On the road with the new baritone saxophones
It has been a long journey from the initial concept and drawings of the new series of baritone saxophones to the first prototypes. It's always exciting for a technician to get their hands on these new models and be involved in the tests with our artists. For these new baritone saxophones, our Yamaha Atelier Hamburg woodwind technician, Jonas Lange, travelled through Europe to get valuable feedback from players of different genres, sharing this with our Design Section in Japan. We are glad to be able to announce that the new baritone saxophones are going to be launched later this year.
What is your musical background and what made you want to be a woodwind technician?
I had always had two passions: one was the study of music, but the other was the desire to be a craftsman. So I was looking for a kind of “hybrid job” which would combine both worlds. That was why I decided to become a woodwind technician. As part of my studies I moved to a workshop in Hamburg where I worked for 12 years before joining the Yamaha Family in 2009. As the workshop was well connected to professional players from the area such as the NDR Bigband, it allowed me to connect with high profile players and their music, and at the same time solve problems with their instruments. These problems often involved finding innovative ways around them and needed some improvisation. At Yamaha my main focus is saxophones, but I also work on bassoons.
What does being a part of the Yamaha Atelier Hamburg mean to you?
Working with so many high-level professional players is just a great experience, and customising their instruments helps me come up with innovative ideas. Visiting artists in their home countries and gathering their impressions from concert halls and orchestras really helps me figure out potential changes. It's great to be able to work on special projects like the customisation of Hakon's horn (Hakon Erlandsen a.k.a. JazzAthlete) or the project with Tini Thomsen to create a lightweight baritone sax by removing keys, closing tone holes and removing material to improve weight and playability.
What was your impression as a technician when you unpacked the first prototypes in Europe?
Holding the new custom Bari in my hands for the very first time was an exciting moment, especially as it had the serial no. 000001. I could immediately feel the difference to our 62 model when I grabbed the horn and checked the key work. The key action is quite direct and angles are different, which makes the fingering more comfortable. The overall hand positioning is a bit more gentle. The low-A key (left thumb) was redesigned and feels way more comfortable now. It felt like this baritone sax was customised for me.
Can you remember when you first heard the prototypes in Europe, and what did that feel like?
My very first time listening to a professional bari player was in Berlin in August 2020, during the Annual International Youth Orchestra Festival "Young Euro Classic" (Classic meets Jazz). Tini Thomsen was the very first person who played the new 82 Custom. It was great to realise that she immediately felt quite comfortable on the prototype. As I'd worked a lot with her before I knew her playing style and preferences well, so it was a delight to hear her on the new model. Playing around with different necks (the bore and the material/finish specs) was also quite interesting, as we saw how this affected the sound. Two other players joined the session later and also had the same feedback—so my very first trial was really impressive.
You did a tour through Europe to show the prototypes — can you let us know which countries you visited and what happened during the test sessions?
We originally planned a very long tour, but we had to change these plans due to the situation with COVID-19. But before everywhere locked down, I managed to travel and meet artists in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Austria. By changing between some of our new handmade C/E/V neck types during the sessions, it became clear that there was one bore type that fit a variety of different musical styles. There was a neck for every type of player, which greatly enhanced the playability and projection. Overall, we noticed some clear tendencies — 95% of the classical players preferred one neck, and in the same situation we could see the jazz players all preferred a different neck. Playing on a completely new instrument impressed a lot of the musicians, but the sound of the new 82Z also made a great impression.
What do you notice most when listening to the new bari saxes?
For me, the difference between our great 62 model and the new Custom model was astonishing. The depth of tone and sound quality was immense, and across all registers it has an even sound character and clear pronunciation of tones. Staccato was especially clear and precise. It's much easier to change between high and low register on these new models. I'm looking forward to working with players to find the ideal new neck type, which allows one type of bore to be used for every musical style by just changing the neck bore, material or finish.