Yamaha's New Alto and Tenor Saxophones
Horns of plenty
Opening an instrument case for the first time is always a moment of truth, and I must admit that Yamaha’s new YAS-82ZIIS alto, released to mark the 10th anniversary of the company’s Custom Z series, is one beautiful silver-plated horn.
Even more impressive than its looks is the variety of different colors of sound this horn can produce. I first used a hard-rubber Meyer mouthpiece and it created an extraordinarily bright sound; simply by switching to a Selmer S80 mouthpiece, I immediately achieved a much darker timbre. Many horns are characterized as being either “dark” or “bright,” but this redesigned alto, now featuring a one-piece bell with new engravings and a wide-bore-taper V1 neck, offers great tonal versatility.
The extreme registers of this alto are remarkable as well. There’s a capability for tremendous control over the low register, while the palm keys have very pleasant, reined-in sound. The midrange and the upper register have the greatest depth of tone and ease of tone production. It’s possible to climb into the altissimo register with relative ease and with a great deal of consistency. And the evenness of timbre throughout the soft and loud dynamic ranges is excellent. A melody played softly is just as clear and beautiful as something played at a much more forceful dynamic. But make no mistake: When filled with a large amount of air, this Yamaha alto can deliver a full, loud, booming sound. This is a great instrument for an extroverted jazz player with a zealous spirit.
The bold sound matches this horn’s playability. It’s a relatively heavy instrument and feels substantial in the player’s hands. The alto shipped with the keys set high, but this openness wasn’t much of a distraction. The only key that might feel oversized is the new adjustable Front F mechanism, but that’s a small detail.
The 82ZII is available in several finish options besides silver-plated, ships with a case and mouthpiece, and starts at around $3,775 online (in gold lacquer finish).
I also tested one of Yamaha’s New 62 (YTS-62III) tenors finished in gold lacquer. The model is a redesigned version of the brand’s popular, long-running 62 model.
The most prominent revision here is a new neck with a narrower bore. The evenness of tone and pitch would make this a reliable horn for ensemble playing or section work, and I wouldn’t hesitate to bring this tenor to an orchestral performance. It blends well with other instruments and allows for control at soft dynamic levels.
As far as its characteristic timbre, the core of its sound is round and dark, but it can be manipulated. The horn doesn’t easily provide the velvety tone usually associated with jazz tenor playing, but with a large metal Otto Link mouthpiece and a soft reed it’s possible to achieve this sort of classic tone.
In playability, one of the most remarkable aspects of this instrument is the firm yet springy key action, and this “positive action” facilitates clean, precise technique. Accordingly, this is a great horn for fast fusion playing or rapidly slicing through chromatic chord changes.
The low register is warm and easy to control—like the new Custom Z alto reviewed here, this tenor features a redesigned Low B/C-sharp connection—and the ease of playing altissimo in comparison to many other tenors is astonishing. It’s possible to ascend through the upper register into altissimo with very little change in the quality and depth of sound.
Yamaha’s New 62 tenor is a great choice for a hardworking jazz player who performs in a variety of musical situations and requires a tight sound without a lot of extra hassle. It feels great to handle and the tone quality is even and generally in tune throughout the registers.
The New 62 is also available silver-plated, and ships with a mouthpiece and a new backpack-style case. The model starts online at around $3,150. JT
Jared Sims is a Boston-based saxophonist and composer whose most recent release is last year’s eponymous disc by a quartet called the New Stablemates. Visit him online at www.jaredsims.com.