As U.S. instrument manufacturers continue to merge with one another or close up shop altogether it’s getting more and more difficult to purchase quality student (and sometimes even intermediate) level instruments. Not long ago we could tell a student’s parent to purchase a Bach trumpet and they would be assured of getting a quality instrument. With Bach now making a significant portion of their student trumpets overseas (the TR500) this statement has become clouded in uncertainty. In fact the United States has not manufactured a student-model alto saxophone in 10+ years.
Throughout the history of international music instrument manufacturing there have been quite literally hundreds of instances of one manufacturer producing instruments for another manufacturer. These “stencil” instruments can be found in everything from flutes to tubas. For instance any modern Holton low brass instruments are actually made by Yamaha and match in specifications to their Yamaha-branded counterparts (YBB-321 & YEP-321 tubas and euphoniums to name a few). Many Bach marching brass instruments are also made by Yamaha. Vito (Leblanc) flutes are also often Yamahas. Keilwerth ST-series saxophones are all made by KHS (Jupiter). Things get even more convoluted when we go back in to vintage instruments – it is a VERY tangled web!
In this day and age we’re all looking for a “deal”. If you know what to look for you or your students can get an unbeatable price on an instrument! Through the 80’s and 90’s (also part of the 2000’s) any Vito-badged Alto or Tenor saxophone that has “Japan” stamped on the back is a Yamaha YAS-23 or YTS-23. GREAT deals can be found on Ebay and the used market for these excellent instruments! Likewise the Japanese professional saxophone manufacturer Yanagisawa made Soprano and Baritone saxophones for Leblanc badged as “Vito V.S.P.” – these are the famed Yanagisawa B901 baritone saxophones, arguably one of the finest baris ever produced. They even have the model “B901” stamped near the serial number with the Yanagisawa logo. The logo also appears on the knot cross-brace and the clothes guard has “Yanagisawa” cut out of it! Again these instruments can often be found at a bargain because people don’t know what they have!
So indeed while they may not be “cheap” there are some very, very good saxophones out there if you’re willing to look around a bit! Happy hunting!