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Yanagisawa 991 tenor saxophone

Yanagisawa 991 tenor saxophoneOrigin: Japan (
Guide price: £2900
Weight: -
Date of manufacture: Late 1980s?
Date reviewed: August 2007

Yet another (there are so many) pro-range horn from Yanagisawa

I'd like to start this review off by assuring you that the horn pictured on the right is a 991. It is not a 992 - which is essentially the same horn but with a bronze body. The reason I felt it necessary to declare this distinction is the curiously reddish tinge to the body of this horn. Indeed, it fooled me right up to the point where I was typing out the client's invoice for the work carried out, and actually had cause to read the model number rather than work on the assumption it was a 992.
I've not seen a 991 looking this red before, but then this is an early example and was either finished with a tinted lacquer or has simply aged this colour. Modern 991s are undoubtedly brass coloured.

Build quality is as good as you'd expect from the Yanagisawa marque - likewise the finish, though this particular example doesn't really do the horn that much credit. That said, there's certainly no doubt that it's a much-loved and hard-working horn...and a few battle scars are only to be expected.
The body features a removable bell and a substantial Selmer-style circular bell brace, as well as an adjustable thumb rest (complete with debatable dimpling on its base) and a pleasingly sturdy arched bell key pillar. Clearly it's a heavy-duty horn - which make the relatively small sling ring a bit of an oddity. As such it's a heavy horn, and I'd have liked to have seen a bigger sling ring fitted (this is common to all Yanagisawa saxes) which could accommodate the larger locking sling hooks - such as that found on my BG straps.

The keywork is just as well built, and notable features include simple but effective forks for the side trills, twin cup arms on the low C and B keys and an anti-whip pillar on the side F/F# key barrels.
On the minus side the front F key touchpiece, although large, isn't that well placed for those who like to roll their forefinger up - and despite tweaking it barely made 'satisfactory'. Newer models feature a better key.
Similarly there are no adjusters on the main key stacks.
Proper point screws are used throughout and the action is powered by blued steel springs.

I noted during the course of my work on this horn that the keys appeared to be a tad on the soft side, though not so soft that maintaining regulation of the action was an issue. This is a little surprising considering the 'belt-and-braces' approach Yanagisawa takes with regard to the build quality of this horn.

The crook features an 'underslung' key. This isn't a true Underslung, as seen on the Conn 6M, as the octave key pip is situated on top of the crook. However, the crook key is a particularly vulnerable key and moving the bulk of it below the crook is an effective way of preventing it being inadvertently bent when assembling the horn. Other than that there are no significant advantages to the mechanism.

Yanagisawa 991 tenor bare brassThe action feels good under the fingers - the main key placements are spot on, though I had some initial trouble getting the low C to close at speed simply because I'm used to a slightly different C touchpiece position.
The bell key spatulas are just where they ought to be, and are slick and fast in action - though I did have to reduce the spring tension throughout the action (this is something I'd strongly recommend as part of a post-purchase setup). A nice touch is a tilting plastic link between the low B and C# touchpieces which allows your little finger to move between the two quite swiftly.

Tonewise this horn is very evenly balanced - not too dark, not too bright, which makes it a very flexible horn.
That said, I felt the lower notes were just a tiny fraction too dry for my tastes, and could have benefited from a little fatness - but that's an issue that's easily tweaked with the right mouthpiece. It's quite a soulful tone and tips nicely over into edgy with the merest tweak of your embouchure, and yet there's very much the sense that this edge is completely at your discretion.
It can get 'booty' too if you push it - but the relative dryness of the lower notes tend to rein in any real sense of 'oomph' with this style of playing.
The response is good, it's quite a lively horn with nice definition between the notes at a fast lick - there's never a sense that the sound is muddled. Tuning is as excellent as you'd expect.

The natural comparison would be between this horn and the Yamaha YTS62. My feeling is that it's six of one, half a dozen of the other - the two horns are remarkably close in response, but I'd give the Yanagisawa points for a little more focus, but take them away again for being a tad too reserved! Confused? Of course you are - which is why you'd have to try both horns alongside each other.
By far the biggest difference is found in the keywork - the ergonomics and overall feel of the action. There's no disputing that both horns have an excellent action (when tweaked), so again it'll be down to personal preference. From my own perspective I find the Yamaha's action to be a tad quicker under the fingers - but feel free to disagree.
There's a substantial difference in price too - with the Yamaha coming in at around £300 cheaper. You might have thought a fairer comparison was with the Yanagisawa 901, which retails around the same price as the which case you'd be well advised to make such a comparison yourself and see what happens...

On the left is the bare brass version.
This example is a couple of years old and you can see how the patina has developed. It's a nice look, and under the right lights it can look quite spectacular. You can just see hints of purple and blue iridescence showing in this shot - but catch it right and the metal positively lights up. Of course, it might not stay this way...that's the beauty and the drawback of a bare brass finish, and in some cases it might end up going rather green. That's the chance you take with an unlacquered horn - some players, particularly 'wet' ones, may find themselves constantly battling to keep the horn looking presentable...while others who're more 'dry' can simply watch their horn develop a lovely, rich patina. In either case a coat of car wax every now and then will go some way to protecting the bare metal.
How does it sound compared to the lacquered version? Exactly the same, excepting the slight variations between any two 'identical' saxes.

The 991 is undoubtedly an excellent modern horn with a modern sound - and if you're looking for something that's crisp and even across the range that's a little different from the Yamaha YTS62 then this is a horn you shouldn't ignore. If you want something with a similar feel to the 991 but with (hopefully) a slightly different tone, try the 992 - it's exactly the same horn but with a bronze body.

I compared this horn with the Chinese-built Walstein copy, you can read the results here.


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