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Yanagisawa SC902 curved soprano saxophone

Yanagisawa SC902 sopranoOrigin: Japan (www.yanagisawasax.co.jp)
Guide price: £2250
Weight: -
Date of manufacture: 2004
Date reviewed: April 2006

An entry level professional curved soprano saxophone

When it comes to buying a professional quality soprano sax the choice is pretty much as wide as it is for altos and tenors. Practically every sax manufacturer makes a soprano - some better than others, of course - but if you're in the market for a curved soprano you'll find there are far fewer choices. In fact in terms of pro horns it's pretty much this horn here, or nothing at all (apart from another Yanagisawa - there are four or five curved sopranos in the entire range, this model being the cheapest in bronze).
Fortunately Yanagisawa has an excellent track record when it comes to quality instruments, and it only remains to be seen whether this cute (and yes, it is cute) wee beastie comes up to scratch.

The body itself is built in bronze (as opposed to the usual brass). This is supposed to make the horn sound darker. Or is it more bright? Or is it darker with a bit more brightness?? Oh, I don't know, and I don't suppose anyone else really does either. Whatever it does it'll cost you an extra £300 or thereabouts - so if you feel inclined to shell out the extra for a bronze body you better make sure you at least can hear a difference.
What makes it slightly harder to choose is that Yanagisawa make a 991 and a 992 curved soprano, and these are available, respectively, at under and just over the price of this 902 - and if you assume that a higher model number gets you a better specified horn...well, I can see you're confused already.

It's a particularly 'busy' looking horn. The size of the soprano means that there's a lot of keywork that has to fit into a relatively small space - and it must be done so with even more precision than that required for its larger brethren.
Many players say that curved sopranos feel quite small in the hands in terms of the action. It's an illusion, of course, the main body has to be the same size as a straight sop - and it's simply down to having your arms closer to your body than you would for an alto or tenor, or indeed a straight soprano. Technically I guess you could say that curved sopranos feel small in the arms...
To some extent the body has been kept quite simple. There's no detachable bell, for example.
This is a bit of a drawback should your horn ever be unlucky enough to suffer damage to the bottom bow area - but generally speaking it's not often that curved sopranos are prone to such punishment. Hopefully.

The overall build quality is well up to the usual Yanagisawa standard; pillars and fittings are neatly finished and securely fitted - and the lacquered finish is spotless.

The keywork is well laid out, and very well specified.
The front top F key is nicely placed and profiled, allowing for a swift action whichever way you prefer to move your finger; the bell key spatulas are quite simple but very slick in action; the top F# key touchpiece is generously sized, and the large upper thumbrest feels secure and comfortable and is matched by an equally large octave key touchpiece. Likewise, the thumbhook is generously proportioned and adjustable - and features the dimpled base, which is supposed to enhance resonance. Indeed.

Yanagisawa SC902 bell stay If you're sharp-eyed you might have noticed that the bell keys are on the opposite side of the bell from normal.
I wouldn't say there were any particular advantages to their being there - but I suppose it does make for a slightly more accessible right hand key stack, though it might scupper your chances of buying an aftermarket case (assuming you can find one). With the sax being so small you certainly won't have to worry about the bell key guards fouling your leg...which can be a bit of a nuisance with some vintage tenors that have this bell key arrangement.
I felt the body mount for the bell brace was overly small. I appreciate that the horn, and thus the bell itself, doesn't weigh much - and that it's unlikely the instrument will suffer from the usual bangs and knocks that plague the larger saxes but in the event of the horn taking a dive, the relatively small contact point of the bell stay could result in some spectacular damage to the body.

There are key adjusters on the top stack - very handy on a soprano as small pads tend to suffer a bit from compression and shrinkage, and the adjusters make it a great deal easier to tweak the regulation as and when it becomes necessary.
There are no adjusters on the bumper felts. It's perhaps debatable as to how much use these are - I find that very few players ever find it necessary to adjust the bumper felts themselves, and on larger horns a millimetre either way on the bumper height isn't going to make that much difference. Bit of a different story on a soprano though - it's harder to play in tune, and any device that helps the player adjust the horn to suit their playing style is a boon.

The action (powered by blued steel springs) feels comfortable and slick under the fingers. It was perhaps a tad on the heavy side with regard to the springing, but then that's bog-standard for a factory setup - a few tweaks here and there make a substantial difference to the feel.
Reaching keys is obviously not going to be a problem, and the layout of the action is such that I didn't find myself tripping up over keywork that was too tightly packed together. The palm keys in particular felt well placed.

The whole outfit comes in a compact and well made case.

Sopranos often fall into one of two camps when it comes to tone. Either they lean towards bright and shrill, or they favour dull and 'boxy'. This tends to be down to the limitations of the small bore and the correspondingly high pitch, and it's perhaps one of the reasons for the soprano not being quite so popular a saxophone. It takes a bit more effort to coax a good tone out of them.
The Yanagisawa seems to have got the balance right. The tone is bright and clear, as befits a modern horn, and yet it's not shrill or blaring. In fact there's a nice roundness to it...I'd even go so far as to say it gets quite dark on the lower subtones.
It's an authoritative sound too, quite imposing - it's not a horn that whines, whimpers or bleats. Tonewise it's a surprisingly big sound from such a small sax.
The tone is nicely balanced across the range - which is where a cheaper soprano often fails - and the tuning is as good as you'd expect from a horn of this quality.

I'm told that this horn sounds different from its straight counterpart. I'm inclined to suggest that this is all due to the bell being in a different plane to that of the straight version - hence the player hears slightly different things, but then again we players tend to buy horns on the basis of what it sounds like to us...so if you feel it makes a difference, then it does.
If you're after a decent soprano then you'd be hard put to beat the Yanagisawa - and if you're after a decent curved soprano then you don't have much choice anyway...not that you'll need it.

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