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Selmer Mark VI baritone saxophone

Selmer MK.VI baritone saxOrigin: France (
Guide price: Phew, how much have you got? £2,500+?
Weight: 5kg
Date of manufacture: 1967 (approx)
Date reviewed: August 2002

A professional quality vintage baritone sax, low Bb variant

In a strange kind of way the MKVI bari has never made quite the impact of its higher pitched kin - even now people speak in reverent tones about the MKVI altos and tenors, but the bari never really entered the 'hall of fame'.
And it's not as if baritone saxes can't make the hall of fame, the Conn Crossbar has long been a well regarded resident.

A few explanations for this anomaly spring to mind; baris are few and far between, so they don't have quite the same market impact as the altos and tenors; baris are expensive...the MKVI was as expensive as you could get, so a lot of players never even got to play one; by virtue of their size baris are less demanding when it comes to the action, so the American models made a far greater impact on this market than they did against the Selmer altos and tenors - or failing all these, this bari is just far too cool to be bothered with all that 'hall of fame' malarkey.

The overall appearance of the MKVI bari could be described as 'spacious'. Keys are well laid out, the sheer size of the instrument lending it a very uncluttered look. Perhaps the lack of some of the more modern frills adds to this lean and mean look.
Build quality is as good as you'd expect and there's just about adequate bracing for the bell, with the top bow being a little more well braced.
The bodywork is solid enough yet graceful, and well balanced in spite of the considerable weight of the instrument. A fair degree of solidity is a must for baritone saxes - get the sums wrong and the body is prone to leaning, which isn't that easy to fix without a major dismantling job. Likewise the bari tends to have to take a good few more knocks and bashes than its smaller counterparts, particularly around the bottom bow area. Fortunately the Selmer features a detachable bell, which is a bonus when it comes to having any major dentwork done.
The main stack pillars are fitted on straps (a flat brass plate onto which all the pillars are attached, which is then fitted as one unit to the horn), which helps add to the strength and stiffness of the body.

On the downside, I felt the sling ring was a tad on the small size. Undoubtedly, this sax was built when bari sax players were real men who needed nothing more than the thinnest of straps (and the number of a decent osteopath). A larger ring would allow for a beefier sling to be used, though I have no doubt that you could find a hefty strap with a small hook if you hunted around a bit (OK, a lot).

The crook lock screw was awkwardly placed, and again a tad on the small size. Having said that, it looked like the original screw - so I can't claim that it'd be prone to breaking. It was just damned fiddly to tighten up and slacken off.

The action is everything you'd expect from a Selmer - and yet considering the size of the keys remains remarkably lithe whilst retaining enough sturdiness to avoid undue key-whip (a significant problem when keys extend over more than 9 or 10 inches).
The spacing is good, feeling just a bit wider than a tenor under the fingers, with the bell key cluster and low C/Eb touchpieces falling right under the fingers.
The cantilevered side Bb/C keys have a nice positive and immediate feel to them - as does the octave key mechanism, which adds in a touch of elegance...just because it can.
The point screws are of the proper point type - just as well really, as Selmers seem prone to wear on the keywork and the option of being able to adjust the point screws will keep the action nice and tight.

There are few concessions to convenience for the tweaker, with only the G# arm featuring adjusters for the G# and Bis.Bb - but all the bell key guards feature adjusters on the bumpers.

The most distinct feature is the lack of a low A. How important this is to a player depends largely on the sort of music they lean towards. Soul band and contemporary big band players can expect to have to hit any number of low A's right from the first beat of the gig - 'traditional' big band players and jazzers will barely notice the note ain't there. It's an important consideration when you're about to shell out several thousand pounds or dollars for an instrument that's likely to see you out.
Mind you, all is not lost - it's note that difficult to add an impromptu low A 'attachment'.
(At the time of writing this article I'd always assumed there wasn't a low A model. This was because I'd never seen one in all my years on the scene...and when I said as much on a saxophone forum I was inundated with posts from players who owned such horns. One such chap very kindly brought his bari in for me to try - I've added my comments at the end of this review).

Selmer MkVI baritone side keysThe action feels light and responsive under the fingers. Vintage Selmers are known for their excellent action, and whilst baritones will always feel heavier and more cumbersome, the MKVI manages to balance out the necessity for large keys and the need for speed quite nicely. It doesn't quite match the action found on some modern pro baris (that almost feel like tenors), but it's really not very far short.
My only real gripe is the accessibility of, or rather lack of, the front top F key. It's miles away from the top B key, and no amount of bending or tweaking is going to get it very much nearer. It's fine if you lift your forefinger off the B to reach for it, but if you try to roll your finger up or bend the knuckle you'll fall into the vast chasm that is the space between the B pearl and the F key pearl.

And now for the playability test.
Well, shoot me down in flames if I say that I didn't feel the horn had that much punch - at least not in comparison to more modern horns.
Yes, it had bags of that rich Selmer tone (which is great, if you like it) and oodles of depth - but still retained that sense of being 'nasal' in the upper octave. To some extent this is 'the sound' of a bari, but more recent horns have opened this top section out considerably with regard to tone.

But at what expense? Well, there's no doubt that a brand spanking new Japanese baritone will hold its own within the context of a horn section, but perhaps the price it pays for that extra cut and 'oomph' is a lack of finesse as a stand-alone instrument. This is where the Selmer cleans up.
If I had to pick one word to describe it tonewise, it would have to be 'lyrical'. Where other baris may be shouters and screamers, the Selmer is a chanteuse - refined and restrained, but expressive too. There was nice definition between the notes, which coupled seamlessly with the full tone to allow a great deal of fluidity when playing fast passages without muddying the line.
It's a great blow - it might not be the bari for you if you need lots of clout and grit (though you could tempt more out if it with the right mouthpiece, I'm sure), but it's great fun to play and simply oozes quality.

Tuning was fine - baritones are inclined to be a little wild with regard to tuning, but this is nearly always a matter of embouchure accuracy. That's the baritone paradox, in practically every other respect they're very forgiving - but when it comes to the tuning you have to have a well-developed embouchure.

When I had the opportunity to try the low A variant I found that the tone and punch was much enhanced. This could have something to do with the extra length of the bell (or it could just have been a particularly fine bari), but it went a long way to resolving my issues about the lack of punch in the low Bb model. Lovers of the more laid-back sound might not like this extra cut, but horn section players will undoubtedly make good use of it.
There's no key for the low A on the left hand bell key spatulas - just a thumb key below the left hand thumb rest. It worked quite well, not quite as slick as the more modern double-arm arrangements, but more than good enough.

All in all, a top-notch horn that won't fail to thrill and delight - as long as you have no immediate and pressing need for a low A.
Granted, it's a personal preference - but I don't think anyone will begrudge me the opinion that the Selmer MkVI is the bari for the soloist (did I hear someone yell 'Martin'?).

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