Yamaha Performing Artist Info: “Why I Play Yamaha”

I recently found out that my application to become a Yamaha Performing Artist was accepted, and I am very excited to be joining their roster of brass players. Many major instrument manufacturers, as well as a few smaller ones, have “Artist Endorsements” or similar programs which provide mutual benefits to both parties. I can’t speak to the details of the various companies, but they generally include:

  • Being listed as an “_______ Artist” in both print and electronic media
  • Preferred pricing and other discounts on instruments and accessories
  • Updates about new instrument models and initiatives within the company
  • Funding for bringing in other endorsing artists, and sometimes funding to give clinics
  • Various other perks

In the case of Yamaha, their Artist program provides all of the above, as well as some other benefits unique to the company. Obviously, I feel very strongly about the high quality and reliability of Yamaha’s products, or I wouldn’t perform on them myself or recommend them to students. I have performed on Yamaha horns for much of my professional career, playing solo, chamber, and orchestral music. My relationship with Yamaha horns goes back twenty years, with the first instrument I owned as a student, a YHR 667V. I played on that horn all the way through my master’s degree, and continued through doctoral school and the first five years of full-time college teaching on a YHR 667VL.

Even before that I remember being captivated by the sound of my teacher on her 800 series custom model. In many ways, Yamaha instruments helped shape my concept of the ideal horn sound. As I wrote in this post, one of the main reasons I chose a YHR 671 over my Engelbert Schmid was for the sound. Over a year  later, I’m still very happy with the instrument. I later came to find out that the initial sluggishness with the valves – which is very uncharacteristic of Yamahas – was probably due to buffing compound somehow getting down into the valve casings after the lacquer was removed. This problem was taken care of by Houghton Horns at no charge, and the valves have been worry-free since then. In addition to their quality and consistency, here are a few other reasons I choose to play and endorse Yamaha horns.

  • The company is committed to music education through a variety of programs, including funding for clinicians, and the Yamaha Young Performing Artists Competition.
  • Their line of horns covers everything from beginner through professional level, while maintaining a high level of consistency. Another way of putting this is that they make horns that my students and area music programs can actually afford.

I hope that this hasn’t read as some type of overblown advertisement, but I really do feel strongly about Yamaha Horns. There are obviously  lots of great horns out there by both large and small-scale makers, but if you are in the market for a new horn I encourage you to give Yamaha a try. For the money I don’t think you can find a better instrument.

Equipment Update Part 1: A New Horn

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Yamaha 671 Double Horn, with Custom Work by Houghton Horns

In an earlier post, I briefly mentioned an upcoming review about a new horn. After several weeks of playing it, I have some thoughts on my new double horn, a Yamaha YHR 671. Earlier this year at IHS 48  I did some preliminary testing on both the 671 and the higher end 871 Custom, with the following reaction.

I spent a few minutes in the exhibit rooms this afternoon, and tried out a few of Yamaha’s new horns, the 671 and 871. My initial impressions were quite good. Both horns are very well balanced and even across the range. I have to say though that based on the two horns I tried, my preference was for the less expensive 671. Of course, more thorough playing on both models would be necessary to come to any firm conclusions. If you have the opportunity, try out both horns for yourself.

Stepping back a little, here is a short list of reasons why I was even looking for a new horn in the first place.

  • I’ve played an Engelbert Schmid ES1 double horn for the last five years, and overall was very pleased with it. Schmid’s horns are incredibly light, well balanced, and built to the highest mechanical and artistic standards. I was comfortable performing on it as a soloist, and in orchestra and chamber music. But…
  • I was not 100% satisfied with my sound, especially in my university’s recital hall, where I do the majority of my solo and chamber music performances, and where I plan to record my second solo CD. Both my colleagues and I noticed a tendency for the sound to “break up” at higher dynamics. I’m sure this is due to more than just the lightness of the horn, and I definitely don’t want to take anything away from Schmid’s very fine horns. However, after trying various mouthpiece and bell options (over the course of a few years) without obtaining the desired result, I thought it might be worth looking at some different instruments.
  • In addition to looking for a slightly different sound, I was also curious about Yamaha’s new models. While I’ve played a Schmid for the last five years, I played Yamahas for the previous fourteen years before that. In many ways, returning to a Yamaha horn felt like coming home.

Ok, now for a bit more about the new horn. First, it isn’t a stock Yamaha 671. Houghton Horns, who sold me the instrument, did some custom work on it, including installing a Schmid bell ring and removing the lacquer. Out of the box the horn played great! As mentioned above, returning to a Yamaha even after so many years I felt like all the notes were in the right places. With the Schmid I always seemed to be fighting something, especially in the high range. Like the YHR 667V I played all through graduate school, this one has a great high B-flat. In addition, the horn has more “core” to the sound, and I’m able to keep that core at loud dynamics. After rehearsals with the faculty brass trio, my colleagues agreed that the sound was preferable to the Schmid. As mentioned earlier, Schmid horns are fantastic instruments, but at this point in my career the right choice for me was the Yamaha. However, in the interest of fairness and full disclosure, there are some noticeable differences with the Yamaha.

First, the horn is a little heavier than the Schmid, which I had to adjust to. For the first several days I needed to take frequent breaks while playing to rest my left arm. You wouldn’t think that a difference of a few ounces would matter, but it does. Second, and most significantly, in my opinion is the valves. I suppose I’d gotten spoiled by Schmid valves, which are more or less perfect, but the Yamaha valves are definitely slower. On top of that, they became so sluggish after a few days (despite repeated oiling) that I ended up sending the horn back to Houghton Horns to have them check it out. Houghton provided excellent service at no charge, and got the valves back in working order. I’m not exactly sure what was wrong, but Dennis (Houghton) said that spinning the valves in oil got them going again. He also sent back a bottle of Hetman piston valve oil to use for a while. As of this writing I haven’t had any major issues with the valves. The third and final difference – though not a drawback – is that both sides of the horn settle at a slightly lower pitch than the Schmid. I had to be very mindful to keep the pitch low enough on the Schmid, but it isn’t quite as much of a struggle with the Yamaha.

In summary, though it isn’t a perfect horn (none are), the Yamaha 671 is a very well made instrument, and I’m really enjoying playing on it. I’ll post some audio and video recordings of it in action very soon.

Stay tuned for part two of this series: testing mouthpieces on the new horn.

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