Are these Horns by Selmer and Yanagisawa All that They’re Cracked Up to Be?

Conn Selmer

Introduction

For years and years now, Conn-Selmer has been manufacturing some of the most popular and highly regarded woodwind and brass instruments on the market. I was recently contacted by Derek Bowen over at Conn-Selmer, and he was nice enough to send me a Yanagisawa 992 tenor, Selmer Reference 54 tenor, and a Selmer Reference 54 alto saxophone. I will be reviewing these three saxophones based on the following performance criteria:

  • Appearance
  • Tone & Responsiveness
  • Action
  • Intonation
  • Overall Thoughts.

Yanagisawa 992 Tenor

Yanagisawa 992 Tenor
Yanagisawa 992 Tenor

Appearance

The Yanagisawa 992 saxophone looks great with its bronze body and gold lacquer keys. I personally own a Yanagisawa 991 tenor which I absolutely think is a great modern tenor. The 992 has some nice features such as metal resonators, which I would definitely consider in my next horn purchase.

Tone & Response

Overall, my Yanagisawa 991 tends to be on the brighter side througout the horn but while trying out the 992, the bronze finish gave this horn a darker sound and with the metal resonators (on the 992 not on the 991) this tenor had a bigger, punchier sound. I felt that the metal resonators really enhanced the core sound of the 992 and did not take away from the dark lush tone. The 992’s response was instant. I played this horn right out of the box, and had no difficulty playing from low Bb to High F#. I found while moving into the altissimo register it was almost too easy and this was something that I have to practice more on my Mark VI tenor.

Action

I would say the Yanagisawa embodies the free-blowing-ness of a Yamaha, but with the action more in-line with a modern Selmer. The Yanagisawa 992 was well-constructed and was very easy to get around, especially in the palm keys. I believe the attention to detail with regards to fine-tuning is the reason these horns play so well out of the case and require essentially no adjustments.

Intonation

The intonation on the 992 was spot on. I went through my overtone workout smoothly and could not find any notes in particular that were excessively sharp. I do have to say that on my 991, I found that, since it’s a brighter horn, I had to adjust to the brighter sound when fine tuning in the upper register. The 992 I believe has a warmer tone due to the bronze finish and I found a bit easier to play in tune than my 991.

Overall

Compared to my 991, the Yanagisawa 992 tenor saxophone would work well for classical as well as jazz musicians due to its warm tone. I found the 992 to be a very versatile horn and with the right mouthpiece and continual practice (as always), this horn will last you years and years with few trips to the repair shop.

Selmer Reference 54 Tenor (matte finish)

Selmer Reference 54 Tenor (matte finish)
Selmer Reference 54 Tenor (matte finish)

Appearance

The Selmer Reference 54 Matte finish was the first modern Selmer model I ever saw offered with a matte finish and no engraving. This “vintage” finish gives the Reference 54 a different look in comparison too many of the “un-lacquered” or “raw” finish saxophones seen on the market today. The matte finish model unlike the standard lacquer 54 had a light grey hue in certain areas.

Tone & Response

I found the overall tone of the reference to be a bit brighter compared to my Mark VI throughout the horn. The response was quick and had a nice edge and resonance to the sound. I did not find this horn to be stuffy at all and found it to have the right amount of resistance so it was not super free blowing but at the same time, it gave me something I could push against which made playing dynamics very easy. I did find my Mark VI to have a more complex tone, but believe the Reference 54 is the closest that Selmer has come to re-creating the “Mark VI sound” that so many players are after.

Action

The Reference 54 tenor’s action was very similar to my Selmer Mark VI layout but there were some differences. I found the low C and Eb key to be larger which can be seen on many modern horns for extra grip for your pinky. I found the G#, C#, B, and Bb side keys to be a bit larger and this feature reminded me of the Mark VII. The 3rd difference I noticed was the neck because it was a bit higher and sloped down which affects how the air passes thru the neck. I have noticed this with the Selmer super action 80 series II tenor with the higher profile neck and believe there are some added benefits in terms of how fast the air moves thru the neck. I personally thought the higher profile neck might feel a bit unusual at first but something you would become accustomed to very quickly.

Intonation

I found the intonation to play great on the Reference 54 tenor like the Yanagisawa 992. I did find the altissimo range to not be as instant as the Yanagisawa, but the overall intonation was easier to achieve on the Reference than my Mark VI.

Overall

The Selmer reference 54 tenor should not to be viewed as an identical copy of the Mark VI, but embodies many of the characteristics of the Mark VI with the modern keywork and intonation improvements seen on the modern Selmers. I would have to say that I prefer the key placement of my Mark VI over the Reference as well as the Mark VI neck compared to the Reference 54. What I did enjoy about this model is the improved build quality as well as the overall intonation, which was easier to achieve on the Reference 54.

Selmer Reference 54 alto

Selmer Reference 54 alto
Selmer Reference 54 alto

Appearance

The Reference 54 alto is one of the most attractive looking altos on the market today. The Reference 54’s honey gold lacquer finish with its deep engraving reminds me of some of the mint-condition Selmers from the 60’s.

Tone & Response

The overall tone of the Reference 54 alto was darker than my Selmer Super Balanced Action alto, but had a nice edge to the sound that gave it a full and focused, bright core sound. I found the Reference 54 to have a instantaneous response, and like the reference tenor, the Reference 54 had some resistance which helped me develop a nice round tone, especially in the upper register.

Action

I found the Reference 54 alto to embody more of the Selmer Mark VI look and feel compared to the Reference 54 tenor saxophone. The key layout felt so similar to many of the early 60’s and 70’s Mark VIs I have tried out. The one key placement which for me personally I would have changed is the bis key which was further out to the right of the B pearl. I understand this is great for players who feel the bis key could feel uncomfortable when its directly in line with the B, A, and G pearls, but since the Selmer Super Balanced Action (SBA) and Yamaha custom altos I play on have it in-line with the rest of the pearls, this change in the bis key placement would be something I would have to adjust to.

Intonation

I found the intonation on the Reference 54 alto to play great, especially in the upper register and in the palm keys where I have a tendency to be a bit sharp. I found the Reference 54 alto to have better intonation overall compared to my SBA and found this horn to simply require less adjustment to play certain overtones in tune.

Overall

The Selmer Reference 54 alto saxophone was a great effort by Selmer to embody the overall characteristics of the Selmer Mark VI while incorporating the modern innovations that would enhance and improve upon the Mark VI’s overall responsiveness, intonation, and build quality.

Closing Thoughts

The Yanagisawa 992, the Selmer Reference 54 (matte finish), and the Selmer Reference 54 alto are my favorite models that Conn-Selmer has to offer. I would have to say the 992 would work well for classical as well as jazz players, and I believe the 992 will attract more and more players who get a chance to test it out.

The Reference 54 tenor is a great tenor, but I recommend testing out a few Reference 54 tenors back-to-back when going to your local music store. The reason is, I found that the Reference 54 tenors are not as consistent from horn to horn as the Yanagisawa line and are truly a very personal horn. Once you find the right one, it will be hard to put down.

The Reference 54 alto truly captures the look, feel, and vibe of the great Mark VI’s. Some of the keywork I would like to change (such as the bis key and the spring heights), but, like the Reference 54 tenor, the Reference alto is a horn that I have been told by many professionals to try a couple of them out, and that once you find the right one, you won’t play on anything else.

I would like to thank, once again, Derek Bowen over at Conn-Selmer for sending me these great horns, and hope to, in the future, to write a review on the various sopranos and altos that Yanagisawa and Selmer have to offer.

Audio Samples

To illustrate the difference in sound quality between these three horns, I’ve recorded some audio samples of myself on each one.

Yanagisawa 992 Tenor

[audio: STE-013.mp3]

Selmer Reference 54 Tenor (matte finish)

[audio: STE-015.mp3]

Selmer Reference 54 alto

[audio: STE-016.mp3]

Please post your comments on what you think, and also let me know if you have any questions about these models or any other models that Conn-Selmer offers.

Yanagisawa main website:
https://www.yanagisawasaxophones.com

Henri Selmer Paris main website:
https://www.selmer.fr/index.php