The Selmer Mark VI Saxophone: A Comprehensive Analysis
The Selmer Mark VI saxophone, produced from 1954 to 1981, stands as a seminal achievement in musical instrument craftsmanship. As the sixth model from the Selmer company since their first saxophone in 1922, it brought a host of new design features and improvements over previous models like the Balanced Action and Super Action horns.
Historical Context and Production
The Selmer Mark VI was introduced amidst a vibrant era in jazz, meeting the evolving needs of musicians. Selmer officially listed its introduction in 1954 around serial number 55,000, though earlier prototypes exist. The first tenor and alto models had serial numbers 54,539 and 54,875, respectively. The Mark VI's production spanned until 1974, with thousands of instruments made during its twenty-year run.
Design and Manufacturing
The Mark VI evolved from its predecessor, the Super Balanced Action, incorporating elements from the earlier model but also introducing significant changes. Early models were noted for their "dark" tone, while later models developed a "bright" sound. Changes in bore taper, bow, neck designs, and mechanical features were made throughout its production, although these changes were not systematically documented by Selmer.
- Key Layout: The Mark VI's ergonomic key design was a significant departure from previous models, improving playability.
- Acoustic Design: Variations in bore size and shape across different models impacted the instrument's tone.
- Material and Build: The instruments were made from industry-standard 66/34 yellow brass, ensuring consistency in sound and quality.
- Bow Length: Changes in the bow length, including short, medium, and long bows, were made to optimize sound and intonation, with the most notable change being in alto saxophones.
- Neck Design: Several changes to the neck design were implemented, affecting the tonal and playing qualities.
The Mark VI gained rapid popularity among professional musicians for its improved keywork and intonation. Celebrated players like John Coltrane, Sonny Rollins, Wayne Shorter, and later David Sanborn and Michael Brecker were notable advocates of the Mark VI, contributing to its legendary status.
Myths and Perceptions
Over the years, numerous myths have emerged around the Mark VI, such as the idea of a 'perfect serial number list' or claims of superior sound quality. However, many of these beliefs are subjective, and blind tests often challenge the notion of the Mark VI's superiority over other horns.
Design Differences and Maintenance
While the Mark VI and its successor, the Mark VII, share the same body tube dimensions, they differ in neck and bell size and shape, impacting the sound and player's experience. The hand-drawn bells of the Mark VI, using techniques different from modern manufacturing, endowed each horn with a unique character. Maintaining a Mark VI, akin to preserving a classic car, requires regular attention and repairs, but a well-serviced Mark VI can last for decades.
The Selmer Mark VI saxophone embodies a blend of innovative design, superb craftsmanship, and musical influence. Its nuanced sound, ergonomic keywork, and the varied experiences of individual players contribute to its mystique and enduring appeal. While it may not be objectively superior to modern horns in all aspects, the Mark VI remains a symbol of saxophone excellence and a cherished instrument in the jazz and classical music communities.