• Yamaha Student and Intermediate Series

    by  • June 8, 2010 • Yamaha

    I don’t generally write about student/intermediate horns, but I want to make an exception here.

    Student Models: 21, 23, 25, 275

    Yamaha student model saxophones were available in alto and tenor — except for the Indonesian-made YAS01Q, which was only available as an alto. If you wanted a bari or soprano, you’d go “intermediate.”

    They’re pretty darn good. Excepting, possibly, the aforementioned YAS01Q, which I’m probably never going to get the opportunity to play.

    Yamaha Student and
    Intermediate Models

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    The first Yamaha student model was the 21 series, made from 1971 to 1979. This horn was designed to compete with the “new” student saxophones that were popping up. It accomplished this by being extremely high quality in comparison to most other student horns: take a peek at the Stephen Howard review.

    (You might find it interesting that some 21s were silver plated. I’ve also seen some Buescher 400s and Aristocrats from the late 1960’s — well after the time that they were professional-quality — silver plated, so there is precedence.)

    The 23 and 25 series horns — the 25 was the Asian-market horn and featured an altissimo F# key and was available as a full-lacquer horn — are phenomenal. They have decent tone and exceptional intonation. They even came with nice-quality mouthpieces. If you want to find some faults, you can: they’re fragile in comparison to their main competition, the Selmer USA/Bundy II, they’ve got a fairly bright tone and the keywork isn’t “Selmer Style” — the latter deficiency was corrected when Yamaha introduced the 275 model around 2004 (the 23/25 horns are still available in a lot of markets, tho).

    Hey, I found a product brochure for the 23 and 275. Shiny. Be sure to check out Stephen Howard’s YAS-275 review, too!

    (I should also mention, at this point, Yamaha also created something called the “Advantage” line. These were mildly reworked 25-models sold to the education market.)

    Intermediate Models: 32, 52, 34, 475, 575

    First, I can see no difference, except in price, between the 32 and 52. The difference between the 34 and 575 seems to be the neck.

    If the student model numbers are mildly confusing, the intermediate model numbers are absolutely insane.

    Yamaha definitely introduced the 52 and 62 at approximately the same time as the 23 — 1978/9 — and it was good. Really, really good. The 62, of course, was Yamaha’s “professional quality” horn and the 52 was intermediate, but what’s the difference between the 52 and 62?

    The answer is “Not much.”

    The 52 has the same bore as the 62, but is made more cheaply: those are nylon/polyester keytouches, not mother-of-pearl. There’s no engraving. The lacquer is clear, rather than dark gold. The only real difference — as in, “Impacts the tone” — is the fact that the bell is two-piece, not one. It makes the low notes more difficult to play. Note that I said “more difficult” not “difficult.”

    There are more differences between the 52/32 and the 62II, as far as the alto and tenor are concerned: the 62II has a different neck and receiver. The combination of those do make a difference. The 62II also uses a different brass formulation and that is arguable whether that makes a difference in tone.

    The difference between the 475 and 32/52 is slightly more apparent: the 475 has the dark lacquer, original 62 neck and nice engraving. The 475 is also the “introductory” soprano model. (Make sure you catch the Stephen Howard reviews of the YAS-475 and YSS-475.)

    The Allegro 575 is … a Yamaha 62II with a 475 two-piece bell.

    So, 52 = 32. 34 = 475. 575 = slightly better 475. I can say that the 475 and 575 are better than the 52/32, but the question is, “How much better?” Only you can answer if the neck/bell and/or metal differences make enough of a difference for you.

    Overall Advantage/Disadvantage

    New Yamahas are not cheap. Let’s see if I can do some alto pricing.

  • YAS-23 = $1675 (”DEFINITELY” overpriced. Get a 275, instead.)
  • YAS-275 = $1295.
  • YAS-32 (can’t find a new one currently for sale)
  • YAS-52 (can’t find a new one currently for sale)
  • YAS-34 (can’t find a new one currently for sale)
  • YAS-475 = $1733.
  • YAS-575 = $1800.
  • (A professional YAS-62II is $2259.)

    However, ”used” horns are generally 1/3 to 1/2 as much, or less. Just remember that you might have to get an overhaul of whichever horn and that’s generally around $600 for an alto.

    Personal Story: Why I Bought a YBS-52, YTS-23 and a Couple YAS-23s

    I very much like the Yamaha saxophones.

    About 20 years ago, I was shopping for a baritone to replace my Keilwerth-made Bundy. I got a 52 after I tried the 62 and a whole host of other baritones. Here are some comments:

    First, the 52 was all of $2100, then, and I only paid $1800 for it. The 62 was probably the same percentage more expensive than the 52 — about 50% — thus my major question was, is the 62 50% better than the 52?


    There are differences between the 52 and 62: cosmetics (62’s got the dark lacquer and the engraving), the one-piece bell (which does make a difference), the real “inset” mother-of-pearl keys (which makes a slight difference in the feel — and they don’t pop off as easily), the 52 has “post on body” key construction and the 62 has “ribbed and flanged” (that means the 62’s a bit more rugged and has a somewhat lighter feel) and the 62 has the “annealed” brass (allegedly imparts some extra “warmth” to the tone).

    In my opinion, the biggest thing was the bell tones: it’s a bit — and it’s a small, but noticeable bit — harder to get the bell notes to sound on the 52. Primarily, you just have to use a little more air, which is sometimes a bit difficult or inconvenient.

    However, my only other real choices at the time were the Selmer USA, Jupiter and Vito: I wanted a low A. I was unimpressed by the Jupiter or Vito. The Selmer USA just didn’t play very well (and had poor keywork). I tried the Selmer Super 80 Serie II, but it was out of my price-range AND the altissimo didn’t speak very well for me.

    All in all, my Keilwerth bari had better tone, but the Yamaha had so much better playability, intonation and keywork (plus a low A), so I went for the Yamaha.

    I traded a Buffet Dynaction alto and sold the Keilwerth-made Bundy bari myself (I still remember: $800) to get the Yamaha.

    A little while after I got my baritone, I had a need to get an alto. I tried a variety of Selmer horns (USA pro, which I think was the 300 at the time, S80 II and S80 III) and then the entire Yamaha SERIES of horns: 23, 52, 62, 855 and 875. The 875 was, hands down, the best horn out there: beautifully dark tone, good intonation, pretty to look at — but I had problems with the altissimo. The 855 was a tad brighter, but I had problems with the altissimo. So, I went to the YAS-62 — and I felt essentially the same way I felt with the YBS-62 compared to the 52: it’s a nice horn, but not 50% nicer than the YAS-52 (that’d be today’s YAS-475).

    I ended up buying the 23. For $500. New. Why the 23? Well, the 52 was definitely superior, but the 23 wasn’t a bad little horn, it wasn’t going to be my main axe and … $500.

    Several years later, I bought another 23 for approximately the same price. I was very happy with it. However, I did realize something:

    The Yamaha 23 is fairly fragile.

    While a lot of people denigrate the Selmer USA Bundy II, they neglect three positives:

  • It plays in tune. Even after major damage.
  • It can take heavy beating.
  • It’s really cheap.
  • Now, the Bundy II has a rather “plain” sound and the Yamahas (23 through 62, at least) have a “bright” sound — almost tinny, but not quite, and that “tinniness” is less pronounced as you go up the model chart. The Bundy II has a lot less ergonomic and convenient keywork than the 52, but really isn’t terribly better or worse than the 23.

    (I should also mention that the Yamahas come with pretty decent mouthpieces — they look and play similar to Vandoren mouthpieces — which is very good if you don’t have one of your own. Selmer Bundy II’s came with Bundy II mouthpieces. I can call those, “usable”, at best.)

    So, in the past, when I had been asked by folks which student horn to get, I’d say, “A Yamaha 23, if your kid won’t abuse it. A Bundy II, if he will.”

    Another thing is that you can still pick up a used Bundy or YAS-23 for very, very little cash ($200 or so for a very good condition Bundy II alto and $500 or so for a very good condition YAS-23). However, if you can convince the beginning student not to beat on the instrument, the 52/475 is probably the best choice: it’s got the same bore as the 62 pro-level horns, it has modern keywork and has a decent enough tone. It can easily last a pro throughout his career, if necessary.


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