All Things Saxophone

Yanagisawa 991 Alto Sax

Last modified 10/04/08


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Yanagisawa Wind Instrument’s roots as a family company date back more than 100 years, which makes them as old as Selmer.  However, aside from some small quantity ventures in the 1950s & 60s, they did not become fully established as a world class maker of saxophones until the late 1970s when they introduced their 800 series.  Today they make a well respected lines of saxes called the 900 series.  The sax I was given to try is a 991, which aside from the 991s (silver bell) is their top of the line model.


· Construction, look & feel

This saxophone has a nice classic finish with subtle engraving.  Pads are good with typical plastic resonators up the line and small metal resonators on the palm keys.  The neckjoint fits very well, almost as well as the Yamaha Custom Z.  Yanagisawa is using the same cheap plastic joint plug that I’m seeing on many makes of saxophones these days.

I think a metal plug would do a better job of keeping the neck joint true.  The key action on this sax is excellent, as good as it gets — a touch better than the Selmer SuperAction 80 Series III and the Buffet 400.  I was impressed with the underslung/overslung design on the neck octave key.


· Sound

I found the sound of this horn to be very interesting.  When I used my standard jazz setup (Meyer 6M with a Harrison Ligature and a Zonda reed), the response was very disappointing.  The low D and high C were quite stuffy and in general the sound was timid.  Here’s a sample of the sound I produce on the Yanagisawa 991 with my jazz setup:


Listen to the Yanagisawa 991


Here’s the same scale played as a benchmark on a classic King Super 20 (same setup)


Listen to the King Super 20


And here’s that scale on the Yamaha Custom Z and the Buffet 400:


Listen to the Yamaha Custom Z             Listen to the Buffet 400


I find the sound on these other horns to be brighter and more appealing.  For that reason alone I would not play a Yanagisawa.  However, when I put my legit setup on (same ligature & reed used with a Selmer Larry Teal mouthpiece) I found that the horn played very well as if it was made for legit playing.  The issues with the high C and low D all but disappeared.  For the legit player it might be good to own a horn like this but for the jazz/pop player there are more suitable choices.  Here’s a sample of my “legit” sound on the horn:

Listen to the Yanagisawa 991 - legit style


· Intonation

The standard scale is good, however the altissimo range of the saxophone is a bit flat as evidenced by the sound byte above.  Of course a seasoned player can probably compensate for this with practice.


· Price

The Yanagisawa 991 is available online for about $3000.  Three grand makes it much less than a Selmer Super Action 80 Series III, but my current favorite, the Buffet 400 Alto, is priced at just over half that.  That puts this horn on the spendy end of the price spectrum.


Overall, this horn has world class action and feel, good intonation, but a disappointing sound.  Maybe a good choice for the exclusively legit player, but not the best choice for someone playing all styles.

The Yanagisawa 991 Alto Sax has a classic finish

The neck of the saxophone has an underslung/overslung octave key

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The Yanagisawa 991 Alto Sax