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Getting to Know the Selmer Mark VI Saxophones

Selmer Mark VI SaxophonesPhoto by engin akyurt on Unsplash

If you’re an aspiring sax player, you’ve probably heard about the Selmer Mark VI saxophones. After all, every sax player would love to get their hands on an instrument like this one.

But how did the Selmer Mark VI achieve its legendary status? Read the rest of this article to know how it paved the way for the creation of modern horns.

The History of the Selmer Mark VI

The Selmer Company started creating saxophones in 1922. But it was only in 1954 when the first Mark VI was produced—their sixth saxophone model integrated with new design features. 

Among all the saxophone models at that time, the Selmer Mark VI displayed the best combination of tone, key work and intonation—all critical elements for a saxophone musician.

Because of its striking combination of high-standard features, the Mark VI became the benchmark for the succeeding models released by the Selmer Company.

The Selmer Company produced thousands of Mark VI during its 20-year run. Because each saxophone was made by hand, slight improvements were introduced, and every instrument had variations from one another.

Around 1974, the last Mark VI tenor and alto saxophones rolled off the production line. After about three years, Mark VII was born. 

This new horn integrated massive changes, such as spatula keys, octave mechanism, neck and bell. 

The Path to Hollywood Status

Throughout the 1950s, the iconic Mark VI was used by historic sax players, such as Sonny Rollins, John Coltrane, and Wayne Shorter. 

For these iconic legends, this Selmer-produced horn is an option because it’s new. They would never have thought such a saxophone would create a storm of massive admirers after so many years.

Emilio Lyons, the legendary repairman, claimed that “players were changing to the Mark VI because of the feel of the keywork and the intonation was so much better.” Lyons used to rebuild horns for great players like Phil Woods and Stan Getz.

The Mythical Tale Behind the Horn

Nowadays, serious saxophone players only consider the Mark VI as the exact instrument to use for their passion. Because of its popularity and how it transcended time, this saxophone has perpetuated a lot of myths.

These myths revolve around the saxophone having a perfect serial number list. Some also said it’s made from recycled World War II artillery shells.

Although other vintage horns and even modern horns are said to produce better sounds, the tales surrounding the saxophone may have dramatically influenced the desirability of Mark VI. 

Aside from making it an object of desire, this specific saxophone has become a status symbol.

The Revolutionary Design

When you compare this vintage horn to most modern saxophones, it is said to be more “resonant.” However, no scientific research has proven this. 

But there are design differences that may affect the sound and the feel of the Mark VI.  

Mark VI and Mark VII have the exact body tube dimensions. However, the neck and the bell are different in shape and size.

The change in the saxophone’s neck doesn’t necessarily impact the sound that the Mark VI produces. However, it affects the “feel” of the horn when played. 

As for the bell change, it positively impacted the warmth and projection of the sound.

Another unique characteristic that makes the Mark VI a definite must-have for saxophone players is that it’s hand-drawn. This feature allows for different variations that set each horn apart.

The Selmer Mark VI: Is It for You?

Individuals who want to learn or play the saxophone may look into purchasing a Selmer Mark VI. But the price may be an issue.

When you compare the price of a new horn and a well-conditioned Mark VI, there’s no doubt that the latter costs more.

Buying a Mark VI is an investment. After all, its value appreciates over time. 

Collectors search for a horn with its original lacquer preserved for the major part of the horn. They reject saxes with “stripped” or replated lacquer.

For those wanting to make the most out of their professional career as a sax player, the sound should be the determining factor.

Before choosing a sax, listen to its sound first. You can try or listen to online demos of the Mark VI and compare its sound against other horns.

You can also check the sound quality of a Mark VI against other models like the Mark VI Tenor, Mark VI soprano, or the new Mark VII model. This will give you an excellent assessment of which saxophone to choose.

Whether you’re looking for an instrument you can use as a professional sax player or as a collector, the Selmer Mark VI would be a great addition to your music arsenal.


Heinz Lewis (Guest Author)
A travel junkie and music enthusiast who is into playing saxophones. He plays advanced saxophone music and also teaches both basic and advanced saxophone lessons.

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