YAS-280 Alto Saxophone
YTS-280 Tenor Saxophone
I have been out of circulation for a while as I have been spending time regaining my health and fitness, and fortunately, I am feeling better than I have in years, and so as a result, getting back out more and can now once again play music and trying out new and old horns to review here.
By now it is established that Yamaha raised the bar on student saxophones with the 23 series. They were the best by virtue of their focused sound, the solid build quality, and while more expensive than other student horns, also had the best resale value of them all. The higher price tag was justified by it's reliability and its durability along with its resale value. It was followed by the 26 series, which kept up all the virtues of the 23 series, with some improvements, but otherwise was much the same, which is a good thing. When I learned that Yamaha had updated their student line in Europe and Japan into the 280 series, I was excited to see and play them, but disappointed that it was only for Europe and Japan. However my old friend and repair tech who travels frequently to Japan always manages to find something that cannot be found here, and then ships them by freight from there to his home to become part of his private sax collection. He literally has a basement that is filled with horns, some one of a kind prototypes. Anyway, he always tells me that I am welcome to visit and play his horns. So last week I called and asked him if by chance he had the 280, and sure enough he had both the alto and tenor. He told me they were great horns and I should try them. I brought my two mouthpieces, a Meyer 6M with Jean Louis ligature and a Legere Signature 2.5 reed for the alto, and a Jody Jazz Red with Rovner Dark ligature and also a Legere 2.5 reed for the tenor.
Before I begin, I just like to reitrate that my reviews as always are devoid of a lot of technical details, especially when the majority of my audience are hobbyists and beginners, and I don't like to confuse them with all these details since their main interest is deciding on what saxophone to buy, its general qualityand how much they would have to pay. The same for working musicians or semi-professionals who are good players, but still are on a budget while still needing a good, reliable instrument to make their living or extra income with.
WHAT IS THE SAME, WHAT IS DIFFERENT
The first thing that is the same as in previous incarnations of this line is the build quality. There can be no question that Yamaha has always from top to bottom built them with the highest quality of craftsmanship and materials and that all of their saxophones will provide many years of reliable music making. The keywork, as always along with all the higher end saxophones in my opinion was always the best in the business. One thing I always found with all Yamaha saxophones is that the keys always responded to the touch with speed and accuracy, and when you pressed that key with whatever amount of pressure you put on it, was solid and snapped into place. The 280 also has the same bell keyguard that is one piece that covers low B to low C on the alto.
What is different? Previous versions used nickel silver for the keys and key guards and octave key. The yellow brass had a clear lacquer applied to it. This time all the parts are yellow brass, and the horn now has a gold lacquer finish and looking like a professional horn. The only giveaway that it's not is the lack of engraving on it. The other big difference is the inclusion of a high F# key, which was absent on previous versions. This was a little puzzling to me as cheaper student horns not as good as a Yamaha all had those keys, so this is an important addition. Aside from the higher cost of the 23's and 26's, I am sure one of the things that may have swayed some to not get them was the lack of this key. So now Yamaha allows the student to play a wider range than before like any professional horn. What is also new is that they now offer both alto and tenor models with silver plate. As far as I know, there is no other student saxophone with this option.
THE PROOF IS IN THE PLAYING
Having played many 23's and a fair number of 26's over the years, I expected this incarnation to have the same bright but focused tone and the same solid keywork as is typical of Yamaha saxophones in general. As I said before, I believe from experience that Yamaha's keywork is the best in the business. First, I picked up the alto. Just the feel of the keys before I even blew my first note told me that it was going to be responsive and quick. I warmed up playing long tones chromatically, then do a ballad, my favorite always being My One and Only Love and a slow blues. I always prefer hearing tonal characteristics first, whereas so many players immediately play fast scales up and down, play altissimo notes until my ears ring and split and never really spend the time to hear the more subtle aspects of the horn. I was truly blown away by what I was hearing. Yamaha states in their catalog that these horns have a bright tone, and in a way they do, but this had a tonal richness and depth I never recall in the 23's and 26's. The low notes down to Bb spoke easily, and for a student is one of the more difficult aspects of playing to get right. Then I did some quick playing of various scales and chord sequences and true to form, keys snapped in place and the response was sure and intonation on target. No flubbed notes because of loose keywork. I even played one of my favorite classical pieces for the sax, The Old Castle from Pictures At An Exhibition by Mussorgsky, and even though I was using a Meyer with a synthetic reed, still got that smooth classical tone from it. I switched to the tenor and again, great keywork, great mechanics, great tone. Again, when I played the tenor part to Ravel's Bolero, even with a jazz mouthpiece, still got a smooth classical tone from it. Here are student horns that have a versatility along with a quality that really no other saxophone in their class can match. Here is another thing that makes these saxophones really stand out. Since these saxophones are made with the usual Yamaha build quality, reliability and durability as they always have, but now their appearance, their improved keywork with the addition of the F# key, as well as their tone, can also be used by professionals as a back up horn, and even as their main horn, they are that good. As for the students, they can now have a sax that can take them from their first baby steps to even a professional level if they go that far, without having to invest in a more expensive horn later if they choose.
With the 280 series, Yamaha has raised the bar on student saxophones head and shoulders above the rest of the field. While they are more expensive than other student horns, the advantages are again, build quality, reliability and durability and the best resale value of any student saxophone. Also, as I said before, these saxophones are also very capable of being played professionally as well. I rate this as not just a great saxophone on its own, but hands down the best student saxophone, period!
For more information I include the link to a PDF of their European/Japanese catalog. It's too bad that it's not available in the US, but then many of my readers live in countries where this model is available, so if you have a chance, you need to check them out. As for my readers in the US and Canada, if this model interests you, you can go to Sax Co. UK and they ship internationally.