The “first” pro-level Yamaha saxophone series is the 61: straight soprano, alto, tenor and baritone (with a low A). They’re good. Really good. Some people consider them to be considerably better than the 62 series because they have a “darker” or “warmer” tone. Possibly.
The 61 was introduced in 1971, right before the Selmer Mark VII came out, so one could say that the horn was designed to compete with the Mark VI – but I’m willing to bet that Yamaha had heard that the Mark VII was going to be a much “darker” sounding horn (not that that’s a bad thing, mind you) and thought that ”maybe” people rather liked the Mark VI a bit more – hey, lookit those sales figures!
In any event, the 61 is an arguably better horn than the Yanagisawa 4/5/6 series of horns, at least. (Considering I’ve played some of these, I ”can” say that :) The 61 was replaced in 1978 by the 62 series, which is a few years before the Selmer Super Action 80 made its way onto the scene (appx. 1981). In my opinion, Selmer discovered that Yamaha and Yanagisawa were going to be “the next big thing” unless they did ”something” and hopefully the ”something” wouldn’t be too late and cost too much. Whether Selmer succeeded in that is your opinion.
Nikkan and 61 Similarities
The late Nikkan Gakki horns look fairly simular to the 61 series (see, for instance this Nikkan Imperial) and Yamaha may have used the Nikkan name for awhile, like on this Nikkan YTS-61. Yamaha’s involvement with Nikkan began in 1963, they took over the “technical department” (i.e. instrument design and production) in 1965 and bought the company outright in 1970 (reference link), so it’s possible that any Nikkan sax that LOOKS like a Yamaha 61 series horn was made by Yamaha even before Yamaha owned ’em, but I can’t be positive: while I’ve learned to SPEAK a little Japanese, I can’t read it at all. Except if it’s Romanized. Ippen … Shindemiru?
61 and 62 Differences
Here, I’m going to quote from the Stephen Howard review at http://www.shwoodwind.co.uk/Reviews/Saxes/Alto/yamaha_yas61.htm:
“For the most part the differences relate to the keywork. The biggest difference was the move to straps on the 62 (whereby a set of pillars is fitted to a brass strip that’s then fitted to the horn) as opposed to the individually fitted pillars on the 61.
“The size and shape of the bell key spatulas was changed – they became slightly smaller. The front F key touchpiece changed from a traditional pearl to a plain brass curved touchpiece (thus improving the ‘hitability’) and the F# and top F# touchpieces lost their mother-of-pearl covers and became plain brass.
“The design of the G# mechanism changed – the link bar moved to the front of the horn, although I always felt the rear mounted link on the 61 was rather effective. There was a new octave key mechanism, based on the Selmer style ball pivot and the thumb rest lost its mother-of-pearl cover.
“There were a few other minor differences too – the aforementioned side trill key links, the design of the low C# connecting link, the bell brace and a couple of pillar design changes. The decor on the bell key guard changed too.”
- YSS-62 (lacquer; USAHorn.com)
- YAS-61 (lacquer; USAHorn.com)
- YTS-61 (lacquer; Groovology.com)
- YBS-61 (lacquer; USAHorn.com)