My spiel on equipment, setup, and the vintage Selmer thing

The following is an email I received asking a variation of an Eternal Question I seem to get pretty often, followed by my response.

“Hello Matt.I am mailing you to tell you about a Keilwerth New King Tenor I have bought and playing. I put it through a repair shop and it plays so well that the Selmer SBA tenor that I own has been sent to the repairers with instructions to try and get it to play as well. the JK is 27xxx serial no .Please can you tell me why this horn plays so well, wen its worth a fraction of the value of the SBA |I whish I had had it from the start.Best Wishes.


Thanks for getting in touch.

The short answer to your question is that saxophone value is not determined by how well an instrument plays. Instead, it is determined by demand, and demand is determined by many factors including hype and rarity.

In my opinion, the true value of a Selmer is about the same as many other horns. I myself do not own any Selmers, as I find I can get three or four instruments that play just as well or better for the same price. I currently mainly play a 1930s Keilwerth on alto, and a 1960s Buffet SuperDynaction on tenor, and I own 10 other saxophones, none of them Selmer.

In addition, as a technician, I think that Selmers may be easier to work on and more forgiving than many other instruments– their mechanisms are simpler and more rugged than say a Conn 30M, and much more common as well. Your horn is only as good as your tech, and if your tech has done 300 Selmer-style horns but never worked on a 30M, the Selmer is going to win every time.

Also, horns are as individual as we are. Just because X plays this mouthpiece, this ligature, or this horn, doesn’t mean it will work for you. And it definitely doesn’t mean you’ll sound just like them. That comes from practice and finding a setup combination that works for you- and since we are all physically different, we all have different results with the same mouthpiece, neck, horn. When the vibrating reed is open, which is most of the time, our own physiology becomes part of the instrument- the internal shape of your oral cavity, your throat, and your lungs. That is why “opening up your throat” changes the way the instrument responds. Also why altissimo is voiced in the throat. So, since we are all different shapes, we will all have different experiences on the same equipment. Conversely, you may find that you get a very similar sound to X while playing on vastly different equipment, but when playing similar equipment, your sound is much different!

That said, there are Selmers out there that are fantastic, unbelievable and beautiful examples of the saxophone. I’ve worked and played on several Selmers that were some of the best horns I’ve ever experienced. But I’ve also worked and played on many horns of many different makes, and I find that there are many more saxophones out there just as deserving of the attention that Selmers enjoy. Luckily for those of us who know this, the prices are still relatively low because they don’t get the attention they deserve.

The best setup for you is just that- the best setup for you.

Good luck with the horn, sounds like you found a winner.