How Modern Saxophones Are Built 
(Page 3) 

Yanagisawa engraving is some of the finest ever seen on saxophones. The intricacies of detail flow together to create overall patterns quite pleasing to the eye. Reminiscent of some of the great 1920′s work done by Conn craftsmen, Yanagisawa also accepts orders for custom engraving. A very popular special pattern depicts oriental dragon designs, but even the standard engraving on instruments like my Sopranino pictured to the right possess breathtaking beauty. The world’s great saxophones such as the Conn artist model, Buescher Top Hat & Cane and King Silver Sonic have always incorporated an element of physical beauty to complement their musical artistry. The gifted master engravers at Yanagisawa proudly advance this tradition.

Left: sparkling polished and lacquered sax bodies hang in a drying area after lacquering is complete. Finished bodies (center) and bow/bell assemblies (right) in finished storage awaiting an order for final assembly. Note that the sequential serial number has been assigned to each body but not yet cut into the instrument. Engraving is the final step before the screw and glue items are added to a saxophone. It is such an investment that master engravers’ time cannot be wasted on instruments which have not reached the point where it is inevitable they will be worthy of the Yanagisawa name.

Left: saxophone bodies undergo a final inspection, at which time the springs are added to the ‘perfect’ assemblies. Please note the ‘white glove’ treatment these beautiful bodies receive. Center: keywork is screwed onto finished saxophone bodies, but first these skilled assembly workers must apply the corks and felts that provide proper key adjustments and keep the instrument noise free. This is what is known in the technical trade as ‘setup’. Setup adjustments establish correct key heights and regulate the action of a saxophone. Building the finest saxophones requires the finest setup technicians. When instruments leave this area they are expected to play perfectly. No pressure….Right! 

Test play …
Whether brand new or refurbished older instruments, the most critical phase of technical setup work is testing a saxophone by actually playing it. As a technician and player myself, I sometimes spend several hours with an instrument before calling the work complete. Often my test play stretches over several days, as I record the sound of each instrument to be sure my judgment about its play is influenced by neither emotion nor artistic ardor. To say the least, the concentration required to test play several hundred saxophones a week deserves the utmost respect. It also says volumes about the professionalism of the individuals who have set these saxophones up to play correctly on first breath. Speaking of breath….did someone say mouthpiece ???

Pictured at the left are current Yanagisawa mouthpiece master builder, Yukio Shimada, and Susumu Congo, a friend of CyberSax and a respected jazz saxophone player and repair technician in Japan. Mr. Congo worked for the Yanagisawa organization for over 20 years, culminating his tenure as the sole test player for Yanagisawa saxophones. Wow! is an understatement….no wonder he has earned the handle flying fingers ! But back to business….Yanagisawa mouthpieces (right) are known for fine response and tone. They command some of the highest prices — save the boutique mouthpieces of very limited volume — of any saxophone mouthpiece line in the world. Whether metal or hard rubber, Mr. Shimada assures that every Yani mouthpiece is absolutely top drawer quality before it leaves his hands. This is the sort of personal touch so terribly lacking in mass produced instruments and accessories. This is one case where the ‘good old days’ really were….and can yet be experienced in the fine Yanagisawa products … 

Knowledge is power …

Now that you know how pads are installed before a sax is lacquered and that engraving is applied afterwards, you have some powerful new knowledge to apply when evaluating the originality of an instrument. Since there is invariably some overspray around the edges of each original pad be sure to check these edges closely on instruments you are inspecting. Old lacquer around the edges of original pads is a strong indication both pad and lacquer are original — at least on those keys where you find the traces ;-). You will always want to examine the engraving closely to be sure that it is strong and crisp. Weak engraving means that the sax has been buffed again after it was engraved, which in turn means that the lacquer cannot be original. Sometimes when saxes are either hand polished or very lightly buffed (the case in very good relacquer work), the engraving on a refinished instrument will still be quite sharp. To root out the impostors you must closely check very clear engraving for visible signs of lacquer in the lines of the pattern. Do this first with your eyes, then touch and rub the engraving with your fingers for signs of roughness or smoothness. Excessive smoothness means lacquer is covering the cut edges of the engraving pattern. Conversely, rough edges left by the engraver’s tools can usually be detected by touch if the lacquer is original. Recently it has become popular to re engrave really rare and valuable saxes at the time they are refinished. In those cases the color of the brass finish will be your best indicator of originality. On the web site we have numerous pictures of vintage saxes wearing their original lacquer which has aged to a lovely dark patina. The exact color will vary from builder to builder and from one era to another, so it is important to reference say a Selmer Super Balanced Action produced in the late 1940′s if that is the saxophone you are examining. This variation occurs because of the differences in brass metallurgy, polishing techniques and composition of the lacquer used to finish an instrument. Another tidbit of useful knowledge is that saxophones were not lacquered up until the early 1930′s. Though most earlier saxes were plated, a few were produced in bare brass. So, if that brass 1925 Chu tenor is wearing lacquer it is not the original finish! Please feel free to refer to our pictures for reference, or to email me personally with your well considered questions concerning a saxophone’s originality.

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