Yamaha YBS32 baritone saxophone
Guide price: £4600
Date of manufacture: -
Date reviewed: October 2005
Yamaha's 'cheap' baritone saxophone - the starting
point for pro-quality baris
For the bari player looking for a pro quality instrument on a mid-price
budget there aren't too many option in the marketplace. In fact there
are just two options; the Yamaha YBS32 or the Yanagisawa
As with many horns that form part of a range or series, the 32
shares much with its more expensive relative, the 62. This gives
it something of a head start, as the 62 has long been regarded as
a very fine bari indeed. The 32 has slightly fewer features on the
keywork side, and as we shall see later the body design has an impact
on the tone - but this may not be an entirely bad thing in some
The YBS32 gives off an impression of lightness. The clear lacquer
finish lends it a bright, clean look, and the horn feels less weighty
than other baris. In fact it weighs round about the same, so if
there's a difference at all it'll only be in terms of a few ounces.
Maybe that makes a difference when the horn is hanging round your
That's not to say that the build is skimpy - as we are about to see:
The first thing I look for on the body of a baritone is what comes off,
and where. These large saxes tend to suffer a great deal of punishment
- not because bari sax players are particularly clumsy (at least, I don't
think anyone ever done a study to find out whether this might or might
not be the case...) but simply because with a lump of brass this size
and weight you're not exactly going to be at all deft in your movements.
Rather like a supertanker at sea - if you see anything heading for you,
or indeed see yourself heading towards another object, it's not so much
a case of whether you'll collide but when.
And because the body tends to take a bit of a beating it's always wise
to ensure that we repairers can gain easy access to knock these dents
out (to make space for more dents, of course) - and so the removable bell
as featured on most alto and tenors becomes less of a luxury feature and
more of an essential.
Even more so is the removable top bow. It's often far easier (and less
work, and thus less costly for you) to get a dent bar down the top end
of the horn - and because baris tend to get rather gunged up around the
crook section it's handy to be able to remove the top bow for cleaning.
nice feature is the substantial bell brace. The design is rather
similar to that seen on the altos and tenors, but the bari has an
extra arm that connects to the body between the A and G key cups.
This will help to brace the bell in the event of a side-on knock
(of which there are bound to be many in its lifetime).
With this much meat holding the bell in place there's a fair chance that
if you ever collide with anything it won't be the baritone that comes
The top bow section sports a similarly well-specified brace.
I'm pleased to see that the beefiness of the bell brace is matched
by the size of the sling ring. It always amazes me that someone
can design a instrument this big and not give any thought to how
the player is going to support it. I noted on the Yanagisawa
that the ring was pitiably small - Yamaha have clearly given the
matter a little more thought and fitted a sling ring commensurate
with the size and weight of the horn.
Overall build quality is good, with well fitted pillars and fittings.
I've had my reservations about Yamaha's build quality in recent
years, but I'm relieved to see that this horn was of the standard
that's long been associated with the brand.
I noted no anomalies with the tone holes.
keywork is of the usual Yamaha standard. A few points bear special mention,
such as the double arm on the low C key (as featured on Yanagisawa for
quite some time) and a double body octave key tubes. What effect this
latter feature has will become evident later - but I would point out that
this system needs careful balancing. I have also noted a tendency for
the flat spring (seen just below the key furthest to the right) to slip
out of it's little channel on the body. When this happens, the mechanism
fails - and although it's a simple matter to just slip the spring back
into the channel it's not the sort of thing that the average player is
going to be aware of. It's easy enough to fix permanently (it's usually
due to the screw that secures the spring in place working loose - a drop
of threadlock will cure this), it just shouldn't need fixing in the first
a much brighter note the low A thumb key is practically an object
of wonder. Just look at the thing! It's about as beefy a key as
I've ever seen, and as adjustable as you could ever want or need.
It's really quite essential that this key works well, there's no low A
key on the bell key cluster - so it's the thumb or nothing when it comes
to that big, fat, low note.
The real beauty of a mechanism this well designed and built is that
it will really allow you to hit a low A without having to use your
left hand little finger to 'help' the note along by bringing down
the low B and Bb. Press this little baby and all the bell keys slam
home! It's what I would call a 'killer feature' - a real must-have.
Note too that key barrel guide to the left of the photo. This helps prevent
the side trill key barrels from flexing (key whip, as it's known in the
trade). This give these keys a consistently positive and slick feel.
It's little touches like this that mark this horn out as above average
- but the lack of a top F# just puts a fingermark in the icing on the
Finally, I'm pleased to note proper point screws have been used throughout,
allowing for constantly adjustable action down the years as wear and tear
takes its toll.
I noticed a couple of blemishes in the lacquer around the bell
joints. Considering the relatively young age of this horn it doesn't
bode well for the future - this corrosion will spread if left unchecked,
and there's a lot of places it can go on such a large horn.
A good, solid case. Always plenty of space in the square type cases -
but never quite enough to fit a bari stand in.
I note that the crooks socket rests perilously close to the bottom edge.
I've seen this crop up with other makes, and I still think there's not
enough protection here. Granted, the body is amply supported elsewhere
in the case, but in a few years time the case padding will have settled
and that crook socket might have nothing between it and the base of the
case. One good clout, or even a simple drop from carrying height, and
you could be looking at some nasty damage to the crook socket and bow.
The horn is lighter in tone than the 62, there's less depth - though
this could be enhanced somewhat with an open mouthpiece.
You'd think that when you bought a baritone you were paying for the low
notes, but in fact those rich, basso notes are quite easy to achieve -
it's the top notes where you might find your money runs out. The 32 is
less rich and fluid than the 62 here, though still more open and bright
than many an old baritone. What you pay for is evenness of response tonewise,
and the 32 shows its price point with a mid D that's a little bit fatter
than the rest of the upper octave.
To be fair, it's a tricky note on any horn, and some reining in via the
embouchure will bring it into line somewhat.
I really noticed the effect of the double octave key mechanism. Comparing
it side my side with the Yanagisawa 902 I felt that the Yamaha's response
over the octave A,G,F run was far more fluid and consistent. Baris have
always been tricky beasts in this area, and modern design techniques have
improved matters considerably (though vintage fans would argue that it's
at the expense of character), but this little gizmo really pays off. Another
The action felt crisp and light once it had been tweaked (it's rather
heavy from new), and everything felt as though it was where it ought to
be. Yamaha actions are worthy of note, and when the action gets this big
the subtleties really show. Long, heavy keys can make for a spongy action,
but the YBS32 feels almost like a tenor under the fingers. The feel and
positioning of the side trill keys is spot on, slightly better than the
Yanagisawa - with better placement of the touchpieces and more of a snap
to the action - and shames many a more expensive modern baritone. It's
hard enough as it is having to stand on a gig with 5 or so kilogrammes
of bari sax hanging round your neck - so having a light responsive action
goes a long way to easing that pain.
I mentioned at the beginning of the review that this horn stands in direct
competition to Yanagisawa's 901 bari.
It's a close-run thing. The 901 has a slightly more rounded feel to it
in terms of tone - but the Yamaha knocks it into a cocked hat in terms
of action. Given that both horns can be filled out tonewise with the right
choice of mouthpiece I'd be inclined to go for the Yamaha...I feel the
low A key and the double octave key mech alone justify that choice.
All in all, a sprightly baritone. If you're looking for something basic,
reliable and with plenty of clout and shout, the YBS32 has what you need.
If you want something a little more soulful then you'll have to go up
a notch in terms of price.
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