Some say soprano saxophones are the Fiats of the woodwind family. Small, quirky but loaded with attitude, the sopranos offer a vibrant, defiant voice to the symphonic band or jazz ensemble.
Fitting the instrument’s rebellious reputation, sopranos tend to have widely divergent tonal characteristics from brand to brand.
What follows is an honest attempt to pick through all the soprano options on the market to find a few instruments whose positive attributes distinguish them from the crowd.
That said, even two seeming identical sopranos could produce breathtakingly different sounds based on slight manufacturing variances.
With patience, a good sense of contextual needs, and a willingness to ask the right questions, the quest for the best soprano saxophone will be a fun and richly rewarding experience.
Yanagisawa Sopranos are widely lauded for excellent construction and sublime playability. The curved bell models are especially noteworthy because, when played well, their bright, buoyant sound is wonderfully projected toward the audience or the studio microphone.
Yanagisawa SC-991 Soprano Saxophone Review
Yanagisawa’s SC-991, featuring palm-style keys, seems to be a favorite among instrumentalists desiring a reasonably-priced sax with tremendous upside in the domains of sound production and playability.
Yanagisawa’s SC-901 is undoubtedly the darling of the family. Featuring numerous options in mouthpiece shape and design, the 901 provides the saxophonist with helpful customizations.
With a bronze bell design, the 901 also produces warm sound in all areas of the register. A wonderfully versatile instrument, the Yanagisawa is suitable in symphonic, jazz combo, and soloist settings.
The discerning saxophonist tends to consider Selmer first. With a longstanding tradition of superb craftsmanship, deft sound, and a smooth finish, Selmer tends to rise to the top of every superlative list.
Interestingly, however, many soprano players have a lukewarm relationship with Selmer sopranos.
With a litany of negative comments about the manufacturing inconsistencies of the Selmer models, one has to wonder if venerable concerns about the differences between Selmer’s France and United States manufacturing sites are legitimate.
That said, soprano players tend to appreciate Selmer’s Mark VI model. As is the case with all types of saxophones with the Mark VI designation, this soprano version is lauded for big sound, fluid key action, and dynamic range.
Italian manufacturer Rampone Cazzani is surging into superlative status with their handcrafted soprano series. The Rampone 2003 stands out for its gorgeous design and whimsical flourishes.
For starters, the sax features a semi-curved bell with a silver/nickel finish. In addition to creating a full-bodied tone color, the Rampone’s Bell is a one-of-a-kind in the market.
With an engraved village scene on the bell celebrating its European birthing, the 2003 soprano continues to be a discussion starter in the concert hall. Add mother-of-pearl and rosewood key options, and the 2003 offers the musician exquisite design features.
As for the sound of Rampone soprano, the saxophone offers some of the same range and tone features of the big boys like Selmer and Yamaha. Many saxophonists praise the rich tones of the 2003’s lower register.
Because of the precise mechanics of its keys and keypads, the 2003 also affords the performer easy movement between notes when working through a complex passage of literature.
While most performers would assume that Selmer provides the best soprano options, a growing tide of soprano aficionados point toward the Yamaha offerings for the best combination of appearance, sound, and pricing.
Middle school students should consider Yamaha’s YSS-475. While sized and priced for the newcomer, the 475 does not compromise timbre and pitch.
The 475, always unadorned, is often criticized for looking plain because Yamaha forgoes the flourish of customized engraving. That said, the price point savings that come with 475 ownership make the instrument accessible to the newcomer.
For the apprentice or intermediate performer, the Yamaha YSS-61 is a tremendous route. Only available in the used market, the 61 offers a delightful combination of brilliant tone color and exquisite intonation. With a straight design and a bright, brass-lacquer finish, the 61 looks, feels, and sounds like a classic.
On the professional side of the house, the Yamaha YSS-62R and the Yamaha YSS-675 create fabulous sound and provide some of the most reliable mechanics available.
The 675, essentially the younger brother of the 62R, is highly customizable. Saxophonists who prefer the 675 love to experiment with bore size (mouthpiece section) and finishes. It is not uncommon to see a jazz musician sport a 675 with a curved mouthpiece and a silver/nickel finish.
Yamaha YSS-875EX Soprano Saxophone Review
Perhaps the best option available for the advanced performer is the Yamaha YSS-875. A beautiful instrument, the 875 is always intone and on target as the professional moves between notes. A sound dynamo, the 875’s projection ability is by far the best in the soprano family.
For the soloist, especially, the 875 provides clear, robust sound in the concert hall with or without the benefit of amplification. In the jazz setting, the 875’s upper register can rival the trumpet’s range for brightness and clarity.
Some performers opt for a Yamaha YSS-875S. As the additional “S” implies, this variant comes in a silver-plate finish. The silvery flourish transformers a beautiful instrument into one of the most stunning sopranos available today.
Additionally, the silver-plate contribution heightens the brightness of an already lustrously-sounding horn. One caution to consider if you are eyeing the “S” for your studio. She is a heavy soprano! A neck strap may be a must if the 875S is the soprano you seek.
Soprano saxophones are lovely, expressive instruments that enhance the range and voice of all the ensembles they compliment.
In order to find the best soprano saxophone for the individual performer, the musician must consider his or her needs, playing style, budget, and performance context.
In all price ranges, finishes, and sound attributes, the Yamaha offerings tend to outperform rival makes and models. That said, there are some terrific soprano saxophones outside of the Yamaha family of instruments.
Again, patience, a grasp of contextual needs, and a willingness to ask good questions will insure that the saxophonist brings home the right instrument to the studio. Coupled with the appropriate mouthpiece and reed, a rewarding playing experience awaits the discerning artist.