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Yanagisawa Saxophones bring 6000-year Urushi history to life.

Yanagisawa Saxophones bring 6000-year Urushi history to life.

Posted: Friday, 21 April 2017

Yanagisawa took the opportunity to showcase their expert instrument-making talents with the presentation of four stunning, one-off ‘Urushi’ saxophones at this year’s Musikmesse event in Frankfurt.

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‘Hira makie’ used to adorn the Tenor model with Camellia flowers.

The unique Tenor, Alto, Baritone and Soprano models feature traditional floral engravings and decorations created using Japanese Urushi lacquering techniques dating back to the Jomon period between 14000-300BC. Sourced from the sap of the native Japanese Urushi tree, Urushi acts as an adhesive as well as a lacquer and has been used for centuries throughout Japanese artist culture.

Originating from the Japanese words ‘uruwashi’ or ‘urumu’, meaning ‘fresh and vibrant gloss’, the treatment of each of the four Yanagisawa Saxophones has resulted in just that – a set of handcrafted instruments that display stunning, detailed imagery with a stunning, lustrous gloss.

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Alto saxophone with star-scape floral decoration achieved using the ''hirame nashiji' technique.

Created in collaboration with Urushi artist Yurie Akaiwa, the aim of the project was to explore the possibilities of using the saxophone as a musical canvas for portraying themes from the Japanese natural world. As a result of the unique Urushi technique, each saxophone has taken on its very own distinctive voice with a mellow tone. 

All four models have been expertly crafted using a mix of traditional Urushi techniques known as ‘urauchi’, ‘hira makie’, ‘hirame nashiji’ and ‘chinkin’ – each with their own set of detailed technical processes. For example, the Alto model used the Hirame Nashiji technique of mixing two types of gold powder onto the body before repeatedly layering with translucent Urushi lacquer. This process resulted in the mesmerising star-scape finish.

Leading technician Akihiro Ueno mastered the meticulous chinkin technique using fine chisels to achieve the gold and bronze dianthus and pampas grass engravings seen on the “Hint of Fall” Soprano sax.

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Fine pampas grass & dianthus engravings using the ‘chinkin’ technique on display on the Soprano saxophone.

Ueno states, “In order to maintain the performance of the instrument a thinner lacquer was required than is normal for this technique. We had to take into account that lacquer continues to gradually harden after it has been applied. A thinner lacquer left to harden for up to 6 months created the best conditions for chinkin.”

The saxophone keys were painstakingly removed and the instruments separated into component parts, then rotated while specially designed equipment distributed the Urushi lacquer evenly across the surface. The materials were repeatedly heated by infrared radiation at 120 °C in order for the fine Urushi lacquer to adhere as required. 

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Wisteria flowers made from New Zealand abalone pasted onto the Baritone saxophone using the ‘urauchi’ technique.

The Urushi series saxophones are the culmination of placing hugely significant and revered Japanese artwork techniques in the hands of Yanagisawa’s master craftsman. Combining the highest quality materials with Yanagisawa’s superior manufacturing skills have resulted in the most delicately detailed instruments that are testament to the depth and breadth of the brands unparalleled saxophone-making skills.

These four saxophones are not for sale, but will travel to exhibitions and art events around the world throughout 2017/18.