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Yanagisawa T-WO32 Elite tenor saxophone

YanagisawaT-WO32 tenor sax reviewOrigin: Japan
Guide price: £7600
Weight: 3.58k
g
Date of manufacture: 2017
Date reviewed: January 2020

No lightweight

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 yourselves.
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.

YanagisawaT-WO32 low C tonehole 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 their toneholes.
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 your benefit).

The compound bell key pillar is of the semicircular type and is detachable - which is a useful feature (for repairers) on occasion.
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.
YanagisawaT-WO32 lower stack rodBut 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) money.

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 noise.

YanagisawaT-WO32 lower stackOf 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.
YanagisawaT-WO32 low Eb padIf 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.

YanagisawaT-WO32 crookI'm in two minds about the crook - specifically the addition of a secondary brace.
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, well, cool.

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.

YanagisawaT-WO32 engravingAnd 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 chavvy.

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.

YanagisawaT-WO32 bare bodyWhen 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 safe.
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 roll by.

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 us.
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.

 

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