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Discussion Starter · #1 ·
A Selmer Super Action 80 Series II has been my primary alto, or at least my indoor season alto, for the last three years. (My outdoor season alto is a Yanagisawa A990µB.) I enjoy many things about the horn, especially the sound, but since I'm basically a Yanagisawa guy, I've wondered whether a Series III might be the better Selmer for me -- a similar French core sound, but with less work. Last week I finally pulled the trigger after finding a beautiful used Jubilee Series III alto on eBay for about one-third of the new price. The fact that it's black lacquer is a bonus for me (I have two black Yanys).

I intend to keep both the Series II and the Series III for a longer-than-usual comparison test. I doubt that I will retain both indefinitely, since I don't need three altos, and these are expensive horns as well. From time to time, I will add comments to this thread, as I reach conclusions about different aspects of the two horns. Descriptions of sound quality probably will come near the end, because I want to reserve judgment until I've spent enough time to understand the Series III.

My Series II is a pre-Jubilee horn from about 2000-2001, in regular lacquer. It's in superb, almost flawless condition (was a "closet queen" when I bought it). In my comments, I'll try to be careful to distinguish between Series II vs. Series III differences and pre-Jubilee vs. Jubilee differences.

Side note: I'm really lucky to have such a great tech situation here. The Series III arrived on Friday; my initial play test and inspection revealed some obvious fix-up needs, including a missing screw in the bow-to-body joint (how does that happen?). I took the sax to the shop on Saturday afternoon. I picked it up the following Friday evening, with all leaks fixed, keys properly aligned, pads refloated as needed, etc.

1. Aesthetics. This is more a Jubilee/pre-Jubilee issue, and a lacquer choice issue, than a Series II/Series III issue. Series II and Series III horns with the same finish look very similar, and the Jubilee changes seem to have been implemented in the same way on both models. The finish on my pre-Jubilee Series II is wonderful, though it's very yellow, and the engraving is excellent, if rather traditional. The Jubilee engraving on the Series III is like virtually nothing else out there -- truly eye-catching. The black lacquer shows it off more than any other finish. The Series III keywork is a darker gold than the natural brass shade of the Series II. The color combination on the Series III is actually quite similar to that of my Yany A990µB.

2. Thumb gear. The Series II has glossy black plastic thumb pieces; the Series III has brass pieces. Both seem quite comfortable to me. I had no problems moving from one set to the other when I changed horns. Perhaps the metal is stronger; my Yany started out with a plastic thumb rest and a plastic thumb hook, but the hook is now a replacement brass piece because the plastic thumb hook cracked when the horn took a whack. (My snowboard binding chassis and plates are aluminum rather than the plastic or nylon that many manufacturers use. The slogan of the brand is, "Aluminum for a reason." It is true that the freakin' things never bend or break.)

However, I don't understand Selmer's approach to thumb gear. When Yanagisawa moved from the 900µ/990µ lineup to the 901/991 models, all the horns were upgraded to brass thumb pieces. In contrast, the Series II still has a plastic thumb rest and a plastic thumb hook; the Series III has a metal thumb rest and a metal thumb hook; and the Ref. 54 alto has a plastic thumb rest but a metal thumb hook! Why, Henri, why?

3. Necks. The Jubilee octave key on the Series III is simpler and lighter. It lacks the two little guide posts near the octave vent and the "wings" on both sides of the Selmer insignia that fold over to hold the hinges. Speaking of the insignia, the new background color is described by Selmer as "deep blue," but it looks black. My tech agreed. In fact, we thought that maybe it was black, to correspond to the black lacquer on the horn, in the same way that the Firebird Ref. 54 altos had a red background. But no -- there was a Jubilee Series II in gold lacquer in the store, and it had the same black-blue color. Personally, I prefer the old royal blue, which was virtually a "Selmer blue." It's more distinctive.

Jubilee changes aside, the Series III neck is lighter, with a shorter and thinner bracing element along the bottom, and no triangular badge above the tenon. The Series III neck is also slightly longer, I found. This requires the mouthpiece to be pushed in farther when tuning. The Series III tenon, however, is bit smaller. My Series II neck is well-fitted to the Series II socket. The Series III neck is well-fitted to the Series III socket. The net result is that the Series II neck does not fit into the Series III socket, and the Series III neck remains loose and spinny in the Series II socket even after the screw is fully tightened. I don't buy the claim that contemporary Selmer alto necks can easily be moved from one model horn to another. (I had another experience with a Series III neck in the past that yielded a similar result.)

4. Open C#. The extra vent for C# on the Series III really does work! When C2 is perfectly in-tune on my Series II, C#2 is about 20 cents flat. I find this flatness noticeable on all but the fastest passages; to compensate, I normally play C#2 with the addition of the RH side C key. This brings up the pitch to an acceptable level. Using that extra key plus extreme "lipping up" can cover the whole distance, but that's not workable for me in most playing. This is not a defect in my horn, but rather a Series II characteristic. Selmer obviously recognized that, because the extra vent on the Series III does much the same thing to correct the open C# pitch as my addition of the side key on the Series II. This particular fix is a winner.

That's enough for now.
 

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Thank you for your in depth review (and for what is to come!).
An other corrective fingering for a flat open C# is: octave key+3rd (ring) finger. So, you open the body octave pip ; it is too far from the optimal position to function as an octave vent but changes the tuning.
 

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Discussion Starter · #3 ·
Thank you for your in depth review (and for what is to come!).
An other corrective fingering for a flat open C# is: octave key+3rd (ring) finger. So, you open the body octave pip ; it is too far from the optimal position to function as an octave vent but changes the tuning.
Is that the LH or RH third finger? I will try that and see how it tunes, but it sounds a little trickier to execute than my alternate fingering, which adds just one finger.
 

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It's the LH third finger. Its function is indeed to switch from the neck octave pip to the body octave pip (recall that you also press the octave key).
 

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
5. Cases. This is not a Series II vs. Series III comparison, but I thought I'd mention it anyway, because so many people buy used Selmers. The decision of which model year to purchase may be influenced by the case that comes with the sax (of course you can buy a different case later, but Selmer cases are expensive). Selmer Paris altos and tenors from the late 20th century and the early 21st century, like my Series II, were sold in the United States with the "Vanguard" case. This is a black, rectangular, two-latch hard case with the Selmer USA version of the "Selmer" logo in gold letters on the side. It comes with a nice black vinyl zippered case cover, also with "Selmer" in gold. The case cover has a zippered pocket on the back that can be used for holding some sheet music, but nothing more bulky than that. The case has two handles, but no straps of any kind. The internal storage area next to the horn is fairly large. The space for the neck is a simple triangular pocket, not a form-fitting compartment. The Vanguard case is super-study, but also very heavy. If you want to haul around an alto that feels like a tenor, this is the storage system for you. The Vanguard case also has a slightly annoying (to me) little bridge that spans the top of the space for the saxophone's neck socket, where the neck plug fits. I suppose this piece is intended to help keep the horn firmly in its pocket, but it also forces the sax to be inserted socket end first, rather than bow & bell first. Taking the sax out requires the process to be reversed -- you can't just lift it straight up.

Newer Selmers, like my Series III, come in a more modern "Light" case, finished in Cordura and vinyl, that I would describe as a rounded trapezoid. It's neither a pure rectangle nor a true contoured case. The Henri Selmer logo is embossed on the side. The case includes two cushioned handles, as well as backpack straps. There is also an extra outside storage compartment that can hold mouthpieces and similar gear. The Light case uses a heavy zipper, rather than latches. This is a cause of concern for me, because I think of a zipper as more likely to fail in the long run than ordinary latches, but time will tell. There is a locking mechanism for the zipper, but I haven't fiddled with that yet. Inside, there is plenty of dense, well-shaped foam padding, including a form-fitting neck compartment. The internal storage compartment is smaller than the Vanguard's, but is adequate, especially when you consider the extra outside compartment. Like most saxophone cases, the Selmer Light case has small legs to hold it either horizontally or vertically. Because of the case's odd shape and relatively low weight, it feels a little less stable when placed vertically than the monolithic Vanguard case. But that's a small price to pay for a strong case that is very "luggable," and therefore player-friendly.
 

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5. Cases.

Newer Selmers, like my Series III, come in a more modern "Light" case, finished in Cordura and vinyl, that I would describe as a rounded trapezoid. It's neither a pure rectangle nor a true contoured case. The Henri Selmer logo is embossed on the side. The case includes two cushioned handles, as well as backpack straps. There is also an extra outside storage compartment that can hold mouthpieces and similar gear. The Light case uses a heavy zipper, rather than latches. This is a cause of concern for me, because I think of a zipper as more likely to fail in the long run than ordinary latches, but time will tell.
I used to feel that way about zippered cases as well, then noticed that most modern zipperer cases use the "self-healing" design (continuous polymer coil), rather than the metal-toothed zippers that more commonly fail. I currently have BAM and TenorMadness cases with zippers, and have no concerns with their performance.
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
I used to feel that way about zippered cases as well, then noticed that most modern zipperer cases use the "self-healing" design (continuous polymer coil), rather than the metal-toothed zippers that more commonly fail. I currently have BAM and TenorMadness cases with zippers, and have no concerns with their performance.
That's an interesting tidbit, and rather reassuring. Thanks. It's good to know that a mechanism as simple and as old as the zipper can still be improved, especially since improvement was needed.
 

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..........However, I don't understand Selmer's approach to thumb gear. When Yanagisawa moved from the 900µ/990µ lineup to the 901/991 models, all the horns were upgraded to brass thumb pieces. In contrast, the Series II still has a plastic thumb rest and a plastic thumb hook; the Series III has a metal thumb rest and a metal thumb hook; and the Ref. 54 alto has a plastic thumb rest but a metal thumb hook! Why, Henri, why?
Personally, I prefer the plastic thumb rests. They are more comfortable over long periods of playing, particularly on soprano. They weigh less (OK, tiny difference) and they fractionally change the feel of the right-hand tones - IMHO. I changed all my S3s to plastic.
 

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Personally, I prefer the plastic thumb rests. They are more comfortable over long periods of playing, particularly on soprano. They weigh less (OK, tiny difference) and they fractionally change the feel of the right-hand tones - IMHO. I changed all my S3s to plastic.
I don't remember noticing any tonal difference when I switched to a brass thumb hook on my Yany alto, although I didn't conduct a rigorous comparison. I do recall that Yanagisawa touted an alleged benefit when it moved its whole line to brass thumb pieces, but I think most people scoffed at that.

I would still love to know Selmer's reasoning. It produces three top-line altos, with three different styles of thumb gear. Why? What benefits to players does Selmer believe it is providing? How are the different horn models enhanced by these choices?
 

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
6. Ergonomics. The Series II alto's ergonomics are generally good. The key size and spacing are fine, and the action is good (though the latter is adjustable anyway). The pearls are amazingly comfortable. In fact, I'll say that the pearls on my Series II are the best I've ever encountered, although I suppose this quality could be a single-horn fluke. They remind me a little of the big pearls on the Keilwerth soprano I used to play, although they are not ringless. The only major ergonomic issue with the horn is the positioning of the RH side keys. In my opinion, this arrangement crosses the line from "something you need to get used to" to "something you need to fix." The keys are very low, i.e., close to the tube, and the set is not inclined upward at all, meaning that the high E key is a real reach. I used rubber side key risers for a while, and they were adequate, but not optimal. The soft, slightly mushy feel is not what I prefer, and the risers tend to slide a bit even when fastened with adhesive. Eventually, I installed a set of Oleg metal side key risers, which are pricey, but preserve the proper feeling of saxophone keys.

Just as it fixed the C# problem, the Series III has fixed the RH side key problem. The keys sit slightly higher, and incline nicely toward the high E. I don't think they are quite the equal of Yanagisawa's side keys (the gold standard?), but they are very good, and require no add-ons for me, and little personal adjusting. Elsewhere, the Series III ergonomics are extremely similar to those of the Series II, but with an occasional subtle change. The RH Eb/C keys are slightly smaller. The same applies to the LH table keys -- just a touch of streamlining has been applied. The excellent palm keys are about the same. The pearls are great, if not quite at the outstanding level of the Series II pearls. The action is tight. Somehow the cumulative effect, for me, is make the Series III feel like a slightly slicker, more nimble instrument. It just seems easier to get around on. The difference is small, but noticeable.

It's well-known that Yamaha and Yanagisawa closely copied Selmer saxophones, particularly the Mark VI, in their early manufacturing days. The Series III alto's ergonomics suggest that Selmer has returned the favor a bit. It's still very much a Selmer Paris horn, and is not an outright copy of anything, but I do get the feeling that Selmer accepted some Japanese design influence with respect to the ergos. If you asked Selmer to build a sax that would appeal to Yamaha and Yany owners while still sounding like a Selmer, I think the Series III would be the result.
 

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I recall that a persistent comment that the III was considerably brighter in tone than the II. Do you have a similar sense?
 

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Discussion Starter · #12 ·
I recall that a persistent comment that the III was considerably brighter in tone than the II. Do you have a similar sense?
I'm saving the discussion of tone for last because it's something the player can learn to shape heavily, and it also depends a lot on one's setup, which calls for experimentation. Right now (after playing the Series III at a gig for the first time yesterday), I can say this: Brighter? Yes. Considerably? No.
 

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I'm saving the discussion of tone for last because it's something the player can learn to shape heavily, and it also depends a lot on one's setup, which calls for experimentation. Right now (after playing the Series III at a gig for the first time yesterday), I can say this: Brighter? Yes. Considerably? No.
Understood.

Thank you,

George
 

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Discussion Starter · #14 ·
7. Intonation. The biggest intonational difference between the Series II and the Series III is the open C#, as discussed in the OP in this thread. I should add that the special C# venting on the Series III to correct flatness does not apply to C#3. When you press the octave key, an extra mechanism closes the C# vent. Aside from that, the two horns are pretty similar. The worst notes on both models are middle D and low Bb, both of which can be 15-20 cents sharp. Low Bb may be slightly sharper on the Series III, although mouthpiece choice will have an impact here. Low B and C are better. A2 is pretty good on both horns. I think that the palm keys, especially Eb3 and above, are a bit more in tune on the Series III, perhaps because the neck design allows all these notes to speak more freely in the first place. You are almost never tempted into any biting or oversqueezing to get them out. All in all, when the horns are best in tune with themselves, the occasional problem areas are characterized by sharpness rather than flatness (C#2 aside; and I guess the side C2 fingering is also flat). Considering how far I normally have to push in the mouthpiece, especially on the Series III with its apparent extra cervical vertebra, this is not surprising.
 

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
8. Responsiveness/resistance. We're now addressing a characteristic that is heavily impacted by both the choice of gear (mouthpiece and reed; the ligature may have an effect, but if so it's much smaller) and the horn's setup. I believe both my Series II and my Series III are well-regulated and pretty leak-free, but no horn is perfect, and players are different. One person's "play through it" air dribble could be another person's unwanted extra octave vent.

I've tried many different mouthpieces on the Series II over the years. On the Series III, I've mostly played the Selmer Concept and the Vandoren Optimum AL5, with quick experiments with the Selmer Larry Teal and the Phil-Tone Solstice. The reeds have been Legere Signatures and various Forestones. Since I'm already familiar with the feel of all this complementary gear, I think I can separate out the horn's contributions to the overall playing experience fairly well. (E.g., Forestones are great at the top but can be a little more difficult at the bottom end. Signatures have the opposite bias, and often can be sluggish on the palm keys.) But of course there always will be ways to tinker with your setup to change the feel of a sax; it's just that these measures may have undesirable side effects on tone and perhaps intonation.

Generally, the Series III is slightly more immediately responsive -- less resistant -- than the Series II. The III is perhaps not quite as free-blowing as my Yanagisawa, but it's definitely more like the Yany than the Series II is. The modest difference in resistance can be felt up and down the horn except on the bell key notes. At the very bottom, I'd say the two Selmers are about the same, or the Series II may be a bit more eager to push out the notes (perhaps because it has a very slightly larger bore?). By the way, I find that the "wine cork in bell" method helps to stabilize the bottom notes on both horns, especially low C and B natural. The resistance difference is most pronounced at the top end. The palm key notes, especially Eb/D# and up, are noticeably easier and fuller on the Series III. The front F pops out very well regardless of setup, whereas on the Series II this note is very dependent, for me, on the choice of mouthpiece and reed. On the III, a C-F tremolo is virtually never a problem; on the II, see if it works, and if not, try a different setup.
 

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I owned one of the first serie iii altos. Unfortunately, it was stolen. I still remember the serial number! Anyway, I’m started out as a pretty bright horn. The, it got a lot warmer. My teachers at the time noticed a big difference within a few months. They couldn’t believe the change, neither could I.
 

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Discussion Starter · #17 ·
I owned one of the first serie iii altos. Unfortunately, it was stolen. I still remember the serial number! Anyway, I'm started out as a pretty bright horn. The, it got a lot warmer. My teachers at the time noticed a big difference within a few months. They couldn't believe the change, neither could I.
What was your explanation for that phenomenon? Do you think that you trained yourself to blow differently in order to produce the type of sound you preferred? What did your teacher say?
 

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My teacher for classical at the time thought that the metal had started to vibrate and different way after a prolonged period. He definitely blows into the horn the same way and noticed that the horn way darker. I’ve heard other players talk about the series 3 producing a darker tone after a few months of playing. That is, of course, if you buy them brand new. I have not heard the same about the tenors, though.
 

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Discussion Starter · #19 ·
My teacher for classical at the time thought that the meadow had started to vibrate and different way after a prolonged period. He definitely blows into the horn the same way and noticed that the horn way darker. I've heard other players talk about the series 3 producing a darker tone after a few months of playing. That is, of course, if you buy them brand new. I have not heard the same about the tenors, though.
Meadow? Do you mean metal? If so, that doesn't sound plausible to me. Vibrations of the saxophone tube don't audibly contribute to the sound of a saxophone, which is made by a vibrating air column, and in any event it's hard to see how brass could get "broken in" enough to change the tone after a couple of months of playing. I could see the pads becoming broken in (slightly softer?) after a while, but I don't know whether that change would audibly affect the tone of the instrument. Perhaps. In any event, I bought my Series III used, so presumably any "ripening" to be expected of this horn occurred before I purchased it. :)
 

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Meadow? Do you mean metal? If so, that doesn't sound plausible to me. Vibrations of the saxophone tube don't audibly contribute to the sound of a saxophone, which is made by a vibrating air column, and in any event it's hard to see how brass could get "broken in" enough to change the tone after a couple of months of playing. I could see the pads becoming broken in (slightly softer?) after a while, but I don't know whether that change would audibly affect the tone of the instrument. Perhaps. In any event, I bought my Series III used, so presumably any "ripening" to be expected of this horn occurred before I purchased it. :)
Yes, metal.. I did have Mike Hammer set it up. I'm sure that had something to do with it.
 
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