Friday, November 7, 2014

Yanagisawa WO10 Alto: First Impressions Review UPDATED 1 January 2015

One of the coolest parts of my job is that I have access to lots of saxophones.  I have been able to compare many different Yamahas and Selmers, and just recently we received two brand new Yanagisawa WO10 altos.  I was very excited because I had never had more than a couple minutes at a time to spend on a Yany, certainly not enough to form an educated opinion.  Now I was going to have as much time as I would need to really get to know these instruments.

First impressions were good.  They both arrived in good, solid looking cases with cool features like the large external pouch and backpack straps.  The horns were well-constructed; I could not find any visual flaws with either.  They felt the same, too.  I'm not sure I could tell them apart by feel without much more experience with them.  This is pretty rare.  Even among good brands like Yamaha and Selmer, I find that two horns of the same model will still feel different, sometimes dramatically.  The first notes were exciting, and again both horns felt very similar.  There was enough of a difference, though, that I was able to pick a favorite, sign it out, and take it home.  The horn I left behind had slightly fuzzier tone, and low register response was not as good; it might have just needed a good setup.

Now that I have lived with the horn for a week, I have some meaningful thoughts to share.  I will say, though, that one week is still not enough time to truly get to know a new instrument, especially one of a different brand than you normally play.  In my experience, some pros and cons don't reveal themselves clearly until you have played a horn for a long time, seen how it breaks in and holds adjustments, and how it responds to different music.  That is why I call this a "First Impressions Review."  I will be updating the lists below over time as more becomes clear.


- Build quality: I still have not found a flaw in the horn's construction.  It is beautiful.
- Action: This is some of the smoothest, quietest, most refined action I have ever experienced in a new saxophone.
- Comfort: With a couple exceptions listed below, this horn is every bit as comfortable as my Yamaha, which sets the standard in my opinion.  I might like the Yany's front F key better, and the left hand pinky spatulas are awesome.  I can nearly trill low B-C#, and I can trill low Bb-B. 
- Tone: Beautiful sound that is exactly what I am looking for in the classical realm.  It is in the same sound family as the new Yamaha EX with the V1 neck.  In fact, when I recorded the Yanagisawa and the Yamaha back to back, it was difficult to tell the two apart.  I don't think most audiences would hear the difference.  For me, however, the Yanagisawa is slightly more even throughout the range, with a touch more clarity and focus.  I love the balance of harmonics.  There are enough high frequencies present to give good color and resonance, but it never sounds buzzy or thin.
- It has a lyre mount.  I wish all Yamahas still did.  This is an important consideration for high schools and military bands.
- Reasonable price that is between Yamaha and Selmer.

The Jury's Still Out

- Intonation: Quite different than my Yamahas.  I am having to raise the upper register and lower the low register more than I am used to.  I think this is going to end up being in the Pro list, but more time will tell.  So far, I think this may be one of the easier saxes to play in tune.
- Response: Initially I was having some trouble with the low D# bobbling, but this seems to have gone away now that I am getting used to the horn.  Also, the overall response, especially when navigating big descending intervals, seemed a little sluggish, but again, this may be improving as I get accustomed to the horn.  Similar results in the altissimo register.  All notes up to the F an octave above the palm keys come out fine, and with the fingerings I am an used to, but they respond differently than my Yamaha.  And right now, I am still missing the target more often, though this seems to be improving.  Playing the overtone bugle call is pretty easy.
- Build quality: It is still too early to know how well this horn will hold up over time and hold its adjustments when it does need some work.  There is a clunk sound that only shows up when I play extremely fast, Le Api, for example.  When the first finger in the right hand opens very quickly, it allows the connector rod to slam a bit.  I'm not sure how they would fix this without using a material that would compress too much over time.
- Jazz sound: I have not yet played enough jazz on it.


- Palm Keys: D and D# are too pointed at the top and dig into my hand just a bit, though not as bad as some earlier model Yany's.
- High F# key: This is not comfortable for me, and I keep nearly missing it.  Crunch G is very awkward.  For those who are not familiar with Crunch G, it is a special fingering for altissimo G that allows one to play the note very softly and in tune.  It is called Crunch G because the right hand has to grab the first finger F key, the high F# key, and the side Bb key (RSK 1) at the same time, which sort crunches the hand.  I can do this comfortably on my Yamaha, but not yet on the Yany.  BTW, I use this fingering all the time; it is one of my favorites for high G.
- The neck cannot be secured tightly enough and moves on me while I am playing.

Update 1 January 2015

I did not get much farther than the first impressions review with this horn.  I always had a sense that the response was slow, especially when playing the Bach Flute Partita BWV 1013 and other pieces with larger interval leaps into the lower register.   This prompted me to bring out my Cannonball Big Bell Stone Series, which I had not played for several months.  Response was much easier on my Cannonball, and I was reminded, again, why I bought the horn in the first place: tone and intonation.  The intonation on my Cannonball is better than on any other alto I have played, and I really like the sound as well.  So where does this leave the Yany?  For now, it is sitting in my office as a backup horn.  I prefer its sound to my Yamaha, and the intonation is no more difficult to manage, just different.  I will probably lean toward Yanagisawa, for now, if I have to choose between Yany and Yamaha, but the brass model feels like a teaser.  It's good, but I'm left wondering what the bronze and silver versions are like....


  1. If your neck moves you probably have at least one leak in that Yani you'll need to get addressed before you can properly review. Possibly several leaks from disuse would be my guess.

    1. You print the truth. Interestingly, we acquired 7 bronze Yanagisawa altos at work after I wrote this, and I prefer them all to the brass model. None of them had loose necks, though. It makes me wonder if Yanagisawa takes more care with quality control as they go up the line to the silver series. For now, though, I am using my old Yamaha 875 with a new V1 neck and enjoying the result.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.