Référence Rules!
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I.A.J.E. Jan 2005

All text and images on this site copyright saxforte (2003)

I've played on both Référence 36 and Référence 54 horns and I own a 1958 Mark VI as well as a Serie III tenor. Frankly, I believe that the Mark VI is overrated and the subject of much sentimentality. It's why I keep my Mark VI, but I play both the Référence and Serie III horns. Meanwhile, Mark VI sits in the closet.

Here are my observations...  The Serie III tenors are brighter than the Mark VI and Référence horns. The 36 plays identically to the 54 which is, in turn, a little darker than the Mark VI. This is less apparent in the upper register and more apparent in the low register, especially below low E.

All 3 of these are darker than the Serie III which cuts through better, at the expense of tonal complexity which some like and some do not. Typically, straight ahead jazz players prefer the older horns and the new Référence horns while blues and rock players prefer the Serie III horns. At this point it really is a matter of taste. Selmer recommend Serie III horns for classical players, but I like them for blues where their slight edge and focused sound helps cut through.

All 3 horns play easier and somewhat louder, for the same effort, than the Mark VI. But the Référence horns are truly outstanding in this regard. Bottom end sub tones are effortlessly produced.

Both Référence horns employ Serie III keywork and the same modified keys that mimic the classic horns. The fact that Selmer has decided to stick with modern Serie III keywork tells you something about the reliability of it. The small changes that are made to the Référence horns are mostly for cosmetic / sentimental reasons. They are:

  • Alternate high F left hand key in mother of pearl versus metal
  • High D and E, left hand palm keys are closer to the body of the instrument and just like the Mark VI and Balanced Action horns.
  • Low B-flat sliding screw adjustment not present. Adjustment is performed by bending the metal tab under the key as has been done for decades.
  • Body to bell brace made of circular cross-section material

The neck angle of the Référence horns is identical to the Mark VI saxophones. Serie III necks terminate higher. i.e. you'll need to lower your neck strap when switching to a Serie III from a Référence horn or Mark VI. All of these saxophones can be played sitting or standing.

Cosmetic options are not available on Référence horns. They are only offered in one configuration each. Serie III saxophones are available in a wide variety of finishes. Certain Serie III versions are available without decorative engraving.

The 36 has an engraved bell while the 54 has a plain bell. Serie III saxophones are available both engraved and non-engraved (Clear lacquered, Matte lacquered and Silver-plated finishes only). 

The 36 has a polished brass body covered by a wonderful warm rose gold lacquer reminiscent of the old horns. Serie III clear lacquered horns use a clear lacquer over polished brass that produces a lighter colored appearance than the Reference 36. 

The 54 is antiqued with a process that darkens the entire body to a dark brown. Then it is brushed (not polished), intentionally leaving parts of the horn dark. This process is followed with a bronze color matte surfaced  lacquer. The result leaves dark places in corners and less accessible places and creates a faux patina over the entire body. Overall the 54 has an antiqued (but not old) appearance. It's unique and you'll either love it or hate it.

Finally, but not insignificantly, Référence horns, cost somewhat more than Serie III tenors. Are they worth it? Well, only you can judge that. However, this quote from an e-mail I received tends to sum it up:

"Describing the experience of playing a 54 in an email is a little dumb. I'm a poet by nature and I can't find the words."

Detailed information on the
Référence 36 Tenor Saxophone

Photos of the
Référence 36 Tenor Saxophone

Detailed information on the
Référence 54 Tenor Saxophone

Photos of the
Référence 54 Tenor Saxophone

Click here for the saxƒorte take on
Mark VI versus Serie III versus Référence tenor saxophones

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Référence Tenor Saxophone Page

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Available Saxophones
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