TAKAOKA, Toyama Prefecture--Lacquer-coated saxophones are receiving praise from professional musicians not only for their aesthetic appeal, but also for their resonant sounds.

The “urushi” lacquer-coated instruments are the brainchild of Yurie Akaiwa, 26, who studied lacquer craft at University of Toyama’s Faculty of Art and Design.

Although difficult at first to apply lacquer on a saxophone made of brass, she devised creative measures and succeeded in bringing out unexpected effects.

Born in Mie Prefecture, Akaiwa enrolled at the University of Toyama to study package design before she came across the lacquer arts. She was fascinated by the novelty of making artworks with vibrant and glossy colors from the milky sap.

When Akaiwa was developing ideas for her graduation project, she wanted to try her hand at something she liked but had never done before. She decided to apply a lacquer coating to the saxophone, an instrument she dedicated herself to in brass band clubs during her junior and senior high school days.

However, lacquer doesn’t soak into or adhere to brass. Even though the coating hardened, it cracked and flaked away. To figure out the best way to make lacquer stick to the saxophone, Akaiwa conducted tests to find the right combinations for the lacquer mix and the appropriate time and temperature for baked coating.

After hitting on a method, she played a lacquer-covered saxophone and was surprised by the sounds it made.

“It produced ideal sounds that I had always wanted to produce,” Akaiwa said.

The lacquer-finish saxophone received positive responses from professional musicians for its soft sound. While the instrument delivered powerful sounds suitable for jazz, it also suited classical music.

Akaiwa currently works for saxophone manufacturer Yanagisawa Wind Instruments Co., based in Tokyo’s Itabashi Ward. She continues to create the lacquer-coated instruments and to conduct research commissioned by the university on the effects of lacquer on sound.

Last year, she completed soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophones with designs inspired by the four seasons. This year, saxophone quartet JG used the instruments for concerts in Wajima, Ishikawa Prefecture, and Tokyo and received favorable reviews.

“It is an essential condition (for the lacquer-coated saxophones) to look beautiful,” Akaiwa said. “I want to continue my research on urushi and acoustics to find ways to apply it in a manner suitable for specific genres, such as jazz and classical.”