Yanagisawa S6 soprano sax
Guide price: £1000
Date of manufacture: 1982 (serial range: 00114xxx)
Date reviewed: January 2018
Or is it...?
Following on from my review of the Martin/Yanagisawa
S800 soprano, we now have its forerunner - the S6.
At least I think it's an S6.
Y'see, there's something of a problem with Yanagisawa sopranos from
this era, which basically boils down to there being little solid
information about what models were made, and when. For example,
it was long thought that production of the S6 (started in 1968)
ended when the S800 began ten years later in 1978 - but it now seems
this wasn't the case, and both models were available for quite some
time after the S800 appeared on the scene (certainly longer than
could be accounted for by old stock). They were very similarly priced
too, so it's not as if the S800 was considered to be a better model
(as in the difference between intermediate/pro). In fact it's now
believed that the S6 was in production until around 1990.
Things were made worse by virtue of Yanagisawa being inclined to
meddle with the design of their horns throughout a production run.
To be fair this isn't all that uncommon, but unless such changes
are documented it's very easy to lose track in the mists of time.
This can sometimes make it difficult to pin a model down, especially
when there's no model number stamped on it. What may appear to be
a different model may in fact be just a transitional one, or a special
edition...or even one made for a specific geographic market.
And just to make matters worse, they 'did a Yamaha' and gave identical
models different model numbers depending on where in the world the
horn was destined for. And as if that wasn't enough they also produced
a number of stencils too - which may or may not have had slightly
different features to the official models.
I was told by the owner that this was an S6. It
had been bought as such, and neither of us had any reason to doubt
the provenance. However, during the course of servicing it and writing
up review notes as I went along, I began to have some doubts. There
was much about the S6 that reminded me of the Martin
stencilled S800 I reviewed seven months ago, but it was supposed
to be an older model...and yet it seemed slightly more modern.
I find this sort of thing rather annoying. Although I seem to have
spent almost my entire life surrounded by saxophones, I can't honestly
say that I've ever been all that interested in the historical minutiae.
Is it well built? How does it feel? How does it play? Sure, this
is my cup of tea - but when it comes to nailing down the differences
between largely identical models (what you might call 'transitional'
models) my eyes glaze over and my thoughts drift away to pints of
foaming ale and a plate heaving with a large pie and an unfeasibly
generous portion of chips.
If I were Emperor of the universe I'd make all manufacturers stamp
model numbers and revisions on all their horns...and
I'd make them do it retrospectively too. As this is unlikely to
happen, I'm stuck with trawling around the internet trying to figure
out who knows what...and who's simply making it up as they go along.
having duly trawled I've reached a conclusion - it's not worth reviewing
the S6, because it's as near as makes no difference to the Martin
This too is annoying - not just because you good folks keep badgering
me for more reviews and I don't like to disappoint you, but also
because I can't now be sure which horn is what. Or what horn is
which. And because articles like this will end up being a point
of reference, I feel it's important to be accurate.
Of course, I realise I can't just say the S6 is
the S800 without some evidence to back it up - so what follows are
the collected observations I've made coupled with as much information
as I've been able to glean from the usual sources. It's not definitive,
by any means, but I think it brings some new information to the
debate which may lead to further refinement of the truth at a later
As you can see from the opening shot, the S6 looks
remarkably like the Martin S800 - but it would be useful if we were
able to compare them side-by-side. What would be even more useful
is if we were able to overlay one atop the other...so with the aid
of Photoshop, a lot of squinting and a bit of swearing, this is
exactly what I've done.
This is the Martin S800 laid over the shot of
the S6 - with the opacity of the Martin then reduced by half (so
you can see through it).There's a little bit of disparity given
that the shots were taken at very slightly different angles (and
7 months apart), but I think you can see that's they're more or
In fact the only clear and visible difference is the position of
the A key pearl - it's a little further forward (toward the front
of the key cup) than on the Martin. Remember this point, because
it's going to prove interesting a little later.
I should also point out that there may be differences
in things like tonehole size and placement, which would only be
visible when the keys were removed. As and when other examples come
in I might set up a jig so I can record this information (assuming
I don't get bored of the whole thing in the meantime), because if
there are any important difference, it's here where you'll find
As far as these two horns are concerned, the other
differences are as follows:
The toneholes from the Auxiliary B to the top F# are plain drawn
on the S6 - and on the Martin S800 they're silver-soldered on, which
is the practice Yanagisawa use to this day on their sopranos. This
certainly doesn't tie in with the production dates. Going from wholly
drawn toneholes to partially soldered on ones is a big production
line change, and it seems extremely unlikely that a manufacturer
would put this build change in place...and then reverse it at a
later date. The only way it makes any sense is if there are two
S6 thumb rest, while still flat and made from plastic, sports a
textured surface for extra grip - and there's a change in the way
the octave key touchpiece connects to the swivel mech. It's a simple
fork and pin connector rather than the ball and socket joint that
appears on the Martin.
The S6 tips the scales at 10 grams (less than half an ounce) lighter
than the Martin - but this is easily accounted for by someone in
the padding department being a little more generous with the shellac.
In other words it's negligible.
In addition to these difference there are a few
other features that changed over the years. I tried to put my findings
into some sort of a chart, but it got extremely complicated very
quickly, so I'm simply going to sum up my conclusions in a list.
Again, bear in mind that these aren't conclusive - they're just
based on what I was able to find while I spent many, many hours
scouring the internet for images of S6/S800 sopranos whose build
date could be confirmed by visible serial numbers - and that some
of the models may have been misidentified by whoever put the photos
Ball and socket/fork and pin octave key connector
Smooth/textured thumb rest
Inline/offline A key pearl
Plastic/metal thumb hook
Metal/pearl side (chromatic) F# touchpiece
The ball and socket octave key connector ran from
the start of the S6 range up until around 1980, when it was last
seen on an S800. Hereafter the connector changed to the fork and
However, the fork and pin connector appeared on a Vito S6 stencil
in 1972 - but the ball and socket connector reappeared on a 1977
The thumb rest originally had a smooth surface,
which changed to a textured one around 1978. I also found a 1978
variant that had a dark red plastic thumb hook and thumb rest (textured).
The pearl side F# touchpiece only appeared on
Elimona badged examples - the earliest I found being a 1981 S800
The "Made By Yanagisawa" engraving seems
to have disappeared around 1978, when it changed to simply "Yanagisawa".
This changed around 1981 when it became a stamp.
offset position of the A key pearl (originally inline with the B
key pearl) would seem to be the most likely candidate for a visible
defining feature - but it appears on both the unmarked models and
the Elimona-badged S800 (with the pearled side F# touchpiece) and
seems to have run from 1981 to 1984.
There was clearly some jiggling going on around this time, because
the recently-released 880 featured an inline A key pearl - which
probably made more sense given the new palm key design (three separate
keys, as found on all the larger horns).
Whenever I see seemingly arbitrary changes in key/touchpiece positions
it rather makes me wonder whether the manufacturers had taken advice
from a 'celebrity' player. Maybe they had especially long or short
fingers, and persuaded the makers that such-and-such a change would
be to the benefit of all players. This would last until the pile
of letters complaining about the change grew too big to be ignored...or
until another celebrity player suggested moving the keys back to
where they were in the first place.
Here's a shot of the different A key pearl positions
- and if you look closely you'll see that the 1986 S800 A key pearl
hasn't been moved back quite as far as on the 1980 Martin S800 example,
but still isn't as far forward as on the 1982 S6.
The metal thumb hook appears to be a standard
feature up until 1978, after which it became plastic. Later models
sometimes sport a metal hook, which may indicate it was either an
optional extra...or players upgraded it themselves.
As I said earlier, what makes it all so difficult
is the lack of a model number stamped on the horns - and given that
I'm having so much trouble pinning down any consistent features,
what are the chances that anyone else really knows what's what?
And, it has to be said, a great deal depends on whether that Martin
really is an 800.
We know for certain that the S6 sopranos produced
from 1968 to at least 1978 would have featured an inline A key pearl,
a smooth thumb rest, a metal side F# touchpiece, a metal thumb hook
and a ball and socket octave key connector (the Vito stencils aside).
After that it gets a bit sketchy, with 1981 looking to be a significant
year of change (different engraving, offset A pearl). And perhaps
that 1986 soprano with the inline A pearl indicates another change.
only other feature that might nail it down is the palm key toneholes,
and whether they're drawn or soldered. Unfortunately it's all but
impossible to see this on anything but the most detailed photo...and
no-one really seems to bother taking such shots when putting a horn
up for sale. So if you have an S6/S800, feel free to drop me a line
and let me know.
It's not too difficult to spot them - just look around the base
of the tonehole for a silvery ring, such as on these two examples
from a 902.
It all adds up to a bit of a mystery, or at least
a perplexing lack of delineation on Yanagisawa's part. The stencil
stuff is understandable - dealer clients who order such production
runs are usually looking for a cheaper model or merely something
distinctive, so there are bound to be minor differences.
But what we appear to have here is almost complete confusion surrounding
that period in time when Yanagisawa were switching from one model
range to another.
There is a precedence, however. It's well know that certain Selmer
MkVI horns carried on in production for quite some time after the
staple altos and tenors had changed to the MkVII. In this light
it begins to make sense.
It's also the case that a manufacturer will introduce a new range,
but keep the old one on as a budget option (new ranges typically
tend to be more up-market). This would fit in with the fact the
the S6 ran concurrently with the S800 for a while - though the price
wasn't all that different (£100 or so in it). And it's cheaper
to change a few minor features on an existing horn and rebadge it
than it is to bring a whole new one into production.
there's also the possibility that a great many S800 sopranos are
It's easily done; you pick up an old Yani soprano, you do a search
for a production date based on the serial number and you find an
article that tells you the S6 went out of service in 1978. If your
horn dates later then it must be the next model. Makes perfect sense.
But that's an awful lot of misattributed horns. Can they all be
There's also a credible suggestion that an S800 should carry the
Elimona badge and sport a pearled side F# touchpiece.
I don't mind admitting that I'm way beyond throwing
my hands in the air and crying "Hell and damnation! To heck
with it all!" (or words to that effect) - and as this review
draws to a close I'm very aware that I've not been able to provide
much in the way of clarity.
I think you can be sure that any Yanagisawa soprano built between
1968 and 1978 is going to be an S6 and will have the features described
Any soprano built after 1978 that doesn't have a model number and
sports an Elimona badge and a pearled side F# touchpiece is an S800.
For anything else I shall say this: It might be an S6, or it might
be an S800 - but it seems extremely likely that they're essentially
the same horns...give or take more or less bling and a sprinkle
of marketing. And the real change came with the 880 series.
If this sort of thing really interests you, you
might want to check out Pete
Hales' very informative articles on the issue - but if you came
to this page expecting to see a review of the Yanagisawa S6 you
might be feeling (understandably) rather hard done by.
So - in terms of build quality and features it's the same as the
In terms of feel it's the same as well. As for how it plays - it
has exactly the same characteristics as the Martin, and I'd go so
far as to say that if there's any difference between them it's likely
only to be detectable if you were able to play them back-to-back...and
any difference will be about as much as there is between any two
apparently identical horns.
As the saying goes - the story's the same...only the names have
Nick Wyver posted some photos of his S6 on Cafesaxophone.com
after reading this review. Dated 1981 (00108xxx), it's identical
to the review model save for the A key pearl being inline - and
even has the original manufacturer's product tag that says "S-6".
I did an overlay with the review photo and found both horns to be
a perfect match...and on this basis I can confirm the review model
is an S6.
Carl Polke sent me some details of his soprano,
dated 1979 ( 00101xxx). Identical to the review model save for a
ball and socket connector on the octave key and fitted with a red
thumb rest and hook (subsequently replaced). He also provided some
clear shots of the palm key toneholes that showed they were drawn
and not soldered.