Yamaha YSS475 soprano saxophone
Guide price: £1400
Date of manufacture: 2002
Date reviewed: June 2002
A 'budget' model straight, one piece soprano sax
from the Yamaha stable
Although this model of sax has been on the market for some time now this
is the first example I've ever seen in the workshop. It marks something
of a departure for Yamaha as the only sopranos they made prior to this
model were professional models - with a professional price tag.
There's a reason that (good) soprano saxes don't come cheap, they're quite
complex beasts to make and there's a need for a high degree of accuracy
in both the design and build of the body. Couple this with a demand that's
nowhere near that for altos and tenors, and it all adds up to quite an
expensive proposition for the manufacturer...and thus for the buyer.
Up until this point the budget market has been dominated by the Taiwanese
imports (some of which are really quite good) - but the smaller an instrument
gets the greater the need for mechanical (I.E. keywork) precision, and
the bigger the chances of the tone and tuning being somewhat disappointing.
But, this is a Yamaha - and you'd expect it to be a notch up from the
competition. And you wouldn't be disappointed.
It has the usual standard Yamaha finish - a nice clean coat of lacquer
on top of a well-assembled body. I rather liked the nicely tapered 'pinch'
in the upper section, far more flattering than the rather harsh step that's
been the standard for a while now.
It's perhaps a little surprising that it's a one-piece design - even some
of the most basic Taiwanese horns come with a pair of crooks (one straight,
one slightly curved), but then such features cost money and as a manufacturer
you have to decide whether you're going to spend money on extras or on
quality of design and build. There's perhaps some merit too in not having
the bore interrupted by a socket and tenon joint, particularly at such
a critical point on such a relatively small instrument.
When inspecting new saxes I always give the tone holes a very close look,
and this is especially important for soprano saxes. You might just get
away with a few leaks on any of the larger saxes but even a small leak
can have a very dramatic effect on a soprano sax, with tuning problems
being a very common symptom. I was pleased to note that there were no
problems in this area.
Likewise the pillars and fittings, all neat and tidy.
My only real criticism is of the finish on the keys. Being a budget model
I guess less attention is paid to finishing off the keywork, so machining
marks are very much in evidence - but this is a minor quibble, and I had
to look quite hard to find it.
I wouldn't say the keywork bristles with gadgetry - it's quite a simplistic
design, but that's perhaps its strength. It's none too cluttered, which
leaves room for decent sized key barrels (spreads the load during use,
helps prevent excessive wear) and makes general maintenance easy.
of the most useful features is a pair of adjusters on the top stack.
All pads are liable to expand and contract with use, and the smaller the
pad the more likely it is that even slight changes in the pad dimensions
will lead to leaks. This is especially critical on the top stack of soprano
saxes, and so the addition of these adjusters will allow for precise regulation
as and when it's required.
Note too the positioning of the top F touchpiece - absolutely perfect.
The action itself was really quite well set up - and I suspect that this
is a factory setup, given that the horn was bought from an Internet store
(pile 'em high, sell 'em cheap) and is unlikely to have been examined
by a technician before delivery. The springing was firm, but not too strong,
leaving very little tweaking to be done.
The pads are of reasonable quality, though perhaps inclined to be a little
sticky from new - a common problem with soprano saxes.
Playability was everything you'd expect from a Yamaha, though I did notice
a slight initial difficulty in maintaining an even tuning between octaves.
This is common for someone who doesn't play the soprano on a regular basis,
and after a few minutes blowing I could feel the tuning creeping into
line. I have to admit it caught me out to start with, I'm used to Yamahas
being bang in tune from the first note - and I wouldn't be surprised if
this initial hiccup is down to the bore design.
After another ten minutes of blowing it felt as natural as could be.
The tone is good, the usual neutral to bright Yamaha trademark, with a
smooth evenness across the range. It lacks the fullness of the professional
models tonewise, but for some players this will be a plus point (I myself
prefer the lighter tone of the budget Yamaha tenors over the pro models).
It's even across the range too, and maintains the clarity right into the
upper register, though without the shrillness that's sometimes found on
In the hands the instrument felt comfortable and well balanced, and none
too heavy. The action fits nicely under the fingers, and the large touchpieces
for the side and top F# and the low Eb/C make for an easy transition around
It feels reassuringly firm too - many cheap sopranos suffer from having
a slightly spongy feel to the action.
The package comes with the standard well-fitted Yamaha case.
So, a basic no-frills soprano that meets a nice compromise between quality
and price. It fares well against stiff competition from the Taiwanese
sector, and although slightly more expensive than most budget sopranos
provides good value for money.
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