Posted on November 11, 2015
Mark VI Tenor: “Player’s Horn”
This is a 1968 Selmer Mark VI, which arrived to me extremely worn out and so covered in green corrosion it felt soft to the touch. I often kick myself for not taking “before” photos (I get too excited for disassembly and forget) but this time I really should have. Just to give you an idea, this horn had been played for several hours a day since bought used in 1983 and hadn’t ever gotten a real overhaul- and was never swabbed. It had also recently been dropped. When the owner asked a friend of mine- and saxophone expert- what he should do with it, my friend said “sell it”.
Thing is, this is the kind of work I grew up on. When I started doing this job, it was in the deep end. Times Square, New York City, back not so long ago when 48th St. was still “Music Row”. My first job at the bench was to do a full mechanical overhaul the store manager’s Mark VI tenor that was in similar condition (guy still plays it, as far as I know- interesting backstory is that this job was given to me by the head tech at that store so that I would screw up and get fired because he didn’t want another apprentice, but luckily for me I am a quick learner and instead of getting fired became un-fireable, but I digress…) and every job thereafter was similar. Mechanical rebuilds on beat horns was what I thought the job was.
These days though, I often work on things that are a little more cherry, collectible, rare, and well taken-care of even if they are gigging every night. But this horn brought me back. I wondered- what will a job like this be now, with my current skill set and expectations of finished product? Will this horn ever look and feel like I want it to, now that I am spoiled by working on horns that never even got sold?
Well I’m quite pleased to say that after 43 hours on the bench, I guess I’ve still got it and maybe even improved a bit. This horn came out feeling and playing and looking like a well-used- but well taken-care of- example of the Mark VI. It is quiet, snappy, and responsive. It plays easily and evenly, and hell it even looks nice. Several mechanical things I didn’t know how to do in my NYC days were needed, and I became aware that my bag of tricks has grown to be impressively large since my emigration. The horn came out better than I dared to hope! Today was a good day at work.
Shout out to Jack Finucane of Boston Sax Shop for hipping me to Miracle Cloth, which got the pitted and matte-finish orange brass surface left over after the corrosion was cleaned looking nice again without damaging the little bit of remaining lacquer on the horn- something I didn’t think was really possible.
Also, check out those worn pearls. This horn definitely is a hard working instrument. And yes, you can replace those no problem, but they feel good as-is (esp. to the owner, who asked that I leave them) so they can get replaced when the time comes.