Yanagisawa Low A Soprano Saxophone
In 2020 I had my Yanagisawa SWO20U soprano saxophone modified to extend the range from low B-flat to A (A-flat 3 - G 3). I ultimately decided to do this for my second album I am recording in late 2021. The whole recording will feature violin works from the 19th Century, including César Franck’s Violin Sonata. While the Franck Sonata has only a few G’s in the whole piece, other sonatas I was looking at were in the key of G major… and typically G is a pretty important note if you’re in the key of G major.
Will Peak from Peak Performance Woodwinds did a fantastic job with the conversion. Even with the various curveballs, I could not have trusted anyone more than him with this operation. Around May or so I ordered the bell and additional key work from Benedikt Eppelsheim in Germany - in addition you receive a detailed CAD diagram based off of the lower tone holes where to cut and solder the bell on.
Little did we know, the diameters of the bore are not one size fits all. To my knowledge, the only saxophones that have had this conversion thus far were Selmer, Yamaha, and older Yanagisawas. Their bore diameter is similar enough to only require manufacturing one size. We discovered after the original bell was cut off that the SWO line has a slightly wider diameter… enough for the bell to not fit by a few millimeters. Will was able to make a 3D printed brace (see below) to hold the original bell on while we ordered a new bell. Luckily Eppelsheim was very responsive and kind enough to make a new mandrel for a new bell based off of new measurements.
Fast forward to November-ish, the new bell arrived, it fit like a glove, and finally had everything installed! Will redesigned a few pieces to fit my instrument better: connection points, the physical key, etc. Due to my soprano being unlacquered, obviously none of the lacquer was burned or needed touching up after soldering everything on. Regardless, all of the soldered points were clean due to Will’s high standards and attention to detail. Obviously the newly modified saxophone would not fit in the original case, ProTec’s straight soprano case fit my low A soprano quite snugly.
All in all, I could not have been happier!
How does it play?
In a saxophone community obsessed with adding mass for resonance - this is one not so subtle way to achieve that. My soprano already had a rich core due to its bronze body composition versus the typical brass. Adding the bell amplified the resonance and purity in sound Yanagisawa saxophones are known for. From what I have gathered from other colleagues who have had this done, this outcome has been consistent as well with other brands.
The lower end feels more centered, and the added key work and note feels like they’re a natural part of the instrument and not some Frankensteined parts. The only negative aspect that was affected by the addition was some altissimo notes needed adjustments in voicing/fingerings to center the pitch. After a long and moderately painful practice session, I was able to recalibrate those notes. I will say prior to the conversion I used the straight neck as its tuning was more locked in than the curved neck for me. Post op - the intonation on the straight neck was unaffected, however the octaves were pretty wild with the curved neck.
Moving the LH thumb to hit the low A key below the thumb rest on a soprano like a baritone saxophone was a really strange sensation. After a few months with it, again, it feels nothing but natural.
Yes, the low A is 100% in tune.
This is a special instrument to me, I have zero regrets from this whole process. This has been a dream instrument for years. I could not have had this become a reality without Will, who I am immensely thankful for tackling such an enormous and experimental project. This Yanagisawa soprano definitely has its own unique voice, and I will deeply cherish this instrument for my lifetime. If you are interested in pursuing this process and have any questions, please feel free to contact me.