Dave Kessler’s Yanagisawa FAQ
Yanagisawa saxophones are handmade in Japan and are some of the finest saxophones ever to be built. However, as they are a specialty sax maker, they rely on specialty sax shops to get customers to experience the awesomeness of their saxophones. Here in the USA, that has become a problem as the number of specialty sax shops has grown smaller and smaller over the years. Combine that with the fact that their distributor in the USA for a few decades was a clarinet maker that unintentionally mis-informed customers about the models and you have a recipe for disaster!
So to help clear things up, I give you my own Yanagisawa FAQ. Of course, if you have any questions, please feel free to ask!
If you are simply wanting to know about the design changes between the previous 9 Series and the new WO Series from Yanagisawa, please check out the separate blog post about it here.
Difference between 901 & 991 series -or- WO ‘Professional’ & ‘Elite’ Series
This is a question that we get asked a lot. First for the sake of this post and simplicity, we are going to merge the 9 Series (901, 991, etc…) and the WO Series in to 1 common terminology set… otherwise this will get more confusing.
For the purpose of this post, we are going to use the terminology adopted by Yanagisawa in the WO Series of “Professional” and “Elite”. Models in these series are:
Professional Series – 901, 901 – WO1 & WO2
Elite Series – 991, 992, 9930, 9933, 9932J, 9935, 9937 – WO10, WO20, WO30, WO33, WO32, WO35 & WO37
While there are several differences on the Professional & Elite series, it is important to note that they are built around the same fundamental design. In fact, on the alto, tenor & bari sax (this issue does not apply to the soprano), if you take just the bare tube parts of the horn (neck, body, bow & bell) without any keys or key posts on them, these parts are the same design & quality level.
The principle difference is the overall mass to the sax, primarily through the construction style of the key posts to the body. With the Professional series (alto, tenor & bari), each post is individually soldered on to the body. On the Elite Series (alto, tenor and bari), large groups of posts are first attached to a large brass “rib” and then that entire rib is attached to the body. This “ribbed construction” places more metal on to the body tube thus increasing the mass of the sax. This extra mass produces a richer, more focused tone. The single post models produce a brighter, more open tone.
The Elite Series altos and tenors also change the orientation of the octave key on the neck. The Professional Series uses a standard top mount octave key whereas the alto & tenor in the Elite Series use an underslung mechanism. Most would think this is merely a cosmetic/technical improvement. The reality is that the braces used on the underslung design change the weight distribution on the neck and change the overall weight. The neck itself is the most sensitive to weight/mass changes and so the increase of weight on the Elite Series neck also gives a warmer tone.
Please note that on the soprano models, both the S901 and S991 use ribbed construction. The difference between the S901 and the S991 is that the S901 is a 1 piece body with range to high F# and the S991 is a dual neck model with range to high G.
Another change that we find throughout the line is the pads. While both series of pads are of an exceptional, the Elite Series series uses a higher end pad.
There are other smaller changes as well but they are not there as much for a performance improvement but rather more of a technical improvement. Some of these features include double arm construction of the low B & C keys & C#-B connected roller. These features while nice, are not going to change the performance of the saxophone.
Is the 901 / WO1 series an Intermediate or Professional model?
This is a loaded question to begin with. The first thing to consider is what do those terms really mean? Sadly, these days it seems that the industry uses those words in many cases not as a true indicator of quality but rather as a justification of the price. Also keep in mind that the term “professional” is misleading. There really is no such thing as a “professional” sax, only professional players.
However, in keeping in the spirit of the question, really the 901/WO1 is no less of a horn than the 991/WO10. As I answered in the first question, the difference in the 2 has to do with the weight of the construction. Both are handmade and both use the same tubes. The difference is that the 901/WO1 is brighter than the 991/WO10 (excludes soprano, see the first question above).
I too have seen other websites that will list the 901/WO1 as an “Intermediate” model. A lot of this has to do with the previous distributor in the USA’s dealer materials. Many years ago, the distributor listed the 901 series as “Intermediate” and the 991 series as “Professional” in order to explain the price difference to dealers. This really did an injustice to the 901 reputation in my opinion. Many retailers have never updated this in their own databases and catalogs.
This is why with the release of the WO Series horns, Yanagisawa adopted the use of the terms “Professional” and “Elite” to differentiate between the designs. The lower cost models are still professional handmade horns. They offer the different designs to fit a wider variety of players’ needs.
What is the difference when using Bronze or Solid Silver?
The various metals used in a sax fundamentally change the acoustic principles of the instrument. Most will find that Bronze and Sterling Silver will add warmth and darkness to the tonal character of the sax. Both Bronze and Sterling Silver (92.5% pure silver) are heavier than standard brass. This extra weight is the reason behind the warmer/darker tone. However, it is really a personal preference as it is not always “better”.
The downside to Bronze for some people is that they find that the sax does not seem to “respond” as easily as with Brass. Sterling Silver seems to respond as easily as (if not easier than) brass, but still gives the warmer tone. However, Silver is more expensive as a material and more delicate to manufacture with.
In some models, Yanagisawa mixes the various setups of metals for various tonal and response reasons. For instance, the A9933 is one of our favorite models that Yanagisawa makes. It features the neck and bell tubes made from Sterling Silver with the body and the bow still made from brass. There is even a model that is not promoted much called the A9932 that uses the same silver neck and bell but uses bronze on the body and bow instead of brass. Neither is definitively better than the other, just different. The model with the bronze tubes plays with a darker tone in comparison.
The downside to these materials is weight. Both are heavier than brass. So especially when you go to the heavier construction of the 99x series with one of these materials throughout the whole horn, the weight change can be a negative aspect to them.
Difference in the S901 vs S991 (and S981) Sopranos
The Yanagisawa soprano models do not share the same differences as the alto/tenor/bari counterparts do. Unlike the alto/tenor/bari, the S901 (straight) is actually built with the same ribbed construction and the same advanced features of the 991 series instruments. So tonally, the S901 and S991 (as well as the less known S981 model) are identical.
The difference is neck & range.
S901 – Solid One Piece Body, Range to High F#
S981 – Dual Neck Design, Range to High F#
S991 – Dual Neck Design, Range to High G
Every other aspect of the design is the same. The S901 does feature less engraving than the others.
*The S981 is a model not commonly seen in the USA, but can be made on special order.
Difference in the SC901 vs SC991 Curved Sopranos
Unlike the rest of the Yanagisawa line, Yanagisawa did not manufacture both the SC901 and SC991 simultaneously. The SC991 is the model made today and has replaced the SC901.
The SC991 has 2 distinct changes in the design compared to the SC901. The biggest is the fact that the SC901 had the bell keys on the left side of the bell (like many vintage altos and tenors) and the SC991 was designed to position the bell keys on the right side of the bell like modern models. Yanagisawa did have to shift the bell further to the left in order to accommodate the new key position. This change was made so that they could update the left hand pinky cluster to the modern design used throughout the rest of the 991 series lineup.
The other change that we noticed was in the angle of the neck. Yanagisawa increased the neck angle on the SC991. This allows the horn to be held closer to the body in a more natural alto sax position. It also gives the saxophone a little darker tone.
If there is a question about Yanagisawa saxophones that has not been answered for you here or elsewhere on our site, please feel free to give me a call or send an email!
*Revised 12/16/15 for cosmetic display reasons.