Selmer Supreme Tenor Review

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Hello Saxophone friends, this is going to be a special video. I’ve got here the latest creation from Selmer Paris, the most legendary manufacturer of saxophones in history. It’s the new Selmer Supreme tenor saxophone. I’m excited because it’s not everyday that Selmer comes out with a new model. Think about this, the first Selmer saxophone was introduced in 1922, 100 years ago. The last time they introduced a new model was the Reference which came out more than 20 years ago.

It’s important for me to disclose up front that this video is not sponsored in any way. I asked Selmer Paris if they would be interested in letting me borrow a Supreme tenor for an independent review, and they said yes of course, we’ll send you one tomorrow.

They have no idea what I’m going to say, and there are no strings attached. I don’t owe Selmer Paris anything. I am making this review for you, the saxophone community because it’s hard to get unbiased info. Furthermore, if I had paid $11 grand for this saxophone, I would subconsciously need to justify that enormous expense and that would inevitably bias my review.

So I’ve been playing this horn for about a week. In this video I’m going to tell you some things about this instrument and other Selmer saxophones you probably haven’t heard before. I’m going to compare it to my Mark VI and another ultra high end instrument in the same price category. I’m going to talk about the price which has left a lot of people in shock and I’ll give you my honest, unbiased assessment of this saxophone.

Selmer History

The saxophone community has been obsessed with the Selmer Mark VI model which hasn’t been made for about 40 years now. In the 50s and 60s, which also happens to be the golden age of straight ahead jazz, the Selmer Mark VI dominated. It came to be widely considered the best saxophone available and the ultimate choice for jazz musicians. This belief continued long after Selmer stopped production in the 1970s, and still persists today in 2023. The Mark VI is still considered the Stradivarius of saxophones.

There was a short lived Mark VII model that was produced for only a few years, followed by Selmer’s Super Action 80 series. These saxophones have been very popular, but were never widely adopted by the mainstream jazz players. The Reference models launched in 2000 and were very clearly aimed at recreating modern versions of the original Super Action (also known as Super Balanced Action SBA) and Mark VI saxophones. While they too have been popular, the vintage Selmers are still the saxophone of choice for many of the world’s elite jazz artists.

So for the last 40 or so years, the saxophone community has been saying, why doesn’t Selmer just make the Mark VI again? The prices of vintage Mark VI saxophones, and its predecessor the SBA, have gone a bit crazy and in recent years they can routinely fetch over $10K.

So is the Supreme finally, the reincarnation of the beloved vintage Selmer saxophones? And if so, how much is that worth?

Why not remake the Mark VI?

I’ve heard all sorts of wild theories as to why Selmer doesn’t make the Mark VI model saxophone anymore. Let’s think about it rationally for a minute.

Let’s say we are going to give the saxophone world what they’ve been asking for all these years. We’re going to start producing the Mark VI again. It is widely known that the Mark VI model went through numerous changes over the years it was being produced. So if you were going to recreate the Mark VI, which version would you duplicate?

It’s also widely known that the Mark VI has imperfections. If you were going to remake the Mark VI, should you just ignore those? Wouldn’t it make sense to try to get it to play more in tune? What if we could get the tone to be more even across all the ranges of the instrument? The Mark VI is very ergonomically pleasing, but we know it can be better so we might as well make some improvements while we’re at it right?

Back in the 50’s and 60’s we didn’t have access to the same technology we have today. Shouldn’t we use the new tools available to us to improve the consistency of all the horns being produced? With a hundred years of experience manufacturing saxophones, surely there have been some important lessons learned along the way. It would be kind of stupid to just make the same imperfect, albeit excellent old saxophone and not use all the resources at our disposal to make the very best instrument we can today.

All that being said, if tomorrow Selmer came out with a brand new 2023 Mark VI that was exactly the same as whatever iteration is considered “the best”. Who would want to buy that? The reason any saxophone player wants a Mark VI, is because they want to play a piece of jazz history. They want the legend. Even if they know there are more sophisticated, consistent and in-tune saxophones available for less money, they will still play their Mark VI.

There is a lot of spirituality and irrationality in making music and the connection with our instrument plays an important role there. So there is no good reason for Selmer to go back to making the Mark VI. They should continue to innovate and try to develop something better and that is what the Supreme is all about.

Mark VI Comparison

Let’s compare this new Supreme to my 166xxx serial number Selmer Mark VI. I’m going to play the same thing on both horns to get us started. First on the Mark VI and then on the Supreme. That was Hank Mobley’s solo on If I Should Lose You. Probably originally recored on a SBA. The mouthpiece I’m using is a BetterSax Burnin’ 7* and the reed is a BetterSax jazz cut reed, soon to be released.

So before I get into my observations, let me know in the comments which one you preferred and why. Since there is a wide spectrum for how well any given Mark VI plays, it’s never going to be a fair comparison. I have played this particular Mark VI up against dozens of others and I can say it’s better than most. I know there are a lot of worse playing Mark VIs and certainly a bunch that play better. Let’s call this one above average.

That being said, I can say definitively and without hesitation, that this Supreme is better in just about every way than my Mark VI. I’ll get into the details in a second, but if the Supreme is better than an above average Mark VI, they’ve already delivered because it’s pretty safe to say that this modern horn is going to be much more consistent and have minimal variation from one instrument to the next.

The main weak spot on this particular Mark VI and a lot of others is the neck. Listen to the difference of how this horn plays with a much better neck on it. For me the KB Sax neck is a significant improvement both from the playing and listening perspective. Putting a modern Selmer neck on this horn also makes it play a lot better.

I know that Selmer put a lot of work into the neck of the Supreme making adjustments to the bore taper throughout. This is one of the things you feel immediately when you play this saxophone, the sound is different than anything else out there, and that is probably mainly because of the neck.

Improvements

On the Selmer website it lists many of the other changes they made to the Supreme. One of the most notable is this neck tenon receiver. It’s got this nickel silver free-floating tightening ring which is intended to add mass to this point. This is something that has been trending in the saxophone world the last 10 years or so and it is widely seen as being beneficial to make this crucial connection point as stable as possible. The neck tenon receiver has an additional slit cut in it so you get a more concentric and even tightening.

This is the tightest fit I’ve ever seen on a neck tenon. It’s almost difficult to get the neck in there it’s so exact. Typically on older horns, the neck tenon fit loses its tightness which certainly can result in poorer performance. Only time will tell, but this is appears to be a very significant improvement.

No saxophone plays perfectly in tune and it’s always down to the player to make micro adjustments. On any given Mark VI, you’re going to find multiple notes that are almost wildly out of tune and require significant embouchure adjustments. This Supreme plays extremely well in tune and I’d say it’s as good or better than the most in tune saxophones being made today. That is also a major improvement.

They have reduced the diameter of the key cups by a few millimeters. This should have the effect of opening up the sound a bit since there is less material covering the open tone holes. The F# adjustment on the Mark VI is notorious for going out of regulation relatively easily. The older the horn and the more it’s been played and adjusted, the less stable that connection becomes.

Selmer has finally added this direct adjustment arm which makes this connection much more stable. As a Yanagisawa player myself, these have been on all my saxophones for decades and are one of the reasons my horns stay in regulation so well over the years. Anyway, another worthy upgrade.

They mention that they have improved the octave key mechanism making it quieter and smoother. While I do like this octave key mechanism very much, I don’t find it particularly quieter than a well regulated mechanism on any other horn including my Mark VI.

They’ve also introduced this hinged toggle between the low Bb and C# keys. This looks like a nice mechanical improvement to me, but I haven’t noticed it making it significantly easier to go from Bb to C#.

They’ve made a slight adjustment to the side keys, which do feel quite nice. This is a minor improvement and nothing to get too excited about.

They have also repositioned the neck strap ring to have a more balanced feel. As someone who doesn’t ever use a normal neck strap on tenor saxophone I can’t really comment on this too much. I wasn’t even using a neckstrap in the tests, instead I had the sax resting on the sax seat arm. I like to do this on playtests since it ensures I am recording in the exact same position for every take.

There are a lot of cosmetic and aesthetic changes to this new Supreme model. The engraving is really detailed and beautiful. The lacquer has a nice dark color. It also comes with a very nice case also made in France.

Price

Probably the most noticeable upgrade though is the price. This saxophone, in the standard lacquer finish, sells for $10,659. That is a lot of money and a lot of people have been asking, is it worth it? Who do they think is going to buy one of these at that price?

While that price is very high, I expect that they will probably sell every horn they are able to produce for a while. When the alto version of this saxophone came out they were backordered for a long time. These are going to be pretty hard to get your hands on at first. I’ve got to give mine back tomorrow actually.

Certainly, not everyone can afford one of these, but Selmer has to make profit to stay in business and they are going to sell their saxophones at the price people are willing to pay. Keep in mind that France is perhaps the most expensive country in the world to employ skilled labor and run a company.

With inferior vintage saxophones routinely selling for more money, it would be somewhat foolish to sell these for less. The price is what it is, no reason to get upset about it. There are lots of much less expensive saxophones to choose from if this one’s out of your budget.

Yanagisawa Comparison

Now, I happen to play Yanagisawa saxophones for almost 20 years now. I have always had a slight preference for them compared to their Selmer made counterparts. I replaced my Mark VI tenor first with an older Yanagisawa T880, and then replaced that with a new Yanagisawa TWO2.

My latest saxophone acquisition is this beautiful Yanagisawa TWO33. It’s got a solid silver neck and bell with a brass body tube and bow. Mine was custom engraved but the standard version sells for just under $10,000 putting it in the same price class as the Supreme. Many people have been asking me to compare these 2 horns so let’s have a listen.

I was playing the same BetterSax Burnin’ mouthpiece and reed from earlier. That was a selection from my Melodic Etudes course on the ballad “The Nearness of You”. Check the description for a link to that course and let me know in the comments which of these saxophones you preferred.

When I recorded them, my impression was that the Yanagisawa was clearly better from the player’s perspective. One reason for this is that I prefer how it is setup from the factory. I haven’t changed a single thing about this horn since I got it a couple years ago. The action is quite a bit lighter than the Supreme, making it a lot easier to play. It also feels less resistant so it just plays extremely easily. Let’s put it this way, when recording, I always had to do multiple takes on the other horns to get one with no mistakes for you, but on this saxophone the first take was always perfect. There’s just nothing getting in my way which is what we want right?

If I was going to keep the Supreme and play on it, the first thing I would do is lighten up the action. That would make it much better suited to my personal playing preferences. Some people like their keys to have more resistance, I’m not one of them.

I also felt that the sound of the Yany was better. Again from the player’s perspective. However, I was a bit surprised to find that when I listen back to the recordings, I have to admit that I would give a slight edge to the sound and projection of the Supreme from the listener’s perspective. This is the sort of dilemma that keeps saxophone players up at night and can end up being very expensive.

Conclusion

Here’s my buying advice for whatever it’s worth. As always, you should be playing on a saxophone that you can afford, because there are tons of great inexpensive horns out there.

If you have the means to own an ultra high end instrument like the Supreme or a fully restored Mark VI and are trying to decide which to buy… If the price were the same, the rational choice is clearly to buy a Supreme.  It’s a better saxophone in every measurable way. However, if you are a more sentimental type, and really want that historical connection that only a vintage saxophone can offer, you won’t be happy without a Mark VI or SBA in your collection.

If you’re like me, the best situation (and most expensive one) is to be able to have your cake and eat it too. I kept my best Mark VI horn but play on better more modern saxophones. I have other vintage saxophones that I keep because I too like the connection to the history and playing on these old instruments is a little like channeling the past.

If you’re also like me, you want one of these Supremes because well, obviously right. It’s a saxophone. I’ve gone way beyond the number where anyone else in the house would notice one more. When it comes to acquiring new instruments, rationality goes out the window right?

I did put a link in the description for the Supreme so you can check availability from Sweetwater if you’re in the US and Thomann if you’re in the EU. I do know that they will have a certain limited amount in stock, and if you want to be one of the first to get your hands on a Supreme, you may want to pre-order because they will sell out fast.

The history of Selmer saxophones is fascinating. They have been innovating design changes for a century and you’re going to love this video where my friend John Leadbetter from JL Woodwinds helps me point out some of the many improvements Selmer made when transitioning from the SBA to the Mark VI.

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4 Comments

Don McBee says:

I do not have a question about the new Selmers, but about the Selmer Omega of the 1980″s and what you feel about them. They are marked Selmer USA so it is Pro model maded the USA.

Marcy Lyzun says:

Thanks for asking, Jay hasn’t tried that particular horn, but what’s most important is how it feels and plays for you.

"Saxophone Tall" (Jeffrey Newton) says:

I play-tested the Supreme Tenor today in Paris. My review will be out on YT soon……..

Jerry DeVivo says:

I received my Selmer Supreme on Oct 6 2023. I have one of the first 20 or so in the US. I paid in full and got in line back in June. After having my repairman loosen up the action and drill out the 8VA holes just a tiny bit , it is one of the most incredible playing horns Ive ever played. I’ve been playing tenor for 38 years and been playing professionally for 3 decades. I have a stellar 1956 Mark VI that is literally the best VI I ever played and the Supreme plays just as well and sounds absolutely AMAZING however is soooo very different that its like having two daughters with different yet beautiful personalities. I was going to sell it if I wasn’t crazy about it cuz the waiting lists are long and I would get my $10,700 back easily however I am not selling this horn for any amount of $. This Sax is special and Selmer definitely hit this one out of the park !!

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