Selmer Saxophones - Models, Players, History (2023)

When it comes to the history of jazz, the saxophone has played a crucial role in many of the most popular styles and movements.

But dig a little deeper and you'll find that one manufacturer in particular - Selmer - is responsible for providing many of the greatest musicians with the instrument of their choice.

In this article, we look at the history of Selmer saxophones and their role in the development of jazz...

Founded in 1885, Henri Selmer Paris has a long history of making quality brass and woodwind instruments, but perhaps its most important contribution to the world of jazz is the legendary Selmer saxophones.

The list of jazz musicians who have favored Selmer saxophones over the years is quite extensive.

From the original greats like Sonny Rollins and John Coltrane tomodern stars like Branford Marsalisand Michael Brecker, it would be nearly impossible to name a list of the greatest jazz albums without encountering a bunch of these horns.

Of course, in the saxophone community, theSelmer Markus VIis the Holy Grail for most players.

Produced for just 20 years, from the mid-50s to the mid-70s, it fell into one of the most prolific periods of development in jazz history (hard bop, cool jazz, avant-garde, modal...)

But despite this, Selmer has proven its quality with other amazing saxes before and after this golden age of MKVI sax making.

We've already included Selmer at number 1 in ourbest saxophone brandsof the world, but in this article we will go into more detail.

Let's run through some of the most famous Selmer saxophones - from the beginningmodels 221922 to the highly respectedmade today - and check out some of the top musicians and important albums they appear on.

(Video) History Notes #01 : The Model 22

If you're a saxophone fanatic and have any additional information you think we should include, feel free to use the comments section at the end.

Model 22 - the birth time of Selmer saxophones

While Henri Selmer Paris had been building his reputation as a woodwind builder since the late 19th century, even making saxophones using the classic Adolphe saxophone model, he made his first serious mark on the saxophone world in 1922 with the introduction of the Selmer Modele 22.

Henri and Maurice Lefevre had spent the previous 2 years developing tools and manufacturing methods in a new factory in the French town of Mantes and in 1922 the new saxophone was launched.

sea ​​of ​​selmer"This new technique simplified manufacturing, eliminated sealing problems with welds, and allowed for better standardization of manufacturing."

Although the keyboard and design were far from later models - and the tuning often difficult to control - the Modele 22 nevertheless laid the groundwork and foreshadowed Selmer's future success as a maker of the world's finest saxophones, setting them apart from other of their American counterparts. at the time.

While jazz as a genre was still in its infancy when theModel 22, its C Melody version(Made along with the rest of thesaxophone familyafter the success of the old version) became popular with jazz musicians at the time.

Mostly American musicians and bandleadersFrankie Trumbauermade this type of saxophone famous, and perhaps that's why the great Coleman Hawkins started playing the C-melody sax.

Super "Cigar Cutter" and Super Saxophone 1930

In 1929, with his newfound international fame as a saxophone maker, Selmer purchased theAdolf Sax & Ciacompany that grants him the exclusive rights over this legacy of instrument making.

During that time, the beginningSelmer Super-SaxAssortment that was divided into different models. Perhaps the most famous was the onecigar cutter. Named for the Americans for its octave clef design, it also incorporated several other design updates and refinements from previous models.

In terms of jazz musicians at the time, Zoot Sims reportedly played a cigar cutter, as did Coleman Hawkins on some of his earlier recordings.

Of course, the history of vintage saxophones doesn't end there; For example, this video showsChris Potter Big SaxophoneTry an SSS Cigar Cutter

Selmer Saxophones - Models, Players, History (1)

(Video) History Notes #02 : Models 26 & 28

Selmer (Super) Balanced Action

If you want to pinpoint exactly when the "modern" saxophone as we know it today was built, your best bet is probably the mid/late 1930's with the introduction ofSelmer balanced actionSaxophone.

According to the company, the origin of the name Balanced Action is in its balanced work of keys and weight distribution.“The basic prototype of the modern saxophone and most of the changes incorporated into it have survived to this day. The keyboard has been completely redesigned. The bass B and Bb keys have been moved to the right side of the bell, allowing for easier operation of the keywork.”

Overall, the resulting horn was easier to use; lighter, faster and more comfortable - all of which gave the player the freedom to perform with advanced technique and greater flexibility.

while thebalanced actionlaid the groundwork, the Super Action (or Super "Balanced" Action as it's known) introduced in 1948 refined things even further.

In particular, the hole work has improved intonation and the overall sound.

Ben Webster quickly upgraded to aSelmer balanced actionwhen they were released and how we describe them in our article about themthe horns, mouthpieces and reeds of the great saxophones, John Coltrane famously played a Selmer Super Balanced action early in his career.

The modern jazz saxophonistlike Joshua Redman, Mark Turner and Seamus Blake are also fans, with Redman saying:

“There's something more vulnerable about it, a little bit more poignant and a little bit more inflection room. The Mark VI has a slightly more focused and powerful sound, but maybe not as expansive.”

Selmer Mark VI – Legend of the Saxophone

If you know anything about Selmer, you've certainly heard of the Mark VI. The Selmer Mark VI saxophones, introduced in 1954, have gone down in folklore as the greatest saxophones ever made.

Se obalanced actionIn previous years, the MK VI paved the way for modern saxophone design, the MK VI refining many of the features and combining them withOI am mágico.

The $40,000 Saxophone

Owing its name to the fact that it was the 6th model since the original Modele 22, the particularly coveted horns of that era (stopped production after just 20 years) can command impressive volumes.

Comment on Pitchfork,New Yorker Saxophonladenbesitzer Roberto Romeosaid he rarely sells a Tenor Mark VI for less than $8,000 (contraltos can be cheaper) - and this one once sold one that was never played for $40,000!

(Video) History of Selmer Saxophone

It is estimated that Selmer produced between 150,000 and 200,000 Mark VIs, most of which still exist today.

Why is the Selmer Mark VI the best?

This is a good question, and without an easy answer!

Of course it was child's play for many jazz musicians at the time due to technological advances. But even as modern production methods advance, it retains its legendary status.

Sometimes the stars align and the real result is much more than the combination of a few technical advances. The mix for the brass alloy (a closely guarded Selmer secret), the people working on it in the factory, the materials available at the time.

But some also feel that timing is important.

The Mark VI was manufactured and used during the golden age of jazz in the 1950s and 1960s. Many of the best albums in jazz history were recorded during this period, as were the Mark VIs that played on many of them.

If the solos of John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter and Sonny Rollins are part of your jazz training, why not take the opportunity to play the same sax model as them?!

Who played Selmer Mark VI saxophones?

Well, the list is quite extensive considering the tenor saxophone greats since the mid-1950s!

John Coltranewas one of many players to switch from a Selmer Super "Balanced" Action to a Mark VI as soon as it was released.

Sonny RollinsApparently, he bought his Mark VI at a New York saxophone shop in the 1970s and has been playing it ever since.

And according to Selmer himself“a limited edition loud with a locA was also out on the Mark VI label, which had fans like Ornette Coleman.”

More recently, saxophone giant Michael Brecker upgraded to a Mark VI mid-career, and today, over 40 years after the last Mark VIs were made, there are modern day musicians like Kamasi Washington who are vocal supporters of the Mark VI.

Selmer SuperAction 80

In the early 1980s, Selmer released the first of 3super action 80Saxophones (Series I, Series II and in the 1990s Series III)

This instrument followed the less popular introduction of the Mark VII and aimed to bring together the technological developments of that experience with the ergonomics and feel of a Mark VI.

It's still made today and is a popular choice for many horn players who want to combine Selmer's jazz history with a more modern, easy-care horn.

(Video) Selmer Mk VI history, variations, and values

Although this model is available in all popular sax sizes (the first prototype was actually a baritone), it is the alto version that has been most celebrated and used.

In fact, according to Selmer, it is"undoubtedlythe most popular professional alto saxophone in the world.“

Of course, as a saxophone released in the 1980s, it doesn't have the same roster of jazz legends as previous models, but there are actually a variety of modern greats who play it, including Mozambican jazz saxophonist Moreira Chonguiça ("a of the best representatives of the innovative and original jazz of Africa").

Selmer reference 54 and reference 36

In 2000, Selmer announced the release of two new saxophone models inspired by two of their greatest vintage horns.

As the name suggests, the Selmer Reference 54a modern saxophoneinspired by the original 1954 Mark VI horn, while the Selmer Reference 36 harks back to the Balanced Action of the 1930s.

The legend of these two saxophones (especially the MKVI) has not diminished in the years since production ceased, so it only seemed logical for Selmer to try to recapture some of that magic with a more modern (and perhaps more humor-friendly) approach!

Just like the original MKVI, the Reference 54 has a full, rich sound and is ergonomically smooth. It even goes through an oxidation process to give it that vintage look.

According to a review by Tom Christensen for Jazztimes magazine, it is“Noticeably heavier than the Mark VI. This is likely due to the more extensive key work on the new horn, which includes additional brackets for the longer bars and thicker metal for the keys. The buttons on the horn body and the little fingers on both hands look very close to my Mark VI.”

You canCheck out our comparison test of the 2 benchmark saxophones here.

Selmer Saxophones - Models, Players, History (2)

Selmer Paris Reference 54 Tenor Saxophone

  • Truly built in the spirit of the Mark VI
  • pure sound quality
Check the price on Amazon

Likewise, the Reference 36 takes elements of its 80-year-old counterpart and gives them the precision and action that 21st century production makes possible.

The response to these horns has been largely positive, and while there will always be saxophonists who crave "The Real McCoy" of years gone by, many others have embraced these modern hybrids.

Modern musicians who recommend these horns for Selmer include Jean Toussaint (who founded Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers in the 1980s) and Chico Freeman, and we've included this model in our list of the best saxophones for jazz.

Selmer Saxophones - Models, Players, History (3)

Selmer Paris Reference 36 Tenor Saxophone

  • Better playability and comfort
  • Leather pads for warmer sound
  • Rich game quality
Check the price on Amazon

Thanks for joining us on this little story through the legend of the Selmerbrand saxophone!

If you haven't tried it yet, we highly recommend it! If you have any comments you would like to share, feel free to use the comments section.

If you're ready to dive into more saxophone-related content - both in terms of the instruments and the player - you canYou can find all our saxophone items here.

(Video) History Notes #12 Super Action 80


Who played a Selmer Mark VI? ›

The Mark VI is played by many saxophonists including Jimmy Heath, Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, Maceo Parker, and David Sanborn. The design of the Mark VI evolved over time.

How do I find out the make and model of my saxophone? ›

Serial numbers are the unique number on the back of saxophones, usually inscribed under the right thumb holder. They help identify the instrument's exact production year and model.

What year Selmer Mark VI is best? ›

The most valuable vintage Selmer saxophones are the first year Mark VI (year 1954) and the Super Balanced Action (SBA – from 1947 – 1954). The earlier Balanced Action (BA), Radio Improved and Supers are somewhat less valuable – although fantastic horns!

What model saxophone does Kenny G play? ›

Equipment. Kenny G plays the Selmer Mark VI soprano, alto and tenor saxophones. He has created his own line of saxophones called "Kenny G Saxophones".

Are Selmer Mark VI the best? ›

It's a simple truth that the Selmer Mark VI was either the best, or among the best sax that money could buy, during its 20 year run. It is also a truth that a more modern horn will play with more consistent intonation. The Mark VI alto is especially noted for a badly out-of-tune lower register (more on that later).

How much is a Selmer Mark VI worth? ›

Sought After Saxophone

Over the last 20 years, prices for Selmer Mark VI tenor and alto saxophones have climbed to as high as [$16,000 USD].

Are old saxophones worth anything? ›

Highest quality vintage horns like the vintage Selmer saxophones will hold their value very well and generally slowly appreciate over time. This has been the trend for many years and even in the face of recessions, the value over time seems to go up.

What saxophone do I belong to? ›

A common misconception is that the saxophone is a brass instrument. This is understandable: saxophones are literally made of brass. However, saxophones actually belong to the woodwind family.

What is the rarest saxophone? ›

The soprillo, or sopranissimo, saxophone is also a rare instrument. At 33cm long, its highest note is an octave above a soprano saxophone and the corresponding key is positioned in the mouthpiece.

What is the difference between Selmer Mark 6 and 7? ›

What are the Differences Between the Mark VII and Mark VII? For me, the the biggest difference with the 6 and 7 is the larger bottom right hand note cluster. It's a bit clumsier to play than on the 6. The overall keywork changed as well so the overall feel isn't as light and smooth.

How do I identify a Selmer Mark VI? ›

At the end of this time, Henri SELMER Paris had a stamped Mark VI put in the Bell bow band. So for any saxophone after this worldwide, they all have the stamp Bell bow band. But you can still tell if it's an American saxophone or not : the original Copyright for the word Mark VI was an American Copyright.

Is the Selmer C * A good mouthpiece? ›

The Selmer C* (pronounced “C star”) mouthpiece is one of the most popular mouthpieces chosen as a first step up from the beginner mouthpiece. It is very versatile and can be used for any type of playing, from orchestral classical music to jazz and big band music.

What saxophone does Pink Floyd use? ›

He has appeared as a session musician on various albums, most notably in solo parts on the Pink Floyd songs "Money", "Us and Them", "Shine On You Crazy Diamond" and "Wearing the Inside Out".
Dick Parry
Instrument(s)Tenor saxophone, baritone saxophone
Years active1964–present
2 more rows

What sax does Lisa Simpson play? ›

Lisa plays the baritone saxophone, and some episodes use that as a plot device. According to Matt Groening, the baritone saxophone was chosen because he found the thought of an eight-year-old girl playing it amusing.

What saxophone does Bill Clinton play? ›

Later, as a presidential candidate, Clinton caused quite a stir when he appeared on The Arsenio Hall Show playing his tenor sax.

Which saxophone has the best sound? ›

Arguably the most legendary manufacturer of Saxophones is Selmer Paris, they make a range of Tenor Saxes which are of the highest build and tone quality.

What is the best saxophone in the world? ›

Most saxophonists will agree that the Mk. VI is the finest saxophone ever made and there are endless reviews for other instruments that compare it to the Mk. VI. This saxophone is the benchmark for every sax that's ever come since, it's simply the best and there's not much more to say about it.

What is the difference between Selmer and Conn-Selmer? ›

In 2002, the Selmer Company merged with United Musical Instruments (UMI) to form Conn-Selmer. Like the Selmer Company, United Musical Instruments was built from brand legacies such as C.G. Conn, King, Benge, Armstrong, Artley, and Scherl & Roth. In 2005, the Conn-Selmer Company acquired the G. Leblanc Corporation.

Why are Selmer saxophones so expensive? ›

Selmer Paris produces some of the more expensive instruments on the market, but that's in part because over 80% of each saxophone is still produced by hand (including all the engraving) in one of the oldest factories of its kind in Mantes-la-Ville, to the west of Paris.

How many Selmer Mark VI were made? ›

Recording technology and home audio systems had also improved to fully showcase the powerful sounds of the saxophone. Though they were hand-crafted, Selmer also produced the Mark VIs in volume, making between 150,000 and 200,000 of them, a majority of which are believed to be around today.

Are Selmer and Bundy the same? ›

In 1963, Selmer acquired ownership of its main supplier of student saxophones, the Buescher Band Instrument Company. Selmer continued distributing identical Bundy and Buescher instruments until it discontinued the Buescher name in 1983.

How long should a sax reed last? ›

Expect a reed to last for around a week to two weeks. When you change from a reed you've been using for some time to a new reed, the sound of your instrument will change with it.

What is considered a vintage saxophone? ›

The term vintage saxophone has been used to describe everything from 100+ year-old horns—which would really be considered antiques in the truest sense of the word—to modern horns with a faux vintage finish. For example, this is my Evette & Schaeffer HP baritone from 1886.

How much should a good saxophone cost? ›

Beginner saxophones usually range in cost from $800 to $2,700. Intermediate, or step-up saxophones usually range in cost $2,000 to $3,000 and entry level pro saxophones (still largely played by advanced students) around $3,000 and up.

Which saxophone is hardest to play? ›

Soprano Saxophone

It is the smallest of the four main saxophones. It can be either straight or curved. The soprano is known as the hardest saxophone to play.

Which saxophone is best for jazz? ›

With its rich and warm tones, and its relatively lightweight body, the Tenor Saxophone is considered the mainstay instrument in the genre, and has been widely associated with some of the world's most popular jazz musicians such as John Coltrane and Charlie Parker.

What saxophone is more common in bands? ›

The alto saxophone is pitched in E♭, smaller than the B♭ tenor but larger than the B♭ soprano. It is the most common saxophone and is used in popular music, concert bands, chamber music, solo repertoire, military bands, marching bands, pep bands, and jazz (such as big bands, jazz combos, swing music).

Which sax is the easiest to play? ›

The alto saxophone is easier to play than the soprano saxophone, and so it is a good choice for beginners. A simple comparison of the length of the soprano and alto saxophones shows that they are about the same, 70 centimeters long.

What is the best saxophone solo of all time? ›

10 of the Most Famous Saxophone Solos in Pop Music History
  • Moondance (Van Morrison)
  • Just The Way You Are (Billie Joel)
  • Time of Your Life (Medley & Warnes)
  • Just The Two Of Us (Bill Withers)
  • Money (Pink Floyd)
  • Born To Run (Bruce Springsteen)
  • Last Friday Night (Katy Perry)
  • Midnight City (M83)
Jun 5, 2021

Who is the most famous saxophone? ›

Charlie Parker is often cited as the greatest saxophone player in history. Parker, nicknamed Yardbird, or Bird for short, elevated jazz from entertaining dance music to the highest form of spontaneous artistic expression.

Who played sax for Frank Sinatra? ›

There have been years in his career when Tom Scott was collaborating with so many music legends, from Aerosmith and Frank Sinatra to Quincy Jones and Thelonious Monk, that they became a blur for the veteran saxophonist, arranger and composer.

What saxophone did Coleman Hawkins play? ›

Coleman Hawkins' career spanned four decades. During the first 20 years he revolutionized the tenor saxophone's role in jazz. During the last 20 years he continued to inspire other musicians and delight fans around the world with his inimitable sound.

What sax did Clarence Clemons play? ›

Clarence Clemons's saxophone setup:

Tenor Sax Selmer VI with a Dukoff D9 or Berg Larsen mouthpiece. These mouthpieces are metal ones often favoured for their bright and edgy sound which enables the Smooth Jazz or rock'n'roll saxophonist to cut through the sound of loud guitars and drums.

What is the best saxophone ever? ›

Most saxophonists will agree that the Mk. VI is the finest saxophone ever made and there are endless reviews for other instruments that compare it to the Mk. VI. This saxophone is the benchmark for every sax that's ever come since, it's simply the best and there's not much more to say about it.

Who played saxophone for John Lennon? ›

Bobby Keys: Saxophonist who played with John Lennon, George Harrison and most famously with the Rolling Stones.

Who is the famous alto sax player? ›

Jackie McClean is one of the most important alto saxophone players in the history of jazz. His career spanned 5 decades of prolific recording and performing as not only a leader, but also as a sideman on some of the most iconic jazz records with many of the giants of the art form.

Who's the famous guy that plays the saxophone? ›

Charlie Parker is often cited as the greatest saxophone player in history. Parker, nicknamed Yardbird, or Bird for short, elevated jazz from entertaining dance music to the highest form of spontaneous artistic expression.

What saxophone did Grover Washington use? ›

Mr. Washington played tenor, alto and soprano saxophones with a suave tone and nimble fingers; he would state his melodies and then send runs and ornaments spiraling around them.

What saxophones did Dexter Gordon play? ›

As a youth Gordon played the clarinet and alto saxophone, but the improvising of Lester Young inspired him to play the tenor saxophone exclusively. He gained early experience in bands led by Louis Armstrong, Lionel Hampton, Billy Eckstine, and alto saxophonist Charlie Parker, who also influenced Gordon's music.

What brand of saxophone did Grover Washington Jr play? ›

Soprano SaxophoneH. Couf Superba I, black nickel platedRico Royal #5
Alto SaxophoneSelmer Mark VIRico Royal #5
Tenor SaxophoneH. Couf Superba I, gold platedRico Royal #5

What saxophone did Harry Carney use? ›

“Harry Carney had a distinctive voice on the baritone saxophone. It was rich and expressive, and I think Ellington liked the individuality of his sound,” he says. Carney switched to the baritone sax at a time when the baritone sax had yet to distinguish itself from its more popular alto and soprano brethren.

What sax does Eric Alexander play? ›

Early life and education. Alexander was born in Illinois. He began as a classical musician, studying alto saxophone at Indiana University with Eugene Rousseau in 1986.


1. History & making of the saxophone
(Henri SELMER Paris)
2. History Notes #10 : Mark VI
(Henri SELMER Paris)
3. History Notes #07 : Last Super Sax
(Henri SELMER Paris)
4. Why the Selmer Mark VI is NOT the Best Saxophone in the World
(Better Sax)
5. MODERN vs VINTAGE Selmers: SBA or Series III? Battle of the saxes!
6. Alto sax comparison Yanagisawa WO2, WO33 Selmer Series II, SAS 711
(Andre Acevedo)
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