I am frequently asked to explain the difference between long-bow, medium-bow and short-bow.
SELMER has always developed its current model ranges further and today still continues to slip major or minor modifications into the production. This is also how advances were implemented for the Mark VI in the course of its entire construction period.
But first off, what does “bow” signify? It is also often called the “knee,” and meant thereby is the lower bend that connects the body under the D key to the bell. The connection between body and bow (or knee) is stuck and insulated and connected with a screwed clamp which allows the bow-bell unit to be easily separated from the body (likewise a SELMER development implemented as of the “Super Action” [or Super Balanced Action] series). The bow (knee) is firmly soldered above the C# key to the bell.
The tone-hole grid of a Saxophone, i.e. the size and arrangement of the tone holes, is largely responsible for the intonation (and this is only a very abbreviated explanation!). You know this from tuning your Saxophone: the longer the tube the deeper the tuning.
The problem of tones in the upper register generally being too high when the lower register tones were in tune was confronted by SELMER through implementing bows of different lengths in an attempt to balance the tuning. The overall length of the tubes was modified in order to commensurately modify the intonation.
Here is an overview of the different bow constructions in the Mark VI Alto Saxophone series (exception: the special model with low A):
– short bow (short knee) – since the start of the Mark VI series, ca. serial number. 54xxx to ca. 74xxx
– medium bow (medium length knee) – ca. from 72xxx to ca. 87xxx
– long bow (long knee), – ca. from 87xxx to ca. 135xxx
– medium bow (medium length knee) – again from ca. 135xxx up to the end of the Mark VI series
Each of the 3 abovementioned types have advantages and disadvantages: the short bows have good bottom and middle register intonation, but are too high at the top. The medium bows have good bottom and middle intonation and are a bit too high in the upper register. The long bows are somewhat low below, good in the middle, and really good in the upper register. The long bows sound somewhat tenor-like in the lower range, and this is something some players like to have.
The medium bow type is the one that prevailed; maybe because this construction is the most homogeneous, and this is why SELMER went from the long bow model back to the medium bow.
In our experience, however, it always depends on the player as well: some players are better able to cope with medium bow Altos, while others can deal with the long or short bow models.
Different people, different tastes, different Saxophones!