vent for each note, it's clearly not
going to be a practical proposition. This mechanism goes some small
way to evening out the compromises.
And it seems to work quite nicely. It also has the added benefit
of making the midrange octave notes a little less pinched and nasal.
If there's a drawback it's that it makes the octave mech slightly
more complex than it already is, and that means there's more to
This mech's Achilles heel is the mechanism that regulates the height
of the twin key cups. It's quite a clever design - the lower key
has a flat spring attached to it, and this sits in a cradle that's
fixed to the upper key cup. The spring provides a downward force
against the upper key cup, while the upward force it provides to
the lower key cup is overridden by the spring that power the octave
mech as a whole. It's a neat, self regulating solution.
If the mech fails (outside of damage and normal wear and tear) there's
a chance that it'll be because the small screw that secures the
spring to the lower key has come loose through vibration, which
leads to the tip of the spring bouncing out of its cradle (show
by the red arrow). When this happens, the regulation between the
two key cups is lost and the upper one will leak. The fix is to
dismantle the mech and tighten the spring screw (a drop of weak
threadlock, such as Loctite 222, is a good idea). It's not an especially
common problem - just something to keep in mind if things go awry.
to see a full set of regulation adjusters on both stacks. I say
a full set, but if you look at this shot of the lower stack Auxiliary
F bar you'll see that there are only two adjusters - one for the
F and one for the E. There's no adjuster for the low D because the
Aux. bar simply doesn't extend that far.
Did they slip up? Did they simply forget? No, they wisely decided
that there's always too much flex in this bar by the time it gets
down to the D key - and because a D adjuster on an alto barely works
and one on a tenor seldom does, it makes no sense at all to bother
with one on a bari. It means you can't play an F# using the flute
fingering - but I sincerely doubt it's a feature that's very high
on the average bari player's wish-list.
As a general principle I'm a big fan of adjusters - even the most
precisely-built action will flex a little in use, and the adjusters
make it a cinch to dial in a suitable amount of bias or compensation.
As the saying goes, you first set it up by the book...then you throw
the book away and set it up by feel - and these screws make that
job much easier.
And while we're on the subject of screws I'm delighted
to say that proper point screws have been used throughout. I consider
these things to be essential on any horn, but especially so on a
baritone. There's so much natural imprecision built in to such a
large horn that you really need all the help you can get - and while
stiff keys and double arms are useful assets, they're not much good
if the keys are able to flap around on their pivots.
Other than that you get a full set of proper mother-of-pearl key
touches, and the action is powered by hefty blue steel springs.
The finish is up to the usual Yamaha standards,
though I'd question the wisdom of buying a silverplated bari. Silver
tarnishes, and there's a lot of silver on a bari. A lot. It's a
vast amount of surface area to keep clean - and while most of it
is easy enough to get to, you'll still struggle to get in underneath
and around the keywork. And it an unfortunate fact that while a
grubby lacquered instrument undoubtedly looks, well, grubby - a
tarnished silver one looks distinctly shabby. And the bigger it
is, the shabbier it looks.
Putting a shine on a silver bari is a four-part process. You start
off with good intentions and a large bottle of silver polish. Then
it gets boring. Then fatigue sets in - and finally you're overcome
with an intense feeling of regret and envy...because your mate with
the lacquered bari long since finished wiping a duster over it and
is now sitting in the pub, having a cosy chat with the very attractive
Personally I'd go for the lacquered version. Yamaha's lacquer is
superb - so much so that you can (with a bit of skill and a pinch
of luck) resolder a loose pillar or stay back onto the body without
burning the finish. About my only reservation is that they cut the
engraving through the lacquer. It looks sharper like this, but it
makes for an ideal spot for blemishes to form. But keep the bell
nice and clean and you shouldn't run into too many problems.
The horn comes in what can only be described as
a very substantial case, complete with four hefty latches to keep
the lid on. There are dedicated slots for the crook and the mouthpiece
and plenty of space for all your accessories - though I doubt you'll
be able to fit a bari stand in it. You probably won't want to anyway...the
weight of the case and horn combined is 'impressive'. If it got
any heavier it'd probably sink down towards the centre of the earth
if you left it long enough.
Under the fingers the YBS62 feels remarkably like
a tenor. I remember the first time I ever got my hands on one (it
might have been a 61). It was in Lewingtons (on Shaftesbury Avenue),
and I think I'd popped in there to buy some reeds and gawp at the
shiny saxes. Back then I was still wielding an old Buescher baritone
- which had all the poke of a lettuce and an action that had more
spring in it than my bed. I managed to cop a feel of the Yamaha
while the guy behind the counter was distracted, and I simply couldn't
believe how nimble it felt.
I still get that feeling today - probably because I spend so much
time fixing up broken vintage baritones - and I don't think I'd
be far wrong in describing the feel of the baritone as being like
a heavy tenor. Sure the keywork is more spread out, but rather than
have to stretch your fingering position you merely have to widen
There's no sense that you're likely to fumble a note, or trip up
over complex passages. Granted, you're never going to get the agility
that you would from an alto or a tenor - but it's damned close call.
And that low A mech is just a joy...so much so that you might find
yourself going for it just for the hell of it. It never fails to
Out of the factory the action is set quite heavy. It doesn't feel
unnatural, but this is likely due to the expectation that a 6 kilo
horn is going to be somewhat ponderous. But there's plenty of room
for tweakery, and you might be surprised at how light the action
can go before key bounce sets in (where the weight of the keys begins
to overcome the spring tension).
Tonewise it's all you'd expect from Yamaha. Bright, crisp and clear
with lots of body and an evenness of tone and tuning across the
board. It also packs one hell of a punch.
In this respect it's very much a contemporary horn - and this has
as much to do with it being a low A bari as it does with the design
philosophy, and the inevitable tonal compromises that seem to come
at the expense of more accurate tuning.
let's face it, how many dedicated baritone soloists are there these
days? Even in the heyday of jazz they were few and far between,
and the vast majority of players seem to want a baritone that doesn't
get lost in a section and that can kick low-end arse when needs
be. But that's not to say that the Yamaha doesn't have poise and
balance - it's there if you want it, and this isn't a horn that
complains when you play it quietly.
It's also got plenty of 'bounce'. It's hard to express what this
is - but with many bass instruments there's a tendency for the tone
to 'fuzz' around the edges, leaving you with the impression of a
sluggish response. When a note has bounce it's almost as if there's
a percussiveness about it - a very definite start and finish. The
Yamaha has bounce a-plenty - even a hardened bop altoist wouldn't
find much to complain about.
If you're at all concerned that this bari will stick out like a
C Melody at a funk gig when it comes to light ensemble work, simply
do what most other bari players do and set yourself up with a pair
of mouthpieces. One for the hard 'n heavy gigs and a more laid-back
one for the lighter work. One for blow and one for show, as it were.
In terms of the competition the 62 doesn't have much to square
up to. The most obvious choice would be the Yanagisawa 991. This
is another well-built baritone - and in that sense both baris are
very evenly matched. However, the keywork on the 62 is more advanced
and refined - which makes a difference. Tonally the presentation
on the 991 is more laid back, and while it perhaps doesn't have
the bark and bite of the Yamaha it more than makes up for it with
its richness and slightly warmer approach.
There are also a number of Mauriats to consider - and although it's
been a while since I've had a Mauriat on the bench I'd still be
concerned about the build quality of the action. The chances of
finding precision on a bari are slim enough as it is, so you need
all the help you can get.
And then there's the Keilwerth SX90. This would be an 'off Broadway
' choice, but not necessarily a bad one. At the very least it ought
to be on the list.
Perhaps the strongest competition the 62 faces is from its sibling,
the YBS32. You
get the same keywork features and build quality, and you save around
two grand. It doesn't have quite the depth of tone that the 62 has,
but it's a very close thing...and careful mouthpiece choices would
narrow that gap considerably, and quite possibly make it disappear
I said at the top of the review that this is possibly the definitive
modern baritone. If you weren't a fan of how Yamaha's played you'd
probably, and quite reasonably, say this was nonsense - but it takes
more than one quality to make a horn definitive, and ultimately
what you're looking for is a fine balance. I certainly take the
tone into account, but also the action, the build quality, the playability...and
Other horns might hit closer to the bullseye in other areas - for
example, the playability of the Yanagisawa 9930 is astonishing...but
then so is its price - but when the scores are totted up I reckon
the YBS62 walks away with the prize.
All in all a very fine instrument indeed. If you're shopping for
a top-line baritone and this one isn't on your list - get a new
for ebayers and other auctioneers