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The $12,500 Selmer Paris Alto Clarinet (2021)

Gandalfe

Admin and all around good guy.
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Here's a fascinating, well to me anyway, discussion and dissection of this new alto clarinet:
www.youtube.com/watch?v=5_dmJvcubrE

Earspasm Music is one of my favorite Youtube explainers. With 49.6K subscribers, apparently he is interesting to others too. He sez, "Thanks to Selmer for sending me a professional Alto Clarinet. (Now, that does beg the question: are there professional alto clarinetists?! People get paid to play this thing??)"
 
Man Selmer needs to relax. Don't get me wrong I love Selmer but I definitely think they need to work on some stuff. The pricing on selmer horns are crazy! I know they're great horns but almost 13 grand for a alto clarinet? As mentioned in the video the horn hasn't really had a redesign in a looonnggg time. I'm not a fan of selmers if it ain't broke don't fix it attitude. Now let me say this now. I am no pro by any means and I'm just stating my opinion. I know a lot of you selmer heads will be at my throat for this but it's just my opinion. Selmer is a great company but a little overhyped.
Thanks
Dan
 

Helen

Content Expert Saxophones
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Man Selmer needs to relax. Don't get me wrong I love Selmer but I definitely think they need to work on some stuff. The pricing on selmer horns are crazy! I know they're great horns but almost 13 grand for a alto clarinet? As mentioned in the video the horn hasn't really had a redesign in a looonnggg time. I'm not a fan of selmers if it ain't broke don't fix it attitude. Now let me say this now. I am no pro by any means and I'm just stating my opinion. I know a lot of you selmer heads will be at my throat for this but it's just my opinion. Selmer is a great company but a little overhyped.
Thanks
Dan
@pete Want to take this? I'll start with a few introductory comments and then let you carry on if you wish.

Dan, you are certainly entitled to your opinion. No one is taking that away from you. Many others will agree that Selmer is over-hyped. Over the years I have come to realize though, those people are players who do not own a Selmer Paris horn.

Yes, new Selmer Paris horns are expensive. So are Powell flutes, Keilwerth saxophones, Buffet clarinets, Backun clarinets, and Fox bassoons. (And there are many, many more types and makes I could name.)

What all these instruments have in common are they are true, professional level instruments. This means they are built by pros, for pros, for pro-level use. With proper care and maintenance, they are built to last a lifetime+ of pro-level use.

Selmer is interesting b/c unlike some brands of musical instruments, certain types and models of their instruments have actually appreciated considerably over time. (Most notably their BA, SBA, and Mark VI saxophones come to mind, but even certain clarinet models are very much still in demand and can fetch top $$ if in fine condition.)

As far as what you describe as Selmer's "if it ain't broke, don't fix it attitude", that is not entirely true. With regards to saxophones, don't forget the wildly successful Mark VI--which introduced a flurry of new features many of which are still used on saxophones to this day--was replaced by the Mark VII, which was hated by players pretty much immediately.

This strong dislike by players caused Selmer to start the R&D into the S80 Series I, which led to the II and III we have today. Then of course we have the Reference 36 & 54 horns which have tried to capture the essence of their vintage horns. Again, R&D went into these. Then of course we have the 8 years that just went into their newest series of saxophone.

I am not familiar enough with the rest of the instruments that Selmer produces to write intelligently on those, so I'll limit my comments to saxophones. My point is simply this: Selmer has been the primary innovator when it comes to saxophone features over the past 100 years. Yes, other manufacturers have contributed as well, and those manufacturers' contributions have not been insignificant. However, there is a reason that most cheap, Chinese knock-off horns tend to look like some version of a Selmer.
 
Part of the quality or a product is in its design. While I totally love his playing. What he says about the side keys is clearly true, it is really poor design. You can also hear him making the tuning work. As a repairer for a long time the quality of a lot of "pro horns' is very variable. You see a lot of variations in tuning on clarinets and while cannot say I have worked on this model alto there seems to be an acceptace in clarinets and more so in alto clarinets to let the tuning be a little less than it should be. He does an amazing job with a horn that I will put my 1970 leblanc alto up against. Maybe the Slemer design is a little older than 30-40 years. Its sad as mentioned earlier the MK VI turned saxophone design on its head. In our current age of of CAD assisted design and incredible computer aids the Selmer Alto clarinet is an antique
 

pete

Brassica Oleracea
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I'll start by saying that I'm really surprised that that there aren't Chinese or Taiwanese knock-offs named "Slemer." As far as I know, at least.

Hey, Dan. How ya doin'? I'll address a bit more on clarinet.

Anyhow, there are extremely few orchestral parts that call for alto clarinet. Most of the time, when you see an alto clarinet part in a high school band or community band, it's going to be doubling some other instrument. I'm pretty sure that Selmer realizes this. Simple supply and demand: you want a new professional-level alto clarinet? Well, you've got your Yamaha YCL-631 at $7K, the Selmer at $12K, and the Buffet at $14K. I'd also be surprised if Yamaha, Selmer, and Buffet, combined, produce more than a few thousand alto clarinets a year. It might even be just a few hundred. Also, remember that the unpopular pitches of clarinets (usually) get the updates found on a Bb soprano last. So, it might take the unpopular professional alto clarinet a few years to get the same updates.

Note that the reviewer is a rather big-name player and professor (IIRC). He's a bit of a Selmer fanboy -- which he should be, because he's got a $15K Selmer bass clarinet and a bunch of other high-end custom Selmers -- but he's given some very fair reviews on rather inexpensive horns, too, like the Kessler bass.

Selmer has tried lots of interesting clarinet designs over the years. Off the top of my head, take a look at the Marchi System clarinet. There's also the Mazzeo System. I might as well just link Selmer's article.

I think Yamaha's presence in the clarinet market has helped a lot. They keep improving their soprano clarinets and that forces Selmer and Buffet to keep up.

In any case, the major problem I have with Selmer's pricing is on their saxophones. They've been competing with themselves in the used market. Not just with their Mark VI, but with used Super Action 80s, and their Reference horns. Those horns lose their value very quickly. I'm more likely to pick up a $4600 Reference 54 open box from a reputable dealer than buy a new Reference 54 for $6900.

FWIW and, obviously, IMO, the horn that "turned saxophone design on its head" is the Super (Balanced) Action. It's mainly the keywork design, not the bore improvements. I also think you could successfully argue that the design that launched a thousand ships is the Balanced Action.

Finally, I should say that I have no particular allegiance to any make/model. I generally recommend people get used Yamaha saxophones and clarinets because they're good value. I really enjoyed playing Selmer Mark VI saxophones and I liked my Selmer clarinets. That doesn't mean that I think you "have to" buy one or you're not a pro.
 
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pete

Brassica Oleracea
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And, interestingly enough, I wrote the above before watching the video. The reviewer hit most of the things related to clarinet that I mentioned. I'm just that good :D.
 
While in a different time and place I am happy to talk about saxophones. This thread appears to be about alto clarinets. The fundamental design of the $12,500 alto clarinet is simply dated. The keywork as shown in the youtube video is short as commented upon. The tuning is questionable and it definitely aint the player. If the horn comes out of a decent shop the horns are usually set-up before being provided to the player. Given that this guy is a sensational player, likely a Selmer artist, playing and promoting Selmer's smoking hot black bass. Is this really the best Selmer has for an alto clarinet? If so they need to start again and get it together. 50 or so years between updates is a long time between drinks.
 

pete

Brassica Oleracea
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1. We make only 20 to 30 alto clarinets because there's no demand
2. There's no demand because there aren't any alto clarinet parts
3. We'd upgrade the tooling if we had more orders
4. Go back to step 1

He has a black soprano clarinet, too :D.

If I was running Selmer, I'd look at it as, "Hmm. Selling 20 to 30 horns per year. Let's hold off that tooling update again. We could spend the money we're saving on the alto clarinet tooling on the corporate yacht," or whatever.

Turning it around a bit, you could always search for a Selmer alto clarinet that is anyplace from 20 to 50 years old and you'd save a bundle off new. Or buy the Yamaha, which has a design that's less than 50 years old. IDK how old the Buffet design is.
 
1. We make only 20 to 30 alto clarinets because there's no demand
True enough from what it seems
Funnily I would guess that the figure for Basset horns might be not much more than this number, yet the horns are definitely better, hmmm I wonder why? My guess is that alto clarinets aren't in orchestras, so the care factor drops away.

2. There's no demand because there aren't any alto clarinet parts
(likely you mean sheet music here) Most bands I have played contain a percentage of parts from my experience over 50% of the charts have alto parts. I have mainly played in orchestras so I do this silly stuff for fun.
It is not a great quality rationale for turning out a $12,500K horn that has less than ideal key design and poor tuning.

3. We'd upgrade the tooling if we had more orders
Totally understand the money driver, so if it is not a cutting edge horn and a hack instrument that has not had a good going over in the last maybe 50 years it should not be $12,500K, as very old and out of date tooling and tuning is being applied
Keywork
At this level of instrument I believe Selmer would manufacture their own parts. A progressive upgrade to e.g. lengthen the four side key would be a relatively straight forward tooling exercise, for this level of horn this is just laziness and profit gouging.
I haven't played this particular horn so I cant comment much beyond that.
My 50 year old Leblanc has had:
Front A key moved to the left
The G# key raised and moved to the left
Register key raised away from the body
Some of the trill keys angled down
Zero tooling cost
This is a simple example of relatively minor (Free) adjustments that have improved the horn. Likely the Selmer might also benefit from a number of simple adjustments from the factory.

Tuning
From my experience most of the tuning problems in these levels of horns comes down to depending upon your believe, productivity. e.g. making the quota of horns per day or laziness. Having tuned and voiced horns for a long while, most problems can be drastically improved over what they come from the factory as.
Buffet has a relatively famous example with one of there basset horns from a while ago

Simply premium dollar for a second string horn cant be justified.

4. Go back to step 1
Having been involved in designs of many product most have had progressive upgrades over the last 50 years. I don't know many companies that would get away with this dated approach and survive nowadays. My simple answer would be, go out and buy an old Leblanc alto from the 70's, clean it up, tune and voice it, a bit of replating, move some keys around and save about $10K. Just about finished my re-build as described. Bizarrely tuning wise it is likely the most in tune horn I know own, contrary to the belief about these horns. The 50 year old Leblanc's would leave the Selmer squeaker for dead.
 
My Leblanc Basset horn and my alto are from the mid 70s. When I got the basset (which was just about in brand new condition) it played very nicely in tune with definite room for improvement. The alto was well flogged and required much more work and tuning work, I spent about 5 days tuning work on it. The reason for this thread was that the alto has now picked up tuning wise well past where I can get the basset horn to. If I remember the Selmer is a smaller bore and likley will have different tuning issues, again I have not worked on these horns, but the potential should be there. Maybe Adolphe Sax an extraordinairy designer would be rolling in his grave, as Selmer brought his factory.
 

pete

Brassica Oleracea
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Administrator
1. We make only 20 to 30 alto clarinets because there's no demand
True enough from what it seems
Funnily I would guess that the figure for Basset horns might be not much more than this number, yet the horns are definitely better, hmmm I wonder why? My guess is that alto clarinets aren't in orchestras, so the care factor drops away.

2. There's no demand because there aren't any alto clarinet parts
(likely you mean sheet music here) Most bands I have played contain a percentage of parts from my experience over 50% of the charts have alto parts. I have mainly played in orchestras so I do this silly stuff for fun.
It is not a great quality rationale for turning out a $12,500K horn that has less than ideal key design and poor tuning.
There are actual parts for basset horns, so the demand might actually be higher. This slides into the conversation about period instruments playing the part vs. modern instruments playing the parts and the timbre shift. That'd be more of an opinion piece.

I still think your "50%" number is mostly, "It doubles the <insert_instrument_here>." I don't mind someone trying to change my mind, though.
 
Hi Ya Pete,
Happy to concede 50% and doubling of parts etc, basset horns and historical performances on period instruments. The performance rate is not my real concern.
My real concern is that we are not focussing on a large multinational company that has had a strong history of turning out great product going back to the original Sax factory that they brought.
Selmer iIs providing a product that is well below standard. The only way to change that is focus on the need for improvement rather than find reasons it is acceptable.
I remember when I was working in a repair shop a now well know Taiwanese instrument make came into the shop to get our opinion on key design etc, a couple of months later they came back with a revised version, a couple of months later same thing. While I understand the different scales of production we are talking about here and also the far less that ideal iterative design process that was followed.
The point is they wanted to make it better, rather than as already mentioned go on a cruise on their yacht.
Selmer need to want to make it better, we as a group need them to make it better.
Thoughts?
 

pete

Brassica Oleracea
Staff member
Administrator
Selmer need to want to make it better, we as a group need them to make it better.
Count me out of that group :p. I've never had a pressing desire to play or buy an alto clarinet. If you go to the video, the guy says that if you want to rescue these things from obscurity, you need to whip up some support. Get one of those online petitions going! Send letters to Selmer.fr (better if you can get someone to transcribe the letter in French).
 
Hey I totally get the concept of an old French manufacturer turning out a second rate product by cashing in on their names, while they are out cruising the Mediterranean, sipping Crystal, I do it all the time myself.. My real concern is that as a group we are supporting that. Its like saying lets go back to 1970 drive a chevy that gets 7 miles per gallon, breaks down and rust, and we are better off. While I totally get if you don't want to spend 13K on an alto clarinet ( i wouldn't) i believe we should be saying they can reasonably do better.
 

pete

Brassica Oleracea
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My real concern is that as a group we are supporting that.
Again, I'm not part of that group, nor am I a part of that "we."

Get one of those online petitions going! Send letters to Selmer.fr (better if you can get someone to transcribe the letter in French).
I don't see you starting up a petition. If you do, by all means go ahead and post in the alto clarinet section. Heck, I'll even cross-post it for you.
 
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