One of the most established saxophone brands around, Yamaha saxes are almost unique in providing excellent instruments for every stage in a musician’s development, from beginner through to professional.
We’ve picked the best model for each step – starting with perhaps the most recommended beginner alto saxophone of all time (the YAS-280) through to their advanced ‘custom’ series.
There are certainly cheaper student models out there, but if you’re looking for great value and an instrument which will help speed up your development, a Yamaha saxophone is the top option.
Before we get into the details, here’s our quick round-up of the three best options, depending on your level:
#1 Student Model
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The Yamaha Group was first established in 1887 by Torakusu Yamaha.
Perhaps better-known as a manufacturer of motorbikes and outboard motors, this Japanese company had its origin as a repairer and maker of reed organs, progressing to making upright pianos in 1900.
It wasn’t until 1965 that the company made its first wind instruments, but since then they have become a stalwart of the woodwind and brass production industry.
Yamaha are particularly renowned for their high quality student model instruments, recommended by brass and wind teachers all over the world, but they have a range of models to suit all budgets and demands right up to those of the professional musician.
Their reputation for excellence in saxophone manufacture comes from their use of durable, premium materials alongside excellent build quality.
Their professional saxophone models are developed in consultation with some of the best saxophone talent in the world, endorsed by players from YolanDa Brown and Dave Koz in the world of popular music and jazz through to Jean-Yves Formeau and Nobuya Sugawa, two of the best-known names in classical saxophone playing.
Read on for a guide to the latest Yamaha saxes on the market, tailored to your level of playing:
Yamaha saxophones for beginners – The ‘280’ series
Sax Types: Alto (YAS-280) and Tenor (YTS-280)
There is a good reason that almost any saxophone teacher will recommend this as the top student model for beginners: it is peerless among its competitors in terms of build quality and durability.
Of course this comes with a higher price tag than many other students horns, but in our opinion it is well worth it for the serious beginner saxophone student.
Available in gold lacquer or silver-plated finishes, this sax is a workhorse.
It will withstand a good amount of heavy handling, which is great to know if you have a child thinking of taking up the sax.
It also means that if you are careful, you shouldn’t have too many expensive trips to the saxophone repairer!
A semi-hard case which can be carried by the hand or used as a backpack is a great bonus, as is the included Yamaha 4C mouthpieces which makes getting a sound in your first few lessons a breeze.
Yamaha’s most recent innovations include a redesign of the neck receiver to make it more durable which should save the accidental shearing of the neck screw.
They have also improved the mechanism for low B and C sharp which should mean less issues with these coming out of regulation.
Yamaha intermediate saxophone – The 475 & 480 Series
Sax Types: Soprano (YSS-475), Alto (YAS-480), Tenor (YTS-480) and Baritone (YBS-480)
If you have a little more to spend, or are an adult learner rather than a youngster, you might want to consider one of Yamaha’s intermediate models.
Indeed, if your heart’s desire is to play either the soprano or baritone at the extremities of the saxophone family then this is your entry point into the Yamaha sax range.
So, what do you get for the extra spend?
Not a huge amount in terms of the nuts and bolts, as the Yamaha 480 still uses the same two-piece bell and stainless steel springs as the 280, but a few nice little extras which you might feel warrant the extra outlay.
The inclusion of the left-hand see-saw key for the pinkie finger makes navigating around the bottom notes on the sax a little easier, and you get a much more attractive key-guard around the bell of the sax.
This key-guard also features screws for adjusting the height of the key guard, a real bonus not found on the 280 model, along with some lovely hand-engraving on the bell.
Another nice feature of the new Yamaha 480 is the ability to interchange the crook with one of Yamaha’s Custom necks, again not possible with the 280 due to the octave mechanism on that instrument.
This is allows the player to upgrade to one of three different bore sizes:
- V1 (largest)
- C1 (medium)
- E1 (smallest)
Each of the custom Yamaha necks come with a range of five finishes, including solid silver and gold-plated options, offering a huge variety of options in terms of flexibility and response.
The Y-480 saxophones come with a similar but slightly lighter-weight case to that of the 280, with the additional option to use a shoulder strap as well as the handle and backpack straps.
Yamaha professional saxophones (advanced players) – The 62 Series & Custom Z/EX
Yamaha 62 Series
Sax Types: Alto (YAS-62), Tenor (YTS-62) and Baritone (YBS-62)
Billed by Yamaha as a ‘modern day classic’ this is a great horn for the advanced or professional player.
It may not have quite the bells and whistles of the more exclusive (and expensive!) Yamaha Custom Series, but it does everything you need it to and then some.
And with the ability to interchange with the Custom Series crooks, you’ve got some real scope to upgrade the instrument at its business end too.
Featuring a much sleeker and more stylish case than the 480 series, this sax has long been known as a solid favourite of the professional saxophonist.
Available in gold lacquer or silver-plated finishes, its latest incarnation features a neck receiver with some clever engineering designed to allow the body and neck to resonate better together.
The neck has been redesigned to make it narrower, which gives a more responsive feel. On top of that, some tweaking on the B-C sharp mechanism offers better reliability and clear sound in the lower part of the instrument.
This is the first sax in the range that includes hard steel springs (rather than the stainless steel of the 280 and 480 ranges), meaning that the keys respond more readily to the touch and give a more sensitive feel to the player.
Yamaha Custom Series
Yamaha’s signature horns, these musical instruments are at the forefront of modern sax technology.
Part of the hefty price tag is reflected in the engineering required to construct a bell from a single piece of metal, as opposed to the usual two-piece design.
The idea of this is to increase the ability of the saxophone to resonate, giving it a stunning, rich response, and the use of a special brass alloy for the custom series adds further to this.
As you would expect, all of the horns in this range are hand-engraved and make use of the same hard-steel springs as the 62 series.
A nice touch with these saxes is the inclusion of Yamaha’s very own professional mouthpiece, the custom 4CM (or 5CM in the case of the baritone model).
Although many players at this level may well have their own favoured mouthpiece set-up, it is interesting to have a mouthpiece designed alongside an instrument.
The custom Yamaha soprano, alto and tenor saxophones divide into two types with the Custom Z being designed with a vintage feel along the lines of revered instruments such as the legendary Selmer Mark VI and the Custom EX designed with the classical soloist in mind.
Yamaha Custom Model 82Z
Sax Types: Alto (YAS-82Z), Tenor (YTS-82Z) and Soprano (YSS-82Z)
Designed to emulate some of the qualities present in the great vintage saxophones the Custom Z uses metal resonators on its pads to increase dynamic range and give an effortless feel to the player.
Featuring a stylish lightweight case with a shoulder strap, the alto, tenor and baritone models also feature an adjustable Front F key, a useful advantage for any sax players looking to exploit the extreme high register of the instrument.
Both the alto and tenor saxophone models are supplied with the wide-bore V1 neck to resulting in a free-blowing feel with plenty of variety available in the tone.
Yamaha 875EX Model
Sax Types: Alto (YAS-875EX), Tenor (YTS-875EX ) and Soprano (YSS-875EX)
Designed to appeal to the classical soloist, this horn is all about precision.
With what Yamaha describe as ‘stress-free keywork’ and ‘low-register playability’ (down to some clever engineering in the bow) this sax is designed to be on your side when dealing with demanding repertoire. It features plastic rather than metal resonators.
With a specially designed key layout, this sax offers the player greater dexterity when performing rapid hand manoeuvres.
The soprano sax features a handy high G key with a good level of stability – very useful as this note is becoming more commonly used by arrangers and composers.
The EX alto sax comes with semi-hard rucksack style case, while the tenor and soprano feature the same case as the Custom Z.
Yamaha Model 82
Sax Type: Baritone (YBS-82)
Unlike its brethren, the custom baritone saxophone only comes in one model.
It features plastic resonators, like the EX model, and an adjustable Front F key.
It can also be ordered without a High F sharp key, which many players prefer as it is rare to play this high on baritone and the key can sometimes come out of adjustment causing a leak right at the top of the horn.
This is the first Custom Series baritone Yamaha have produced, and it features a handy extendable ‘spike’ enabling players to balance it on the ground in the same way as a bass clarinet.
Thanks for checking out this guide which we hope has been useful!
If you’re looking for a more unusual and neighbour-friendly Yamaha instrument, check out our review of their YDS 150 digital saxophone.
If you’re just starting out and would like some more input, these articles might be useful for you: