An Inconvenient Truth About Selmer Mark VI Saxophones

Yesterday’s post, musing about the whereabouts of all the bass saxophones of days gone by, rattled around my pharmaceutical-altered & regulated brain for the remainder of the day. So, in between bouts of severe breakthrough pain (the weather yesterday was the kind that brings out the worst in my eye and ear pain), I saw some very strange possibilities for where these old basses may have ended up.

What we do know is that when schools went to set up their band programs, they often went to instrument companies like Conn, who supplied them with a “band full” of instruments. (Think of the musical The Music Man.)  I’ve never seen an old catalog, but a bit of snooping around the Internet would likely turn one up. I’m thinking the instrumentation would have looked something like this (with a certain number of instruments of each type in each “band kit”): flutes, clarinets, saxophones, trumpets, trombones, baritone horn, tuba, & percussion. (Did I leave any out? Probably, and I apologize, but you get the idea.) Naturally, each group of instruments would then include subgroups. For example, in clarinets you might have: Eb, Bb, alto, & bass. In saxophones  you would most likely see the alto, tenor, bari, and of course a bass would have been either included automatically, or at least an option in whatever “band kit” the school ordered.

Let’s say SOTSDO was correct in his pet theory that the war saw many of the bass saxophones that were part of the school systems turned over to the war effort. Since they were no longer being used, they were recycled into shell casings. This would indeed open the door to an intriguing possibility.

Years ago an urban myth made it way around the sax-playing world via the Internet that one of the reasons that Selmer Mark VIs sounded the way they did, and arguably no other horn in the world sounded like them, is because Selmer made them out of the reclaimed WWII artillery shell casings that littered post-war Europe. Now I’m not a metallurgist, but I believe the reason the myth had legs is that it was grounded in the theory that if you expose metals to particular types of stresses, the properties of the metal changes. Therefore, the old shell casings that had been exposed to not only the manufacturing processes, but also to the explosive processes of being fired from guns, would have unique properties to them when melted down and turned into saxophones, as compared to regular metals that would not have gone through the additional stresses of gun fire. (The naysayers say that the melting down of the casings negates any change in the properties that “might” have occurred during the explosive process BTW.)

Now let’s just for a minute say that this urban myth is not a myth, (and that the naysayers are incorrect) can you see where I’m going with this ❓

It’s WWII. The Americans need metal to continue the war effort. Metal drives are held. It’s the patriotic thing to do to turn over unused metal. Bass saxophones are obsolete: parts are no longer being written for them. So, schools turn over their unused bass saxes and in SOTSDO’s word’s “presto! – 75 mm shell casings”….After all, Rosie needed something to rivet…

Fast forward a number of years…..

Here we are in post-war France. Selmer in someway comes into possession of tons and tons and tons of artillery shells (remember we’re talking more than 20 years of saxophone production here). They decide to use them to manufacture their saxophones and melt the casing down themselves…Or perhaps Selmer buys the metal that already has been melted down from the recycled artillery shells, but then this story is not nearly as 8)  …Among the tons of metal shell casings acquired by Selmer are the casings that contain the remnants of the old Buescher and Conn bass saxophones. So therefore, not only does the metal have the altered properties of the explosive process, but it also has the properties of having been vibrated at certain frequencies when played as a bass saxophone. Wow!!!!

So the fanatical Selmer worshiper who thinks that the 5 digit VI is better than any other Mark VI, might be on to something. The shell casings made from reclaimed American bass saxophones, turned into French-made Selmer Paris horns, were clearly used during the production run that resulted in the 5 digit Mark VIs!

That’s it ❗  The mystery of Mark VIs, especially the 5 digit ones, is solved ❗ This is truly amazing ❗ And my neurologist said I’d mostly likely become  “stupid” on this drug cocktail. Wow ❗  Did I prove her wrong or what ❓

…this is just my blog. My “real” website is If you’re looking for sax info, you should check it out too.There’s lots there!

© 2008 – 2009, Helen. All rights reserved.


Helen Kahlke is a professional horn player and sax teacher who lives in Abbotsford, British Columbia. She plays soprano, alto, C melody, tenor, baritone, and bass saxophones.


  1. I haven’t had the opportunity to play a SBA or a BA. I’ve held them in my hands, but not actually played them, so I can’t actually comment on how they play.

    What is interesting is that my new Zepher’s mechanisms may not be as sophisticated as those of a Selmer, but as far as ergos goes, it is a natural fit for my fingers. The left pinkie cluster is easy to navigate & completely natural for me.

    I wouldn’t have thought that the Zeph would beat out my Selmer for playability re: the mechanisms, but it did. Perhaps it was the way Sarge set up for me. Perhaps it is just the way Zephers are. I don’t know. I haven’t played enough of them to know one way or the other. I just know that the Zepher is a Selmer slayer… And this coming from a loyal, 25 year long owner of Selmer Mark VIs…

    Of course if I was playing classical music, my Selmer would get the gig, but the chances of that are slim to none.

    • I know what you mean about the classical gig. The Señor de los Milagros marches were as close as I have gotten in a long time, and I just took my backup alto and usual Meyer 5J metal/Fibracell #4 combination. I have a Conn Steelay I’d use for a truly legit gig, but as I said on SOTW, me getting a legit alto gig is about as likely as having monkeys fly out of my butt.

      I am surprised to hear you were so comfortable with the mechanism. I have not been fortunate enough to try a Zephyr, and the only King instruments I actually have played are trumpets and horns. Those are built like tanks, and I wouldn’t be surprised if your Zephyr is too. That makes them heavy, but should not keep them from being fast and comfortable.

      I got to play a SBA tenor briefly about a year ago. It was for less than five minutes, but that was long enough to say I could live with the ergonomics using only harmless tweaks like rubber palm key risers. The sad part was that the guy who owned it couldn’t play his way out of a wet paper bag. 😥

      • Check into some of the sax shops in your area and see if they have a Zeph or 2 in stock. You owe it to yourself to try one out.

        My buddy Ray, the R&B player who plays a Mark VII primarily, also finds the switch to the Zeph instant. The key layout is intuitive. The palm keys, pinkie cluster, upper & lower stacks, in short: everything. Within 5 minutes it feels like you’ve played it all your life. At least that was both Ray’s and my experience with the Zeph.

        Their sound is what prevents the King from being considered a legit horn, which is why I had to sell my Super 20 before I started university. The profs required a Mark VI. My 20 was not welcome at school. Now this Zeph has more balls than my 20 ever did.

        Nice thing about the Zephyrs is that they go for much less than the Selmers. Now I am fortunate enough to have the best of both worlds.

  2. So are you saying that all we need to do to make legendary saxophones is to take existing saxophones, make little explosions inside them without tearing them to pieces, then melt them down into new saxophones? Oh, and use a mechanism Selmer introduced over a decade BEFORE WWII, but the rest of the world had to be dragged into, kicking and screaming and 50 years later! 😯 :scratch: :bang:

    Given the legendary status of the Balanced Action and Super Balanced Action, I would dare say the second half of the above has a lot more to do with their popularity than the first half. If I had a bunch of money to throw at a tenor, I would be out looking for BAs and SBAs, not Mark VIs. Vintage sound, with something closely approximating a modern mechanism. What’s not to like?

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