This past Saturday I got to play Yamaha's Custom Z and EX tenor saxophones. I know Yamaha is a highly recommended brand, so I wanted to throw in my two cents for anyone who is thinking about buying one. Today, I'll tackle the Custom Z and you can expect to see something on the Custom EX next week.
The Custom Z, in my estimation, is Yamaha's attempt at a Selmer Mark VI similar to the Reference 54, Selmer's most recent attempt to recreate their Mark VI model saxophone from the 50s, 60s and 70s. The good news is that it has all the modern conveniences you would expect from a horn made today. The intonation is of modern design, which is more naturally in tune than most vintage horns. It has a high F# key, which many people find convenient, and it has Yamaha's modern style key work, which will feel perfectly comfortable for anyone coming from another Yamaha or similar saxophone. The bad news is that Yamaha has not managed to recreated the free-blowing resistance-free feel so important to the Mark VI and other similar vintage horns.
The tone quality is similar to the Mark VI. It's focused, punchy, clear and remains even throughout the horn. The response of the horn however, though more free-blowing than many horns on the modern market, does have more back pressure or resistance than many vintage horns including the Mark VI. The Custom Z's altissimo register also feels resistant though the overtone series feels effortless and sounds beautiful in all registers of the horn.
The key work matches the rest of the Yamaha horns and feels equally as convenient as other modern key work designs. The horn's overall design conveniently allows for the traditional altissimo fingerings using the front fork F as a launching pad up through altissimo G and eventually reaching the palm keys for altissimo B through D and again for E through G above that.
Conclusion: The Yamaha Custom Z tenor is a throwback to the Mark VI that lives up to its aspirations in the sound department but is somewhat too resistant to really feel like a modern Mark VI. It will almost definitely appeal to the saxophonist who feels more at home on modern horns but wants the Mark VI sound.