Selmer Paris Supreme Alto Sax Review
Supreme – /so͞oˈprēm/
1: (of authority or an office, or someone holding it) superior to all others
2: highest in rank or authority
3: Ultimate, Final
We all generally know the definition of the word supreme and my purpose behind posting in at the start of this review has nothing to do with an English lesson. However I think the definition of this word is important to start out this review as it is a rather audacious statement from a manufacturer with such a storied history such as Selmer Paris to assign to a product. I know that the first time I heard it, I rolled my eyes and let out a sigh, fearing that this was just a marketing move.
Selmer Paris is effectively declaring that the Supreme is exactly as the definition implies; the Ultimate Selmer Alto Sax.
I guessing that many were like me in thinking this might be the worst marketing move since declaring the Mark VII a worthy successor to the Mark VI (not disparaging the Mark VII here as they are really better horns than they get credit for). The poster read: “For years, many of the world’s top saxophone players have regarded the Selmer (Paris) Mark VI as the ultimate. And they were right. Until now. Because now, there’s something even better. Introducing the Selmer (Paris) Mark VII.”
Hindsight is of course 20/20, but the general consensus of players is that the Mark VII was not a worthy successor than the Mark VI. So in a market where there are so many great products and options available to the customer, it is an insanely risky move to use this word as the branding of your new product. Bold moves like this can either reap great rewards or cause epic falls.
Obviously, I could wait until the end of the post to give you my verdict but I’m not going to tease you like that. I do believe the Supreme to be just that, the Ultimate Selmer Paris Alto Sax. So if you are satisfied with that, head on over to my product page for the Supreme Alto Sax and buy one! 🙂 However, I’m guessing you still want to know more so read on!
Update May 1, 2021 – Selmer was so pleased with the result of the Supreme and the artist feedback that they have now discontinued the Reference 54 alto sax. The Supreme effectively replaces it in their lineup. This make the current lineup of Selmer Paris alto saxes as follows: Axos, Super Action 80 Serie II, Serie III & Supreme.
Selmer says the Supreme has the best intonation on a Selmer saxophone ever. I found this to be one of the biggest claims that Selmer made with the Supreme that will resonate with players. Intonation is a relative thing as there is no such thing as an “in tune” saxophonists, so there cannot truly be an “in tune” sax! However, there are absolutely saxophones that players will find easier to play in tune than others. Other current production Selmer models (Super 80 Series II, Serie III, Reference 54, Axos) are all relatively in tune saxophones. As players, we learn to voice certain notes differently for optimal intonation but by in large, the intonation is on these models is largely acceptable.
Of course, there are other makers out there that are generally regarded to have better intonation than a Selmer, but with the trade off that they do not possess the same tonal qualities and performance as a Selmer. So the player must choose between the sound or the intonation. While these other saxophones are excellent instruments as well, they are not a Selmer and for the player who wants a Selmer and it’s iconic sound, that decision can be almost an unfair one to be forced to make.
With the Supreme, Selmer is now telling the player that they no longer have to make the decision of one or the other, but rather that they can truly have both.
So I asked a good friend of ours who is a “Selmer guy” (meaning he prefers Selmer sound) and is an exceptional player with a focus on classical saxophone to be my testing subject. He plays on a Series II Selmer and knows all of the voicing tricks for that horn. He too was standoffish about the marketing aspect of this superior intonation claim, being biased by decades of dealing with Selmer intonation.
Verdict – True!
This is absolutely true. I will admit that we were both pretty floored by this but the truth is simple, the Selmer Supreme possesses intonation stability the likes that a Selmer has never seen! The saxophone plays easily and effortless in tune without the need for the traditional voicing. Granted there are still certain notes on the Supreme, just like the best in tune saxes, that will need to be voiced due to the acoustic bore of the instrument (the curvature of the bow and its impact on E & D). Combine this with the previously stated fact that there is no such thing as an in tune saxophonist as well… but, the Selmer Supreme was remarkably supreme in its intonation stability throughout the horn.
This drastically improved intonation means that the player no longer has to choose between Selmer sound or intonation. That’s an amazing reality for many musicians from the college player to the top end professional. This allows them to simply play the horn with less focus on manipulating the horn.
Selmer’s iconic sound is the reason that players seek out the Selmer brand. Saxophone players have started to define brands & models of saxophones as better for one style of music or another based on their experience, their teacher’s experience or what they read online (which is always reliable, right?!). Branding a make or model of saxophone as a “classical” sax or a “jazz” sax is a fundamental mistake. In reality, these differentiations are more impacted by mouthpiece rather than the sax.
I have seen many times in the industry where a manufacturer has to re-design or re-release a product in order to directly combat consumer misconception. While there is truth that some models can be less favorable to a playing style or technique, overall the perception that consumers build is tough to overcome once it is there even if it is not entirely valid.
With the Supreme, Selmer came out immediately declaring that this saxophone is neither a classical or jazz saxophone but simply the Supreme, ultimate saxophone for any playing style. Their release video (which you can find embedded at the end of this review) had a complimentary yet dueling pair of saxophonists playing in harmony with each other but both playing completely different styles. On one side a player is playing a more symphonic and technical piece and on the other, a more jazz focused piece. These pieces formed a rather beautiful synergy together and through it, both players were playing on the Supreme.
The idea is that they are telling you that the Supreme is for all styles. One of the comments on the YouTube video summed it up perfectly with the statement: “This video single handedly ended segregation of classical and jazz saxophone players” (Parker Button).
The Supreme is fully capable of any musical repertoire. It possesses a rich tone throughout all of the ranges and at all dynamic levels. The tone is not bright nor dark, but possesses brilliance and warmth. There is remarkable clarity up and down the range of the instrument evoking the feeling of true balance throughout the entirety of the instrument. This is truly a remarkable achievement for Selmer to achieve this while still staying true to the “Selmer Sound”.
Along with the improved intonation and balance introduced, Selmer has made several smart changes mechanically on the Supreme alto sax.
New Neck & Tenon
Selmer has incorporated one of the absolutely smartest redesigns in the neck and specifically, the neck tenon. In lieu of the traditional neck tenon that has one point of adjustment, Selmer has incorporated a 3 concentric point tenon. There are 3 slots in the tenon that through the use of a free-floating nickel-silver tightening band is able to more evenly secure the neck in the horn. This gives a more solid feel and in theory, better vibration transfer from the neck to the body while providing the ultimate stability.
The neck is also reamed at the initial opening after the neck is manufactured to ensure that every Supreme neck has a precise diameter at the start of the acoustic tube. While we were testing the saxophone for intonation, we also tested the Supreme’s neck on to the body of a Series II and found it to be quite a nice addition while seeming to help stabilize pitch in the altissimo of the horn. These necks will be available after market as well.
Redesigned C# Correction Mechanism
Introduced on the Serie III alto, the C# correction concept is once again employed on the Selmer Paris Supreme Alto Sax. However, instead of the 1 tone hole on the back of the mechanism, this has been redesigned to be in line with the rest of the tone holes on the body tube for a more natural sound perception for the musician. This is also a much simpler mechanism than the Serie III counterpart making it easier to adjust for your technician.
Both of these are very solid improvements in design. While I would love to see all of these make their way down to the other models in the Selmer line, I hope that Selmer will at least incorporate the 3 point neck tenon in to their other instruments.
As I said at the start of the review, calling the new saxophone the Supreme was an audacious move. However, I believe that they succeeded in making what is the overall “supreme” Selmer Paris alto sax. For the player that wants it all, the Supreme might just be the final answer they have been looking for.