This is a frequently asked question, and one that is not easy to answer.
SELMER has continuously developed the Saxophone further – more than any other manufacturer in the world. In most cases the follow-up series is superior to its predecessor. At times, the mechanical details enjoyed priority, at others, acoustic design took the front seat. At any rate, research, construction, experimentation and testing were always done behind closed doors with the support of an advisory staff mostly associated with the Paris conservatories. This is still the case today.
It is quite evident that many manufacturers have repeatedly oriented themselves to innovations introduced by SELMER, in some instances shamelessly copying, in other instances making slight modifications, but the ideas of the French smithies have always prevailed and set the standard.
We can say with great certainty that since the introduction of the Balanced Action Models in 1936, indisputably fantastic instruments have been produced with regard to playing qualities. The shortcoming intrinsic to the Inline design (the front tone holes of the left hand and those of the right hand are aligned exactly in a row – some players have a hard time with this because excessive playing on these mechanics can cause joint pains, comparable to the design of American Saxophones, in some instances into the 70s) was overcome in 1948 with the Super Balanced Action; and since then, the ergonomics is perfect and a tireless joy of playing is unreservedly guaranteed. It was at this point in time that the Offset construction method was implemented, whereby the front tone holes for the right and left hands are somewhat offset and thereby adapted to the natural posture of the hands – comparable to modern PC keyboards which are split in the middle.
We have already described at another place that instruments change as the years go by, sound-wise as well as response behavior-wise. Added to this come also the influences described earlier related to finish, etc. It would be extremely interesting to have a chance to hold each of the models described in these anecdotes in your hands as an instrument fresh out of the factory. This comparison, of course, is not possible.
Because each Saxophone has been exposed to different and unique conditions, any categorization is only roughly possible or not at all, nor would it even make much sense. There is no typical Mark VI or Balanced Action sound. Each is a little different. Often enough we have had customers stop by who asked for a specific model, sometimes even with serial number (e.g., “I’m looking for Mark VI 86xxx Tenor Saxophone…”) who end up perfectly happy getting a Balanced Action, Super Balanced Action or Mark VI from a totally different serial number range.
This is another reason why playing, holding the instrument in your hands, feeling, hearing and comparing it is the only sensible way to find your very own personal SELMER Saxophone!