• The Selmer Mark VI

    by  • July 11, 2011 • Selmer

    First, a little note: there is so much to write about on the VI, that I’m breaking stuff down and trying to get a section of stuff ready at a time. In other words, I’m going to update this article a few times and add pictures and other goodies.

    Original: Jul 11, 2011 @ 20:01
    Update 1: Nov 3, 2011 @ 20:51
    Update 2: Nov 5, 2011 @ 21:15
    Update 3: Nov 8, 2011 @ 20:16

    The Selmer Mark VI Saxophone Family, Eb Sopranino to Bb Bass


    Name Game

    The VI is called such because it was the sixth saxophone “series” produced by Selmer: Modele 22, Modele 26 series (includes New Largebore and Modele 28), Selmer Super Sax (includes the Radio Improved and Jimmy Dorsey), Balanced Action, Super (Balanced) Action, Mark VI. It was specifically launched to commemorate the 50th year after Selmer’s gold medal (for clarinets) at the 1904 St. Louis Exposition (ref1, ref2).

    Serial Number Intrestingness
    The Mark VI was introduced in 1954, around s/n 55201, according to Selmer’s official serial number chart. However, the lowest serial number I’ve seen is 55160 (sold by Saxquest.com) and the highest Super (Balanced) Action serial I’ve seen is 53922 55017 (found on 05-12-12), so the Mark VI was probably introduced around s/n 54xxx or 55xxx, which is 1953, according to Selmer’s serial chart.  If you want to get more granular, I’m sure the alto was the first model Mark VI, then tenor, then baritone, then everything else.

    However, because Selmer has a Reference 54 sax and not a “Reference 53,” it’s probably safe to say that there were a few Mark VIs that came out a bit earlier than 1954 — demo horns or something — or the Selmer serial number chart has another bit of fail in it.

    There are several different serial number/end dates for each pitch, as Selmer only created a small number of Mark VII sopraninos, sopranos, baritones and basses.  More often, Selmer just kept using the Mark VI design, albeit sometimes with tweaked keywork:

    • For the Eb sopranino: 378000 (1985)
    • For the Bb soprano, Eb baritone and Bb bass: 365000 (1981)
    • For the Eb alto and Bb tenor: 220800 (1974)

    As always, this is a guide, not a rule. But it’s a pretty good guide.

    It’s Patented!
    If you look on the Mark VI, stamped below the right-hand tumbrest can be several patent numbers — and no, it doesn’t matter what serial number the horn is. Here’s what you might have:

    I suggest on the Woodwind Forum that the “Church of the Supremacy of the 5-digit Serial Number” (see “Legend of the Legendary Legends”) now has another thing that they can argue about: “Hey, my Mark VI has THREE patents stamped.” “Mine has four. It’s much better.” “No, you want one with two. All others suck.”

    Finishes and Stuff
    While this looks like a lot of finish choices, it doesn’t compare to the amount of finishes that Conn had available for their New Wonder horns.

    * Lacquer
    From the Selmer website:

    Up to the Mark VI, instruments were shipped unfinished to Selmer USA (now Conn-Selmer, a division of Steinway Musical Instruments). Padding, lacquering, engraving and finishing was done in the Elkhart [i.e., the Selmer USA] plant. The American lacquer was darker [and more] red[dish] than the clear lacquer used in the French factory. Only horns for the US market followed this process; balancing out a supply chain shortage in the French factory during the post-[WWII] period.

    From the Mark VII onwards (1973), all saxophones have been delivered 100% finished by Selmer-Paris at the Mantes factory.

    Today, Selmer-Paris instruments have the same lacquer, engraving and high standard of finish throughout the world (ref).

    The question is going to be, “How do I know if I have an American horn?” This is fairly easy: the American-made horns have a serial number inside the neck, matching the one on the body of the horn.

    * Colored Lacquers
    Selmer was one of the first manufacturers to introduce colored lacquers for their horns, albeit for a relatively brief time. I’ve seen black and white. Other colors I’ve heard of are red (“rose”), lavender and blue. In other words, if you come across a Mark VI that looks like it’s been “painted,” don’t think it’s not original and get out your lacquer stripper. You might be able to contact Selmer to confirm the finish!

    * Lacquer with Nickel Plated Keywork
    Several French manufacturers offered this finish as a “step up” from the standard lacquer. Most student horns from about 1960 on have this “two-tone” finish, which is why a lot of folks naturally assume that if a professional horn has nickel keywork, it’s automatically a refinished horn.

    * Lacquer with Silver Plated Keywork
    This is an insanely uncommon finish. Since I discovered this finish choice, dozens of other folks have come forward claiming their horn has this finish. They don’t.

    * Nickel Plate
    Very shiny finish. The way to tell nickel from silver is if there’s any black or purple tarnish. That’s silver. Nickel tarnishes a dull whitish.

    * Silver Plate
    Either burnished (“really bright”) or matte (“satin”) with burnished highlights.

    * Silver Plate w/Gold Keywork
    There is a possibility that you could get a two-tone silver plate body and gold plate keywork. I’ve only seen a couple set-up like this, which makes me believe that any examples I’ve seen were refinished.

    * Gold Plate
    Gold plate is easier to recognize in person than it is from pictures, unless you’re a semi-pro at taking instrument pictures, because the horn will often look very silver or lacquer-y. If you really wonder if you have a gold plated horn, look for patches of silver on your horn: gold does not bond to brass, so they first electroplate the horn silver.

    I’ve also included some replated horns, below, just so you have some idea what they look like. 99% of the time — and provided you use a finish that was available when the horn was new — you add value by replating the horn and the replate looks as good as or better than original.


    Selmer Mark VI Finish Choices

    An Official Selmer Apology
    It’s interesting — and a tribute to the horn’s now legendary status — that Selmer put up a disclaimer regarding the Mark VII on their website:

    Why did Selmer Paris Stop [Producing] the Mark VI Model?

    It was time for the instrument to evolve. Even if this model is thought of today as a great collector’s item, it had its imperfections and was in need of changes. After almost twenty years of existence, it was time for Selmer Paris to bring some improvements in its manufacturing in terms of tuning, emission, sound richness, homogeneity and so on. Also in the early seventies, many Japanese manufacturers entered the saxophone business [i.e. Yanagisawa and Yamaha]. This, in conjunction with a more price-conscious market, created a need for greater efficiency and more industrialized processes in the factory. Though the [discontinuation] of the Mark VI was initially not well accepted by the professional market, it appears [that] the Mark VII has been a decisive move in the long run for Selmer Paris. Without question, the sound quality of the present models has benefited from changes wrought over the last thirty years, and Selmer Paris continues to fulfill its mission as a manufacturer dedicated to improving the instrument (ref).

    That’s rather amusing, even if you except the obvious translation issues from French to English. Well, it also justifies the existence of the (currently, only) Eb alto and Bb tenor Reference 54 models. That’s a model that is a “modern” take on the Mark VI. I think we can also shoot down the “price-conscious market” blurb: the 1972 Mark VI alto was $598 ($3072 in today’s dollars). The Selmer Super Action 80 Serie III Jubilee is $5200 today (ref). In other words, Selmer’s prices trend upwards. It may have been that the cost of producing the Mark VII was less for Selmer, but it wasn’t less expensive for the player.

    I do not remember much buzz about the Mark VI to Mark VII change when it actually happened. I did read some reports in old music mags that say that a lot of people were NOT disappointed by the Mark VII and wanted to buy the VII as soon as it was available. That obviously contradicts Selmer’s above comment. Additionally, I can say that you’re looking at approximately 200,000 Mark VI altos and tenors produced over 20 years and approximately 94,000 Mark VIIs produced over 7 years (ref). If you extended that to 20 years, you’re talking about approximately the same numbers of horns sold, so the VII obviously didn’t hurt Selmer’s rep that badly.

    Selmer’s statement about the Japanese horns is probably the reason for doing anything, which is something I have mentioned many times in the past. The Yamaha 61 was introduced in 1971 and made quite a splash. Yanagisawa made somewhat less of a splash with their 6 series — but both horns were essentially copies of the VI design and Yanagisawa had been making sopranos for Martin and Selmer USA for a while. Not only that, but you still had Buffet’s S-series and a few other French manufacturers that were making horns with “balanced” keywork that had (arguably) a very similar tone to the Mark VI. That, to Selmer, seemed to say, “We had better try to increase or solidify our market share.” Hey, those Japanese horns were cheap — less than half the price of a Mark VI, IIRC — and pretty darn nice ….

    End Notes:

    * I reference the www.selmer.fr website often. Unfortunately, most of the time I can’t give you direct links, because their website is Flash-based. That’s why you see screenshots, instead.
    * Note that Brev. = “Brevet” = “Patent,” and S.G.D.G = “sans garantie du gouvernement” = “without the guarantee of the government” = legalese.