The original 875 and 855 were released at the exact same time. Both were Yamaha’s foray into the world of “super pro” horns. However, these “super pro” horns would add a bit of a twist.
In the past, “super pro” just meant a “standard” pro model with a few extra bells and whistles, such as custom engraving, additional pearl inlay, a sterling silver neck and bell, some additional keywork, or some additional adjustment screws. In Yamaha’s case, though, “super pro” meant a horn almost completely different from their standard pro model, the 62.
The 855 and 875 have a different bore than the 62 and they have different bores from each other. They’re also constructed differently: they’re mostly handmade and use a slightly different kind of brass. As a matter of fact, one of the rumors at the time these horns were first introduced was that Yamaha was selling these horns at a loss so they’d convince a lot of pro players to switch from their Selmers. Indeed, after these horns came out I started seeing a lot of these horns on album covers and in (mainly classical) concerts.
Personally, the 855 played and sounded like a Selmer Mark VII combined with a Mark VI, but leaned more toward the VI side. The 875 was the opposite. This brings up the question of whether the 875 was better than the Selmer Omega from the early 1980’s, which really was designed to be a fusion of the S80, VII and VI. Yes. Yes, it is.
The 875 was one of the best horns I’ve ever played. While the comparisons abopve are apt, it reminded me more of the fusion of a Buffet Dynaction, a Selmer Mark VI and a Martin Committee: light keywork, focused sound and a tone like dark chocolate. With a little milk chocolate thrown in.
The 855 is fairly rare, nowadays. There is some suggestion that the original 855 and 875 were only available as custom-order instruments. That may have been true, but I can say that the horns I tried were brand new and off the rack.
There are some significant differences between the 875 and the 875EX models: a different bow design, an improved octave key mechanism, an improved G# mechanism and that nice altissimo G on the soprano. Additionally, the necks have been redesigned and the toneholes on the bell have been resized to improve the already outstanding intonation. While all that is good, it also means that you might be able to find the “old” 855 or 875 at a significant dicount on eBay.
“Improved versions of that proven classic the Custom 875, these saxes are the result of decades of painstaking research and trials involving some of the world’s greatest saxophonists. They feature a smooth response and a deep, refined sound full of rich colors. They also feature a solid feel with quick and nimble action, a wide dynamic range, stunning projection, and an authoritative tone with a beautifully defined tonal core. You will find that the depth and smoothness of their sound is simply incredible, and you will also find that both these horns are very flexible, at home in any kind of music. On both models the size and shape of the key buttons have been changed for a better ‘feel’, while the new Custom G1 neck enhances tonal resonance and gives a quicker, more comfortable response. And the EX alto has a two-point bell brace and no center-bow reinforcement plate for better efficiency, so you don’t have to work as hard to sound great.” (From one of Yamaha’s sales fliers.)
A few years ago, when I was working on saxpics.com, I came across an interesting horn, the Yamaha 6×6. People consider this a prototype of one of the Custom horns or possibly the 62II. One of these days, I’ll try to do a comparison. It’s pretty.
82 vs. 875 vs. 855 vs. 62
The 82Z and 875EX are both made with “specially imported French brass” and the 62 has “annealed yellow brass” (see A Yamaha brochure (page 2)). Mmmm. OK. I can’t find anything that says that French brass is extra-special and the material a saxophone is made out of does not have an impact on tone quality (see my rather long article to find out why). Yamaha does mention that this new alloy is somewhat lighter.
One thing that can make a difference is the bell: the 82Z has a two-piece and the 875 has a one-piece. This is the same difference between the 52/34 baritone and the 62 baritone and I’ve noted that the two-piece bell design makes the bell notes a bit more difficult to hit.
Looking at the parts order list, the 82Z is a combination of parts from the 62, 855 (yes, the venerable 855) and 875 – with a few new things thrown in. In my opinion, that means that the horn is probably the best of all worlds.
The 855 is supposed to have a smaller bore and taper than the 875.
Looking at the parts list, the 875 and 855 have the same part numbers for the bell/bow assembly (N2520010 for the alto) and neck (N2442350). The body part numbers are different. That supports the idea that the bores are different.
The smaller bore, to me, means that the 855 is more resistant than the 875. It is, but not by an overwhelming amount – and some people might like that level of resistance. The 875 is free blowing and pleasantly darker.