Venova vs Saxophone | Can a Plastic Tube Sound Good?

How does the Yamaha Venova compare to a saxophone?

Venova Saxophone
Yanagisawa S991 Soprano Saxophone

The first question many people have is how does the Yamaha Venova compare to a saxophone?

In the video, you can hear me play the same thing on both the Venova and a soprano sax. Take a listen around 01:03 and let me know which one sounds better in the comments.

This is not nearly the same level of instrument as a saxophone. I have been looking around on YouTube and haven’t heard anybody who’s managed to play this thing in tune.

The Venova comes with a nice Yamaha mouthpiece and synthetic reed but I’m playing on my Vandoren soprano sax mouthpiece and cane reed setup here.

Is the Venova easy to play?

Yes and no. It’s easy to play if you are already a saxophone or clarinet player and you’re not bothered with intonation or playing chromatically. If you just want to stay in one key, yeah it’s pretty easy. Now I’m sure if I spent a fair amount of time working on the Venova, I could get around it a bit better, but why would I do that? I already play the saxophone.

Now keep in mind I’m a professional saxophone player, and have spent decades developing a sound and saxophone embouchure. What you heard is about as good as it’s going to get on this thing. So if you’re a beginner, expect it to sound worse at first.

Is the Venova good for kids to get a head start playing wind instruments?

The jury is still out on that. I think it would be better to stick with a recorder to start most kids off since it is much easier and plays better in tune. There are lots of other instruments good for smaller kids to start on like piano. Having said that, my 4 year old daughter can get a sound on it with ease using a soft reed. She’s not ready for the fingerings though. I’ve had success teaching recorder to 6 year olds so we’ll see how it goes in a couple years.

I want to play saxophone can I just get one of these instead?

If you want to play saxophone, just get a saxophone. I would take the cheapest saxophone over one of these any day. The Venova is not a replacement for a real saxophone.

Who is the Venova for?

I’m not really sure. If you already play saxophone it’s probably not for you except for perhaps, one circumstance. The one situation where this would come in handy sort of, is if you were traveling and couldn’t bring your horn with you, but wanted to keep your embouchure chops. You can stick an alto sax mouthpiece on the alto Venova version and a soprano sax mouthpiece on the original Venova and since it’s not super loud, you could probably get away with playing this in hotel rooms and whatnot.

The Venovas come with a nice case, but if were to bring this with me I would just stuff it in whatever bag I had.

I think this instrument is better suited to someone who just likes to jam out on stuff. Like the person who has a ukulele and a cajon and a digeridoo in their living room. If you’re one of those people, you will probably get into this instrument. But it is not a serious instrument. No one is going to be writing Venova concertos anytime soon.

If you want to jam out with friends on this thing, they are going to have to be playing in the key of C, G, or F. And if you get the alto Venova keep in mind that it is a transposing instrument. So when I’m playing in the key of C here, it is actually the key of F on concert key instruments.

Final Thoughts

Now to be totally honest, my first impressions of the Venova were not good. In my mind as a woodwind player, I expected to be able to sound good right away on this toy and if I didn’t then it’s a bad design and it’s the instrument’s fault.

I don’t like that the Venova is near impossible to play in tune, I think Yamaha needs to work on that. If it played better in tune and maybe had a couple left hand pinky keys for getting the chromatic notes, this could be a pretty cool instrument. Maybe Yamaha has some improvements in the works?

Anyway, I have to admit that in the short time I’ve been playing the Venova instruments they have actually grown on me. I think a lot of people might find them to be fun in certain situations. Let me know if the comments below what you think!

Interested in more unconventional saxophones? Check out this article reviewing the Roland Aerophone Mini.

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David says:

When you started on the alto I though…mmm..that is ok…but then you played the Yani and it was so gorgeous WOW in contrast with the plastic one, wow. So question = answered. Thank you.

Susan says:

Hello Jay, and thank you for your review. I am also a saxophonist. In non-COVID times I play Soprano/Alto in a quartet, and Alto in a Big Band, and sometimes sub on Tenor if/where needed. So like you, I have the chops and experience. I also used to play recorder in a consort, so I know those fingerings as well. I just received the Venova as a playful gift (Christmas 2020) and sat down with it for about a 1/2 hr. I agree 100% with your assessment. It seems to be a crossover between toy and real horn (with fingering much like the recorder’s). Intonation isn’t great. Some notes are impossible without a huge jaw drop, like F#. I, too, asked “how do you play G#?” And like you, I kinda-sorta warmed up to the idea of maybe playing it as a fun instrument in a jam situation, or to maybe take travelling to keep a bit of embouchure while away (best reason, IMHO, if you’re a sax player!). I could not figure out how to pass the cleaning gizmo through the curvy tubing, could you? I suppose I could wash the horn…?? Totally agree, though, as a saxophonist, I would have no reason to substitute this little horn for my real instruments. If so, it would be as a gag. At present, I’d have to say it’s simply a novelty item. If Yamaha maybe fixes up the intonation and add a few keys for the chromatics, exactly as you pointed out, maybe then it might become a more viable starter for someone who in no way afford a real horn?

owen says:

hi, I was wondering if this would be close enough to soprano sax, I play tenor and alto and was looking for something to practice on, is it worth it?



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