The saxophone has been an integral part of several of the most influential jazz styles and developments. However, if you look a little closer, you will see that many of the finest musicians have their instruments from the same maker: Selmer Mark VI.
Everyone who has even a passing familiarity with Selmer has undoubtedly heard of the Mark VI. A Selmer Mark VI saxophone is universally acknowledged as the finest instrument of its kind.
Legends and tales abound in the world of musical instruments. As far as saxophones go, the Selmer Mark VI is the king of both worlds.
While only available in the alto and tenor pitches, this saxophone enjoyed a 20-year production run from its release in 1954 to its discontinuation in 1974, during which time it gained a reputation as one of the best in the world.
In this article, we’ll be reviewing why the Selmer Mark VI is considered the best saxophone and why it’s a standard to measure other saxes.
Brief History Of The Selmer Mark VI Saxophone
In 1922, Henri Selmer Paris introduced the world to the Modele 22 saxophone. The company quickly expanded its line with the Modele 26 in 1926 and the Selmer Super Sax in 1931. The tones of these instruments were the basis for what would become known as the “Selmer Sound.”
Selmer Mark VI horns, so-called because they were the sixth edition of the brand’s signature Modele 22 design, are extremely rare and fetch exorbitant prices due to their limited production which ran for only 20 years.
Design Of The Selmer Mark VI?
Whether or not the Mark VI horn has a scientific explanation for being more “resonant” than modern horns is still up for discussion. However, the performance and feel of the Mark VI and Mark VII saxophones are noticeably different due to their distinct design.
The Mark VI and Mark VII both have a similar-sized body tube, but the neck and bell are significantly different in both designs.
Steve explains that while the listener will not notice a difference in sound quality due to a different saxophone neck, the player will notice a significant shift in the instrument’s “feel.” However, “the projection and warmth of the sound are much improved by replacing the bell.”
The Selmer Sound
Jazz greats like Phil Woods, and Kenny G. all chose to play on Selmer Mark VI saxes because of the instrument’s standard-setting quality. The beautiful, full-bodied tone of a Selmer saxophone is instantly recognisable to anyone with even a passing familiarity with jazz.
Newer Selmer versions have been well welcomed by a wide range of jazz performers, including Gary Bartz, and Mark Colby, however, the classic Mark VI remains the clear favourite.
While all Selmer saxophones share some basic tonal qualities (e.g., a warm, rich sound), there are subtle variances between models. For example, the sound of a saxophone with a silver finish is typically fuller and warmer, whereas that of a sax with a clear lacquer finish is typically brighter.
Serial numbers have been assigned to all of the latest models. All Selmer saxophones may be identified by their unique serial numbers found on the back of the neck. The Selmer Mark VI delivered the best mix of key work, timbre, and tone.
Legendary Status Of The Selmer Mark VI
Many of the rising stars of the 1950s, like John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, and Wayne Shorter, used the Mark VI. Of course, at the time, these musicians were purchasing a brand-new “Mark VI” saxophone, so they had no idea of the legend that would eventually develop around it.
Legendary repairman Emilio Lyons, who has worked on horns for Stan Getz and Phil Woods, believes that players were switching to the Mark VI because of the superior feel of the keywork and tone.
The Mark VI, along with the mouthpiece (and occasionally the lifestyle! ), became part of the folklore as great players inspired subsequent generations. Musicians like David Sanborn and Michael Brecker have been vocal supporters of the Mark VI since the ’70s.
The Myth Behind Selmer Mark VI Saxophones
There is no denying of the fact that the Selmer Mark VI saxophone is a fantastic instrument that made a big splash when it came out. And, the Mark VI is now considered by many to be the only option for any “serious” saxophonist.
The Mark VI has been the subject of numerous urban legends over the years, from a “perfect serial number list” to bodies fashioned from recycled WWII artillery rounds. Many people insist that a Mark VI has the best sound of any horn, even though blind tests have shown otherwise.
Both the Mark VI and its horns have become highly sought-after collectibles in recent years, with the latter serving as a prestige symbol for many people.
However, is there any verifiable evidence to support the Mark VI legend?
Steve Crow is considered to be among the best saxophone repairmen in England, and he has personally owned multiple Mark VI saxes. According to him; “For me, it was the Mark VI’s classic good looks and air of mystery that originally captured my heart”.
He further stated that the thought of a Mark VI’s previous owners brings the instrument to life for him; recounting the way they smelled when he first opened the case.
Some players find that the Mark VI’s sound and feel are lacking when compared to more recent instruments, however, this is often overlooked in favour of the learning curve.
When Steve plays, he hears a “resonance” in the instrument. I think one of the Mark VI’s merits is the positive feedback it gives the player through the horn.
Final Thoughts on Why Is The Selmer Mark VI Considered The Best Saxophone
Though we have not encountered any issues with these horns, a Selmer saxophone remains our benchmark. Students and professionals alike have always favoured Selmer’s top-tier Mark VI saxophone since its introduction in 1954.
To play a Mark VI saxophone is to possess a piece of musical history. Also, it is a fantastic instrument to listen to or look at; great artists have played on these horns throughout history, so there is a lot of history to learn and admire.
Whether or not you believe in Mark VI’s legends, you cannot deny that it is a stunning piece of musical equipment. It is a piece of music history that I am sure everyone will remember fondly for years to come.