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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
Hey all. You might want to pour a beverage, this'll be a long one.

I currently have four tenor saxes. My 95k Mk VI is my main horn. I got it shortly after getting out of college in May 2000. I traded my way to it, through a Buffet SDA and a silver-plated Selmer Balanced Action tenor. Love it, 'nuff said.

Horn 2 is a 1937 Conn 10M. It has little lacquer left, is ugly as sin, slightly clunky keyboard, and serious old-horn smell, but it plays pretty well in tune and has a mighty sound that will peel paint at 15 paces. I don't play it often but can't bring myself to part with it. It was my first vintage horn, found for a screaming deal when I was a college junior.

Horn 3 is my old marching horn, a Yamaha 23. I use it as a backup to my VI fairly often, it plays well.

Horn 4 is the one in question in this post. As a college sophomore I had just changed majors to music education, and while I planned to major in clarinet I planned to play sax in a fair few ensembles; I fancied myself more a tenor player than alto and the family (both divorced parents, grandfather, and myself) pooled resources to purchase a brand-new Yamaha YTS52. It fit the bill at the time and a “nicer” horn like a 62 or an 875 Custom, or a Selmer Series 3 (the hot horns in those days - 1996) were way, way out of our budget. The 52 served me well all through college and got played a lot alongside the 10M until I got my VI.

As I played the Selmer more and more I felt that the 52 just didn't measure up. I thought many times of selling it but never followed through, mainly due to the nature of it's acquisition and in particular because it's one of the few things I have left that Granddad helped me with (he was and is a personal hero of mine though he's been gone for 15 years). The best way I can describe it is that it was a bit sterile to play. The intonation is great (it's a Yamaha!) and the tone is good but my VI just popped when I played and this thing didn't. It was antiseptic/wooden/a bit dead in my hands. Another description might be that the response is somewhat poor, especially once the reed starts getting waterlogged. Lifeless. Boring? Maybe. I'm out of adjectives, but the fact is that as a result it didn't get played much at all. And yes, I tried different mouthpiece/reed setups. Too many to mention ;)

For a while I had the thought of customizing the 52. My main idea came after I saw a friend's Yamaha 61 tenor. He had stripped the lacquer from the body but left it on the keys, which made for a striking effect. I was going to do this to my 52 and go one step further by having it engraved; as most will know, the 52 has very little engraving and as a result is quite plain. This plan died from several directions when a) I had little success with the engraver that had been recommended to me and b) I learned more about Yamaha's near-indestructible lacquer. I did a bunch of research that indicated that chemically stripping that stuff doesn't work well, and found that my friend had basically taken a chance and sanded the lacquer from his 61 by hand... so I abandoned that idea.

Here's where things get a bit strange. Over the years I've messed with other horns – notably a Phil Barone Classic in beautiful silver plate. I sold it in less than a year, to finance a nicer alto than what I had at the time. I've had a soft spot for a silver horn since I had the Balanced Action I mentioned above. I should also mention that one of my bucket-list horns, for when I win the lottery, is a Super 20 Silversonic tenor...

Fast forward to earlier this year. I have developed a habit of searching Ebay and elsewhere for silver saxes and items. I kept seeing a silver bell-and-bow assembly for a Yamaha 480 tenor listed on ebay. Long story short, I got a wild hair and contacted my sax tech, who is both a superb repair guy as well as a Yamaha player himself. I asked if the 480 bell would fit my 52... he told me he'd get in touch with his contact at Yamaha and get back to me. A few days later he told me that not only would it fit but that the body tubes of those two instruments are identical, and all the pickup points for the bell brace, key guards, keywork posts, etc are also the same between the two models. So – I bought the bell from ebay.

My goal had several parts. I'd sort of get the Silversonic I'd wanted for a long time – in addition to the new bell, I've been using a Phil Barone silver neck with this horn for a long time now. I'd personalize/customize the horn to suit my own tastes and to make it stand out a bit. The new bell also has some nice engraving in what I think of as the “Yamaha 62 floral pattern,” so that's a bonus. I also did it somewhat as a tribute to my family (and again in particular my grandfather) who helped me to purchase it. And finally, the risky part – I hoped that this modification would “wake up” the sound of the horn somewhat, give it a bit more projection/cut, better response, and make it less generic-sounding.

So, I eagerly awaited the arrival of my silver bell. This was back in late May. I had asked the seller, who was in Europe, to delay shipment slightly so that it wouldn't arrive when I was out of town, and they agreed. They shipped on time, sent tracking info, and all seemed well. I watched over the days as it moved out of Europe, got to the US, cleared customs in Chicago, and, well, vanished. I waited several weeks, communicated both with USPS and the seller, and determined that it was no longer coming. The seller refunded me in full and fought the good fight with the insurance themselves, and I abandoned the project again.

Until August. I'm a high school band director by day, and I was dropping off some school instruments to my aforementioned tech (he's also the shop manager for one of the bigger music stores in my area). We got talking and he asked what had happened with the project, and I explained it all to him. On a whim, we got onto Yamaha's dealer website and found that the part in question could be ordered directly, was in stock, and wasn't too much more expensive than the used one I'd tried to buy on ebay.

I'm sure you can guess what happened next.

The rest of the operation took until last week. He received the part, I dropped off my horn, and waited until my number came up. A couple weeks ago he started sending me pictures, and I had a hard time not drooling. I picked it up after he finished. He assured me that the swap had gone smoothly and the fitment had been excellent. He also replaced a few pads and did a general setup/de-leak on the horn.

I brought it home with a certain amount of trepidation. It looks fabulous. I was concerned that the silver wouldn't contrast much with the clear-lacquered body - unlike a real Silversonic, where the lacquered brass is a darker gold color – but I'm really pleased with the way it turned out. The question is what it would sound like?

I fired up my Mark VI to get my ear in for ten minutes or so, then swapped my mouthpiece to the new hybrid horn. To my delight, I'm really happy with the sound now. I've played it several more times and plan to try it at a gig this weekend. It doesn't sound exactly like the Selmer (which is probably good – then it'd be boring in another way). It's about the same loudness but has a little more buzz, cut, or reediness to the tone, which I find quite pleasant. I like it a lot. I am fully aware that this is a very subjective evaluation but I'm quite pleased just the same.

So – would I recommend doing this? I have no idea. It wasn't cheap; from a cost-benefit perspective it was probably pretty dumb and I admit that it was essentially a vanity project for me. On the other hand, I spent less on this than on a lot of mouthpieces and the results were more tangible than I've had for some of those mouthpieces. For me, I'm happy all around with the results. Pics below, and comments welcome.

Thanks for reading my rambling account – I gotta go play some more ;) After that I need to think of a name for this beast. I've been calling it the "world's first Yamaha 52 Silversonic tenor sax" so that might have to do ;)

TL;DR - I put a YTS480 silver-plated bell and bow on my 1990's-era YTS52 and it's bodacious in every way :D

Couple before-and-after shots. Before is without flash, after is both with and without just for contrast.
 

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I must say that it looks really quite attractive! The brass and silver contrast is striking and makes it definitely “custom”. And, that you enjoys it’s sound more now is also definitely a bonus for you.

I would like to suggest you may wish to print out a copy of your post.... or a more detailed rendition of the whole story of your horn.... and tuck it in the case so that whomever may inherit/acquire it some day in the future will know this horn’s very interesting backstory.

PipeTobacco
 

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WOW! Beautiful horn! Definitely will make you stand out in the bandstand! I love the idea of horn customizations like this. Really develops a closer connection with the horn IMO. Congratulations!
 

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Early 70's Yamaha YTS-21 with a 10MFan Classic 7* 'piece and whatever reed is in the case
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WOW! Beautiful horn! Definitely will make you stand out in the bandstand! I love the idea of horn customizations like this. Really develops a closer connection with the horn IMO. Congratulations!
I am with ConnorTsax - I love your custom touches. I have some ideas for my early YTS-21 when it goes in for some repairs and your horn is an inspiration.
 

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Congrats on your project!

Thanks also for commenting about the extra measures taken by your tech - changing out some pads and getting the leaks out. That likely had the most profound influence on your horn’s response, and it is something that is achievable and affordable for people looking for like transformations.

I, too, prefer shiny horns. Enjoy!
 

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Distinguished SOTW Member, Forum Contributor 2013
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That's funny, I sanded the lacquer off of certain parts of my 61 as well. Only the neck, the inside of the bell and the bell keys guard (the long swoopy one the 61 has).

That lacquer does hold up well. Especially since some of them are nearly 50 years old. mine is about 45.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Congrats on your project!

Thanks also for commenting about the extra measures taken by your tech - changing out some pads and getting the leaks out. That likely had the most profound influence on your horn’s response, and it is something that is achievable and affordable for people looking for like transformations.

I, too, prefer shiny horns. Enjoy!
I would agree about the response but for one thing - I've had the horn adjusted/de-leaked any number of times over the years. My Selmer goes in at least twice a year just for adjustment, and admittedly the 52 didn't go as much but it's been worked on regularly just the same. I really think the response is a bit better (crisper?), and I know without a doubt that the sound has changed - for the better IMO. I gigged with the horn Saturday night and was really pleased with the results.

Thanks for all comments - I'm still loving this thing.
 
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