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Yamaha YTS82Z tenor saxophone

Yamaha YTS82ZOrigin: Japan (uk.yamaha.com)
Guide price: £3350
Weight: -
Date of manufacture: 2004
Date reviewed: December 2004

A pro level horn developed specifically for the jazz player

I was rather excited at the prospect of having one of these up for review - it's a been a few years now since the Z series hit the market, and either because of the scarcity of these horns, or the usual Yamaha reliability, I've not seen one in the workshop until now.

My initial excitement soon faded though when it became obvious that, in terms of a technical review, there wasn't much for me to do.
The horn's keywork is basically that of the 62 series. Nothing wrong with that, of course, and you can find an in-depth critique of it here. This horn has minor improvements to the octave key mech and the bell key spatulas, which feature a slightly enlarged Bb plate and a link to the low C#.
The changes are all in the body - and in the new Z series crooks. This particular model came fitted with the standard G crook.

Although you can't quite see it, there's new bell brace design. It's a two-point mount (as opposed to the 62's three-point mount). It's claimed that this gives a better resonance. Indeed.
There's a beefy sling ring fitted - which will come as a relief for those of us who use large, nylon locking clips.

Yamaha claim the body alloy is different for this series of horns in that it's lighter. Whether that makes a difference is anybody's guess, but it should count for something in terms of weight around your neck on a long gig.

I was somewhat disappointed with the point screws, being of the pseudo type with only a point on the tip. However, the key barrels appear to have been designed slightly differently from the norm so that the point of the screw contacts deeper inside the barrel. This means there's scope for adjustment as the action wears, but it also means that any wear happens deeper in the barrel - and is thus harder to see or get at. Not something that should be an issue for a good few decades though.

Another slight disappointment was a badly fitting G# key pearl. It's a minor point, I know, but at this price point I don't think it's up to the mark. There's no point going to all the trouble of building a highly regulated spatula mechanism, and then build in a gap with an undersized pearl.
And whilst I'm in the general area, I noted a single pillar supporting the spatula keys.

I've noted this time and again on horns - despite the fact that these keys can take a lot of punishment. I'd have preferred to have seen a much more substantial arrangement here - perhaps like the excellent pillar that features on the Yanagisawa 992.

The finish on the horn was excellent, as usual, although I was a little surprised to see an excess of solder around a couple of the larger plates (the bell stay mounts in particular). Again, it's a small point - and one that will vary from horn to horn.

If you don't like the finish, there's a gold plated option available...at around a cool £7000! There's also the option of having it in bare brass - which many players have felt made an improvement to the tone.

As regards the setup - there were a few minor issues that needed attention. A slight leak on the low B pad, likewise on the low Eb pad (which was up at the rear), and a generally heavy action. These leaks were enough to scupper the low end of the horn.

I've said it time and again (and I'll carry on saying it), you really do have to budget for a decent setup after buying a horn - and what's thirty or forty pounds when compared to the couple of thousand or so that you've just lashed out for a pro level horn?
Slackening off the blued steel spring really improved the feel under the fingers, though I wasn't all that comfortable with what I felt was rather too much of a dish on the concave pearls. Wouldn't be too much of a problem to have them taken down a tad though.

The whole outfit comes with a very substantial and smart case.

I was obviously keen to blow the horn, but from the very first note I found myself completely thrown by it.
I found it extraordinarily difficult to describe the tone I got from the horn. I think I was perhaps expecting a sort of 'extra' YTS62 sound - whereas what I got was nothing of the sort.
I have to admit to being stumped.
It's curious, because I can always pick up a horn, any horn, and within a few minutes of playing, if not seconds, suss out its major strengths and weaknesses. I think perhaps the reason I couldn't put my finger on the tone was because I couldn't decide whether what I was hearing was a strength or a weakness.
As regards the things I'm certain of, I can say that the tone seemed very dry - not fat and round, but not dead either.
Crisp would be another way of describing it.
There's no doubting the response of the horn, it's lightning fast. No matter how hard and fast you push it, it's right there with you - and drop-dead even across the range. And it's a dead easy blow too.
It was this response that really highlighted the leaks down the lower end - it played fine down to low D...and then turned into a completely different (and dead) horn altogether until the leaks had been sorted.
It has brightness in abundance - so much so that I swapped my trusty Vandoren T25 testbench piece for a Java 55 to see if a more open piece would bring out more body. It did, but the horn retained its brilliance too. This is probably a horn that really needs a big, fat, open piece.

Some players have had problems with regard to tuning on this horn. I noticed no such problems, but I can appreciate how its lack of resistance, particularly at the top end, would throw many an established embouchure off track.
Early models were rumoured to have problems with the new crooks - this appears to have been sorted.

There's an 'M' series crook available for this horn - but this is said to be brighter than the 'G'...and I'm not sure that would be an ideal partnership on this horn (be interesting to find out though).

In some ways it had a lot in common with the old 'fake heavy box' trick - you know, where you make a great show of lifting a seemingly heavy box that's actually empty, then pass it to someone else and watch as they over-compensate.
You blow this horn, and the resistance you expect to find just isn't there. It really catches you out.
The top notes were very different from anything I've gotten from a Yamaha before. I'd say they were more open - but then perhaps so open that I felt I missed the resistance. The more you bit into the top notes, the more the horn gave way and accommodated you. I think this would be a very hard horn to push to the limit, especially when you couple the deft response with its free-blowing manner. You almost get the feeling that if you blew it hard enough it would suck you in.

Tonewise it has a strong sound - as opposed to a big sound. If sound were a shape then this horn gives off cylinders of sound, as opposed, say, to a Selmer, which would give off footballs.
A strange analogy, I know, but I really struggled to fit this horn into a niche.

I feel there's perhaps a hint of a vintage sound about it - and from reading Yamaha's blurb I see that this is indeed a feature that supposed to be there, but somehow it's not quite right. It's almost an unhappy marriage between the old and the new.
To my mind it falls between two posts. It doesn't have the roundness of a great vintage horn, nor does it have the exuberance of a great modern horn - but what it does have is perhaps a touch of what the Borgani tenor has; a sense of being quite unique.

I really don't mind admitting that this horn has me flummoxed.
I know that the playability part of the review is perhaps the least important, given that each player will get entirely different things from any given horn - but I do like to be able to rattle off at least a few lines that hint to a horn's general demeanour.
I thought perhaps I was having an off day - but a quick comparison with a crappy old Earlham tenor showed me straight away that my senses were firing on all eight. About the only thing I can say for sure is that the horn is bright, and has oodles of crispness and response - and that alone makes it a horn that just has to be on your shopping list for pro spec horns.

I'd like to come back to this review at a later date, once I've blown a few other examples - just so I can really nail what it is that this horn has, or hasn't got...

A month or so has passed since the above was written, and I had an opportunity to blow the 82Z again. This time I brought along my own YTS23 and used my gigging mouthpiece.
I discovered two things. The first is that my initial perceptions were right. Compared with the 23, there's a stark difference in how the tone seems to come out of the horn. When playing the 23 the tone appears to spread out from the bell - the client and I likened it to a sort of sawn-off shotgun effect. With the 82Z there was a definite sense of a much more narrow beam. It left me with the impression that the 82Z is perhaps an introspective horn - suited to the classic image of the lone jazzer, standing hunched on stage, blowing away in a world of his own. The 23 is more extrovert, more suited to slapping faces at the back of the hall!

The second thing I discovered is that the 82Z isn't a horn that's as immediately accessible as the rest of the Yamaha range.
They've always had a reputation for being horns that you could pick up and just blow - what you get is what's there, instantly. The 82Z is a different beast altogether and you have to spend time with it, learning its characteristics.
In this sense it makes it a very complex horn - and that's pretty much the ideal for a horn of this type and calibre.
I'd be surprised if many people pick it up and find it has instant appeal, but I wouldn't be surprised to find them motivated to keep coming back to find new potential.

That, for me, is the mark of a classic horn - and that makes the 82Z a very individual instrument.

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