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Soprano Saxophones :: Sax Comparisons :: Wayne Mestas

Comparing Soprano Saxophones

I love the soprano saxophone and in recent years I have had the opportunity to own several sopranos in search of the Holy Grail. For better or worse, the opportunity to own different horns may not be the all you think. While comparing horns is mostly fun and sometimes good I have began treating it as time off the clock, time when I could and should be practicing, Time On the Clock.

Yamaha Soprano Saxophones

I played a Yamaha YSS-61 for about 15 years. I purchased it in the late Ď70s for about $600. This was a great little horn, the intonation was great and the tone was very good. I would recommend this sax to any beginner or intermediate sax player. For the money this is a great instrument. You have search for one but they are around.

Selmer Soprano Saxophones

I was starting to study more seriously and thought a better horn would improve my playing. While a better instrument (sometimes just a different instrument) inspires one to practice, the horn itself is just a tool in the hands of a craftsman, technician or artist (artiste! ha-ha). I upgraded to a Selmer Super 80 Series II thinking Selmer, Selmer, Selmer. I liked the tone of this sax and the keyboard was comfortable, however I did have to use palm key risers. I had trouble with the intonation and never could line up consistently with a tuner. Time to go back to Yamaha, which I had had better luck with.

Yamaha Soprano Saxophones

I have a good friend who plays a Yamaha curved neck 62 (YSS-62R) and sounds fabulous, so I thought the curved neck was going to be the answer. I purchased a Yamaha YSS-675. The 675 is a two-piece sax with the option of a straight or curved neck. This was a great sax. I used a Yamaha factory silver-plated curved neck, if I remember it was an ďF1R,Ē which I think has a different bore size than the stock neck.

Revisiting some recordings I was amazed at how good the sound was. IT WAS GREAT! Easy to play, great intonation, great sound, great sax! The only problem with this sax is when you adjust the mouthpiece for intonation you sometimes would twist the neck out of alignment from the body.

I also began to question the idea of the two-piece neck design. I wonder if there is some vibration loss. This is not scientific just a hunch. The two-piece neck design while in theory gives one options, has really never caught on. Most players that have two-piece sopranos almost exclusively use one neck or the other. In retrospect it was a mistake selling this horn.

The next experiment was a YSS-875S, a silver plated Yamaha Custom Soprano. Another fabulous sax! I have some good Saxophones but for a long time I felt that this was my best horn. I love silver saxophones, they are beautiful. Everything about this horn was great! Beautiful resonant sound, great projection, looks amazing, plays and feels great and the intonation was right on. Only one down side, this sax is heavy and I do mean heavy, due to the plating. I was never comfortable using a neck strap on soprano. Holding the soprano at a higher angle than say a clarinet the strap would always interfere with my left hand thumb and use of the octave key.

Yanagisawa Soprano Saxophones

While surfing Ebay I stumbled across an interesting item. A curved Yanagisawa, a mini alto style soprano, and, the price was right. This was the model before the current SC-901 but is basically the same sax. The sax was a little beat up and had been played a lot. These Saxes have a good reputation for being well made and playable. This sax played very, very well! The sound is right in your face, which is really cool and unusual for a soprano. With the bell pointed up and being so close to your head you can really hear the sound. It has a very unique SAXY sound and a very good sound.

The key placement is just a little awkward but the biggest problem for me was the Mark VI style palm keys. It would not be difficult to learn and be comfortable playing this sax but would take some effort to articulate the palm keys. It would be interesting to play the current production model Yanagisawa SC-901 or the SC-991 (which has more common style palm keys) and I hear that ďRampone Cazzani (an Italian manufacturer) has a good curved soprano. This was always a great sax on the gig as its unique toy like appearance would always come up in conversation from someone in the band or an attractive young lady. Great conversation piece!

Two years ago or so I played a Bronze Yanagisawa S-901B at the NAMM show. Subsequently I purchased one. This sax has a thick, projecting tone. I liked the sound at first but later it started to seem ďtubby.Ē I didnít like the palm key or the side key placement. I think one could easily adapt to it, itís just not what I am accustomed too. The thing I really dug about this sax was the G# mechanism. This key never sticks. A problem Iím sure all of you have experienced with your soprano. This is a one-piece soprano sax and I liked that. This is a very good sax and the lacquered models are growing in popularity amongst younger players. I also had a problem with the finish. This sax was new and the lacquer over the bronze was pitted and seemed uneven in spots.

Yamaha Soprano Saxes

I purchased a Yamaha student model YSS-475 for one of my students and was pleasantly surprised at what a good sax this was. For the money this sax was awesome. It was easy to play and the scale was great. Very even in pitch and timbre. It looks kind of plain with no engraving but a great little horn!

I am now playing a Yamaha YSS-62. This is a lacquered horn and is a later model (11,XXX). I also own an earlier model 62 (24XX). The difference being the later model has the low C# tone hole on the side of the bell aligned with the B and Bb tone holes. I believe that there is a difference in the octave key mechanism but heck if I can figure out what it is.

This is definitely my favorite soprano sax and I believe to the best overall horn. I did extensive, extensive A, B, C - ing with the Yamaha 62, the silver plated Custom Yamaha and the Bronze Yani. The Yamaha 62 always came out on top, every time. The tone, the comfort and key placement, the evenness of scale and pitch, its just user friendly.

There are things I liked about all of these sopranos but in the end the Yamaha 62 just seemed to be the better overall horn. One can purchase a lacquered 62 at a very reasonable price. So in this case the more money does not necessarily translate into more horn. I know guys who are using the silver plated 62, which I am sure, is an awesome horn but I have never played one. The silver plated 62 is really in demand now and these horns are hard to come by and when you can find one it will come at a premium price.

Selmer Mark VI Soprano Saxophones

I have never played a Selmer Mark VI soprano and have heard mostly horror stories regarding the inconsistency of these horns. A lot of famous players and studio musicians use Selmerís so you know some of them work and I would assume that they work fabulously. My favorite soprano saxophone players use Selmers; Branford, Bill Evans, Coltrane!*&^%$#@! You know that they play. I am looking forward to getting my hands on one at some point.

Soprano Comparison Conclusion

Itís time to get back to the shed and back on the clock. I wonder if my time would have been better spent working with one sax as opposed to the never ending search for the perfect soprano. Any professional quality, good sax, is usable and can sound great when you invest enough time, effort and methodology.

I think the mouthpiece and reed combination is a more difficult and critical factor to overcome. Does the perfect Soprano Sax exist? No, obviously not. But the panacea, YAMAHA, if for some chance you might be listening, a one-piece curved or straight 675, silver or gold plated.

Yea, thatís the one!

Wayne Mestas

Wayne Mestas is an old school Sax Trader from way back. Wayne has owned and played almost all of the major brands of Saxophones and is kind enough to let me try many of his latest purchases. Wayne is a Saxophone Teacher and Sax Player in Southern California. I, Saxboy, have played with Wayne in many different bands thru the years and enjoy his playing and opinions on Saxophones, Saxophone Players and the music business. We look forward to more from Wayne soon and I appreciate him taking the time from his busy schedule.

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