Before we get into our YAMAHA YAS-280 Saxophone Review, let’s just consider that the Yamaha saxophone is a quality instrument. And it does feel like Saxophones have been around a long time like the trumpet has.
However, they are in musical terms a recent innovation. They have only been with us for 150 years, which is why you won’t find them included in classical works. After their creation, they had to make their own way.
It was the early 1900s that they were seen more often — the early instruments made of wood and usually played as a joke instrument on US Vaudeville. But in New Orleans, something was stirring musically. It became known later as Jazz, and the Sax fitted the bill. Jazz has its roots in a strange combination between Ragtime and Blues. Today it has become a form of expression.
In a way whilst the Blues sang about repression, Jazz was about freedom, which was expressed musically. These new-found freedoms expressed in music were having their effect. Whilst the 60s changed the world forever, that period had its roots in the post-war period. Jazz and the Sax stirred the pre-second world war period.
But those expressions became more extreme in the 40s and 50s, and something new was bubbling away under the musical surface.
Blues, jazz, and boogie-woogie piano combined to form Rhythm and Blues, and from there, it was one small step for mankind to Rock n Roll. The Saxophone was in the middle of it and in many ways, driving it on. As an instrument, it was getting an important place, as Little Richard demonstrated with ‘The Girl Can’t Help It.’
But nothing prepared us for what happened next. How could it? We had not seen anything like this before.
The UK was still in love with Johnny Ray. My sixteen-year-old sister at the time who nearly passed out at every glimpse. We sat down for ‘tea’ one Sunday evening, and our grainy black and white TV nearly exploded. Our Mum just stared, our Dad mumbled something about ‘bloody young people today,’ and my sister is dancing around the room.
On the TV, a certain Mr. William Clifton was strutting his stuff. Bill Haley and his Comets had arrived, and his saxophone player was playing a solo on his back with his legs in the air.
People say it all started with Elvis. For some, it might have done, but in the UK, it started right then and there. ‘Cry’ was taken off of our little record player, and ‘Rock Around the Clock’ was on it. Next day at school, it was the topic of conversation. The saxophone had arrived big time. Since then, it is everywhere, and just about everyone has used one on their recordings.
As an instrument, it has this ability to be able to have you leaping around the room or almost ripping your heart out. Clarence Clemons took the Bill Haley trick to Bruce Springsteen, and even the Beatles used it. But as an instrument for us, it came of age with Gerry Rafferty’s ‘Baker Street’ and Paul Simon’s ‘Still Crazy After All these years” When played like that there is little that can touch it as an instrument.
Raise a glass to Raphael for Baker Street and Mike for Still Crazy and say ‘thanks.’ And to all the jazz greats like Charlie Parker and Stan Getz. The saxophone in all its guises is here to stay.
If there is something musical to be made, then it is quite likely that Yamaha will make it. But more than that, they will make it well. Yamaha is the largest manufacturer of musical instruments in the world. They also produce some of the world’s best. At the very high end, very few can compete with them.
The first Yamaha saxophones arrived in 1967. Since then, they have developed a range of instruments to suit every level of player. From the Pro to the student, Yamaha has a sax designed especially for them. The Yamaha YAS-280 student alto saxophone is a very good example of the quality that they produce.
If you are thinking about buying a saxophone for someone who wishes to learn, consider some things. They will be holding the instrument for extended periods of time. This will be a new experience for all beginners, and they need to adjust.
Having a saxophone that is too heavy or difficult to hold is going to deter a new player from practice. The whole thing becomes a bad experience, and they give up. It also needs to have a quality build. Having a poorly constructed instrument will make it difficult and in some cases, impossible to play. The quality of the instrument is then important.
When you buy a Yamaha saxophone, you can be assured of its quality. And in the case of instruments for students, they will have been designed with the beginner in mind.
As you look at the various options to buy a student Alto saxophone, you need to be aware that there is a huge variety in build quality and, therefore, reliability. At the higher end of manufacturers like Yamaha, you will see that they are constructed better in every way.
New players will often be a little hard on their instruments. It is important then that you can keep it in good condition. The higher the quality, the easier this will be. As the player progresses, you need to try and get a horn that will grow with them, at least through the early stages.
Otherwise, you might be changing horns every six months. That means good key actions and good quality materials in the construction. It also means good design.
It might be hard to believe, but there are ergonomic considerations in the design of a sax. The angles that are created between fingers, hands, and wrists to the instrument are very important. If they are correct and efficient, the sax will be easy to play and not so tiring. That means longer, more efficient practice.
You get none of these problems with the Yamaha YAS-280 student alto saxophone. Yamaha has designed it to be easy and comfortable to play.
It is made from yellow brass with a gold lacquer finish. It has a Yamaha neck with a redesigned, more efficient neck receiver. The neck is not just where the mouthpiece meets the body of the sax. It shapes the sounds and also has a big influence on intonation. It has a big effect on every aspect of playing the instrument and is, therefore, important.
Yamaha has also improved the low B to C sharp connection and the high F sharp. The neck receiver is so designed that it will not complain if you over-tighten the screws. For comfort and to ensure a comfortable playing action, there is an adjustable thumb rest. The neck receiver is important for intonation.
The aesthetics have not been overlooked. If you are making a great sax, you also want it to look good. White polyester key touches and a Yamaha bell hand engraving add to the style and appearance. The keys are well-shaped, durable, and easy to use. The keys that cover the vent holes are made with pads that give an airtight cover on the tube of the instrument. It weighs just five pounds and three ounces.
Now let us just clear something up before we move on. Yamaha has a big reputation. Some seem offended by that. But like it or not, they make some of the best instruments in the world. Full stop. They do not make bad instruments, nor do they cut corners in manufacturing.
They don’t employ people, wherever they are from, who are not trained to do the job. Their reputation, which is high amongst the enlightened, would be at risk. They would not do that.
When Yamaha opened its manufacturing plant in Indonesia, all the usual remarks came out of the woodwork. A large percentage of the best instruments in the world are now made in Asia. There seems to be this idea they are incapable. In many cases, these days, it is us in the West, that are incapable.
Not the case for every manufacturer, of course. But for the high-end ones, you can forget about making a criticism, and forget the ‘where is it made’ syndrome. In some areas, they are just better than we are.
All Yamaha instruments are made to the highest quality of design and manufacture. They are not always perfect, of course. But when we on our side of the world make perfection, which we don’t, then we can complain. This sax is made in Indonesia, so that opinion is laid to rest.
Vital, of course, to get a good accurate sound. We have already talked about the vent holes and keypads, which are important, but let’s return briefly to the neck receiver. We have already discussed how the neck is important in shaping the sound of your sax. It is also vital to tuning.
If your sax needs tuning, it is best to have a digital tuner or even an app. Play a concert ‘A’ note. Watch the needle, and if it goes left of the center, that means your sax note is flat. To correct, push the mouthpiece a bit further on the neck cork. Yamaha saxophones are very well-designed and manufactured, and intonation is rarely a problem.
It comes with a nice case that has a plush-lined interior and a neck strap. There is a ligature included. This is an important device. On a single-reed instrument, the ligature holds the reed in the correct position on the mouthpiece whilst letting it vibrate freely. Quite an important piece of kit to take good care of. A Yamaha plastic size 4C mouthpiece is supplied with a Rico 2.5 strength reed.
How Does It Play?
It has been designed to play easily as it is aimed at student players. But it must also be said it is certainly good enough to be played by more experienced musicians. Such is the playing quality of this saxophone. It plays comfortably and smoothly through all the registers with good intonation on both high and lower notes.
From a student’s point of view, it is an instrument that will grow with them as they play. There will not be a need to change it quickly, and it will last for many years. The keypads and keys are all well-made and smooth in operation. It plays like a Yamaha saxophone should do.
How Does It Sound?
There will be no doubt in your mind you have a quality saxophone as soon as you hear the Alto tones. Rich, warm, and accurate, they have a great resonation and fill the room. Having a good sound, though, depends on a few things.
Having a good instrument is the first, of course. But then taking care and maintaining it, and the reeds and the mouthpiece are all vital. The sound, though, is superb. And what you would expect from a high-end manufacturer that knows what they are doing.
They have built an instrument where the sound is suitable for much higher level players. And they have built it for students — quite an accomplishment.
Let’s be honest; you’re not going to get much better than this as a student instrument, regardless of the price. But just to give the best advice, it might be worth checking out our reviews of the Best Yamaha Saxophones, the Best Alto Saxophones, the Best Tenor Saxophones, the Best Soprano Saxophones, and the Best Selmer Saxophones currently available.
YAMAHA YAS-280 Saxophone Pros & Cons
- Very High quality build from excellent materials.
- Fantastic looking instrument that you will just want to play.
- Superb Intonation.
- Very playable.
- Probably the best choice student Sax on the planet!
- Probably the best, but definitely not the cheapest student sax on the planet!
We think it is an exceptional instrument at every level. When you are talking saxophones, you can’t get much better than Yamaha, if at all, and for a student to have access to this quality is for them staggering.
Yes, you might think it is expensive. It might not be the first saxophone you buy. You might want to wait a couple of months to see if the student takes to the instrument first. Our advice is don’t waste your money on a cheaper version. When any student who wants to play sax picks this up, they will just know.
An instrument of real quality, we could not recommend it enough. Whenever you do a YAMAHA YAS-280 Saxophone review, you rather know what you are going to get. We were not disappointed. The Yamaha YAS-280 student alto saxophone – probably the best student saxophone you can buy!