Yanagisawa 901/902/991 baritone saxophones
Weight: 5.6Kg (901)
Guide price: £4470 (901) / £5310 (902) / £5415
Date of Manufacture: 2001 (901) / (902) / 2005 (991)
Date reviewed: April 2004 / October 2005 / April 2007
A range of quality baritone saxes from one
of the best manufacturers in the business
As the 902 is essentially the same horn, but with a bronze body,
all comments relating to the build and mechanics apply to both instruments.
There are some additional comments on the 902 at the end of the
review. Likewise, the 991 differs only slightly mechanically and
is commented upon at bottom of the review.
Now this is a nicely built horn.
Yanagisawa have for a long time had a good reputation for build
quality, and this bari is no exception. A bari needs to be well
built too, its size and weight make it far more prone to knocks
and bashes than its common brethren, the alto and tenor - but there's
a drawback to a hefty build, and that's weight - and this bari feels
weighty. The reason for this comes from the very generous pillar
bases, the substantial bell brace, the similarly beefy top bow brace
and the extra plates on the inside curve of the top and bottom bow.
Might not look like much metal, but it all adds up...even the double
arm on the low C key adds a few grammes, as does the secondary brace
arm over the Aux. F key, and then, of course, you've got the extra
weight of the low A bell.
Oddly enough though, whilst the pillars have large bases, the guard
feet are relatively small - which is, I feel, a bit of an oversight
when you consider that the guards are far more likely to take a
knock than any of the pillars.
Another oversight, and one that's likely to prove to be something
of a nuisance, is that the sling ring is too small. This will severely
curtail your choice of sling - and with a ring this small it's quite
possible that the hook may become wedged in the ring and fly apart
when it takes the weight of the bari, with the obvious result. I've
seen it happen, and it's not pretty.
Yanagisawa have sensibly opted for a detachable bell and lower
top bow. The removable top bow deserves a comment.
The whole point, to my mind, of this feature is to enable the top
bow section to be removed so that either the bow section or the
body can be worked on without having to resort to any unsoldering
(which tends to damage any lacquered finish). If you look at the
shot of the bow section you'll see that the joint isn't at the top
of the main body, rather it's at the next junction along on the
top bow. This means that removing the top bow would still leave
a section of curved tube attached to the main body - and this prevents
the repairer from getting any dent bars etc. down the bore.
OK, so the bottom bow is detachable too - but it's a far bigger
job to remove this section than it is to whip off the top bow assembly...and
a real pain when all you want to do is knock out a small dent around
the G tone hole or perhaps straighten the top body section after
one of the inevitable knocks that baris are prone to.
noted, the brace is a very substantial affair, with a secondary
arm that will prevent the body from twisting in the event of a light
I noticed nothing unusual with the tone holes, which is how it ought
The keywork is generally sturdy - perhaps a bit functional in
places, but then this is their budget baritone. Composite cork has
been fitted to a lot of the key feet, and this makes the action
a tad noisy in places - so a spot of judicial tweaking with some
felt would pay dividends.
Baris do tend to suffer with clanky keywork, so any tweaks that
can improve this are worth investing in.
Some nice touches include cantilevered side trills and low C#, and
compound top F and F# keys - all pretty standard on a modern bari,
but very much appreciated nonetheless.
Under the fingers the action felt nicely laid out - perhaps a little
hard, though positive and slick enough - and again, some tweakery
to the springing would bring improvements. Proper point screws have
been used throughout, which allows for adjustment in later years
when the action wears. As per the modern trend, there's no low A
key on the left hand spatulas, just a lower thumb key. It works
well enough, though the whole arrangement needs careful balancing
to take into account the inevitable key whip with such long key
The low A thumb key arm is somewhat flimsier than that on the Yamaha
YBS32. The perennial problem with long, large keys is that the
flexibility in the metal becomes more and more of an issue the longer
a key gets. Hitting a low A (without using the left hand low Bb
fingering) requires the low A thumb mechanism to take the strain
of the entire set of bell keys, and whilst it seems to manage it
fine it nonetheless feels quite spongy in use as you never seem
to reach a definite stopping point with the thumb key.
On the sling the horn felt nicely balanced, which is very important
if you're planning on standing up on stage for a 90 minute set.
The finish is everything you'd expect, and after three years 'in
the field' this bari showed no signs of any residual flux bleed
through (which forms those characteristic, and heartbreaking, black
I was a little concerned that the case doesn't appear to have much
padding in critical places. In fact, this particular instrument
came in to have some knock damage fixed, and one of the problems
was a distorted crook socket. From examining the case it would appear
extremely likely that this was due to the crook socket screw butting
up against the rear wall of the case...with nothing to pad it.
In fact, during the course of writing this review another 901 bari
came in for repair - with practically identical damage (only this
time the crook socket had come clean off), so I believe this is
something of an issue. If I owned one of these I'd be urgently considering
either a new case, or making some modifications so as to pad the
top end of the case more firmly. A couple of strips of polystyrene
or dense foam would help (in the positions marked on the photo),
but I'd still advise caution when transporting the instrument. If
you already own one of these, check out the wear to the case lining
where the crook socket butts up against it. Likewise, the outer
lip of the bell looks vulnerable - so a definite mark-down in points
the publication of this review I've seen a number of examples of
this wear around the crook socket and, unfortunately, yet more examples
of damage from 'case shock'.
As you can see in the photo, the locking screw rubs against the
rear of the case and eventually eats its way first through the lining
and then into the wooden case shell itself. What this means is that
there's no protection whatsoever for the crook socket in the event
of a knock to the case and you can't rely on the rest of the padding
in the case to absorb the shock.
Should the worst happen and the bari takes a tumble in the case
it's quite likely that the crook screw will be damaged - and if
you're very unlucky it might result in damage to the socket and
tubing (subsequent to this review, I have been informed by Glenn
Spiegel via the alt.music.saxophone newsgroup that his 991 case
exhibits the same problem - see below).
players might notice something slightly unusual about the thumb
hook. Instead of sitting flush against its base, the hook has five
raised bumps the bottom. Apparently this is to decrease the area
of surface contact with the body, and thus prevent the thumb from
dampening the resonances from the body. You can hear for yourself
whether it actually works - just lift your thumb off the hook when
playing. Notice any difference? Nor did I.
I tend to be somewhat sceptical about these gimmicks - particularly
when the money spent on them could be better spent elsewhere.
Take the auxiliary F arm, for example - in theory it's a fine
gadget, it supplements the connection between the rear foot of the
F key with the bar of the auxiliary F (the key above the F), thus
providing a 'belt and braces' mechanism that should help to ease
the problem of regulating the action against a not inconsiderable
amount of flex in the large keywork.
Trouble is, the arm is too weak to be of much use - and flexes just
as much as the rest of the keywork.
money spent on faffing about with this arm, and the dimpled thumb
hook, could have been spent beefing up the auxiliary F bar...which
would make a very noticeable improvement in both the tone and the
reliability of the horn by ensuring a consistent seal on the right
hand key stack.
Playing the horn was much fun, tonewise the Yanagisawa has a nice
crisp feel with a slight touch of 'urgency' about it and plenty
of bounce. If it were a dog it would be jumping up at you, wagging
its tail, begging for a brisk walk. The tone was even, with not
too much thinning out from top G upwards - though that's inevitable
on a bari, and, frankly, some of its appeal.
I felt that perhaps the tone was inclined to be a little 'dry',
particularly down the lower end - and I think you'll know what I
mean if you've ever blown something like a Martin or a Conn, where
the tone seems to saturate everything in earshot.
This is no bad thing really, plenty of players prefer a more neutral
tone (including myself), but it perhaps marks up the difference
between the cheaper model and the rather richer and more expensive
It also comes with quite a decent mouthpiece - and many a bari player
might well find themselves needing little else.
A fine baritone then, with only the Yamaha YBS32 to compete with
in its price range.
Additional notes on the 902:
902 certainly looks the part - its bronze body contrasts nicely
with the brass keys and gives the horn a very elegant appearance.
Manufacturers make all kinds of claims with regard to body materials
and tone, but the differences, if indeed there are any, are likely
to be very subtle indeed...and quite possibly no more than the difference
between any two seemingly identical horns.
The only way to know for sure that your extra cash is giving you
value for money is to play the various options side by side.
I've mentioned the issue with the proximity of the crook socket
to the base of the case - and this horn had a bent crook screw barrel.
Easy enough to fix, but it will be a recurring problem.
Tonewise I felt that the 902 wasn't quite a dry as the 901. There
was perhaps a touch more roundness and warmth to the tone - though
I also felt that this came with a corresponding drop-off in power.
It still has the cut, the clarity and the bounce of the 901 but
it didn't quite have the volume.
It's 'swings and roundabouts' really - emphasise the lower harmonics
and you're bound to lose a bit of edge - keep the sound bright and
you get bags of punch but at the risk of the sound becoming too
edgy when it gets loud. The 902 gets the balance about right, but
really punchy players might feel they're being held back a tad.
I noticed some imbalance in the tone on the second octave. Over
the F to G break there's really quite a change in tone as the octave
keys switch (from the body key to the crook key). This is perhaps
where Yamaha's double octave key chimney arrangement on the body
really pays off, as it gives a more even feel across this break.
Similarly, I felt the middle D was a touch out of balance compared
with the E and F - being somewhat brighter than these two notes,
though I suppose it could be said that the F and E are a little
Recommending this horn is a little tricky. It sits right between
Yamaha's YBS32 and 62 in terms of price (being £500 more than
the 32 and £700 cheaper than the 62). I don't feel it's worth
£500 more than the YBS32 - and for the extra £700 it
takes to reach the YBS62 you'd get a better octave key mech and
a beefier low A mech.
You might also find that simply buying and fitting the bronze crook
to the 901 would give you much of the tonal difference.
But, as with all things related to tone, if you like the sound of
it it's a competent and sprightly performer.
Yanagisawa 991 baritone:
Not much point posting another photo - to all intents and purposes
the 991 looks almost exactly the same as the 901, save for a few
cosmetic additions such as the inclusion of pearl touches to the
side F and F# keys.
What you get for your extra cash is the same action as the 901,
but a slightly different body - and thus, hopefully, a slightly
different tone. You get the same case too - and with this you also
get the same problem of the crook socket rubbing against the rear
of the case. I have mentioned this problem to Yanagisawa - so we'll
see what, if anything, happens.
Tonewise the 991 is more refined than the 901 and the 902. It has
a greater sense of presence - and whereas I felt the 901 to be a
touch on the 'dry' side, the 991 is positively juicy. Gone too are
the slight imbalances I found on the 902 and yet the 991 retains
all the crispness and precision found on the cheaper models. In
short, it just gives you more.
It has to - at this price point it's almost head-to-head with the
equally superb Yamaha
YBS62, and that's some very stiff competition.
The 991 is certainly up to it though - and if you have four grand
to spend on a bari and you don't check out this horn then, frankly,
In the notes regarding the 902 I wondered about the economics of
buying it over the Yamaha baris, and at much the same price as the
991 I'm inclined to think it's even less good value for money. It
might look nicer, with its bronze body, but the 991 is nicer blow.