Curved Soprano Saxophones
I don’t know about you, but I’ve always loved curved soprano saxophones, and I’ve always wanted one. Problem was, there were not that easy to come by. Most saxophone makers stick to the straight variety with the exception of Yanagisawa. They’ve been making an excellent curved soprano sax for decades.
Another problem, I already owned a great Yanagisawa straight soprano. While I have a LOT of saxophones, I couldn’t justify having 2 sopranos saxophones when I don’t play a lot of soprano.
Until, I had a brilliant idea.
It occurred to me that the curved soprano saxophone is the only one who’s case fits within all of the airlines’ carry on baggage limitations.
You know that tiny thing at the airport that no bag in the world fits in. Well this case actually fits in it no problem.
So I said, well I travel all the time and always need to bring a saxophone with me – the perfect justification for purchasing this very expensive Yanagisawa SCWO10 curved soprano. It sells for over $5,000 new.
I bought it and brought it with me on one trip last February. But then COVID happened and I haven’t been on a plane since.
(Please, just don’t tell my wife how much this one cost.)
The other 2 instruments I’m going to play today were sent to me to test out months ago. But now that I’ve got 3 of them, it makes sense to create this video.
The first one is a Jean Paul USA silver plated SS-400SP curved soprano which sells for $780
And the other one is a Singer’s Day SDSC-2013 curved soprano which sells for $700.
So these 2 are very close in price and the Yany is in an entirely different world price wise, costing 6 or 7 times more than one of these.
So let’s jump right into a play test and we’ll start with the Yanagisawa. Let me know in the comments below what you think about each of these horns! You can also click on each of the headlines, and they’ll take you to the exact time code of the play-test in the YouTube video.
I am playing an etude written by the great saxophonist Steve Kortyka. He is currently teaching in the Better Sax Studio and has also put together a collection of intermediate etudes to go along with the Essential Jazz Repertorire Volume 1 collection of backing tracks from BetterTrax.
Let’s hear the same thing on the Jean-Paul curved soprano now
The mouthpiece I’m playing is the Jody Jazz HR* Custom Dark for soprano which I love.
I’m going to let you know my thoughts on how these horns are all a bit different in a minute but for now I just want you to listen with an unbiased ear.
Now let’s hear the Singer’s Day curved soprano.
One question I get often is how does a curved soprano sound compared to a straight one?
The main difference is that the curved soprano has the bell facing upward like alto and tenor saxophones which results in it giving more direct feedback to the player and anyone that’s relatively close to them.
One of the reasons I like the curved soprano is that I find it much easier to record. Pointing the mic here between the bell and the keys picks up a nice full sound. On a straight soprano you really need 2 mics, one for the bell and one for the keys to get the same results.
However the further you get away from the player, the less difference you’re going to hear between curved and straight sopranos.
So straight or curved makes a big difference to the person playing and the microphones, but the audience is going to hear pretty much the same thing in an acoustic setting.
Let me start by telling you that the Yany curved soprano is as good as it’s going to get – plus, their straight sopranos are also amazing. I would like to tell you that this one sounds so much better than the other 2. It’s pretty easy to tell in a blind test.
So let’s try it. Listen to 5 seconds of each horn in this blind test and tell me which one costs $5K
It’s not that easy right. They all sound very similar actually. Which is the conclusion we’ve come to with just about all of my saxophone comparison videos. The sound you are hearing is mostly the player, a little bit their mouthpiece and reed, and then a very tiny amount of all the other factors involved.
Which is why these Yanagisawa instruments are really best for professionals and people who have lots of extra money to spend on saxophones. There is no question that the Yanagisawa is a much better instrument than the other 2 overall, however many of the differences won’t be noticed or even appreciated by the casual player.
From a players perspective, the Yany has a richer, slightly more complex sound, more comfortable ergonomics and slightly better intonation in the extreme ranges of the instrument. It is made with higher quality parts and materials and has a nicer case. The extra $4300 doesn’t sound all that different to the listener though in the end.
So now, I’m going to compare the the other 2. They’re going to be much more practical choices for the vast majority of saxophone players.
I find that the Singer’s Day curved soprano actually sounds more similar to the Yany than the Jean-Paul. This may be because the bore design is a copy of the Yanagisawa bore I’m not sure. It does have a nice rich tone though.
Ergonomically it’s fine, but the left and right pinky keys are not positioned as well as they could be. On the Yanagisawa they are much closer to the ring finger keys, which makes them easier to play and more comfortable.
It’s also got these black key pearls, which are kinda cool I guess.
The other big difference with the Singer’s day horn is the neck. This neck is the same curve as you will see on the curved neck of a straight soprano sax. While the curve on the Yanagisawa and the Jean-Paul is even more distinctive.
This doesn’t change the sound at all, but it does change the angle at which the instrument goes into your mouth. So with this less curved neck, the horn is either going to be pointed outward more or you’re going to bend your own neck a bit more.
Fun fact, the necks for my Yanagisawa sopranos are all interchangeable. They all sound the same, but the difference is about comfort and the angle it goes into your mouth.
The Jean Paul to me sounds a little bit brighter. I notice more when playing, but not so much on the recording.
Ergonomically, it is comparable to the Singer’s Day. The pinky keys are not as well placed as the Yanagisawa pinky keys, but they are slightly better than on the Singer’s Day. So overall it is slightly more comfortable in the hands. However, there is an issue in the right hand that I don’t like.
The bell B key is way too close to the right hand E key and my finger is touching both of them at the same time which is not good. This doesn’t make the instrument harder to play, but it is a design flaw that should be addressed.
I know Jean-Paul offers this instrument in a gold lacquer version for a lower price than this silver plated version. As far as I know the color is the only difference between those two.
Setup wise both of these curved soprano saxophones are about the same. Both of these horns are setup pretty well and the pads seal nicely. There’s also minimal mechanical play in the keys.
They also both have blue steel springs and metal domed resonator pads.
The cases are also nice on both, but I would give a slight edge to the Singer’s Day in this department.
One downside is that they both of them don’t come with very good mouthpieces. So I would strongly recommend you upgrade that straight away if you get one of these.
They both come with neck straps that work fine on alto or tenor saxophones, but do not fit a curved soprano. So I recommend that both companies change the included neck strap to one that fits.
I play curved soprano with a neck strap. Truly, the only one that is the correct length out of the hundred or so neck straps I have, is the one that came with my Yanagisawa curved soprano.
The Singer’s Day did come with a set of swabs, which do pull through the instrument and are the right size, so I will give them a slight edge for accessories as well.
Between these 2 I think for the price you cannot really go wrong. I give a slight edge to the Singer’s Day for the sound. While I’ll give a slight edge to the Jean Paul for the ergonomics.
They are both made in China, but they are shipping from the the United States and include free shipping within the states. I think the Singer’s Day offers free shipping worldwide, so if you’re not in the US that’s going to be a better deal probably. Both companies offer a return policy, but be sure to check the details yourself before making a purchase.
Hope this video on curved soprano saxophones was helpful or at least interesting. Now that travel restrictions are being lifted, I’ll be bringing one of these curved sopranos with me when I travel. Can you guess which one it will be?