Yanagisawa T-WO32 Elite tenor saxophone
Guide price: £7600
Date of manufacture: 2017
Date reviewed: January 2020
I wasn't going to review this horn when it turned
up on the workbench - I had way too much work on my plate and really
couldn't afford to spare the time it takes to run one up - but I
mentioned its arrival to a few folks and the overwhelming response
was "A seven and a half grand horn, and you're not going to
review it??? Man...seriously???" So here we are.
I'd favourably reviewed one of the altos in the series (the AWO33)
back in 2017, so I figured I might get away with simply bunging
up a photo, giving the horn a cursory mechanical checkover and a
playtest and then writing "Yup" - but no, I was told in
no uncertain terms that the full Monty was required...and deserved.
So here we are, again.
With that said, there really is an awful lot in the alto review
that applies to the tenor (mechanically speaking, of course) - so
I'm going to attempt to keep it brief. Which'll be a first for me...
The TWO32 replaces the old 992 range and more
or less follows the same format - which is to say that there's a
base model (TWO10) upon which the more expensive and blingier models
are based. This particular version features a bronze body with a
solid silver bell and crook...the tonal value of which is directly
proportional to your propensity to believe in the notion that body
materials make a difference to the tone. Feel free to argue amongst
The construction is ribbed for the most part, with a few groups
of pillars mounted on plates and the remainder being fitted individually.
If you want a better idea of what that looks like, check out the
last photo in this review. Being a top-end modern horn it comes
fully-loaded with all the usual features. There's a detachable bell
and a triple-point bell brace; plain drawn toneholes; adjustable
bumper felts; an adjustable metal thumb hook and a slightly domed
metal thumb rest of generous proportions - and the usual slightly-undersized-for-my-liking
sling ring, which is nonetheless quite chunky at 15/8mm.
In terms of the overall build quality I'd say it was very good indeed.
Nothing's flimsy, everything's neat and tidy and well fitted.
I was extremely pleased to see that the toneholes
were all nice and level - although 'nice and level' as a description
is tantamount to damning with faint praise. In all my years in this
business I really don't think I've ever seen toneholes as level
as this from the factory...or if I have it's been such a rare occurrence
that I've long since forgotten about it. They were better, even,
than those on the AWO33.
Here's the low C tonehole with a precision lapped standard resting
on it. Ideally you'd want to see no light at all escaping between
the tonehole rim and the standard - but if you look to the right
hand side you can just about see a little bit of a glow. That represents
a gap so small I don't even have anything that could measure it.
It's a mere fraction of the width of a thin cigarette paper, which
measures out at a thousandth of an inch thick - and marks out the
size of a leak that's worth dealing with. A speck of grit between
the tonehole and the standard would show a larger gap.
They haven't got the toneholes this level by luck; someone's had
to go to the trouble of achieving this degree of precision, and
in so doing has very likely eclipsed the standard from any other
manufacturer - even Selmer, who typically do a reasonable job on
If I had a cap handy I'd put it on...just so's I could doff it to
Yanagisawa in recognition of a job well done. With that said, it's
a high standard to maintain in a production environment - but if
they can maintain it it'll be very much to their credit (and to
The compound bell key pillar is of the semicircular
type and is detachable - which is a useful feature (for repairers)
It also has a rather more interesting aspect, which is that it suggests
that the designers at Yanagisawa clearly have a sense of humour
- because they've provided we repairers with a spot of amusement
in the shape of a modern-day 'gotcha'.
Such features were reasonably common in years gone by, and many's
the inexperienced repairer who's been caught out by a quirk of design
that leaves them staring at an almost completely assembled horn
while holding a key....that cannot be fitted unless almost all of
the horn is dismantled again. There's no shame in this - even I
still get caught out from time-to-time - but you'd think such things
would be history in the 21st century.
no - Yanagisawa, in their considerable wisdom, have ensured that
the design of the compound bell key pillar obstructs the removal
of the lower stack rod.
Now, to be fair, you could remove the pillar - it's mounted
on a pair of screws. However, as handy as this feature is it's not
something you want to have to keep doing (if at all, even) because
there's always a risk that a thread might get crossed...and then
there's a risk that the heads of the screws could get chewed up
by someone who's less than careful with a screwdriver. Besides,
it takes time to remove the pillar and refit it, and that costs
You can, of course, merely bend the rod so that
it slips past the pillar - and this is what everyone will do. But
bending a rod screw is never ideal, and it's a proper pain in the
arse when you're working on key fitting and have to repeatedly assemble
and dismantle the stack.
It really wouldn't have taken that much more thought to change the
design of the pillar, or even just cut a notch into it for the rod
to slide through and beef up the pillar's leg on the underside.
That covers the highlights of the bodywork - the
rest is as per the alto, so let's move swiftly onto the keywork.
While I'm pleased to see the horn sports a full set of proper mother-of-pearl
key touches I'm a bit disappointed that the Bis Bb pearl retains
its slightly concave profile. It wasn't such a big deal on the alto
because the B and Bb keys are quite close together in terms of spacing
and height - but on the tenor there's enough of a gap to make it
rather more noticeable. I think you'll be unlucky if you find that
you pinch your finger when rolling onto the Bb, but a domed pearl
here would add a nice touch of slickness. It's not difficult or
expensive to have the pearl swapped out should you so desire.
There are no regulation adjusters fitted to this
horn save for the usual pair for the Bis Bb/G# and one between the
low B and C# (and I suppose the sliding pin on the front top F link
could count as an adjuster, of sorts) - so any tweaking of the regulation
has to be done by fiddling with bits of cork.
On the plus side they've at least made use of composite cork throughout
the horn, which is far less compressible than natural cork...though
it tends to result in a bit more key noise. They've also made use
of felt in certain critical places - which helps to reduce the key
particular interest to me is the length of the secondary key barrel
on the Auxiliary F key - which sits more or less dead centre of
the shot on the left and comes off the arm fitted to the long bar
that runs up to the other end of the Aux.F key. That little key
barrel takes a lot of punishment and is a prime candidate for wear.
When it does so it affects the precision of the regulation and can
eventually lead to a drop-off in the performance of the low notes.
On a great many other horns that key barrel is very much shorter
- so it wears more quickly and there's less 'meat' for a repairer
to work with when the wear needs taking out. No such problems on
this horn - it should be a good long while before this barrel starts
to wobble, and sorting it out will be a breeze.
As you can see, the action is powered by blued
steel springs, and if you were wondering what sort of pivot screws
were fitted (as indeed you should) I'm very happy to report that
they're proper points...and as on the alto they were secured in
place with a drop of threadlock. The use of such screws allows for
wear and tear to be taken up over the years, and thus maintain a
reliable and slick action.
Other notable action features include double cup arms on the low
B and C keys, a tilting bell key table, reliable fork and pin connectors
on the side Bb/C keys and a standard swivelling octave mech with
a nicely profiled and sculpted touchpiece.
Pisoni Pro pads fitted with domed metal reflectors
have been used - and these are an excellent quality pad. While I
was generally quite pleased with the seating of the pads, I wasn't
so chuffed with how they'd been fitted.
Here's the low Eb pad. It's quite a bit better than the "l'il
dab'll do ya" method of fitting pads that I've seen on many
new horns recently - but it still falls quite a bit short of expectations
on a top-end horn.
you look at at the lower part of the pad (which corresponds to the
rear of the key cup...where the key arm attaches) you can see that
there's little or no shellac at all. It's not such a big deal if
the pad is resting on the base of the key cup and is making a good
seal against the tonehole - but if you needed to adjust the pad
seat at this point by raising it slightly out of the cup, it wouldn't
hold because it has no glue behind it to lock it in place.
It also allows water to get in behind the pad, which'll shorten
its working life.
I'm also none-too-impressed that they didn't bother to seal the
reflector rivet (in the centre of the pad) with a dollop of shellac.
It's always worth doing this - and in the AWO33 review I noted that
there was some evidence that a blob of hot melt glue had been used
to seal the rivet. Didn't spot any on this horn.
in two minds about the crook - specifically the addition of a secondary
Maybe it's just me, but I feel it looks a bit...inelegant. It's
obviously just an addition that's bunged onto the crook rather than
someone having taken the time to design a bespoke brace. I also
don't much care for this type of wire brace because it tends to
focus an impact on the base of the crook (just above the tenon sleeve)
and stoves it in. It also doesn't chime in well with the additional
plate that sits behind the mouthpiece cork, and which provides a
little extra stiffness to the tube.
I really do think they could have been more creative here - and
failing that they could simply have fitted the pseudo-underslung
key that's fitted to the other tenors in the series.
Could just be me though - you might think it looks cool. And that's,
Everything else is as found on the alto, including
the rather nice box-style case with proper catches - but we do,
however, have to talk about the weight.
There's a lot of it. It's a very heavy horn. Tipping the scales
at 3.58kg it outweighs just about every other tenor I've reviewed
- even my own TJ
RAW, which just sneaks in under the radar at 0.08kg lighter
(a tad under three ounces in old money). The one tenor I've seen
that beats it is the cheapo Chinese Sakkusu,
which comes in at back-knackering 3.62kg. It's something to bear
in mind given that most folks who buy one of these horns will be
stepping up from a horn that's likely to be significantly lighter
- and although the difference might not seem like much on paper,
it can get very telling after you've been toting the horn on stage
for a couple of sets.
I think that whistlestop tour pretty much wraps it up other than
to say that specific to the newer silver models is the extensive
engraving on the bell flare, crook and the keys.
I'm not that much of a fan of fussy engraving but I feel Yanagisawa
have struck a nice balance with this horn by avoiding the temptation
to cover the body tube in swirly decoration. You get just enough
to give the horn a bit of distinction but not so much that it looks
Under the fingers the action feels robust and
responsive. The build quality shines through, as do the subtle tweaks
to the ergonomics of the 992 layout - from which this horn has evolved.
In reading through my notes on the AWO33 I see that I said I had
very little to say about the action, and so it is with the tenor.
The out-of-box setup was spot on what I'd call medium, which means
there's scope for your repairer (or yourself, if you have the fettling
skills) to raise or lower the action a tad and to back off or up
the spring tension a little. I sincerely doubt that many players
will consider it necessary - though having that concave Bis Bb pearl
swapped out for a domed one will pay dividends, I feel.
it comes to playing the horn I really don't think I can do much
better than again refer you to the notes I wrote on the AWO33. The
tenor has the same easy confidence and assured presence.
Tonewise it's unashamedly contemporary, but with just enough depth
and tone colour to distinguish it from the Yamaha approach without
getting all mumbly in the midrange.
It has exactly the same eagerness, balance and versatility as the
alto. Going out in a limb I'd perhaps suggest that it's not as exciting
a blow as the alto, but then that's arguably the difference between
the alto and the tenor. Without that natural brilliance it has to
work harder to impress, and it does so not by relying on, say, overplaying
the low notes or frying up the top end but rather by being consistent
and measured right across the range. And if that doesn't make much
sense, think Swiss Army Knife. You could take this horn anywhere,
and it'd do the job.
As for the difference over the previous model...
My personal feelings about Yanagisawa horns is that they've always
been well built and very reliable horns - and while they've also
always been very playable they've somehow failed to excite me all
that much. Now, I don't mean that as a put-down (I'm hardly the
new Stan Getz, right?) but it's always seemed to me that they've
sat somewhere between Selmer and Yamaha in terms of their tonal
approach...sort of somewhere middling, as it were. They are, to
my mind, the Volvo of saxophones. Dependable, solid, efficient...and
All of the WO series horns I've played to date have given me a bit
of a tonal tickle. I can't tell you what they've changed in the
mix but the result is fresher, leaner and ever so slightly meaner.
There's more fizz, more sparkle, more exuberance - and yet there's
still that same solid dependency and stability. I like it a lot,
and I'm delighted that such an established and reputable company
continues to ensure they remain relevant and productive as the years
Rather interestingly, I had a client pop by to
pick up his MkVI tenor just as this horn went on the bench - so
we took the opportunity to do a side-by-side comparison between
He was using a Drake piece, I was on my old modified Vandoren T25.
On the Selmer he sounded bright and punchy, with lots of grit down
the low end and plenty of brilliance up top - but on the Yani he
sounded muted and rather muddy...which came as a surprise to both
of us. "Ewww...I wouldn't buy this horn!" he remarked.
However, when I played the Selmer I got the usual well-rounded tone
with a nice bit of sparkle across the range - and on the Yanagisawa
I got a more contemporary and even tone, and rather more brightness
all round. I'd have bought the Yani.
So what does this tell you? Not a lot really - other than to prove
how little value you should place on 'tonal critiques'. It's highly
likely that the difference in response was down to him playing the
Yanagisawa like a Selmer - and me playing it like a Yanagisawa.
That's one of the advantages of playing a wide variety of horns
over a very long period of time - you don't get locked into a particular
approach...though you could also say that's a disadvantage...
The client who owned this horn brought in his
spare horn when he came to collect the Yanagisawa. It was a Keilwerth
SX90R. Quite the 'spare' horn, eh?
Despite my misgivings about the build quality of these horns they
nonetheless have a truly impressive tonal soundscape, so it seemed
completely fair (ahem) to pitch it up against this horn. Seriously
though, there's not much point in comparing them tonally because
they're so different, but purely from a playability perspective
the Yanagisawa felt more balanced and poised - and more responsive.
It certainly felt more comfortable under the fingers, but then the
Keilwerth does have rather a 'distinctive' feel.
I only mention it because the client was taking both horns home
with a view to deciding which one to focus his time on (nice work
if you can get it) - and although he sounded good on the SX90R I
felt the sound he got from the TWO32 was more complex and intriguing.
My advice was to put the SX90R aside for a couple of weeks and spend
some time exploring the Yanagisawa before comparing them again.
It'll be interesting to see which way he decides to go.
As for the competition - it gets a bit rarefied
at this price point, and the cost of the TWO32 makes even the Selmer
Reference horns look cheap at a grand or so less. In fact the only
way Selmer makes it into this league (and then some, on price at
least) is to slap some gold plate on a SA80 III or make the thing
out of silver. They're not alone though - Yamaha pulls much the
same trick with their Custom models.
If you're shopping purely on the basis of price the only way you'll
find a competitor for the Yani is to go off-brand into the bespoke
market - of which the Rampone R1 series is likely to be your first
port of call. However, you'd have to be a bit mad (and rich) to
buy a horn in that way - given that once you get much above a couple
of grand they're all pretty good - and a more sensible approach
would be to look at the base model (the TWO10) which comes in at
around the four grand mark, and make your comparisons from there.
Indeed, the TWO10 should be the very first horn you compare with
the TWO32, closely followed by the 20, the 30 and the 33.
But if you ended up going for the 32 you're unlikely
to be disappointed. It's arguably a bit of a luxury but underneath
all the glitter it's a very nice, very serious horn indeed.