Here we have compiled for you some general information and answers.
This is our way of providing you with a little more clarity on the subject of Legendary Saxophones and showing our appreciation for your interest.
If you have more questions, feel yourself cordially invited to meet us in person.
We are gladly here for you!
As per the Henri SELMER “official” serial number list, the Mark VI was manufactured as of serial number 55201 (year of manufacture 1954) up to serial number 220800 (until 1973).
Occasionaly you see a SELMER Saxophone labeled Mark VI with a serial number higher than 220800. According to the list, it would not be a Mark VI.
There are 2 reasons for this:
Seen on the updated version of a Saxophone model (e.g. the Mark 7 as “successor” of the Mark VI Tenor Saxophon with serial number 241xxx (!!), which doubtlessly exhibits all of the features of a Mark VI. Alto and Tenor Saxophones were manufactured singly as Mark VI up to 1975.
Soprano and Baritone Saxophones were not manufactured as Mark 7 (although there could very well be a few Mark 7 Baritone Saxophone prototypes in existence).
Manufacture and labeling of both of these sizes as Mark VI continued up to ca. 1984. Hence, it is quite possible, for example, that a Saxophone labeled Mark VI 310xxx is indeed an authentic Mark VI – namely, as Baritone or Soprano Saxophone.
Because SELMER only produced the Mark 7 as Alto and Tenor Saxophones, and these sizes comprised quantity-wise the greatest portion of the production, a commensurate indication in the official serial numbers table was done without.
Our answer is a resounding: No, by no means!
Many professional Saxophonists have good reasons for playing old SELMER Saxophones. That’s just the way it is. From our point of view, however, there is no restriction on who should play these instruments.
Experience has shown us that selection of the “right” Saxophone generally does not ensue according to planned rules, rather, it often happens quite intuitively. With a wink, we can even say that “the Saxophone chooses its player….”
When in trying the different Saxophones out you discover that one of the “Legendary Saxophones” – like, for instance, a Mark VI, Super (Balanced) Action or Balanced Action – is really “your” instrument, you will clearly feel the affinity – no matter whether the Saxophone sounds just like you want it to sound, or you have the feeling that you’re suddenly playing much better. Or that it takes you on a trip into previously unknown terrain or motivates you to boldly press forward. The reasons don’t even really matter anyway, because when a Saxophone calls out to you and the two of you find yourselves in harmonious unity, you are naturally quite happy to play it accordingly.
Each human-being has his or her own root tone and every Saxophone its own particular sonority. When mutual attractions merge because both player and instrument resonate perfectly with one another, so to say vibrate at a common harmonious frequency, it can be heard and felt by all participants as well as by the world.
And this holds equally for all Saxophone players, whether their playing is at a professional level or in the area of leisure and development of personal expression.
That is an interesting and at the same time fascinating question. And the answer is somewhat comprehensive:
A number of influences work on older instruments that we believe sometimes have more of an effect on the sound than the design itself. The finish is one of these factors. Lacquer on the brass results in – depending on the type and thickness of the lacquer – unique surface tensions. This holds likewise – although to another extent – for a layer applied by electroplating (e.g. nickel, silver or gold) which, unlike lacquer, undergoes chemical bonding with the brass, and for this reason is also more durable.
Let’s first take a look at the lacquered instruments – with SELMER, the lacquer is frequently absent, partially and even sometimes completely. This has to do with the type of lacquer that was used. The composition of the lacquer that was sprayed-on affects the resonance behavior and the sound of the instruments. SELMER decided (then and still now) for a lacquer with a limited service life. It is to be expected for new instruments as well that the lacquer will partially start to chip in a few years. Nonetheless, the manufacturer is of the opinion (encouraged by thumbs up or thumbs down in countless tests with the advisory staff – comprised from time immemorial of professional musicians) that sound must stand at the forefront, with cosmetic aspects playing a lesser role.
At any rate, the less lacquer there is, the louder is the horn – and the easier it responds – because in this case the “damper” is missing. The absence of lacquer is an advantage for some players (especially if they want to play loud or would rather play defensively, i.e., if they welcome support from the equipment itself). Others tend to “holler” on such horns; it’s completely different from player to player.
It is hopefully clear by now that differences in sound associated with the lacquer are very much dependent on the individual history of the instrument. Was it groomed, if so, with which products? Was it perhaps cleaned too thoroughly at one time (maybe held on the polishing wheel in the course of a major overhaul, whereby material was abraded), in what kind of surroundings was it played or stored, what kind of climate was it exposed to, etc. In the end, all of this effects the vibration behavior of the instrument.
Now let’s take a look at silver (generally in very good shape, because, as a rule, SELMER applied a thick layer, and silver is much more robust than lacquer). In our experience, silver-plated SELMER Saxophones sound somewhat softer, yet at the same time “more brilliant.” Silver is applied by electroplating. Depending on how long the body remains in the bath during electroplating, the resultant thickness will more or less vary accordingly. We assume that in those days the stopwatch was not eyed very meticulously (the price of silver was not so high then and consequently was not a significant factor). The sound-relevant results are inevitably different.
For a time, it was customary to lacquer Saxophones anew when their appearance was no longer perfect. Lacquering in itself is not so much the problem, rather, the pretreatment by means of (excessive) polishing (= material degradation). On the one hand, we’ve seen old SELMER Saxophones that were relacquered at the French SELMER factory (including pretreatment) that were so accurately polished and lacquered as to be hardly noticeable. Some of these Saxophones were so exceptionally good as regards their playing features that the statement of principle, “a relacquered Saxophone is bad or no longer of much value,” would get no approval from us!
On the other hand, however, there are also relacquered Saxophones that have ended up really “spoiled.” The bodies of these horns were “polished” so far down as to remove even the most minute scratch; tone-hole chimneys were polished so thin that the edges became sharp and cut into the pads. After that, a really thick layer of lacquer was applied because the whole idea was to make the Saxophone look really beautiful again. The new coating was then really intact, but at the same time it held the material structure together which rendered the vibrational properties so dysfunctional that response and tone development could only be described as “miserable”!
Another aspect: The climate in which the instrument was played, the degree of humidity and salinity to which it was exposed. Some years back, we sold a museum-ripe Mark VI Tenor Saxophone with original dark lacquer to one of our professional customers. He returned with it only 3 months later from a tour in Saudi Arabia, and we could hardly believe our eyes: The previously impeccable looking Saxophone was totally devoid of lacquer! Pure brass: it looked like it had been sand-blasted. As it turned out, wind, desert sand and salty air had worn the lacquer completely away. The Saxophone’s sound had changed, but neither for the better nor for the worse – it was just different.
We are familiar as well with the story of the dance musician’s horn that was played for many years directly at the ocean. And that’s where it stood all evening long. It was ritzerot and really rough, inside and out – and that’s how it sounded too.
In a nutshell: The life history of a Saxophone has an essential influence not only on its appearance, but on its sound and response behavior as well. Accordingly, each of these old instruments sounds different. The differences are sometimes slight, but sometimes also colossal.
And there is yet another aspect to take into consideration, namely, the player and his or her affinity to visual appearances. It shouldn’t be underestimated that when a really used looking instrument evokes a feeling of “disgust” in the player, it is not likely to sound good. On the other hand, if he or she is confronted with a Vintage Finish and approaches the horn with an equally positive attitude, then there’s nothing standing in the way of authentic expression. This holds as well for Saxophones that even after sixty years still look spic and span (we have something like this in stock too). We sometimes have musicians who a priori reject “mint condition” and look for an old instrument that preferably does not look new – and the opposite holds true as well. Psychology is a factor that is often underestimated. The more comfortable the player feels with the whole package (of which visual appearance is a part), the more he or she will want to play the instrument and the better will the Saxophone-player-companionship sound with the jointly produced sonorities.
As already briefly touched upon in the article “What do optics have to do with sound,” I would like to go into somewhat greater detail here on the subject of “re-lacquered SELMER saxophones” and share with you our experiences in this regard:
We’ve heard the following said now and then from interested parties: “No relacquered horn for me,” or “Only original lacquer because relacquered horns are bad and of little value!”
We can say as a matter of principle that any change of the surface is accompanied by a change in tone quality and play characteristics. Nonetheless: whether the change is positive or negative is impossible to determine.
The surface coating (lacquering or galvanization, i.e., silver-, gold-plating, etc.) is an essential determinant for the sound. The different layers have differing surface tensions and vibrational properties which give rise to more or less overtones in the diverse frequency ranges.
Hence, when a saxophone is relacquered or silver-plated, etc., another surface tension and consequently also a modified vibrational behavior becomes manifest.
The coating procedure, unfortunately, cannot be reversed in order to then decide which sound property is best. This means that only the present state of a relacquered saxophone can be evaluated. Whether the original horn was better or not will thus remain a mystery.
We frequently have SELMER Saxophones that SELMER itself relacquered. This workmanship is impeccable and it is hardly recognizable, if at all, that the lacquer is not the original. I see no diminution in value for such saxophones stemming from relacquering.
It is another matter altogether with saxophones prospectively or already relacquered unprofessionally: oftentimes for optical reasons every single scratch is completely removed. As a result, the sheet metal becomes thinner, which clearly and definitively alters the vibrational properties -- often negatively!
And this is mostly followed by application of a thick, filling lacquer!
As a consequence, the engraving or the SELMER hallmark is filled with lacquer. You can surely imagine the effect this has on surface tension and vibrational properties: such a saxophone generally sounds dull, muffled and its response is often sluggish and stiff.
Here I should emphasize that beyond the halls of SELMER there are certainly operations capable of relacquering a saxophone with high quality. What I want to say here is that the statement “relacquered saxophones are bad” cannot be generalized.
What counts at the end of the day is: Is it “your” sax, does it match “your” sound ideal? If the answer is yes, then it matters not whether it is relacquered, stripped, re-silver-plated or whatever else, because it is simply “your saxophone”!
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!
The categorical answer is: The Saxophone that you can play the best and comes closest to your conceptions of sound is the best one for you, no matter when it was manufactured.
There are a number of opinions as to this range of serial numbers or another being better or worse than the other. Those holding these opinions will have their reasons for doing so. We at Legendary Saxophones do not see it like that. From our perspective, the popular “5-digit” (five-digit serial number) horns do not necessarily play any better than a late Mark VI with a 200-thousand number.
Our observations have shown us that a Saxophone changes its sound and play-characteristics with increased age. There are no secure scientific findings on why this is so. We suspect that the body changes in the course of aging, the molecular structure of the brass “relaxes.” Every tone played on an instrument was and is a vibration, and every vibration permutates the material structures. The surface tension changes, the Saxophone is easier to play. This is why an old Sax that was much played generally has a more expansive and freer tone than a brand-new horn, and precisely this, among other things, is the source of this instrument’s charm.
Now it can be asked why the five-digit serial numbers are more in demand and are higher priced. We believe this to reflect an historical development. When SELMER put the (unjustly) vilified Mark VII Series on the market, there was a rush for used Mark VI horns.
At that time the high Mark VI serial numbers were still quite fresh. Early serial numbers, in turn, had already had years of playing behind them. In light of the abovementioned permutation theory (of which we are thoroughly convinced), it would only be natural that the 5-digits would have been in greater demand. Perhaps this mythos still holds sway today.
In the end, however, and as already suggested under earlier points: Come and try-out for yourself which Legendary Saxophone is right for you, no matter the serial number. Sometimes what you get out of it will be completely different from what you expected – if you allow yourself to engage it with an open mind😉
Reliable serial number registration is an indispensable element in brand value!
Every SELMER Saxophone is identified with a consecutive number. This number is unique – no two Saxophones have the same number. The numbers are definitively allocated to the relevant year of manufacture.
Only the demarcation between the individual series is not so clear. By way of example, some Mark VI instruments were still built after the official introduction of the Mark VII. We believe that the materials that were still on hand continued to be used, also possibly as favors for certain interested parties. We suspect this also to be the case for the other transitions, like, e.g., Balanced Action to Super Balanced Action.
At any rate, the listed years of manufacture are reliable. When in doubt, the series in question is recognizable in labels and also in structural details.
How to read the SELMER serial number list: The serial number listed next to the relevant year represents the last serial number allocated to that specific year.
SELMER Saxophones have throughout their history always proven themselves to be good investments. In the vast majority of cases the former owner achieves a selling price that is often markedly higher than the original purchase price.
This trend is seen in no other brand – it is a SELMER phenomenon. Whether or not this development will continue, nobody can say with one-hundred percent certainty. Nonetheless, empirical values drawn from both history and contemporary developments speak clearly in its favor.
Whether Balanced Action, Super (Balanced) Action or Mark VI, price development has for years been moving in one direction only: uphill! Compared to the USA, where in the meantime it is no longer a rarity for good exemplars of these models and series to bring in 10,000 or 15,000 US$, we here in Europe still have a fair, albeit steadily increasing, price level. A good Mark VI Tenor Saxophone, for instance, is priced not very much higher than the current SELMER “Reference 54” fresh out of the factory. Later Mark VI exemplars (200,000-serial numbers) cost sometimes pretty much the same or even a bit less.
Saxophones in the Balanced Action and Super (Balanced) Action series have clearly increased in value in recent years, and have approached the Mark VI price level, and exhibit a tendency to surpass it.
But whether trade-in value or investment, one way or the other, your money is well invested when you fulfill your dream of your own personal Legendary Saxophone.