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Yamaha YSS475 soprano saxophone

Yamaha YSS475 sopranoOrigin: Japan (
Guide price: £1400
Weight: -
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.

Yamaha YSS475 top stackOne 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 budget sopranos.

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 these notes.
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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