The Selmer Mark VI
The Selmer Mark VI is a saxophone that was made from 1954 to 1981. It was replaced by the tenor and alto Mark VII model in the mid-1970s (see discussion of serial numbers below), and the Super Action 80 soprano and baritone model in 1981. The limited production sopranino model was continued until about 1985.
The Mark VI was introduced in 1954 and was available in sopranino, soprano, alto, tenor, baritone and bass saxophones until the introduction of the Mark VII model in 1975. There were no Mark VII sopraninos, sopranos, baritones, or bass saxes, as the Mark VI design for those saxes was continued during the Mark VII era. There are reports of a limited number of baritone saxophones labeled as Mark VIIs but these horns are of the same design as 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 style of engraving on the bell of the instrument is an indicator of the place of assembly.
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 French-assembled Mark VI engraving is usually of a butterfly and floral motif, and the engraving typically extends to the bow. Some French-assembled Mark VI's lack any engraving other than the brand stamp. Nickel or silver-plated keys with a lacquer-finish body were offered among the French-assembled horns.
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.
American-assembled Mark VI's have floral or scroll engraving, not extending to the bow.
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 taper, bow, neck designs, and some mechanical features changed throughout the history of the Mark VI. The changes were not documented by Selmer. The length of the bow was increased on altos during the 90K serial number range to address certain intonation issues. In subsequent years the short bow was reintroduced. Some altos had baffles soldered into the bow to correct intonation issues. At least three changes to neck design were made on the tenor during the 1950s and 1960s, and once again in the 1970s. Some contend that the neck design changes account for the different tonal and playing qualities between earlier and later Mark VI's. Others contend that Mark VI's produced after about SN 180,000 had harder metal as a result of a change in the metalworking process, however, that SN corresponds to a known change in neck design so differing characteristics before and after can not definitely be ascribed to metallurgy.
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. An employee's description of the assembly and quality control process at Selmer USA during the 1960s, cited secondarily on saxpics.com, indicates that different quality Mark VIes were sold through different channels; the top tier was offered to musicians under contract to Selmer ("Selmer Artists"), the second tier went to pro dealers in major markets, and the third tier went to the general market. The best assurance of the quality level of any given Mark VI may correspondingly be its known sale history.
The high F♯ key was offered as an option, though some players believe that instruments without the high F♯ key have better natural intonation. During the mid-1960s optional keywork was offered, including the rare 'Concert' model with a high F#, right hand G#, D to E flat trill key and C to D trill key using the E flat palm key. 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 acquired a reputation, rightly or wrongly, for intonation issues. Nonetheless, Ornette Coleman played 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 based upon the basic Mark VI design.
Selmer's General Manager Jerome Selmer has confirmed that all Mark VIes were manufactured from industry-standard "cartridge brass" stock and that Selmer never recycled shell casings.
Years of production by serial number Edit
1974- (After 231,000/Mark VII) 220801-233900
The "Official" Serial number guide issued by Selmer was 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. Some uncertainty surrounds the process and actual timing of the transition from Mark VI to Mark VII altos and tenors. Mark VI examples in the 236,000 (1975) serial number range challenge the 231,000 Mark VII change-over. One hypothesis is that the announcement of the transition in Selmer's 1974 literature was premature. Another is 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. Reported early Mark VII examples have Mark VII keywork on Mark VI type body tubes.
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 VI was succeeded by the Mark VII, which was produced as alto and tenor saxophones only.