The BEST SAXOPHONE In the World... for me – Better Sax

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Last year, I made a video entitled “The Best Saxophone in the world?” It was all about the hype and mythology surrounding the Selmer Mark VI saxophone. My conclusion in that video is that the Selmer Mark VI is a great saxophone. It is the standard to which all other saxophones are compared. It may not be, however, the best saxophone for everyone out there. 

Many people got the wrong impression from that video. They thought I was just bashing the Mark VI. That’s not the case at all. I’ve actually owned three of them—now I’ve just got one. I keep it around because, as I said before, it is a great point of reference to compare other instruments. So what is the best saxophone in the world?

In this article, I’ll discuss why the Yanagisawa makes the best saxophone in the world… for me…

Mainly because that’s what I play on and make music with everyday.

The best saxophone in the world for you may be something else and that’s great. We all have different tastes and preferences when it comes to our instruments.

I’ll to take you through a few of the features of the latest WO series from Yanagisawa and let you know why I think they’re the best saxophones in the world from the perspective of a player and a repair technician.

Build Quality 

Now as a repair technician, I can say hands down that Yanagisawa saxophones are the best built saxophones available. They’re really in a league of their own. Doing adjustments or repairs on one of these instruments is a pleasurable experience, whereas with some other instruments they can be a little bit frustrating. 

Ergonomics

As a player, nothing beats it ergonomically. When you have one of these in your hands, it just feels like it was made for you. The keys have a very solid feel to them, but at the same time, it’s extremely fluid and natural. It’s just a pleasure to hold in your hands and action the keys.

Sound

The sounds you get from a saxophone has a lot more to do with the player behind it, their sound concept and their mouthpiece and reed set-up, rather than the saxophone itself. Anyone who plays a Yanagisawa loves them because of the consistency of the tone and the response over the entire range at all dynamic levels. No one would ever say that this saxophone is better suited to jazz or classical or rock music. It just allows the player to play whatever they want to do with total freedom.

Intonation

When looking for saxophones a lot of people ask “does it play in tune?” 

I got news for you, saxophone players play in tune—the saxophones themselves not so much. 

I’ve never had a horn that you could just set one embouchure and one voicing and play every note in tune without making adjustments. That doesn’t really exist. It’s just the nature of an instrument that has lots of different acoustical compromises built into the design. Having said that, Yanagisawa has managed to minimize the effects of these compromises. Which gives us probably the most consistent tone quality and intonation of any saxophone being made. 

Design

It truly is a beautiful instrument. I’m not just talking about the fine hand-engraving, the sleek underslung octave key mechanism, and—you know—the overall look of the whole thing. There is a beauty in handmade things that are built to this level of precision and excellence. There’s nothing flashy, no gimmicks. The beauty of this instrument speaks for Itself.

Yanagisawa TWO2 unlacquered tenor saxophone

Consistency

I own six Yanagisawa saxophones that have been built over the last 30-plus years. The consistency of these instruments is astounding. As good as the older ones are, the newer models just keep getting incrementally better and better. The WO series saxophones come in two models: Professional and the more expensive Elite.

These horns are nearly identical in every way that matters. The tube, the keys, the springs, corks, felts, and key pearls are the same with both models. Here’s a breakdown of a few of the differences between them…

Yanagisawa T880 saxophone in Menton, France
Yanagisawa T880 saxophone in Menton, France

Stability

The WO Elite models come with double arms on the low B and C keys, adding another level of stability to these keys. This is a feature I used to love. These keys can use a little extra support sometimes, but to be totally honest, it’s not actually necessary. The models I have from the Professional Series without the double arms are so well made that these keys are equally stable with the single arms.

I think this is something that they started doing a long time ago because it was an issue with other saxophones. However, their own build quality has rendered this obsolete.

There is also an extra connector on the left hand pinky stack that connects the C-sharp key to the B key. This is another feature that I used to think was really clever because this can be a sloppy mechanism on some other saxophones.

But once again, Yanagisawa has made their own innovation obsoletes. With the Professional models I own that don’t have that little gizmo, I would never notice a difference going back and forth between these two keys. It works just as well.

On the Professional models, they don’t have a pearl on the G-sharp key like they do with the Elite models. I thought this was going to be an issue for me but I don’t even notice the difference. 

Construction

Now perhaps the most significant difference between the Professional and Elite models is that the Elite models are built with ribbed-to-body construction and the Professional models are built with post-to-body construction. What does this mean? Ribbed construction means that all of the different posts holding the keys in place. This allows them to swivel and turn are attached to one long piece of metal that gets attached to the saxophone.

The Professional models with the post-to-body construction just have each individual post soldered on to the saxophone. This results in less metal. The lesser expensive saxophone actually has less metal on it than the more expensive version. This can have a minor impact of how the horn feels when played. However, whether that difference is better or not is up to the individual player. If we go back and look at some of the old vintage horns like Conns and Buescher ‘s Made-in-the-USA, these horns had the post-to-body construction and they play great. 

(July 19th Facebook Photo)

Weight

Once again, the Yanagisawa saxophones are made so well that for me the difference in the ribs or post construction is just the weight of the instrument. On tenor, I prefer a lighter horn. That’s one of the reasons I really like my Mark VI. It’s a very light saxophone compared to my Yanagisawa T880 which is pretty heavy.

This is also why I prefer the Professional model Yanagisawa on tenor because it’s lighter. One could also say that the extra metal on the exterior of the horn can darken the sound of a saxophone. My WO 2 tenor is made of bronze, which already darkens the sound and weighs slightly more compared to the brass model. Less metal on the body is a nice way to balance out the weight and the sound.

Neck

Finally there’s the neck on the Elite models which have the signature underslung octave key. On the Professional models, you’ve got the traditional style octave key. The neck itself is identical—the only difference is what metal is soldered onto it and where. And once again, I think that the Yanagisawa quality has rendered this difference in design almost entirely cosmetic.

Yanagisawa A991 with underslung octave key

Final Thoughts

So once and for all, if you’re thinking about getting yourself a Yanagisawa saxophone but aren’t sure which model to get, don’t think that the Elite ones are a better sounding horn or a better built horn.

They just have a few extras on them that really are just extras. There are some minor differences in how the two models play, but one is not necessarily better than the other. Some players are going to prefer the sound and response they get from the less expensive models.

When I ordered this tenor saxophone, I had actually ordered the Elite TWO20 model. When this one arrived, I opened up the case and I saw right away that it was just a Professional TWO2 model. I was disappointed and I planned to send it right back but I had to play at first, of course.

After playing this for a little while, I realized very quickly what a great saxophone it is and that I don’t actually need any of the extras that the Elite model comes with and I prefer the lighter weight. I haven’t spent a lot of time with the Professional WO level altos, but the ones I have played were neck and neck with the Elite models. I think with these WO series saxophones, Yanagisawa has really narrowed the gap between the two different models to the point where there’s very little difference when it comes to the things that really matter most. 

Recently, I became a Yanagisawa endorsing artists through the Conn-Selmer company which distributes their instruments in North America. If there is one maker of saxophone things that I can endorse with absolutely zero hesitation, it’s Yanagisawa and I’m very proud to do so. 

Let me know in the comments section below what the best saxophone in the world is to you and why.

Want more saxophone reviews? Check out my “Alto Saxophone Play Test Reviews & Buyers Guide.”

Also be sure to follow BetterSax on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and YouTube to stay up to date with us for news, giveaways, and other saxophone tips and tricks.

5 thoughts on “The BEST SAXOPHONE In the World… for me”

  1. It’s really one of those things you have space to change opinion… The best saxophone for me is the one I sounds better.. In my case, an old 1920 Buescher C type. The sax has a very deep, sultry voice. I uberoverhaul a couple of years ago (don’t ask how much but was close to 5K…) and now I know never, ever will be sold that sax.
    But if you ask me THE best saxophone, the one I would love to have is the Ramponi & Cazzani R1 “two voices”. I tried at sax.co in London and love it! More expensive than the Selmer but man! what a sound!!!

  2. Jay: Nice video/article. Okay I have only seen a Yani to play once and that was when I was teaching at a now defunct music store. I used their Yana alto to teach with. This was around 1997 or so. It played really nice. Other than that I haven’t seen one since to try out.

    You said at the end they are distributed by Conn-Selmer in N. America. Well at the Saxophone Symposium I have seen the new Selmers but not the Yani’s. So at least from Virginia Beach to Wash DC I have not come across them.

    Now what I have seen are Selmer’s and Yamaha’s galore. However the horn that was a sleeper in this area was at the Sax Symp was the Cannonball. I had never heard of them before. I tried the Big Bell tenor and you known what I actually like it, a lot. Here is how I feel the Cannonballs play.

    The lower register is big and fat. Actually it sub tones better than my Selmer Mk VI. Mine is a Nickel Plated Black Laquer Big Bell Model w/the semi-precious stones on the horn. The ergonomics on feel of the horn is very close to my Selmer Mk Vi w/this exception. The keys are further about and the high D, E & F are also spaced further apart than my Selmer Mk VI. So that took getting used to. The bore of the horn is bigger than a Selmer or a Yamaha. So it takes more air to play or at least getting used to. The upper register is nice and tunes very well but the sound is not quite as nice as either my Selmer Mk VI or my 1947 Conn 10M. But still it’s a nice sound and w/my metal FL Otto Link mpc it cuts just fine. I can also play the whole range of the Cannonball softly. My repair tech really likes the Cannonballs. The low Bb, B, & C are double braced. I think this is a great idea along w/my key clamps for keeping the Cannonball in regulation. Also the connecting bar from the low F to the key above it is a great idea for keeping those keys in regulation. This is something that my repair tech did for my Selmer MK VI by using a marching band lyre and cutting off the post and soldering it onto my F pad to the key above it. I 1st saw this on a Keilwerth SX-90R.

    Actually that is what i really wanted was the Keilwerth SX-90R. I played them when I was in NYC w/my Navy Band. However they were about $2.5K to $3K, more than the Cannonball tenor. Plus the Cannonball played very close to the Keilwerth. So the price point was the final factor in buying the Cannonball.

    Now all this being said it’s still not my favorite tenor. I bought my Selmer MK VI brand new, still in the plastic wrapping the 2nd semester of my Freshmen yr at college in 1974. The Selmer MK VI is my favorite tenor. It has the sound. It blends really well in a section and it is the go to horn for soloist once the horn came out. The ergonomics are the industry standard. Your Yana Pro model tenor looks just like a Selmer MK VI from what I could see.

    Now all that being said I would not recommend any of my students buying a used Selmer MK VI w/out playing it first. Especially do not buy one off of eBay. You never know what you are going to get. I keep mine well maintained but I am not selling my Selmer MK VI, EVER!! So yes the Yana is a great horn and I would recommend one to my students if they were in the market. Especially if someone in the Norfolk, VA area carried them, which they do not. However because of my prodding the local Music & Arts started carrying top of the line Cannonballs. People are buying them and I have recommended the Cannonball to my students. One of my former tenor players bought one and it really plays. I tried the Gerald Albright tenor and man, that horn really soars.

    Ya know what? I also really loved my Conn 10M. Yes the ergonomics are not modern, it takes getting used to. But man, what a sound. Now I did a little informal survey that was unscientific but still the results were amazing. It was a comparison between my Selmer MK VI and my Conn 10M. On one on one sessions I played both instruments to adult females and males. I played the exact same thing on both instruments making sure to play in both the lower and upper registers. The results were evenly split between 5 men and 5 women. To a person all the females preferred the sound of the Conn 10M to the Selmer MK VI. All the males preferred the sound of my Selmer MK VI over the sound of the Conn 10M.

    The females said the Conn 10M sounded smoother, sweeter, less penetrating. The men liked the Selmer MK VI because it has more highs or edge to the sound. It projected better, thought it had a fatter sound.

    As far as tuning despite what people say I feel that my Conn 10M plays in tune really well. I have used it w/my Aebersold’s and I used it on my last combo gig before the Virus hit w/great success. But I can say the same for my Selmer MK VI.

    So in conclusion flip a coin and go figure. To me, my Selmer MK VI is easier to get around on to play technical stuff. It has a great sound. However my Conn 10M really has a fantastic sound. Go see for yourself and write your comments.

  3. Matthew Mortenson

    I’m not quite 6 months in to learning. I have a student alto, Yamaha Advantage, a Yamaha 4C mouthpiece & have been using Vandoren reeds, 2.5, mostly Java & Zz. I practice every day & would like advice on a good next step up in quality of saxophones. I’m 63 & having a lot of fun learning! I really wish I’d started sooner. Thanks, Matt

    1. Matthew, my advice is to go from a student sax directly to a pro instrument if that is possible in your budget. There is not enough of a difference between student models and intermediate models to make them a great investment. So I would stick with the student horn until you’re ready to make an upgrade and then just upgrade once.
      The best value for money is a used sax and I would recommend a used pro level Yanagisawa or Yamaha to start looking.

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