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Saxophones Selmer Alto Reference 54 Vs Original Selmer MKVI Alto 1954

Two Voices

Well-Known Member
United Kingdom
I have been offered for a price a mint condition Selmer MKVI 1954. I was looking to get the new Selmer Reference 54 later this year. The chap selling knows this. I’ve played the instrument and know the guy well. He is the original owner!

I’ve also seen a very nice Selmer MKVI 1974 for sell at one of my dealers which is a heck of a chuck of change less than the 1954 MKVI, but not as cheap as the new Ref. 54.

As always, here’s the quandary - I am one of those folks that like to buy new and haven’t bought a second hand anything in at least ten years! But in this case I am thinking of making an exception, a vintage horn would be nice to own.

If I buy new I’ll wait as planned but obvious with second-hand offers, I can’t.

However, before delving in I wondered if I could have your thoughts on either of the instruments, the Pro’s and Con’s so to speak!

NOTE: The Alto is my main instrument!
Hi Paul

Depends what you are paying for the vintage saxes but the way the market is going at the moment you won't lose any money on the 54 mkVI whereas you will immediately lose at least a grand on the Ref 54 the minute you walk out of the shop with it. In the end though it's down to how those particular horns play and how they sound to you. All in all seems like a nice problem to have.

Thanks Pete :)

I deliberately didn't mention the price in the original post as didn't want the comments being about the cost and more emphasis about the instrument such as owning and playing a Vintage Sax but it is quite hard not too. The 1974 MKVI is just over £4,000 which is quite reasonable, I think for a sax like this but the 1945 MKVI is ... staggering :shocked: (I'll not mention it here). It is being sold for financial reasons. He wants to clear his debts and buy a A901.

At least with the Ref. 54 I won't feel as bad if it got nick or damaged at a Jam Session / Gig! Would the MKVI get wrapped up in cotton wool?

Do you know that this '54 is a good one? (Chances are that it is, given it's an early one.) If not, are you capable of discerning whether or not it's a good one? Given your experience, I suspect not. Your own tone will be far from fully developed at this stage.

Which means that if you buy it as an investment, you could be buying it on age, condition and serial number alone. If you buy it for yourself, how do you know that it's really what you want?

I'm sure the '54 is tempting, but I assume from your reluctance to state the price that it's around £6k. For that money, your choice of Mk6s is essentially unlimited and you could buy pretty much *any* new alto, including an Inderbinden which many regard as the best sax in the world.

I'm in the same position as you in that I want to purchase a really nice pro sax, but I don't feel that I'm nearly good enough to make a £4k+ (Keilwerth, Selmer, Rampone, Mauriat, etc.) decision at this stage in my development. My plan is to buy later this year once I've got at least six months of playing (in this, my second stint) and listening under my belt. And I definitely want to be reasonably comfortable with the first half octave or so of altissimo. I'm planning a number of shop visits in the interim.

You've definitely got GAS (and funds), but I wouldn't knock you if you bought a '54 Mk6! I just wonder whether there are some purchasing decisions that you really need to delay. If on the other hand you are in the fortunate position of having money to burn, then why the hell not?!
Hi Joel,

You kinda echoed my thoughts!

I'm giving it serious thought as I don't want to kick myself down the road when I chose not to buy it :) After all is it is a five digit MKVI :D I had a friend of mine who is very experienced player, try the 1954 MKVI and checked it over. It appears very well looked after and maintained - plays like a dream in his hands (not mine quite yet). He also plays a MKVI Alto but a 1965 I believe. Your close on price + £500.

I did play it and to be honest I think I prefer the A901 I test played a week back! Might have a lot to do with that fact that I'm comfortable with my T901. I also really enjoyed the Ref. 54 I had on trial for a couple of days - hence when this 1954 horn popped up. Doubt I could test play the 1974 MKVI, as its in the UK.

I suppose I would only purchase the 1954 MKVI as a collectors item and that would mean I couldn't afford a decent Alto for a good while! Plus it would be a shame for it not to get played other than in the house as I'd probably would be paranoid about taking it to some of the places I play.

P.S. I don't have money to burn, just savings when I didn't have anything to buy ;} Depleating super fast though :)))
I don't usually buy an instrument for investment purposes; I buy them for the sound, feel, and ergonomics. As a hobbyist I found the Selmer Mark VI's inherent intonation to be a show stopper for me. At one time there was an alternate fingering chart just for the Mark VI floating around. Since I play soprillo through bass sax and because I am a hobbyist, I don't have time to memorize the intonation quirks for eight instruments!

When I played my wife's Ref 54 I was pleasantly surprised at how good the intonation was. With very little change in embouchure, oral cavity, and voicing, I was very close to in tune (mostly 0 but some + and - not greater than 5 cents when I charted the instrument with a tuner) across the scale of the instrument. Wow, I luved it. It is the reason I use Yanagisawa sopranino and sopranos. It is also why I use a Eppelsheim soprillo and bass sax.

Every time I mention this I get some pro that sez, I need to develop my ear for intonation more. But I actually have a pretty good ear and do know most of the common alternate fingerings to lower or raise the pitch. For example using the side Bb key to fix the C#2 pitch. But for speed and flexibility the less one has to do this, the better the experience. Thus my recommendation is go for the instrument that sounds better to you, no matter what anyone else says. Do you hear something special when you play an instrument? Will that be the instrument that cures your GAS and keeps you from buying instrument after instrument? Perhaps the real value of an instrument is not in it's resale value but rather how you sound when you play the instrument.

Often the coolest guy in the sax row in the bands I play with is the guy who shows up with a beat up Bundy who then proceeds to play the Hell out of it. That's a cool that no horn alone can buy you. Good luck on your choice.
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Thanks Gandalfe! Whichever instrument I buy has to be it for a good while so I guess the GAS will have to stop :D Hence why I was going to wait until later in the year.

I suppose the offer of a five digit MKVI got me thinking it would be a great horn to own but as you say it how it feels to me. The A901 is very easy too play and sounds great, but the Ref. 54 was just that bit better to my own ear.
Hey Paul, for what it's worth, whilst I really want to love a Rampone tenor, though feel that tonally there is a degree of inevitability that I'll end up with a Keilwerth Shadow, from the clips I've heard, the Ref. 54 is most definitely on my shortlist. It seems to have a superb core tone. If it really is a Mk6 with better intonation and modern handling, then you really can't go wrong.

From what I've read though, there is some variability with Selmers, so if you want to go the Ref. 54 route, try to play a few before you buy. For that kind of money, a trip "abroad" is no big deal.

Edit: I was referring to the Ref. 54 tenor above, but this clip of the Ref. 54 alto is everything I'd want tonally from an alto - lots of soul, but it doesn't sound like a tenor...
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Some very solid advice here Paul. It's a lot of money for the '54 MkVI, and although the low numbered ones are highly sought after, it has to be as an investment that you're buying it. And there are crappy ones around as well, as was said above... If you want to take the risk.... Go for it, but I'd rather have something I can play, not gloat over/brag about. As Gandalfe said, it's the way you play.... Check the threads on here for what Pete bought when he was looking for a new horn. I think you'll be surprised.

My teacher has a couple of mark VIs, Bari, tenor and alto. I've heard him on 3 tenors - and the cheapo '70s Keilwerth is the sweetest, not the MkVI... I've heard him on 3 altos - and the old King Zephyr is the best, not the MkVI.... Haven't heard him on Bari yet.
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The 1974 MKVI is just over £4,000

There is lots said about an instrument being worth what some one is prepared to pay for it. So make of my advice below what you will.

However You have a different perception than I that this is a reasonable price.
Paul, i'm not saying don't get a mkvi nor am I saying thats better than many other alto's (many vi's have been through my hands and emptied my pockets).
I just don't think you have to spend that much on any alto.

Like many things.....
Some people will try their luck with any vintage horn and asking prices spiral upwards once one has sold for a new high price as sellers try to justify it as a new benchmark. And of course it's always a killer horn that's for sale!!!

Anyway back to the intentions of your post, on playability, intonation and core sound you may find something that surpasses or equals the 2 mkvi's offered to you at much less money so ask yourself if you have simply been bitten by the mystique and legend of the vi or vintage horn in general?
If that is the case...which is completely understandable, i'd bide your time, try half a dozen then start looking to buy.
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Hi Paul! have an excellent condition Ref 54 at £2600, and have a range of new Borgani Altos at £2650 or so. Both excellent dealers.

I love my Ref54 - favourite of all my saxes, and your experience, at your own stage of development gives you some clues as to sound quality. If it's good enough for Gilad Atzmon, its good enough for me!

Kind regards

On the saxheaven website it does specifically praise the Borgani Vintage Alto, and reports that several players have P/Xd their MkVI's for said sax. Borgani would be top of my list certainly.......

Or what about a trombone - Rath do them for less than £400!
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I think £4k for a Mk6 alto is a lot of mulah I sold my mk 6 alto last year Very Early MK 6 in silverplate, great nick, early French engraving repadded and played like a dream for £2650. A good price I thought and I made over 2k on the deal as I got the sax for next to noting in the nineties.
I sold it because :
(a) I needed some dough to help towards a family car
(b) My level of playing couldnt do the horn justice
(c) I was asked to sell a freinds yanigasawa A 500 alto as he had had a stroke and The yanni played as good as if not sweeter than the Mk 6 and had better intonation so bought it.

I guess my point is if you have money to spare get a Mk 6 itll be a good investment - if you want a good solid horn that'll play, feel and sound fantastic, and will need minimum maintenance, with a new set of pads , warranty etc get a Yanni 992.
I have owned a Ref 54 alto and a tenor and I never really *loved* either of them. They are not built as well as Mark VIs and both needed loads of work to make them play properly despite being brand new. I now have a lovely 1968 mark VI tenor, not the most favoured vintage maybe but it looks and feels like a new horn and after a service, has served me well for about the last 8 or 9 years. I have two silver plate Mark VI altos, a 1969 with high F# and a 1967 which looks like one of the pre 100xxx horns, having scrolled engraving etc. They all have so much more character and feel great under the fingers and I enjoy playing them very much. I bought two on ebay and one through SOTW and I would think they have all appreciated and will continue to do so. Meanwhile, I just love the way they play and sound and don't miss the Ref 54s (or the Serie III, Shadow, SX90R Anniversary, Buffet S1, S1 Prestige, Couesnon and Mauriat altos or the Buffet SDA and S1, Yani T901S, SX90R Anniversary and SA80 tenors) that have preceded them!
And I wouldn't wish a Selmer Mark VI on anyone. So different strokes for different folks and all. Diversity is the spice of life. Bottomline, play the instrument if you can before you buy. That way maybe, just maybe, you might get the right horn the first time. :cheers:
Thanks for all your replies and apologies for my late reply!

I have deliberated and decided that the Selmer MK VI isn't for me. I played it again and prefer the A901 :shocked:

I think I was getting lost in the romance of a five digit Mark VI :w00t: but at the price its far too expensive to enjoy playing.

I have decided I would get more enjoyment out of a cheaper Saxophone that I could play anywhere apposed to a vintage horn that I'd rather cherish!

Its a toss between an A901 and a A991. I like the sound of the A901 with a 92 neck on it slightly better than the A991 so will probably opt for that option coupled with an Otto-Link STM 6*.
I've been wondering what you'd do. Looks like those rose tinted glasses suddenly got a touch of clear view!!! Good move from my point of view.

And if it's vintage saxes that tun you on, take a listen to an old Keilwerth or Kohlert... You'll be surprised - at the sound AND the price.
I've been wondering what you'd do. Looks like those rose tinted glasses suddenly got a touch of clear view!!! Good move from my point of view.

And if it's vintage saxes that tun you on, take a listen to an old Keilwerth or Kohlert... You'll be surprised - at the sound AND the price.

Thanks Kev! I did have a couple of sleepless nights thinking about it :D

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