Yamaha Custom Z vs. 20s/30s Selmer Alto

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  1. #1

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    Default Yamaha Custom Z vs. 20s/30s Selmer Alto

    I am looking for advice on purchasing an alto. I am primarily a tenor player approaching my last semester of college studying jazz performance. Thoughout my time at school I have been lucky enough to have a Keilwerth SX90 alto loaned out to me to by the school that allowed me to play alto in jazz ensembles and in my classical studies despite my not owning an alto. However, as I approach graduation, itís time for me to get serious about purchasing an alto of my own. While the Keilwerth is a great horn, I personally prefer both Selmer and Yamaha.

    Like I said, I am primarily a tenor player and I intend to stay that way as it is the instrument I feel comfortable on and as an improvisor, it is the instrument that I am working on developing my own voice on. But I know that in order to get work I want as a freelance saxophonist, I need to be as diverse as possible and it is necessary for me to own a good alto. I do really enjoy playing the alto even though it isnít my main focus.

    My tenor is a late Super Balanced Action that I am absolutely in love with and wouldnít trade for the world. As much as I would love an SBA, BA or Mark VI alto, I donít think the cost of these is justifiable for a double at this time in my life.

    For that reason, I had been researching older Selmers. I feel so comfortable on my tenor that I would love to have an alto that felt similar. I have been looking around at horns in the super series (radio improved, cigar cutter, etc.) as well as a few even older New Large Boreís. With these being so uncommon though, I have had limited experience playing these horns and have only had the opportunity to play test a few.

    On the other hand, I recently was offered the opportunity to purchase an unlacquered Yamaha Custom Z series 1 for a very reasonable price and I am starting to think that while it doesnít have the mystique and history of a vintage Selmer. It might be a more rational and practical choice over an old Selmer. At the very least, Yamaha has proved much more consistent in their manufacturing process than Selmerís of the 20s and 30s.

    I am hoping not to spend more than $2500 at this time. I realize that with a larger budget I would have a lot more options; however, I am hoping to continue on to my masters following graduation and need to be smart about how I spend my money at this point in my life. Iím hoping to find a horn that plays great and feels great within my price range that will have decent resale value down the road should I decide that an upgrade in necessary.

    If anyone who has experience with both pre-Balanced Action Selmers and Yamaha Custom Zís could shed some light and give me some advice on this matter I would be very appreciative. I would also love to hear peopleís experiences with just one of these horns even if you havenít played both. Thanks in advance for the help!

    -Hunter

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    Default Re: Yamaha Custom Z vs. 20s/30s Selmer Alto

    That is one of the most sensible posts I have ever read

    You will have no problem, whatever horn you choose

    Good luck in your chosen career!

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    Default Re: Yamaha Custom Z vs. 20s/30s Selmer Alto

    Hunter: A one-horn experience is insufficient to reach any conclusions. My experience shows me that each saxophone stands on its own.

    Having said that, I own a 1932 Selmer Cigar Cutter alto, and I once owned a Yamaha Custom Z alto at the same time. Before I acquired my Custom Z, I spent a lot of time shopping various Yamaha Custom Z's (several) and concluded none were worthy of my money.

    However, a fellow poster in SoCal had bought a brand new one, had it set up nicely by a local dealer, and then needed to trade it away. I ended up with it - for a short time, then he wanted it back, so I agreed to it. While that particular Z was the best I'd played among all the Z's I'd tried, it still did little for me and I was happy to trade it back to him.

    I tend to agree with scoobysnaks . . . both brands/models are fine instruments and you'll probably be happy with whatever you choose. But be aware that each one will vary slightly, so do your testing before buying.

    I now have, among six or seven altos, a newish Yanagisawa AW-O1 and it is by far superior to any Yamaha I've played. I bought it sight-unseen by ordering it from Europe.

    If it were MY money, I'd go with Yanagisawa. Still, my 'Cutter is wonderful, too. DAVE
    Dave

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    Default Re: Yamaha Custom Z vs. 20s/30s Selmer Alto

    I can not give a straightforward answer to your question but I'm a little bit surprised by the alternative: either an old Selmer or a custom Z Yamaha. Why not a more recent Selmer (Mark VII, Super action 80), a Taiwanese sax, a Yanagisawa, a Buffet-Crampon, an other Yamaha, an American vintage horn, ... ? The two choices you mention are very respectable, but there are other wonderful possibilities.

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    Default Re: Yamaha Custom Z vs. 20s/30s Selmer Alto

    I second Dave's suggestion of a Yanagisawa (and Alan's mention of that maker)

    They are excellent horns with very good factory set-ups that last for years, so are even reliable second-hand

    (for info, they steam-treat the clamped-down pads during the factory set-up, so they stay in good shape for a LONG time)

    I haven't tried the new WO-series yet, but have had a 901 (soldered-on posts), a 991 (ribbed construction) and a 992 (bronze with ribs)

    The 901 was my favourite - even though the cheapest, I realised that I preferred the NON-ribbed construction - very vibrant, open and free-blowing

    The 991 was in very good condition, but to my mind was a bit more constrained - a bit 'narrower' - what other people call 'more focused', but not my cup of tea

    The 992 was also in good condition with a very good set-up, but was a bit TOO dark for me and not as mouthpiece-friendly as the other two

    You can get all of the 9xx series for a fair price, especially since the WO's came out, but from what I have read the WO's are VERY similar with only minor differences in keywork, and one or two refinements like having feet on the side keys, and a re-enforcing support strut across the rods on the upper stack - but otherwise VERY similar

    Consequently I strongly recommend this maker - there are previous series as well that have their adherents, that can also be found for a good price

    Whatever decision you make I am sure it will work out, but take the time to try a few alternatives

    For your info, and as good as they are, I sold my Yani's when I discovered the vintage 1930's/40's Conn altos - FANTASTIC but all different - I have had 8 and am keeping 3, which gives you an idea of their differences - out of interest my 3 keepers ALL have the overslung New York neck - they are hard to find but are KILLER horns! - the other problem with buying vintage is the horn will almost certainly need a full overhaul, or at least a decent service, so you have to factor that into the cost and time equation

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    Default Re: Yamaha Custom Z vs. 20s/30s Selmer Alto

    Quote Originally Posted by HJMcK View Post
    On the other hand, I recently was offered the opportunity to purchase an unlacquered Yamaha Custom Z series 1 for a very reasonable price and I am starting to think that while it doesnít have the mystique and history of a vintage Selmer. It might be a more rational and practical choice over an old Selmer. At the very least, Yamaha has proved much more consistent in their manufacturing process than Selmerís of the 20s and 30s.

    I am hoping not to spend more than $2500 at this time. I realize that with a larger budget I would have a lot more options; however, I am hoping to continue on to my masters following graduation and need to be smart about how I spend my money at this point in my life. Iím hoping to find a horn that plays great and feels great within my price range that will have decent resale value down the road should I decide that an upgrade in necessary.

    If anyone who has experience with both pre-Balanced Action Selmers and Yamaha Custom Zís could shed some light and give me some advice on this matter I would be very appreciative. I would also love to hear peopleís experiences with just one of these horns even if you havenít played both. Thanks in advance for the help!

    -Hunter
    This is a really good approach, I think. I'm a recent graduate too and I play mostly tenor. When it came to choosing an alto, at first I went with a wonderful older 28m that I got for a reasonable price, but after a while, I sold it to fund another tenor. Recently, I bought a mint condition old yas-23 and it's perfectly fine for teaching kids and such. Reliable and good enough, but obviously with your proposed budget, you can do better!

    A couple of years ago, I went to the local brass and woodwind shop and while I was at the counter chatting to the staff, a decent player walked in wanting to try a beautiful old pre-BA Selmer. It might've been a 26 or maybe a New Large Bore. I can't remember. I stood like 5 metres away as he tried the two horns and a new Yani WO-1 alto, and the Yani sounded so much better. Weirdly, I feel that I can say with confidence that it wasn't really a subjective 'better' coloured by my own preferences. Yes, the Yani was brighter, but I also heard far more in the sound; it had more of the highs and of the lows in the mix, which almost certainly meant that the player would have extracted his usual tone quality from the horn if he persevered. In addition to the more complete sound, I could hear from where I was that the Yani was not only louder than the older Selmer (which had a killer overhaul, btw), but also had far more evenness between notes and a more uniform character. Oddly, the guy playing could not stop saying how much he preferred the Selmer to the Yani. I didn't play either horn, but from a listener's perspective, it seemed obvious to me which one sounded better and more comfortable to play.

    I know that a Yani isn't a Yamaha, but in my experience, the two brands are closer to each other in every way than they are close to a 1920s Selmer. The other thing that I feel quite strongly is that these newer instruments just don't 'feel' as good to play as the older ones in the way that they take the air or provide feedback to the player or an intuitive sense of what's happening. Although that can probably be tweaked with a really good setup and special attention to key heights and venting. This probably explains the discrepancy between what I was hearing and what the player was saying.

    I know somebody has already mentioned this, but it might be worth checking out some more recent Selmers too. The Mark VII is sometimes talked down for some reason, but the ones I've played have been killer horns. A friend of mine has an alto and it's a wonderful instrument. Great intonation and a nice, medium tone quality and it just feels great to play.

    In my case, which secondary instruments, I've learnt that what I want is something that has good intonation so that I don't have to spend ages learning its quirks, will hold its adjustment and will retain its value if I need to let it go for some reason. An older horn can do all of these things provided that it has had a proper overhaul, but a newer secondhand instrument that has been looked after should do the same without as much initial fussing around. Who knows, maybe that 82Z is really good!
    Soprano: Yanagisawa S-880, Stock Yani #5,#3S | Tenor: Buescher Aristocrat Series 1, Mark Spencer, #2.5 Java Red
    Index of Common Questions!!!

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    Default Re: Yamaha Custom Z vs. 20s/30s Selmer Alto

    I'd take the Z over the 20s/30s Selmer any day of the week. Primarily for reasons of ergonomics, intonation and high F#. It also really makes sense for you too because alto is not your primary horn.
    Life is too short for long tones

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    Default Re: Yamaha Custom Z vs. 20s/30s Selmer Alto

    Quote Originally Posted by soybean View Post
    I'd take the Z over the 20s/30s Selmer any day of the week. Primarily for reasons of ergonomics, intonation and high F#. It also really makes sense for you too because alto is not your primary horn.
    Yea I would agree and take the z

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    Default Re: Yamaha Custom Z vs. 20s/30s Selmer Alto

    Interesting- I have the opposite- my alto is the Selmer and my tenor a Z. It's hard to compare them. Ideally, it would be cool to have a vintage and newer horn for each (and flute too!).
    Selmer Balanced Action Alto Silver plated, D'Addario Select Jazz
    Yamaha Custom Z Tenor Silver-Plated, Robusto 7* Rovner Platinum lig, Phil-Tone Tribute; Haynes flute
    http://sonjahannington.com/ https://www.facebook.com/Sonja-Hanni...3912618348854/

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    Thanks for all the advice everyone! Itís been really helpful reading everyoneís comments. Iím going to have the opportunity to play test the Custom Z for an extended period of time in a few weeks and in the meantime I think the best approach is to just play as many other horns as I can get my hands on. Iíll definitely take a closer look at Yanagisawa, the horns donít seem to be super popular in my area so I donít think Iíve ever actually played one; however, I know Boston Sax Shop has some in stock so Iím going to try to take a trip down there. That should be a good way to compare a few different brands against each other.

    It seems like one of the main arguments for Yani/Yamaha is ergonomics. This makes total sense as the old Selmerís do have a lot of outdated keywork. When I bought my SBA though I was concerned about the same thing, but after a few months of playing it Iíve gotten completely used to it and donít even notice it anymore. I realize that the SBAís keyword has a lot of significant improvements on the super series horns; however, can any pre-BA players speak to how easily they adapted to the horns old fashioned keyword? Was it just that it took some getting used to, or do you find that you have to contiuously make compromises due to the ergos? (particularly the left hand pinky table and in-line lower stack)

    Thanks again!

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    Default Re: Yamaha Custom Z vs. 20s/30s Selmer Alto

    I've played a pre BA Selmer 'Cigar Cutter' tenor since 2011. Tenors my main horn. Until fairly recently I played a Mark VI alto but the Mark VI actually felt quite uncomfortable/alien to me after playing so much on the Cigar Cutter tenor. I've subsequently switched to a Cigar Cutter alto as well.

    I think you might struggle to adapt to the earlier Selmer ergos if you are moving from your SBA tenor which basically has modern keywork.

    However in terms of tone, you'd be hard to beat an early Selmer. They really resonate and are a lot of fun to play.

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    Default Re: Yamaha Custom Z vs. 20s/30s Selmer Alto

    So-called modern keywork vs. vintage keywork is subjective to the max. I for one rarely find much if any difference just because of the age of the horn. I've played a mid-'20's TT Buescher, then picked up a modern Yanagisawa and noticed very little difference. Same when I play my Reference 54 alto and then play my Cigar Cutter. Of course the TT lacked an articulated G#/C# and had no front-F, but most everything else was in the place where my fingers expected them to be.

    My 1925 King alto is not out-dated (in a negative way), it just lacks some the interconnections present on modern horns. Saxophones are like that - they are all keyed basically the same. A few minutes on a horn and most of us fall in line with how the horn is designed. DAVE
    Dave

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    Default Re: Yamaha Custom Z vs. 20s/30s Selmer Alto

    PM sent about bronze Yani that has just cropped up in the Sales forum

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    Default Re: Yamaha Custom Z vs. 20s/30s Selmer Alto

    Quote Originally Posted by soybean View Post
    I'd take the Z over the 20s/30s Selmer any day of the week. Primarily for reasons of ergonomics, intonation and high F#. It also really makes sense for you too because alto is not your primary horn.
    I agree with this -purely for practical reasons. Pre-war Selmers are great horns indeed but, if you are playing a late BA then the layout is 'modern' (ish)
    A current 82Z is going to be much closer to that BA layout. Phil Woods sounded ok on his anyway!

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    Default Re: Yamaha Custom Z vs. 20s/30s Selmer Alto

    1930-36 Selmer Altos have the absolute most slamming bang-to-buck of anything out there! My main alto is a 17xxx Selmer and it replaced the 82z I had been playing on for the last 10 years. I kept them both for some months and spent lots of time going back and forth between the two, and even alternating taking the horns out for studio/big band/combo gigs. They are both fantastic horns and are very different from each other, but I suspect that you already being an SBA guy means you'll dig the Super way more! The funkiness of the ergonomics on these old Selmers is way less pronounced on the altos than on the tenors, the intonation is fantastic aside from low B and Bb wanting to be a little sharp but still totally lip-able, and I can't see any reason to shy away from a horn without High F# if you're not doing considerable amounts of classical work. And they're pretty cheap! I got mine with a fresh repad from a great shop for $2,200. AND!

    Check out this dude shredding on the same sort of rig: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ILK_fOL0xtg

    It's obviously best for you to be able to try the two together for a while before deciding, but if that can't happen, and granted you get your paws on a horn that's been set up properly, I'd put my money on you falling for the old Selmer over an 82z
    Dos Allen, Blue Ridge Horns
    www.blueridgehorns.com

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    Quick update for anyone interested:

    I ended up finding a great deal on a relacquered 1937 balanced action at a local music shop and Iím picking it up tomorrow and getting it overhauled Thursday. Even with the overhaul it wound up being less than the Z so I think overall itís a win-win. I canít wait to play it in tip top condition. Thanks again for all the great advice, it was very helpful in making this decision!

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