SELMER Mark VI (1954-1975)

The fabled Mark VI, the saxophone many still to this today are compared to. There is lots of misinformation out there about this model, so lets clear some info up.

When did the Mark VI start? When did it stop?

Selmer officially listed the Mark VI as having been introduced in 1954 around serial # 55000, but there are earlier examples out there. owner Mark Overton visited the Selmer Paris factory in 2015 and was given exclusive access to the archives, where he was able to see the factory logs of every Selmer Paris saxophone ever produced. Seems the first tenor was a # 54539, which was a silver plated, engraved (European style engraving obviously), with high F# oddly enough. The first alto wasn't until # 54875 (silver plated, engraved). Another confusing point is serial number charts differ depending on what list you are looking at. Selmer was really cranking horns out at this time (and still is!) so some saxes may have sat at the factory unsold for several months before going out. For example, the earliest 1955 model I see is # 54985 (a Super Balanced Action tenor sax, leaving the factory on January 12, 1955). There were even some sopranino saxes in serial # 548xx range that did not ship until 1960! It isn't until serial number # 57250 that the numbers are always post-1955, about 1800 horns before Selmer's official 1955 range.

The Mark VI line carried for a long time, and there is overlap with the Mark VII in the last year or so. The first Mark VII out of the shop was an alto at # 230839, and the first tenor at # 231087. The final Mark VI alto or tenor I can verify is an alto # 240998. After this time, altos and tenors were only available in the new Mark VII. The other point to remember is Selmer never* produced a Mark VII soprano or baritone (or sopranino or bass). Those saxes continued to be the Mark VI model until the introduction of the Super Action 80 in 1980. I have personally seen a Mark VI soprano as late as # 324164.

*They actually did make a handful of Mark VII sopranos and baris. See the Mark VII section.

Is it a short bow, is it a long bow, and does it matter to me?

For Mark VI altos, the length of the bow is probably the second most talked about aspect of the horn (first being the big question, original lacquer or not). Selmer made many changes to the Mark VI over its run. Imagine a car company not tweaking a model for 20 years! The biggest, most lasting change was to the bottom bow on the alto saxes. Selmer started off with what we now call the “short bow”, then around 725xx switched to a “medium bow”, then a “long bow” around 875xx, which lasted for a long time before going back to the “medium bow”, and staying there, around 134xxx or 135xxx. The official records don't tell us when these changes were made, but thankfully they are easy to spot, if you know what you are looking for.

Where we focus is the 2 bands connecting the bottom bow to the bell and body tube, one on each side. On the short bow, these bands are right across from each other. On the long bow, there is a noticeable gap between the bands, with the band on the bell side being quite a bit higher up than the band on the body side. The medium bow brought those 2 bands closer together again, though not straight across from each other as they were on the short bows.

Mark VI Alto Bow Comparison

Now what does all this mean? No one knows why Selmer made the changes. One can guess they experimented with a longer bow to get more volume of air through the bottom of the instrument. Remember this was in 1960, and while Selmer had reigned supreme for a long time, they were facing a changing style of music as well as new horns coming from King (the Super 20) and Keilwerth that were vastly different from the Mark VI and previous horns. Or it could just be that Selmer wasn't resting on their laurels and were experimenting. In any case, long bow altos are still great players, but the longer bow can create intonation issues in the bottom of the instrument.

My neck doesn't have the serial number stamped on it, is it original to the horn?

Another big misconception is the whole confusion of serial numbers on the necks, and the deeper issue of where the sax was actually padded, engraved, lacquered, and set up. Saxophones that were earmarked for selling inside the USA were shipped unlacquered and unengraved from Paris to Elkhart, Indiana (Paris's logs list them as “blanc ord” in French). In Elkhart, the instruments were engraved, lacquered, and padded, and the matching serial number stamped on the neck. This explains much of the differences you can see in various Mark VI's. Whereas many European-style (Paris factory) Mark VI's had lighter, sparser engraving, or no engraving at all, American engraving was much more elaborate. The lacquer color was also different, which is why Euro-engraved horns are lighter in color. So if you have a Euro-engraved Mark VI, don't fret if there is no serial number stamped on the neck, it is still quite possibly the original! As for when Elkhart stopped stamping the necks, it was somewhere around 135xxx. The latest Mark VI I've ever seen with original stamping on the neck was # 134509.

Other minor changes...

One change that was done to the neck (sometime right around 160xxx on both alto and tenor) was the octave key saddle was changed, the part that is soldered to the neck that holds the octave key rod. This saddle was made a bit higher after around 160xxx, whereas before that it was flatter and smaller. I am unaware of any changes made to the neck dimensions.

The side keys (side C and Bb) were originally a tongue-in-groove design, later switching (around # 1185xx) to a ball-in-socket mechanism. Once the horn was "broken in" the ball-in-socket tended to produce more play in these keys (sticking to my car analogy, think of a wearing wheel bearing). On the original tongue-in-groove, you could just lay a piece of cork in there and it is right as rain, the newer ball-in-socket design however leads to more "clicks" in the keywork that is a little more challenging to quiet down.


The fabled Mark VI, the saxophone many still to this today are compared to. There is lots of misinformation out there about this model, so lets clear some info up.

When did the Mark VI start? When did it stop?

Selmer officially listed the Mark VI as having been introduced in...   [more]

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