Selmer Mark VI

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The Selmer Mark VI is a professional model saxophone that is generally considered Henri Selmer's finest saxophone. Although tastes in saxophones differ (e.g. some players like bright tone-colors whilst others prefer dark-sounding instruments) the Mk VI design is universally regarded as one of the best saxophone models ever produced by any manufacturer. Not surprisingly, it is preferred by many jazz musicians. These have included Phil Woods, Bob Mintzer, Wayne Shorter, Stanley Turrentine, Michael Brecker, Chris Potter, Bob Berg, Sonny Rollins, Dexter Gordon, Stan Getz, Branford Marsalis, Dick Oatts, Eric Marienthal, Peter King, John Coltrane, David Sanborn, Lee Konitz, Ed Calle and numerous others.

As the successor to the "Super Action" (some people may call the "Super Balanced Action" and it is not the right model name), the Mark VI was introduced in 1954 and was available in sopranino, soprano, alto, tenor, baritone and bass saxophones for nearly 20 years, until the introduction of the Mark VII model in 1975; however, there were no Mark VII sopraninos, sopranos, baritones, or bass saxes, as these continued to be the Mark VI design until introduction of the Super Action 80 saxophones. There are reports of a select number of baritone saxophones labeled as Mark VIIs but these horns are of the same design as the Mark VI. The entire line of Selmer horns was not revamped until the introduction of the Super Action 80 series in 1980. In 2000 Selmer introduced the Reference 54 series, whose design, look, feel, and sound was patterned after the Mark VI.

All Mark VI saxophones were manufactured in France. After manufacture, instruments designated for the British/Canadian or American markets were shipped unassembled and unengraved to their respective markets for completion. The place of assembly can often be determined by the style of engraving on the bell of the instrument.

Eric Marienthal playing his Selmer Mk VI tenor saxophone
Bell of a Selmer Mark VI alto saxophone in the 80,000 serial number range.

The "American" engraving is generally of a flower and does not appear on the bow of the saxophone. Early examples of these saxophones have a serial number on the neck of the saxophone. It is believed that they were stamped with a serial number prior to exportation in France so that they could be matched upon arrival in the US. Eventually this practice was dropped. It is also believed that not all saxophones leaving the Elkhart factory had matching neck and body serial numbers. Technicians in the US also reportedly swapped necks to optimize the sound, which leads some to believe that American saxophones have better quality control than its French-assembled sibling. In the Japanese market, American Mark VIs are seen as more oriented toward jazz, whereas French saxophones are seen as catered to classical. It is believed that the difference in lacquer makes the American Mark VIs "brighter" than the "darker" French variants. Consequently, the Elkhart-assembled VIs are in greater demand in Japan. However, Selmer has never officially verified differences in quality-control or lacquer, so the perceived impact of the origin of assembly on the sound largely remains as speculation.

The French-assembled Mark VI engraving is usually of a butterfly and floral motif, and the engraving typically extends to the bow.

The British/Canadian Mark VI's often have a symmetrical medallion engraved on the front of the bell, and a design reminiscent of the chambered nautilus along the sides of the bell.

The design of the Mark VI evolved over time. Switching over from its predecessor, officially named the Super Action, but also called the Super Balanced Action, Selmer's earliest Mark VI models were transitional, incorporating design elements from both the preceding and the current saxophone. Tonally, early examples are considered to have a "dark" tone, while later examples are thought of as having a "bright" sound. The bore of the instrument changed throughout the history of the Mark VI. The shape of the bow was increased during the 90K serial number range to address certain intonation issues. In subsequent years the short bow was reintroduced. Latter-year Mark VIs gained a reputation of being lower quality than early versions (possibly due to Selmer's higher annual production output of the popular saxophone), leading to a greater demand of early-year Mark VIs with a five-digit serial number.

The high F key also shows up on various serial number ranges, though some players believe that instruments without the high F key have better natural intonation. There are also somewhat rare low A alto and baritone models. The low A baritone is especially sought after, whereas the low A alto model is somewhat less desirable (which presumably suffered intonation issues). Nonetheless, Ornette Coleman plays a low A alto.

The quality and ergonomics of the keywork design of the Mark VI can be observed in current saxophone designs: most modern saxophones have keywork that is more-or-less identical to the basic Mark VI design.

Years of production by serial number[edit]

  • 1954- 55201-59000
  • 1955- 59001-63400
  • 1956- 63401-68900
  • 1957- 68901-74500
  • 1958- 74501-80400
  • 1959- 80401-85200
  • 1960- 85201-91300
  • 1961- 91301-97300
  • 1962- 97301-104500
  • 1963- 104501-112500
  • 1964- 112501-121600
  • 1965- 121601-131800
  • 1966- 131801-141500
  • 1967- 141501-152400
  • 1968- 152401-162500
  • 1969- 162501-173800
  • 1970- 173801-184900
  • 1971- 184901-196000
  • 1972- 196001-208700
  • 1973- 208701-220800
  • 1974- (After 231,000/Mark VII) 220801-233900

Keep in mind the "Official" Serial number guide issued by Selmer is not exact and Selmer never meant for it to be so. There can be as much as an 18 month (+/-) variation in actual production dates. This has been verified by original owners with receipts of their instruments showing purchase dates earlier than they would have been produced according to this chart. An example exists of an 89,000 series instrument sold in 1959. There is also a Mark VI tenor with a 236,000 serial number which would challenge the 231,000 Mark VII change-over. This gives rise to speculation that Selmer produced both the Mark VI design and early Mark VII horns concurrently, or possibly until the existing parts for the Mark VI were used up.

The Mark VI Soprano, Baritone, and Bass models were produced from 1954-1981. It is possible to find confirmed examples of these instruments in the serial range of # 55201-365000. The Mark VI Sopranino model was produced from 1954-1985 and can be found within the serial number range of # 55201-378000. The Mark VII was produced as alto and tenor saxophones only.

External links[edit]