Sam Inglis’s leader regarding vintage gear (SOS February 2021) got me thinking about similar myths which surround vintage saxophones.
As every amateur saxophonist knows, the purchase of a vintage instrument will automatically guarantee you’ll sound like your favourite player. Top of your shopping list will probably be the legendary Selmer Mark VI. Henri Selmer founded his company in 1885, and the Mark VI was manufactured by Selmer Paris from 1954 to 1981. It is widely reputed to be the best saxophone ever manufactured, and this misinformation led one of my adult students to pay leg‑wetting amounts of cash for a Mark VI tenor. He’d heard it on YouTube. It sounded amazing. Sadly, when he played it, it didn’t. It sounded like a radiator with a mouthpiece attached.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I love the Mark VI. It has a superb sound when played well. It feels great under the fingers and it has a nice amount of resistance. But it can be unwieldy at the bottom end. It lacks a proper top F‑sharp mechanism. The octave changeover between G and A is glitchy. Tuning is often an issue, especially if you are a student.
A mechanic friend of mine once told me he only ever bought automatic cars. “Life’s too busy to be bothered with changing gear,” he announced. I feel likewise about saxophones. My few remaining brain cells are far too occupied with creating a decent performance to be bothered with an uncooperative instrument.
That’s why I love my modern saxes. They work properly. Springs don’t ping out and spear me in the finger mid‑run. I don’t have to make running repairs with elastic bands and ridiculously small screwdrivers. I don’t have to employ pitch correction to get the top end in tune.
My few remaining brain cells are far too occupied with creating a decent performance to be bothered with an uncooperative instrument.
The age of the Internet has brought the opinions of others raining down upon us. We read reviews, which are actually the opinions of the reviewer. With this in mind, I recently visited my local music shop to purchase a soprano saxophone, open mind tucked neatly into my handbag. I was determined to blind test as many makes of saxophone as I could — new and vintage — although I was pretty sure I knew which manufacturer I’d prefer. I had become so accustomed to thinking that I prefer a certain make that the shop staff opened a book on which one I’d choose. Well, all bets were off as I picked out the make which I’d least expected. And it was brand new.
And so to my point. The best saxophone ever manufactured is the saxophone which suits you best, whether it’s brand new and top‑of‑the‑range or secondhand from the local junk shop. I’m happy to report that my student bought himself a sparkly new model made in Taiwan and he’s merrily playing away with gusto, and enjoyment, and sounding less like my central heating.
In my experience, sax doesn’t get better with age. However, if you are in the market for some vintage love, and have a leg‑wetting amount of loot to spare, the Mark VI is for sale...