We are approaching the time of year where parents are thinking about purchasing instruments as graduation presents. Since this is an important investment into a young musician’s musical future, I wanted my friend Eugene Cantera, faculty member from the Dallas School of Music, to share his expertise with the grandest saxophone of all, the Selmer Mark VI. Since we are both professional saxophonists, and we both use Selmer Mark VI’s, I thought it would be great to have Eugene talk about this extraordinary instrument.
Selmer Mark VI : Greatest Saxophone Ever Made
by Eugene Cantera
OK, full disclosure time. I own and play a Selmer Mark VI. I have ever since sophomore year in high school when my band director Bill McManus said it was time to ‘step up’ from my Martin student model. My folks were nice enough to head to our local shop called Robinson’s Music in Westboro, Massachusetts and purchase the best horn they had in stock. Lucky for me it happened to be the make and model of the greatest saxophone ever made. This is only a point of contention between those who happen to play a Selmer VI and those who don’t. For everyone else, it’s a no-brainer as they say. The Selmer VI is generally regarded as one of the best saxophone models ever produced by any manufacturer….ever. Here are some thoughts from The Dallas School of Music on the Selmer Mark VI.
Selmer Mark VI: Serial Numbers
All Mark VI saxophones were manufactured in France. Some were shipped to Britain, Canada, and America where they were unassembled and engraved to suit their respective markets. My Selmer Mark VI has a ‘flower’ engraving and a deep dark tone that is associated with a typical American VI. Evidently, technicians who re-assembled the horns in the United States would sometimes change or match the neck pieces to optimize the sound.
I have been a so-called ‘expert’ at the site AllExperts.com for years and I would say that at least a 3rd of all questions I receive are in some way related to the Selmer VI. Most often people want to know the value of their horn or why one serial number or model is ‘better’ than another. Lots of people have or have found a Selmer Bundy (a student model) and think they’ve hit paydirt, and it breaks my heart to inform them that they will need to keep working lol.
As is often the case with any ‘collectible’, the lower the serial number, the more desirable. The Selmer company began manufacturing VI’s n 1954 and used a 5 digit serial number (starting with 55201). In 1963 they moved to a 6 digit number (beginning with 97301) and continued to the end of their run in 1974. The number on my Selmer VI is not particularly low at 201010 (which dates to 1972) but there can be as much as a plus or minus 18 month variation in production dates by serial number and a few hard core Selmer-files who have seen and played my horn think it may indeed date more closely to 1970 or even 1969. Some of these folks can even identify subtle differences in lacquering and etching from year to year, but frankly, it never mattered that much to me!
Selmer Mark VI: Unmistakable Tone
Though there may be a lemon or two among the thousands of Selmer Mark VI’s made, I have never played one that I would consider “bad”. From personal experience I do know that there can be differences in tone between VI’s; some are brighter, and some darker than others. There can also be a great variation in the ‘feel’ between horns. I have played a few VI’s that seem a bit cumbersome or ‘clunky’ under the fingers while others seem to be perfectly ergonomic. Some VI’s have very light ‘action’ and I have played a few that indeed feel ‘stiff’. My horn falls into the ‘light action’ category and from day 1 it felt like it was made to suit my hands specifically. Just lucky I guess!
One constant characteristic however is the unmistakable tone of the Selmer Mark VI. Whether dark or bright all VI’s seem to have a richness and depth of tone that makes them unique. This was certainly the case versus other saxophones made during the 1950’s and 60’s. In recent years companies like Yamaha, Keilwerth, and a few niche manufacturers have tried hard and perhaps even come close to capturing the magic of the Selmer Mark VI. But none however on as grand a scale as Selmer during its heyday. It’s why a long list of great saxophonists still seek out and play these horns, and some of the greatest jazz recordings of the 1960’s were played on a Selmer VI.
Selmer Mark VI: Final Thoughts
I am not a Selmer spokesman, but it’s very easy for me to recommend a Selmer VI to anyone who can afford one if you can find one. I feel fortunate to be able to play mine daily and that it has stayed in good condition even after years of bonking microphones and being jostled by lots of travel. It’s part of me and I’m part of it. Thanks mom and dad!
Selmer Mark VI: Moving Forward
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Additional Notes on Trying Out Instruments
- The Selmer Mark VI saxophones are world-class instruments, but it is still important to check with a trusted repairperson or private teacher before purchasing to make sure the instrument is right for you or your young musician. Make sure that you are playing on a mouthpiece that allows for good tone, intonation and ease of producing sound in all registers first before trying out these horns.
- When trying out the sax, bring your best reeds and try out each of them with the instrument.
- Bring a good tuner (I use the iStroboSoft app) to check intonation in all registers. The app I use also allows you to see if you are getting the “core” of the sound as well.
- If possible, try out more than 1 Mark VI to compare the sound, ease of playing, intonation, feel in the hands, etc.
- Don’t go more than an hour when trying out an instrument. (An hour, in fact, is a little too long.) The best situation is for you to be able to try it out on a few separate occasions. Ideally, if you are able to try it out at a rehearsal or gig, you can see how it works for you in a real-life situation.
- After you buy a Mark VI, or any instrument for that matter, insure it either on your homeowner’s insurance or purchase special musical instrument insurance from companies like Music Pro Insurance or Clarion.
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- Do you own or have you tried a Selmer Mark VI saxophone? What did you like/dislike? Let me know in the comments below….