Yamaha YSS62R soprano saxophone
Guide price: £1200
Date of manufacture: 1984 (serial range 07xx)
Date reviewed: May 2016
The "No, I haven't dropped it"
Following on from the recent review of the Yamaha
YSS61 soprano, we now have its successor - the 62 - up for the
Two things are notable about this particular horn; the first, and
most obvious, is that while it's still a single-piece body, it has
a curved crook/neck section. The second is that the serial number
places it within the early years of production (for this variant
- the 62 hit the market in 1978). Ordinarily this would be of little
consequence - but because Yamaha were soon to redesign this horn,
it stands out as what you might call a 'transitional' model. In
showbiz terms I suppose you could say the 61 was the rehearsal,
the 62 MkI the preview and the 62 MkII the full Broadway production.
As I've already covered much of the history and development surrounding
this model in the 61's review, I'm going to get straight into putting
this little beauty on the bench...
The big difference between the 61 and 62, at least
in terms of construction, is that the 62 is of ribbed construction
- as opposed to the individual pillars used on the 61.
Other than that, everything else is pretty much the same. The tone
holes are all drawn and level, and nicely finished too; there's
an adjustable plastic thumb hook and a flat plastic thumb rest -
and a small sling ring...which, due to the curved neck section,
is going to be slightly more useful than one on a straight soprano.
The only other bodywork changes are focussed on the size and placement
of the toneholes - and as life is still far too short to go measuring
toneholes, I'm going to skip on to the keywork.
are some minor changes to the keywork, and I'm not sure that all
of them were for the better.
For instance, the layout of the regulation screws has changed -
and whereas the 61 had the A key's adjuster attached to the Bis
Bb key, with a correspondingly 'stubby' bar on the Aux. B key, the
62 has a more conventional layout...with a long adjuster arms coming
off the A key.
I really liked the old layout - it was more compact, and that means
there's less chance of key flex. And while you might not think that
key flex will be an issue on keys this small, I can assure you it
is. Granted, it won't be much...but it will still have an effect.
The layout of the Aux.B keys has changed too.
The vented 'doughnut' key has gone and has been replaced by a pair
of key cups - which are just visible below the front top F key touchpiece
(another upgrade over the early 61).
This feature seems to be one of those that's in a constant state
of flux - rather like the design of the side trill key connectors.
There was the doughnut design, then the double key, then a single
key cup (unvented), then back to the doughnut...
I guess you could say it was all down to Yamaha striving for perfection
- but then again that's such a tenuous goal on something like a
soprano sax. Whatever you change will always have a knock-on effect...and
the best results can often be had by balancing the compromises rather
than trying to address particularly problematical areas.
Other than the above, the layout of the top stack remains the same
- with the Bis Bb being mounted on the main rod screw, with its
lower half being mounted on the G# screw.
Likewise, the top E and F palm keys remain pivoted on a shared rod
As before, you get a full set of regulation adjusters
on both stacks, and the slightly concave key touches are proper
mother-of-pearl. Beautifully fitted, too - it must be said.
mentioned the rather mean base on the 61's compound bell key pillar
- which made it rather more prone to being knocked off if the horn
took a tumble - and someone at Yamaha was clearly of the same mind.
There's now a larger base to this pillar, and while I feel it could
be larger still, it's nonetheless a nice improvement.
The bell key table is much the same - it's still not a tilting mech
- but the B spatula now sports a chamfer on its leading edge and
the C# has one on its rear edge (where it meets the low Bb spatula).
It's a small modification, but it means that when you slide your
finger from low C# to low B and from low Bb to low C, it's presented
with a sloping face rather than a square one.
The low C# mechanism mirrors that on the earlier
61 - and so suffers with the same mechanical problems as noted in
that review. On later models the C# tonehole was moved into line
with the low B and Bb toneholes, which allowed for much more mechanically
In some ways it points up how arcane the upgrade procedure can be;
on the one hand you get beefier pillar bases and sculpted key touches,
and yet a kludgy key layout gets overlooked. I'm sure a lot of changes
are down to the R&D team - forever tweaking the tone and the
tuning - and rest is down to customer feedback. If enough people
moan about something, there's a good chance it'll get changed (which
is why you should always write to the manufacturer of your horn
if you feel there's something about it that's not quite right).
point screws have changed, too. Gone are the shoulderless points
- replaced with shouldered screws. I'm in two minds about this because
I quite like the constant adjustability of the shoulderless screws
- but it has to be said that the new screws have some adjustability
built in, and they're still proper points.
The keys that are mounted on them have an interesting feature; a
At first sight it looks like a means of reducing friction where
the key barrel meets the pillar. The less surface area of the barrel
that rubs against the pillar, the better. This is true, but in practice
such key barrels shouldn't touch the pillars...there should be a
fraction of a gap, so that the only point of friction is where the
point screw contacts the barrel.
It's a feature that would perhaps work better with parallel point
screws - which rely on the barrel ends contacting the pillars to
prevent end-to-end play.
I'm inclined to think that it's a reservoir. You'd pack the recess
with grease and this would ensure a good supply of lubricant to
the point screw - and it'd be far less likely to be squished out
in the event of the barrel pushing up against the pillar (as would
happen once the action wears).
It's a neat feature, and one that must have been relatively expensive
to implement - so it's a bit of a shame that they decided to mill
slots in the point screws.
I'd imagine this is to aid lubrication - the slot would allow oil
to pass freely between the face of the key barrel and the bore of
the screw hole. However, the action on a horn simply isn't precise
enough to warrant this sort of feature; simply pressing a key down
will cause it to flex sufficiently to create gap large enough for
lubricant to flow.
And there's another problem. Cutting a slot in a point screw is
fair enough - but if the edges of the slot aren't smooth you'll
just create, in effect, a cutting edge. As you can see from the
photo, these edges aren't smooth at all. It's a nice, if rather
unnecessary, idea - and one that need to be very carefully implemented
if it's not going to make make things worse.
octave mech has been completely redesigned and is now based around
a standard swivel mech, rather than the lever-based mech on the
61. In design terms I guess it's an upgrade, but I quite liked the
old mech - for all its quirks and olde-worlde charm it was nevertheless
quite slick in use.
I wondered how Yamaha would accommodate the curvature of the neck.
Would they separate the top octave key cup from the rest of the
mech, and link it with a lever - or would they build in a sort of
stepped design to take up the rise of the tube in relation to the
No, they just took the standard mech and bent the top key cup arm
a bit. I can't really say it's elegant, but it works - and it's
certainly extremely cost-effective. About the only caveat is that
the uppermost pillar looks to be a little more exposed than I'd
like to see...but that's about it.
Incidentally, take a close look at the mouthpiece
cork. When this horn cam in for a service I could tell straightaway
that it wasn't putting out the usual Yamaha punch - and nor was
it due to a few small leaks from the pads. It turned out to be the
mouthpiece cork - which had been badly glued on and had a slit cut
down its length...so not only was air was leaking through beneath
the cork, it was also leaking past the mouthpiece via the slit.
And whoever took the original cork off would have made a truly awful
surgeon....you can see where the knife blade has been run along
the lacquer before meeting the cork.
Completing the action is a set of blued steel
springs. Many players would regard this as an upgrade to the 61's
stainless springs - but the action on the 61 was superb, and the
springs, being stainless, would practically last forever. Not so
much of an upgrade then...more of a side-step maybe.
That said, the 62's action has been designed around these new springs...and,
as is typical for Yamaha, it's still superb.
Finally, a quick word about the case.
I love the old Yamaha 62 cases. Proper box-shaped jobbies, with
meaty catches. Sure, it's a bit bulkier than some of the modern
shaped cases (not that straight soprano cases tend to be that shaped),
but you get plenty of room for storing your bits and bobs, and there's
no doubting the level of protection it affords your precious instrument.
In the hands the 62R feels just fine.
To be frank it's rare to find a soprano that doesn't feel good under
the fingers - and even the Chinese do a pretty good job (though
Jupiter managed to bog it up on the 547).
However, the action on these old 62s is legendary. The ergonomics
(such as they are for such a small instrument) are good, the build
quality is there, the springs are fine - what's not to like?
Even the factory setup tends to be reasonable - but with a bit of
light tweaking you can really make the keys fly. In particular I
loved the feel of the bell keys - I'm not that much of a fan of
tilting mechs anyway, and on a soprano I feel they just get in the
way (but feel free to disagree).
Playing the 62R is a delight - which is saying
something, given that I'm not that keen on the soprano as an instrument.
What wins it over for me is the Yamaha's clear and precise approach.
It has, dare I say it, almost almost oboe-like quality to it. With
a sax as small as the soprano you can pretty much forget about going
for a brooding, smoochy approach - and rather than attempt to force
the focus on what the horn plainly hasn't got, it's much better
to focus on what it has. And what it has is plenty of bite and a
shedload of clarity.
Tonewise it's a very neutral horn - and while that can sometimes
be a drawback on a larger horn, on the soprano I feel it's more
of an advantage. Pick up and alto or a tenor and you'll nearly always
notice the tone broadens out at the lower end and gradually tightens
up as you go up the scale - but the transition is more or less seamless
(on a decent horn, at least).
The soprano tends to accentuate any such differences, to the point
where it almost sounds like you've started of playing on brand of
horn at the lower end, picked up another when you hit low G, and
picked up yet another when you reached top A. Granted, you can even
these transitions out considerably with your embouchure - but the
Yamaha does the job for you by virtue of its remarkable evenness
across the scale.
interesting to compare it to the earlier 61, which stands as a sort
of transitional marker in the development of Yamaha's tonal approach.
The 61, I feel, tried to hang on to the 'old school' soprano tone
while also trying to freshen it up with a more modern outlook -
and it didn't quite work. Perhaps because Yamaha, at that time,
weren't quite brave enough to let go of the notion that the soprano
ought to be able to compete with the larger horns on equal terms.
The 62 is more ethereal, more haunting. It's less about smoky dives
and more of misty moors - it's more at home in a cathedral than
in an intimate basement club.
And as well as being more even-toned than its predecessor, the tuning's
also more dialled in. In many ways this is the classic payoff for
a more neutral tonal presentation....the tone may well be less complex,
but the stability really ramps up.
But the killer feature is that it's possible to modify this tonal
approach by simply changing the mouthpiece. Now, that's true of
any horn - for sure - but while a mouthpiece may well bring you
a different tone, it's seldom the case that it does much for the
accuracy and stability of the horn (ay least not with some cost
to the tone). This isn't the case with the 62...the stability is
built in, you don't have to give it a second thought - all you have
to be concerned about is what kind of tone you want to get out of
it. This is perhaps why Yamahas were often criticised for being
characterless horns. Put mouthpiece on, blow horn, meh. But if you
take some time to find their focus, you might be surprised at how
versatile they can be.
And that's just this early model - with the changes made to the
later models, Yamaha refined the precision still further.
Does the curve make any difference to the tone?
In a word - no.
Players sometimes think it does, but this is because the curve means
the bell is angled more towards the floor. It's the same effect
(though in reverse) of a curved soprano, where the bell points upwards.
It might sound different to you - but that's because some of the
sound is being directed away from or towards you. To anyone listening,
it makes no difference at all.
About the only difference the curve makes is that you can angle
the horn downwards without straining your embouchure (good for marching,
or reading the dots), and it makes the use of a sling a more practical
proposition. The only other difference is that players who are rather
less savvy about curved sopranos will often assume you dropped the
I guess it's inevitable that players will ask
whether or not it's worth going for the early version over the later
one, and I suppose it boils down to personal preference. The MkII
has a slightly better key layout and is a little more dialled in
with regards to tuning - but the earlier model is a little more
free-spirited, and it comes with the caché of being rather
rare (and hence collectable). I'd say that if you were a classical
or light popular player, you're probably going to value that extra
precision - if you're jazzer, it's maybe not as important as the
presentation. Either way, there's not a lot in it.
The YSS62 remains my favourite horn of the genre,
even up against some formidable competition from the likes of Yanagisawa
and Keilwerth (who made some extremely interesting sopranos). And
yeah, even the MKVI. Finding an early 62 soprano in good nick isn't
such an easy task these days - and if you're drawn to the curved
neck of the 62R you're in for an even more prolonged search. It's
quite a rare variant, which is also why, when you eventually find
one, you can expect to pay a premium for it. And its not just because
there simply weren't that many made...it's also because the players
that own them tend to want to hang onto them. Can't say I blame
them at all.