My Visit To The Yanagisawa Factory In Japan
During my visit
to Tokyo with the Benny Carter Orchestra in 1991, I had the great
pleasure of visiting the Yanagisawa saxophone factory. Saxophone
Journal editor Dave Gibson had given me the name and number of
Mr. K. Sakurai, who is the manager of international trade. When
I called, he most graciously agreed to come to our hotel which
was a considerable distance from the factory, and personally take
us there. I have developed considerable interest in Yanagisawa
saxes over the years, as I was aware that they were one of the
only companies in the world who manufactures a curved soprano
worth considering. I had seen a number of their instruments and
was aware that their straight sopranos, with the interchangeable
necks, had become very popular, and in fact, I had been recommending
them to students and other professionals. I was anxious to go
directly to the source to see where these fine horns actually
came from. Our lead alto saxophonist Bill Green and I met Mr.
Sakurai in the lobby of our hotel and proceeded to make the journey
to the Itabashi area of Tokyo. On our way to the factory, we
discussed saxophones in general and the curved soprano in
particular. Upon our arrival, I was rather amazed to find myself
in what appeared to be a residential part of town as opposed to
an industrial area. In fact, the factory was located in a group
of apartment buildings in a one block area. Mr. Sakurai explained
that they would have long ago moved to a warehouse but that kind
of space is extremely hard to find in Tokyo, one of the most condensed
and crowded cities I've ever been to.
We entered the facility and were seated in a relaxed office
area and served some tea. We were able to browse through catalogues
while Mr. Sakurai enlightened us on recent developments and new
models. Yanagisawa only makes saxophones and mouthpieces which
truly sets them apart from other manufacturers. The history of
the company goes back to 1893, when the Yanagisawa Wind Instrument
Company was established as one of the few wind instrument repair-makers
in Japan. In 1954 they completed their first saxophone, which
was a tenor model T-3, and was said to have been bought by an
American soldier at the Komaki Music Store. The first alto was
produced in 1956. During the 1960's they redeveloped their tenors
and altos and in 1967 released their first baritone. In 1969 they
released their first soprano, and in 1972 they developed their
first sterling silver alto saxophone and first sopranino, which
they gave to Sonny Rollins. In 1973 they began producing ebonite
and metal hand-made mouthpieces. 1978 brought the development
of their current 800 series of saxes. The other seminal dates
were 1979 when they developed the prototype for their curved soprano
and 1985 when they began to produce sopranos with interchangeable
necks, both straight and semi-curved.
In my conversation with Mr. Sakurai, I asked him about the
overriding philosophy of the company. He replied that their goal
was to gradually keep improving the quality and versatility of
their products. Many times instrument manufacturers tend to sacrifice
the former for the latter in the name of progress. This does not
appear to be the case with the Yanagisawa company. By concentrating
only on saxophones, they do not appear to be spreading their resources
too thin. They are very sincere in trying to improve their products
and maintain a certain consistency. I have had the opportunity
to use several of their saxophones and find them to be truly consistent
performers of extremely high quality. I am currently using their
new curved soprano and silversonic alto and tenor saxophones.
I have also used the baritone in professional situations.
While at the factory, Bill
Green and I had the opportunity to test a number of very interesting
instruments. They let us try the original curved soprano model
and compare it with the newest prototype which features redesigned
palm keys and redesigned low note keys and spatula, although the
model I am currently playing only has the redesigned palm keys.
I also tried a silver plated sopranino. We were able to sample
the different neck options which included a sterling silver neck
pipe. We had a lengthy discussion of why they were supplying the
new model with only a semi-curved neck as opposed to the fully
curved neck of the original model. Mr. Sakurai explained that
a player had tried the semi-curved neck on the curved soprano
and felt that the intonation was better. I explained to him that
players like myself enjoy the curved soprano because it essentially
handles like any other saxophone and that using a semi-curved
neck defeats this purpose. I also pointed out that the intonation
was so good compared to the old 1920's vintage curved sopranos
that perhaps they should supply it with two necks as they do with
their straight sopranos. I would also be very interested in a
silver fully-curved neck as I felt that this option offers a higher
quality of tone production. When I told him that I expected to
be getting a Yanagisawa curved soprano when I returned home, he
generously offered to give me a fully curved neck which was a
good thing as I was told by the distributor that he gets a couple
of calls each week from players looking for these necks. Hopefully
this situation will be rectified soon.They offer the silver along
with gold plated necks in their other saxes and, in fact, I was
able to play a tenor that had a silver neck and silver body that
was, indeed, quite fantastic. They also offer a silver bell option.
Their mouthpieces, by the way, are also of a very high quality.
They offer a complete line and the mouthpieces that come with
the instruments are usually quite satisfactory. I must also comment
that the instruments are extremely consistent as I have had many
opportunities to try them at The House Of Woodwinds in Oakland,
California where I regularly teach and recommend these instruments
to students. This can only be due to the quality control and consistent
production methods employed in their manufacture.
Touring the production facility was very enlightening. They
begin with selection from their brass stock and hand fit the machined
keys to each individual instrument which assures an exact fit
and precise alignment. As the instruments progress down the line,
they are tested and examined by the workers at each stage of construction
and all parts are contained in a carrier all the way to it's completion.
At the end, they are thoroughly tested and adjusted before they
are packed and sent out to their various distributors.
In the U.S. and Canada, they are distributed by the G. Leblanc
Corporation and in France by SML. Mr. Sakurai explained that the
majority of their sales are to the classical field throughout
the world. This was very surprising to me as I would assume that
there is a greater demand from the jazz and pop markets. The instruments
and my feeling is that they should offer more options such as
the above mentioned necks and, perhaps, the option of oversized
metal resonators. One factor with the company is that they seek
and heed the advice of professionals throughout the world which
is the best thing that they could do in developing and maintaining
their position as a leading and innovative manufacturer of quality
saxophones and mouthpieces.
Mr. Sakurai accompanied us back to our hotel and we agreed
to keep in touch and I hope that I will be able to return in the
near future. It is my feeling that Yanagisawa has the potential
ability to be one of the true leaders in the saxophone field and
it was a great pleasure to visit their factory and discuss the
very important issues concerning saxophonists of every persuasion
in the still growing development of our extraordinarily unique
Anyone wishing more information about the
Yanagisawa saxophone can, of course, contact the Leblanc Company
in the United States, or write directly to the factory in Japan
at Yanagisawa Wind Instruments Co., Ltd., 29-5, Azusawa 2-Chome,
Itabashi-ku, Tokyo 174, Japan, telephone 033966-9501.
The most striking feature of the new Yanagisawa 992 Bronze
model saxophone series is it's stunning appearance. With it's
high percentage of copper alloy, there is a polished reddish tint
to the horn that is quite beautiful to behold. The keys are laguered
regular brass alloy so there is a subtle two-tone hue to the instruments.
However, looks are not only what these fine instruments are about.
The sound is quite unique as well. Copper is a well known alloy
that has been in much demand by classical players looking for
a darker, fuller tonal component. Certain older horns have, at
various times, contained higher percentages of copper for just
this purpose. The Yanagisawa 992 carries on and extends this tradition.
All Yanagisawa instruments share certain traits: quality and consistent
workmanship, an excellent modern scale, a refined tonal quality
high in character and excellent key ergonomics that are easily
adapted to by students and pros of all ages. With the addition
of the bronze 992, Yanagisawa has established the widest possible
variety of saxophones in the world. No other company manufactures
horns with so many important options. These differences are much
more than mere cosmetics. They have utilized a wide variety of
materials and finishes to achieve this remarkable feat.
I had a chance to play the bronze 992 saxophones at some length
as well as compare them directly with other Yanagisawa models
and other brand horns. The 992 horns had a darker more resonant
sound compared to the clear laquered brass horns. There was also
somewhat more resistance. I noticed that they used large metal
resonators so they projected the sound outward quite well and
would not be considered at all "dull" in quality. The
term that others used was "mellow" concerning the perceived
tone quality. In direct comparison with the silversonic line,
they were actually somewhat brighter as the solid silver horns
convey an even more resonant tone with a wider dynamic level.
I believe the black laquered horns convey an even darker timbre
but not the resonant quality I found in the bronze horns. There
seems to be a solid, resonant core that is similar to some older
saxophones but yet maintains the modern standards of today's saxophones.
I particularly liked the alto because I prefer a darker alto which
regular alto players might not favor over pure brass horns which
have more of a "ding" in their sound. That's why bells
are made out of pure brass alloy, for maximum "ring".
There is always a tradeoff with differing materials. The tradeoff
in adding more copper is less "ding" but more tonal
depth and resonance. This is often an appealing tradeoff for many
players. The silver horns are even more of a tradeoff as they
have even less "ding" but a far wider dynamic range
and tonal characteristics.
In direct comparison with Selmer and Keilworth brands the differences
were even starker as these horns have their own trademark "sound"
and musical values. Obviously, I favor the entire Yanagisawa line
over any other brand. The only horn that compares favorably to
the bronze (and silver Yanagisawas) is an old (1930) Selmer "cigar
cutter" tenor which I own and was my choice before switching
to Yanagisawa. Co-incidentally, it appears to contain a high degree
of copper and is an extremely resonant horn. Neither the new Selmer
nor Keilworth had the character of any Yanagisawa . Nor does the
Yamaha. They all are well manufactured instruments with good intonation
but they do not inspire one to play music the way the Yanagisawa
line does. Between the wide variety of materials and tonal characteristics
and the extremely user-friendly mechanics of the instruments,
Yanagisawa horns just seem to become invisible and the music becomes
the most important force. This is the hallmark of any great musical
instrument. The other option of being able to choose different
necks is a valuable added plus to the line, widening even further
the tonal possibilities.
In conclusion, Yanagisawa horns will be appreciated by discerning
players everywhere for their overriding workmanship, tonal flexibility,
friendly ergonomics and competitive pricing.
Here is an unsolicited endorsement from Tony Trahan:
Date: Sat, 19 Feb 2000 18:20:51 -0700
To: Mel Martin <msaxmanearthlink.net>
From: Tony Trahan <trahansilcon.com>
Subject: Thanks forthe great advice!
In August I was confused about which Yani Alto Sax to get. You
straight to the Bronze. Man, what a sax! I now also have a Bronze
The expressiveness on these instruments is tremendous. They sound
I've always wanted in any saxophone. They sound wonderful on classical
The amazing thing about these Bronze saxes is that, if you
they get darker, and if you blow louder, they get brighter. That's
what I've always wanted in a sax.
I thank you friend, for your wisdom and Gemini courage to go
fellow jazz musicians seem to fear to tread.
Keep pushing those boundaries of ignorance, and shedding light
certainly better instrument to play and have fun with, while creating
personal musical expression.
I have 11 of my sax students now playing Yanis. They are really
campers. They're also moving up to first chair, being praised
good tone, among other things.
Thanks again. I'll stay in touch. Please write anytime.
Menu | Special Features | Upcoming
Events | Bios | | Education Page | Interviews
and Articles | | Recordings | Mel Martin Quartet | Benny Carter Tribute Band | Bebop and Beyond | Booking Information | Endorsments
and Awards |
| Home |
© COPYRIGHT 1996 - 2007 and Beyond - Mel
Questions/comments about these web pages
Questions/comments about these web pages