Yanagisawa 500 Series

Vital Stats

Introduced: Between 1978 and 1980.
Discontinued: appx. 1990/92.
Available Pitches: Eb alto, Bb tenor.
Available Finishes: Lacquer, silver plate.

Brief Model Notes

Ed Svoboda’s original article calls the 500 series, “Yani’s attempt to make a beginner/intermediate horn.”

Yanagisawa’s official blurb was: “This model has been developed as an ideal instrument for the beginner as well as the advanced player. The key positions are designed so that young players can play easily.” All that’s well and good, but a 1989 Howarth (a UK dealer) catalog lists the prices as 772 Pounds Sterling for the alto and 805 Pounds Sterling for the tenor. That’s about 1676 and 1747 Pounds Sterling in today’s money. Running it through the exchange calculator, that’s $2863 US and $2985 US, respectively. That’s not a “beginner/intermediate” price, even if you include all the bazillions of taxes in the UK.

Doing a bit better reading of this article — hey, I can’t read Japanese, so I have to go by Google Translate — it looks like the A-50 and T-50 were cheaper in Japan. If I’m reading it right, the A-50 was ¥149,000 vs. ¥235,000 for the A-80. Going through the same conversions as in the previous paragraph, that’s a shade under $1900 and a shade under $3000, respectively. I still think $1900 is a bit high for a student/beginner model, but the article goes on to say that you’d get (translated and transliterated):

While the horn is a beginner/intermediate model, it had features beyond the Yamaha beginner/intermediate models, such as an adjustable thumbrest (ed. thanks to kymarto for explaining “Sam”), adjustable bell-to-body brace so you could adjust your tone, etc.; a much more durable amino alkyd lacquer (ed. looks like that’s a baked-on lacquer, vs. Yamaha’s sprayed-on lacquer), and many more minor improvements.

The article I generally use for Yani history says that these horns were introduced in 1980 and I’ve seen the above mentioned price-list was from 1989, so I’d say the horns were around from 1980 to at least 1989, but probably until the introduction of the 900 Series in 1992. However, I can accept an introduction year as early as 1978, as all the articles agree that Yani started “proudly” engraving their name on the bell in 1978. I think it’d be a bit logical for the 500 to be introduced at the same time.

The typical way of telling a 500 from an 800 or 880 is to look for the stainless steel springs used on the horn rather than the blued springs used on the higher end models of this time period. (Source: Ed Svoboda’s original Yanagisawa article.) Of course, a lot of 800s and 880s have “800” or “880” stamped on the body near the serial number. I also seriously doubt that there was a 500 Series Elimona model, so if you have the little “coin” on the bell above the Yanagisawa name, you don’t have a 500.

Also note that the A-500 and T-500 are NOT the same as the Dorado 500s. Those are 4 Series horns. It’s confusing. Also, the keywork of the 500 did change a bit over the life of the series, so your A-500 might not look exactly like someone else’s. What also makes your life difficult is the fact that Yani decided not to mark the model name on these horns.

New on Jan. 21, 2020:
I have gotten an awful lot of e-mails from folks trying to find out if they have a 6-Series, 500, or 800.  That’s a really, really difficult question to answer when the horn has a serial number that puts the horn from about 1977 to 1982.  Here are some notes:

  • We know that almost definitely, that all 800s and 880s have that Yani “coin,” mentioned above.
  • The B6 baritone had some keywork upgrades around 1977.
  • Yanagisawa stencils from this time are generally 800s, but some could be 6s.  Look for the double-arm on the low C key.  You’ll only see that on the 800.
  • There is really no good way of telling a 500 from a 6 series horn.  The 6 may have a thumbrest that’s more reddish and it has those stainless steel springs.  That’s hard to spot.  It’s possible that all the 500s also have red enamel in the Yani logo on the neck, but that can wear off.

I’ll eventually look into this a bit more.  Yes, I also know that a couple horns in my gallery are in the wrong places.  I’m working on that, too.

Serial Number Information

Prior to 1981, some 500 Series horns have a seven or eight-digit serial number. The form is essentially,


7791543 = July, 1979.
12791543 = December, 1979.

Some 1980 serial numbers use this same format (e.g. 1801234, which is January 1980), but some switch to the post 1980 format, which doesn’t have the date “embedded” in the serial number.

For post-1980 serial numbers, check out my thread on the Woodwind Forum.

Prima Engraving

The horns engraved “Prima” were sold to the Japanese market through Prima Gakki. Horns without the “Prima” engraving were sold through Zen-On. (Source.)

Additional Pictures

Nice 500 alto with aftermarket Yani neck.
1990 A-500 from Vincent le Ismail @ flickr.

Pete Hales Written by: