I get a lot of questions about my choice of Woodwind Instruments, Sax Mouthpieces and Necks, accessories, and the like. I also see people searching the web for reviews and opinions on Saxes, Sax Accessories and general interest about different types of Saxes with people also wanting to see Pictures Of Saxes. Many younger Sax Players email questions about how I chose my Saxes and most of these inquiries have to do with "the Process," so I wrote this page to answer some of these questions.
My list of Saxes, Necks, Mouthpieces and other Woodwinds can be found in my Bio on the page titled Gear, but it does not answer the question, “Why?”
I will answer that question here and now.
I am a Yamaha Performing Sax Artist. That means I play Yamaha Saxes. I did not become a Yamaha guy to get free Saxes; they don’t give anything away, nor am I a Yamaha Artist on paper with different Saxes seen when I play live like many other musicians.
I am a Yamaha Artist because I believe in the product and make a living playing the Saxes you see listed in my Bio unlike many musicians with endorsement in today’s music world. I played Yamaha before becoming an ARTIST and paid for every Instrument I now own. I am registered with Yamaha as a Sax Artist, listed on their promotional materials and website and play a variety of Woodwind Instruments in addition to Saxes, made by Yamaha. Yamaha pays me nothing for these thoughts (but it would be nice.)
A Little Sax History…
When I entered Long Beach State in 1981 I owned a great Selmer Mark VI Tenor Sax, Old Buescher Alto Sax, old Buffet R13 Clarinet and a Gemeinhardt M2 Student Flute.
I bought my first Yamaha Sax in 1983. I was playing musicals at the time. I needed a Soprano to keep my gig for the next Dinner Theater Musical I had scheduled; there was Oboe all over the music and Soprano Sax can sound like an Oboe. It was a job-saving purchase that made the Music Director happy and prolonged my employment for a few more months.
Yamaha had just released the YSS-62R, a straight Soprano Sax with a slight curve or bend at the top where a neck would later be available on the Yamaha Custom Soprano. The Custom Soprano has a neck that allows you to use either straight or curved necks. Soprano Saxes are found in 3 different shapes; totally 'straight', straight with a 'curved neck' and 'curved' neck and body (like the other Saxes.) To avoid any confusion and be as clear as possible, I'll use the term 'curved neck' to refer to a Soprano with a slight curve or bend where the neck should be, but not to be confused with the totally 'curved' Soprano made by some other Sax Manufacturer's.
I played the first 'curved neck' Yamaha Sopranos to enter California, comparing it to the standard straight Yamaha then available. I had played every manufacturer's Soprano Sax over the previous year and kept finding the Yamaha was the one I wanted, but did not spend the money until I played the 62R. I had 3 straight and 2 'curved neck' Sopranos to choose from that day. The 'curved neck' Soprano was SO new that one of the two had the octave key mechanism frozen due to improper post and key placement in the curve. That left me one curved neck and three straight Soprano's to play that day.
It was an easy choice. I loved the tone, response and pitch on the bent Soprano and bought it right then. The straight Soprano had a more harsh sound and the curved neck Soprano sounded sweet. The pitch was great on both models, but the tone blew me away on the YSS-62R. It's just a side note but I also love having a 3-digit serial number knowing it was hot off the press.
For a guy that had no Soprano experience, I sounded like a real Soprano Player from the first day running. No pitch problems, no nasal tone quality and no constipated resistance when playing; I was very happy!
I still use this Soprano in 2004. It plays like a dream and looks great at 20 years old.
I had a Selmer Mark VI Tenor and needed a new Alto real bad to cover the jobs I was getting called for. I bought a used Yamaha Alto, YAS-62, in 1984 to finish my Sax studies at Long Beach State and move toward becoming a "Sax Player" and not just the "Tenor Player" I was then.
My career moved more into the studio and large live concerts over the next few years. The studio is a great environment for really hearing your tone and pitch. As I listened back to my sound then, I felt the tone was way too bright on the 62 Alto and the differences between the Yamaha Alto and Selmer Tenor seemed to get worse.
I started looking for a darker Alto sound and began working on a more modern sound on Tenor. I played every Saxophone known to man during this time. I tried 100’s of mouthpieces and different reeds in all kinds of different playing situations and began developing the thoughts I now share.
I believe in "Family." I play many different Woodwind Instruments in varied situations and I have discovered the need for similarity and simplicity, but more on that in a minute.
When the new Yamaha Custom Tenor was released I was one of the first to try it out. I had not liked the YTS-62’s tone or feel, and was eager to see what changes Yamaha had made. I liked the new Custom Tenor but was not moved to purchase the horn until Yamaha released the Black Custom Tenor.
The Black Tenor is pretty, but the tone was what killed me. The Custom Yamaha Tenor also had a great feel, very similar to the YAS-62 Alto I had just acquired. I found it also stood the test on its own merit, blew away my Selmer Tenor, and began making a case for playing horns made by the same manufacturer (same family).
The plating is very complex on the Custom Yamaha’s making the sound dark and full. To get the engraving gold against the black lacquer, Yamaha uses a pretty complex system of lacquer. Black lacquered saxes are not gold-plated. In reality, the keys and the inside of the bell flare are gold-lacquered (it's gold-colored, not actual gold). Then the rest of the body and neck is black lacquered. After that, the engraving on the bell is done. After the engraving is done, the horn is coated with a layer of clear lacquer (just like the clear coat finish on a car). This keeps the raw brass exposed during the engraving process from tarnishing.
All this to say that it sounds rich and complex, dark and full. I did not know the process until later. I just knew it sounded great!
I later realized it played more like the other Saxophones I was using and now made switching between the Saxes a breeze.
I was NEVER going to sell the Selmer VI, but at some point I realized it had been used maybe 2 times in 3 years and I didn’t even like it anymore. I kept it through the transition, but did eventually sell it when I needed some money and had no regrets.
I think this is a good way to make an instrument or accessory change. Don’t sell anything you love until you know you have outgrown it. It took me a couple of years to leave Selmer altogether after 11 years of some serious love. If you can afford to do it this way, you will never have any regrets.
My Custom Tenor was in the first shipment to California around 1991; 5 in total. When I got to the Sax Shop I had 4 to choose from and I got a great horn! I have played this Tenor a million-plus hours all over the world, and it still kills me!
Shortly after the new Tenor purchase I found out that Yamaha was doing a World Tour of the complete Sax line. It was near the end of the tour that they came to LA. I was now an official Yamaha Sax Artist since accepting the offer in 1991 with the Custom Tenor purchase. I played all Yamaha Saxes and now got the call to check out the full product line as an Artist. Yamaha had developed different necks for the horns and had every combination of special plating for all the Saxes available to see and play for the first time.
I brought my new Custom Tenor hoping there would be nothing I liked more because it was new and not cheap. It stood the test and killed every Tenor there. When I started playing different necks and realized that was a whole new world.
The Custom Tenor shipped with a M1 neck. Available options included unfinished brass, clear and black lacquered, silver and gold plating. Now they had a new neck available: the F1 neck. It also came in all the different lacquer and plating.
I loved the Silver F1 Neck with my Black Custom Tenor. One thing the Selmer did was get brighter when I blew real hard. The Yamaha did not change tone much but did get louder. This Silver F1 Neck did not affect the over-all tone of the Sax; it was still dark and full. But when I leaned into it, the tone had more edge, volume and focus with this neck. I liked the dark sound when I bought it, but did find a need for a little more edge in Pop and Rock settings. I knew I could always make the sax brighter live or in studio with EQ but then it would be bright all the time; but this neck did it all; dark and full, hard with edge. I talked my Yamaha Rep. into selling it to me right then and there and it is an important part of my sound still today. By the way, other Sax Players had also commented on the pairing of the Silver F1 neck and the Black Custom Tenor, so it wasn’t just me.
While at the Yamaha World Tour I hung with Dave Koz and we spent hours playing the Custom Alto Saxes. That day he bought the Silver Yamaha Alto he still plays and I bought the Custom Black Alto with an M1 Silver Neck. This was a huge improvement on my 62 Alto and rounded out my new Yamaha Saxophone arsenal.
I also played the Custom Soprano but decided I liked my YSS-62R better. The key mechanism felt too bulky to me and I didn't like the way it responded when blowing.
Over time, I've found the benefits of playing Instruments from the same manufacturer to be great. The feel, key placement, responseand overall tone with similar overtone series found on each horn makes moving between saxes a simple task. The fingerings for Upper Harmonics are almost the same and these similarities make doubling between saxes a mindless act.
I have played other Saxes I really liked, but I keep coming back to the simple thing that works. I play the Saxophone. I need all my Saxes to be as similar as possible. I use all Yamaha Saxophones because the family similarities makes them easier to play. I play one Mouthpiece, for each Sax, with the same Neck and Instrument Body, all the time, for every style of music because I have all the versatility I need to do it all with these products. Well... Pretty strong words here but that's the way I say stuff. I did start experimenting with Tenor Mouthpieces because my "ONLY" M.P. was falling apart. I have 6 now and tried moving to one of them, but have hit the default setting again and started playing that same old thing. The Gear pages have the "whats."
The only time I change any part of my Saxes is for recording multiple saxes. I found that faze-cancellation is a real problem when playing the same note on multiple Saxes, same guy, same day in the studio. While recording all 5 Saxes for a big band CD some years ago, I brought the old necks and an old mouthpiece with ligatures and reeds for both Alto and Tenor. Changing the whole top of the horn eliminates faze problems and gives the sax section a much fuller sound.
With my love for family, it’s no surprise that my first choice for a Baritone Sax was Grandpa Yamaha: YBS-62. I purchased my first Bari in 2001, and as I expected, it is a great horn that plays and feels just like the other Saxes I'd played for years; it just weighs a lot more.
These thoughts came from a Yamaha insider and introduces the NEW 82Z in his own words.
This horn is basically a 62 crossed with a Custom---it's got the 62 body and key work design, combined with the heavier body metal of the Custom. It responds VERY quickly (just like a 62), but has the meatiness of a Custom. That meatiness can be adjusted by changing the necks, as you know. The 82Z comes with a G1 neck that will be available in raw, lacquered, black, silver-plated and gold-plated finishes (I personally prefer the G1 gold-plated neck). As with all of our horns, the necks are interchangeable---you can use your silver F1 on the 82Z, or you can try a new G1 on your black Custom. This is a really exciting time to be a member of the Yamaha sax family!
Preview on the NEW YAMAHA SAX...
Yamaha wind magazine, Fall 2002 carried the following:
Yamaha - Custom Z - Japan
Introducing a Future Legend.
Yamaha's new line of intermediate and professional saxophones includes the soon-to-be-legendary Z-series models, already played by professionals like Phil Woods, Mark Rivera, George Shelby, Bob Franceschini, and Lenny Neihaus. The horns are slated for a release at the upcoming winter NAMM show, including a concert event featuring seven of the top saxophonists in the US. Stay tuned for details in the next issue of BackstagePASS, and watch for great introductory offers on these exciting new models. With these horns, You'll be going places.
Yamaha Performing and Recording Artist Greg Vail. Reviews, history, pictures and updates on Yamaha Saxes. For searches regarding Yamaha Saxes, New Yamaha's, Custom Z, 82Z Saxes and Yamaha Soprano, Yamaha Alto, Yamaha Tenor and Yamaha Bari Saxes.