Looking for a professional-level saxophone that can keep up with you for the rest of your playing career? In this article, we’ll take a look at everything you need to know about Yanagisawa saxophones, from company history, makes and models to our pick of their best instruments.
Before diving into all the details and intricacies of this top saxophone brand, let’s have a look at our favorite alto model:
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Firstly, it’s worth noting that Yanagisawa only make professional instruments with performing artists in mind, so if you’re looking for a cheap beginner sax to get started on, this is not the place to start.
If, on the other hand, you have the budget and desire for an excellent quality model to help you turbo charge your saxophone playing. a Yanagisawa saxophone could be for you.
Like its competitors such as Selmer, Yanagisawa saxophones are some of the best on the market, with unparalleled reliability and build quality.
The company produces saxophones with an excellent tone and a build quality that your technician will thank you for.
In 1894, Tokutaro Yanagisawa started repairing imported wind instruments for the military band. This quickly evolved into a fully-fledged woodwind instrument factory.
In 1951, Tokutaro’s son, Takanobu built his first prototype saxophone. Since then, Yanagisawa has remained a family company.
The Yanagisawa company ethos has remained one of providing excellence in both build quality and craft, with a belief that each craftsman imparts their own personality and soul into each musical instrument to produce a certain sound and quality tone, just as the player would.
Yanagisawa makes, models and codes
At first, the model numbers of the Yanagisawa series can be a little hard to understand, so we’ve put together this list of the model numbers that should help you better understand the key difference.
The first part of the code relates to the instrument and series
- SN = sopranino
- SWO = soprano
- SCWO = curved soprano
- AWO = alto sax
- TWO = tenor sax
- BWO = baritone sax
The next part relates to the specific model & material
- beginning with a 1 = brass
- beginning with a 2 = bronze
- beginning with a 3 = silver
The final part of the code relates to the lacquer finish
Most saxophones come with a thin lacquer, with some other brands offering a vintage finish.
All Yanagisawa saxophones listed without a suffix will come with this thin lacquer that will help protect the saxophone but can dampen the resonance of the body of the sax.
For those that want to try something a little different, look out for models with the following letters in the name.
- U = unlacquered (Note that these models are not suitable for many marching bands or military bands as unlacquered saxophones will naturally tarnish over time developing a vintage patina)
- S = silver plated (Silver-plated saxophones offer a brighter resonance than normal lacquer, but not as much as solid silver.)
- PG = pink gold plated (This is a type of lacquer that is used largely for cosmetic reasons. It offers the same level of protection as a clear lacquer and no real discernible tonal changes to regular lacquer)
So, as an example, the AWO1 is a classic alto model in regular brass finish – phew!
If you’re looking to get more specific, it can be useful to learn more about the specifics of Yanagisawa serial numbers.
Our Top Pick: The WO20 range of Yanagisawa saxophones
For us, the WO20 gives sax players the best bang for their buck.
This solid bronze model is still on the pricey side but is considerably more affordable than its solid silver siblings and offers an incredible tone and ergonomic design.
Yanagisawa Saxophone Guide: model-by-model
Like all of the models on this list, the WO1 model is available as all the main types of saxophone: straight soprano, curved soprano, alto, tenor or baritone saxophone.
The WO1 is the upgraded model from the old 901 series, which is still a very good saxophone even today, and available for less than brand new WO series saxophones.
The re-engineered WO series bore and tone holes have led to an even stronger tonal core than its predecessors, along with a few differences to make playing considerably easier.
The front F key has been redesigned to be more ergonomic, slanted so it fits under the player’s fingers with greater ease.
Blue steel strings give the player a quick response – this is immediately noticeable when you try them out, but if the action feels a little stiff most reputable sax shops will be able to set up your horn for you.
The WO2 is essentially the same beast as the WO1 with one key exception, the material.
A revamped version of the 902, the WO2 is made from solid bronze, rather than the solid brass of the WO1.
This gives a more complex sound, richer and warmer than the brass. It still offers all the improvements and ergonomics of the WO1, with blue steel springs, Teflon coated octave system and ergonomic front F key.
The WO10 is the upgrade to the WO1.
Made from brass, the WO10 has all the same modifications as the WO1 and more.
The WO10 has double key arms, a fully ribbed construction and an underslung octave mechanism.
The double key arms increase durability and ensure the low B and C pads will continue to seal for years to come, and the underslung octave mechanism does help avoid some damage but is largely cosmetic.
A ribbed construction adds weight to the saxophone, giving a warmer tone, but does make the sax considerably heavier. This isn’t necessarily a negative thing, but a good quality neck strap will be required.
The WO20 offers the same key features as the 10, but is a solid bronze model.
This does put the cost up considerably but also allows a much warmer and more complex tone which couples perfectly with the ribbed construction.
For most people, including professionals, this is about the best bang for your buck that you’ll get in the Yanagisawa series, as solid silver can raise the price to absurd levels very quickly, even for an increase in the quality of tone.
The WO30 model features all the same features as the previous. The core difference once again is the material.
The neck and the body are both made from solid silver.
With silver being a much softer metal, there is a bar on the neck to avoid any neck pull down over time, and as a result, this model does not feature an underslung octave key.
The Same as the WO30 model, with the bow and body made of brass, and the neck and bell made of solid silver.
Due more to the sheer amount of metal required for the bell, the price from here increases very quickly.
Same as the WO33 model, the bow and body are made from bronze, while the neck and bell are made from solid silver.
This is at the highest end of Yanagisawa saxophones, featuring all the previous features back to the WO20 without the underslung octave mechanism.
This is to accommodate the solid silver neck, body, bow and bell.
This is a truly impressive saxophone, with a price point to match.
We hope you found this guide to Yanagisawa helpful in your hunt for the perfect saxophone.
If you’re looking specifically for an alto saxophone, check out our article on the best professional alto saxophone for jazz.
For a more general breakdown, head over to our post on the most famous saxophone brands internationally.