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Yamaha YBS32 baritone saxophone

Yamaha YBS32 baritone saxophoneOrigin:Japan (
Guide price: £4600
Weight: -
Date of manufacture: -
Date reviewed: October 2005

Yamaha's 'cheap' baritone saxophone - the starting point for pro-quality baris

For the bari player looking for a pro quality instrument on a mid-price budget there aren't too many option in the marketplace. In fact there are just two options; the Yamaha YBS32 or the Yanagisawa 901.

As with many horns that form part of a range or series, the 32 shares much with its more expensive relative, the 62. This gives it something of a head start, as the 62 has long been regarded as a very fine bari indeed. The 32 has slightly fewer features on the keywork side, and as we shall see later the body design has an impact on the tone - but this may not be an entirely bad thing in some cases.

The YBS32 gives off an impression of lightness. The clear lacquer finish lends it a bright, clean look, and the horn feels less weighty than other baris. In fact it weighs round about the same, so if there's a difference at all it'll only be in terms of a few ounces. Maybe that makes a difference when the horn is hanging round your neck.
That's not to say that the build is skimpy - as we are about to see:

The first thing I look for on the body of a baritone is what comes off, and where. These large saxes tend to suffer a great deal of punishment - not because bari sax players are particularly clumsy (at least, I don't think anyone ever done a study to find out whether this might or might not be the case...) but simply because with a lump of brass this size and weight you're not exactly going to be at all deft in your movements. Rather like a supertanker at sea - if you see anything heading for you, or indeed see yourself heading towards another object, it's not so much a case of whether you'll collide but when.
And because the body tends to take a bit of a beating it's always wise to ensure that we repairers can gain easy access to knock these dents out (to make space for more dents, of course) - and so the removable bell as featured on most alto and tenors becomes less of a luxury feature and more of an essential.

Even more so is the removable top bow. It's often far easier (and less work, and thus less costly for you) to get a dent bar down the top end of the horn - and because baris tend to get rather gunged up around the crook section it's handy to be able to remove the top bow for cleaning.

YBS32 bell braceAnother nice feature is the substantial bell brace. The design is rather similar to that seen on the altos and tenors, but the bari has an extra arm that connects to the body between the A and G key cups. This will help to brace the bell in the event of a side-on knock (of which there are bound to be many in its lifetime).
With this much meat holding the bell in place there's a fair chance that if you ever collide with anything it won't be the baritone that comes off worse.
The top bow section sports a similarly well-specified brace.

I'm pleased to see that the beefiness of the bell brace is matched by the size of the sling ring. It always amazes me that someone can design a instrument this big and not give any thought to how the player is going to support it. I noted on the Yanagisawa that the ring was pitiably small - Yamaha have clearly given the matter a little more thought and fitted a sling ring commensurate with the size and weight of the horn.

Overall build quality is good, with well fitted pillars and fittings. I've had my reservations about Yamaha's build quality in recent years, but I'm relieved to see that this horn was of the standard that's long been associated with the brand.
I noted no anomalies with the tone holes.

YBS32 octave key mechThe keywork is of the usual Yamaha standard. A few points bear special mention, such as the double arm on the low C key (as featured on Yanagisawa for quite some time) and a double body octave key tubes. What effect this latter feature has will become evident later - but I would point out that this system needs careful balancing. I have also noted a tendency for the flat spring (seen just below the key furthest to the right) to slip out of it's little channel on the body. When this happens, the mechanism fails - and although it's a simple matter to just slip the spring back into the channel it's not the sort of thing that the average player is going to be aware of. It's easy enough to fix permanently (it's usually due to the screw that secures the spring in place working loose - a drop of threadlock will cure this), it just shouldn't need fixing in the first place.

YBS32 low A keyOn a much brighter note the low A thumb key is practically an object of wonder. Just look at the thing! It's about as beefy a key as I've ever seen, and as adjustable as you could ever want or need.
It's really quite essential that this key works well, there's no low A key on the bell key cluster - so it's the thumb or nothing when it comes to that big, fat, low note.
The real beauty of a mechanism this well designed and built is that it will really allow you to hit a low A without having to use your left hand little finger to 'help' the note along by bringing down the low B and Bb. Press this little baby and all the bell keys slam home! It's what I would call a 'killer feature' - a real must-have.

Note too that key barrel guide to the left of the photo. This helps prevent the side trill key barrels from flexing (key whip, as it's known in the trade). This give these keys a consistently positive and slick feel.
It's little touches like this that mark this horn out as above average - but the lack of a top F# just puts a fingermark in the icing on the cake.

Finally, I'm pleased to note proper point screws have been used throughout, allowing for constantly adjustable action down the years as wear and tear takes its toll.

I noticed a couple of blemishes in the lacquer around the bell joints. Considering the relatively young age of this horn it doesn't bode well for the future - this corrosion will spread if left unchecked, and there's a lot of places it can go on such a large horn.

A good, solid case. Always plenty of space in the square type cases - but never quite enough to fit a bari stand in.
I note that the crooks socket rests perilously close to the bottom edge. I've seen this crop up with other makes, and I still think there's not enough protection here. Granted, the body is amply supported elsewhere in the case, but in a few years time the case padding will have settled and that crook socket might have nothing between it and the base of the case. One good clout, or even a simple drop from carrying height, and you could be looking at some nasty damage to the crook socket and bow.

The horn is lighter in tone than the 62, there's less depth - though this could be enhanced somewhat with an open mouthpiece.
You'd think that when you bought a baritone you were paying for the low notes, but in fact those rich, basso notes are quite easy to achieve - it's the top notes where you might find your money runs out. The 32 is less rich and fluid than the 62 here, though still more open and bright than many an old baritone. What you pay for is evenness of response tonewise, and the 32 shows its price point with a mid D that's a little bit fatter than the rest of the upper octave.
To be fair, it's a tricky note on any horn, and some reining in via the embouchure will bring it into line somewhat.

I really noticed the effect of the double octave key mechanism. Comparing it side my side with the Yanagisawa 902 I felt that the Yamaha's response over the octave A,G,F run was far more fluid and consistent. Baris have always been tricky beasts in this area, and modern design techniques have improved matters considerably (though vintage fans would argue that it's at the expense of character), but this little gizmo really pays off. Another killer feature.

The action felt crisp and light once it had been tweaked (it's rather heavy from new), and everything felt as though it was where it ought to be. Yamaha actions are worthy of note, and when the action gets this big the subtleties really show. Long, heavy keys can make for a spongy action, but the YBS32 feels almost like a tenor under the fingers. The feel and positioning of the side trill keys is spot on, slightly better than the Yanagisawa - with better placement of the touchpieces and more of a snap to the action - and shames many a more expensive modern baritone. It's hard enough as it is having to stand on a gig with 5 or so kilogrammes of bari sax hanging round your neck - so having a light responsive action goes a long way to easing that pain.

I mentioned at the beginning of the review that this horn stands in direct competition to Yanagisawa's 901 bari.
It's a close-run thing. The 901 has a slightly more rounded feel to it in terms of tone - but the Yamaha knocks it into a cocked hat in terms of action. Given that both horns can be filled out tonewise with the right choice of mouthpiece I'd be inclined to go for the Yamaha...I feel the low A key and the double octave key mech alone justify that choice.

All in all, a sprightly baritone. If you're looking for something basic, reliable and with plenty of clout and shout, the YBS32 has what you need. If you want something a little more soulful then you'll have to go up a notch in terms of price.

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