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Yamaha YSS475 soprano saxophone

Yamaha YSS 475 soprano sax reviewOrigin: Japan (
Guide price: £1400
Weight: 1.33kg
Date of manufacture: 2002
Date reviewed: June 2002 (updated June 2019)

A 'budget' model straight, one piece soprano sax from the Yamaha stable

Although this model of sax has been on the market for some time now this is the first example (as of June 2002) I've ever seen in the workshop. It marks something of a departure for Yamaha as the only sopranos they made prior to this model were professional models - with a professional price tag. There's a reason that (good) soprano saxes don't come cheap, they're quite complex beasts to make and there's a need for a high degree of accuracy in both the design and build of the body. Couple this with a demand that's nowhere near that for altos and tenors, and it all adds up to quite an expensive proposition for the manufacturer...and thus for the buyer.
Up until this point the budget market has been dominated by the Taiwanese imports (some of which are really quite good) - but the smaller an instrument gets the greater the need for mechanical (i.e. keywork) precision, and the bigger the chances of the tone and tuning being somewhat disappointing.

But, this is a Yamaha - and you'd expect it to be a notch up from the competition. And you wouldn't be disappointed. This still holds true some 17 years after this review was first posted. In that time we've seen the Taiwanese stretch their legs and take a chunk out of the professional market - while the budget sector now positively brims with choice since the boutique market took off. Not that Yamaha have stood still though - this model is no longer made, but lives on in the guise of the slightly tweaked 475 II.
And slightly is the important part, because this is a proven design that's maintained its popularity for those players who can't (or don't want/need to) afford a pro soprano, but want an instrument that has rather more integrity than a cheap horn.

There's a good reason why Yamaha have managed to pull this off, and it's down to a combination of credible build quality, competitive pricing and a performance that really isn't so very far off that from horns that cost considerably more.
So let's have a close look and see how they did it.

The most noticeable aspect of the body design is that it's a single-piece soprano - there's no detachable crook/neck. I rather like single-piece sopranos; the standard tenon and receiver joint is something of a necessary evil on larger horns, and is often a source of leaks if not properly fitted and maintained - and the relatively small size of the joint on a soprano makes it all the more prone to discrepancies in the fit. However, it negates the option of swapping crooks to modify the tone, and you're a bit stuffed you tend to play with the soprano pointing downwards and can't take advantage of a curved crook (though there are one or two curved single-piece sopranos out there, such as the Yamaha 62R).

Yamaha YSS475 pillarThe construction is single pillar (post to body), with plates for the palm and side keys (which are single piece keys) - the latter of which also houses the G# cup key pillars. The pillar bases are nice and large, and the soldering is what I'd call 'reassuring'. It's neat and tidy, with a very visible ring of solder around the bases. I've seen more 'discreet' soldering (a slightly less visible ring), but because it's so uniform I'm not going to complain.
The tonehole are all plain drawn and were reasonably level - not perfect, but well within expectations for a factory finish. I forgot to check whether the palm key tone holes were silver-soldered, but it makes no odds either way.

You get an adjustable plastic thumb hook, a large flat plastic thumb rest and a modestly-sized 15/8 sling ring...and that's about it for the body really. It's finished in a coat of clear epoxy lacquer (as are the keys) - and this stuff is brilliant. It's as tough as old boots, and if you're careful and/or lucky you can even resolder a fitting to the body without burning the lacquer.

I'm a little less impressed with the compound bell key pillar because it seems to have rather a small base given that it has to support four keys.
This pillar is especially prone to shock damage (a knock to the case, which gets transmitted to the horn) which can push the pillar back. In fact that's exactly what had happened to this horn. It's easy enough to fix if it hasn't moved far, but it's the sort of thing that can easily happen when your lugging your horn to a gig - which will rather spoil your evening. There's a fair bit of room down by the base of the pillar, and little extra metal on the base would go a long way to making this vulnerable pillar a little sturdier.Yamaha YSS475 compound bell key pillar

The keywork is simple, well-designed and efficient - and lends the horn a very unfussy look.
It's also a very modern action with an array of mod cons. Perhaps the most useful feature from my point of view is that both of the main stacks are fitted with regulation adjusters. These are a boon when to comes to setting up and adjusting the action; it makes my job easier, your repair bills smaller...and if you're handy with a screwdriver and you know what you're doing, it makes it easy to tweak the action should the need arise inbetween services.
Yamaha YSS 475 lower stackThey're especially useful on the top stack because the keys are small and there's not a lot of space between them if you have to dive in with a bit of a cork and a strip of sandpaper. You're also dealing with tiny adjustments, and the merest slip of the sandpaper will mean you'll probably have to rip the cork off and start over.

There's sensible use of rubberised cork (less prone to compression than normal cork), though the use it on the lower stack key feet can lend the action a rather clunky feel. An easy fix for this is to shave a bit off the cork and glue a felt disc on.
Note that tall pillar on the left. That's a support pillar/barrel guide for the bell keys - and is a very welcome addition because it'll minimise the chances of you bending these keys when you're handling the instrument.

Here are the top stack adjusters. The bar that sits beneath the adjuster is only supported at one end, which means that by the time the bar reaches the A adjuster, it's getting to be a little on the long side. Similarly the adjuster arm off the A key is quite long. This can lead to problems with key flex, and I'd really rather like to see another supporting arm on it. That said, it's a fairly hefty piece of brass.
Yamaha YSS475 top stackNice adjusting screws too - look at the base, where it meets the cork; there's a large head on the business end of the screw. This helps spread the load and reduces the likelihood that the screw will tear up the cork.

As well as the stack adjusters you also get the usual trio on the G#, Bis Bb and low B/C#.

One feature that's missing on this horn is a split Auxiliary B key (you can just see it nestling beneath the front top F touchpiece). Most modern sopranos carry this feature, which allows for a connection from the Aux.B to the octave mech. When a top C# is played, the lower half of the split key (which has a hole or vent in it) comes down over the Aux.B tonehole and serves to flatten what can often be a rather sharp note. I don't find the top C# to be an issue on this horn - but your mileage may it's something that's worth checking when you're comparing sopranos in the shop. And while we're here, the key pearls are plastic and are all slightly concave, bar the Bis B which is very slightly domed.

Yamaha YSS475 octave mechanismThere's a swivelling octave mech, which is nicely made and laid out.
The touchpiece is simple a flat piece of brass, but it's at least been profiled around the curvature of the thumb rest. It could be improved with a little sculpting to drop the leading edge, but that's not to say it's not comfortable as is.
It's also quite slick and smooth in action, which rather applies to the rest of the keywork. Some of this will be down to the shoulderless proper point screws used on this horn, which allow for constant adjustment down the years. Equally, the spring geometry has been thoughtfully designed to maximise leverage and 'snappiness'. The springs are stainless steel too, so they're very forgiving of adjustment and are likely to last a very long time. In other words they won't break on you if you fiddle with them, and they won't go rusty. Never be tempted to replace them with blued steel springs.

Yamaha YSS475 bell key tableThe bell key table is of the tilting variety, and like the rest of the keywork it's well-designed and assembled. A nice touch is a slight angle on the leading edge of the low B touchpiece, which aids a smoother transition between the B and the C#. The G# touchpiece is a no-frills slab of brass, but it's of a good length and is nice and wide.
If you like tilting tables, it's a good one.

There's a decent set of pads installed, though they can sometimes be inclined to be a bit sticky on a new horn. This isn't uncommon, and a splash of cigarette lighter fluid will help matters considerably.

And that about wraps it up, save to say that the case is a box style job and is really rather a nice bit of kit - with proper catches and space inside for all your bits and pieces.

In the hands the 475 feels a little heftier than you might expect, because at 1.33kg it's slightly heavier than average. And the same can be said for the action - at least fresh from the factory.
As with all the cheaper Yamahas, they have a specially-trained gorilla who sets the action up as the horns roll off the production line. But ten minutes with a springhook will transform how this horn feels under fingers.
The springing is superb, the keys are very well balanced - and a few simple tweaks simply takes the feel up at least a couple of gears. And the daft thing is that a tweak like this costs beer money.
If you so wished you could dig a little deeper and have the action lowered (fractionally), and that too will make a very noticeable different. It's a highly tweakable horn.
And once tweaked it feels as good as, if not better than, many a pro-spec horn.
Key placement is fine. Yamaha have been building horns for quite a while now and they know where things oughta go. Besides, it's a soprano - you're unlikely to have too many issues when it comes to the ergonomics. But I ought to give a shout-out to the front top F touchpiece. It's a lovely design, and perfectly placed. No big deal these days, but back when this horn was new it was quite a nifty feature.

As for how it plays, the 475 is unashamedly neutral to bright in its approach.
This is, essentially, where the market diverges. Some folks like their sopranos to be full-bodied and meaty, some like them to be lean and mean - and the rest, presumably, really don't mind.
I don't mind a bit of both, but there's something about the purity and clarity of the 475 that appeals to me. Tonewise it's crisp and clean, and it maintains this throughout the range - but it doesn't get all shouty at the top end, nor does it get quacky on the low notes. It's just really nicely balanced.
It's also (like most Yamahas) very mouthpiece-friendly. You can whack almost anything on this horn and it won't skip a beat. From a heavily baffled Dukoff to a cavernous old vintage piece, it just gets on with the job.

And it does so with good grace, especially when it comes to the tuning.
Being a modern horn you might expect it to be very 'locked in', but it's actually quite flexible. I think this is what initially threw me when I first tried a 475...the tuning was all over the place. I was rather shocked, and wondered how on earth Yamaha could have made such a heinous mistake. But it wasn't the horn, it was just me...and after few minutes' blowing I began to feel my embouchure digging out the centre of the notes. 15 minutes later and I was wondering what all the drama was about.

Yamaha YSS 475 bellYou might be wondering what, if any, difference the single-piece body makes.
I mentioned at the top of the review that a crook joint can often be a source of leaks, but it's also an interruption in the bore. Granted, it's a minor interruption and it's debatable as to how much of an effect it has - but it's still an interruption.
Something I've noticed down the years is that almost every single-piece soprano I've played has a 'certain something' about its response. It just feels more cohesive, more alive. Sure, it's not by much...but it's just enough to put a bit more fizz in the response. I can't in all honesty say that a soprano is top of my shopping list (or that it's even on it), but if I really need one, I'd have a single-piece job. So it makes a difference. Possibly. To me, at least.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this soprano is its position in the marketplace. Pick any other mainstream horn and you'll find that it's up against a raft of competitors within its price bracket. But there's really not a lot to challenge the Yamaha. The 475 II now comes in at around £1800, which means that it's up against the Conn Selmer Premiere at £350 less and the Muariat Le Bravo at the same price. The Conn Selmer, if it's anything like the other horns in the range (haven't seen one yet) is likely to be a decent horn for the money - and the Mauriat, is, well, a Mauriat. I've seen some questionable build quality from them in recent years, and that's something you really can't skimp on when it comes to sopranos. And that's about it.
No wonder the Yamaha's still king of the hill.
If you spent a bit more you could go for the Bauhaus M2, which is a very nice bit of kit - and has rather more low-end grunt - but if you like your sopranos on the neutral side tonally, the Yamaha is still on top.

In its day the 475 was a basic no-frills soprano that met a nice compromise between quality and price. It fared well against stiff competition from the Taiwanese sector, and although slightly more expensive than most budget sopranos provided good value for money. The new model still does that today...and the older model has arguably become the king of the secondhand market.


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