review

Selmer Concept: alto saxophone mouthpiece

This review was published on: January 31st 2015
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Review by William Upton

You can spend as much as you like on an instrument, but unless you get the mouthpiece right, you won’t be getting a good return from your investment. It is no surprise then that most saxophonists endure a perpetual quest for the perfect mouthpiece. For those of us involved in classical music this search could be over for the time being at least, with the release of the Selmer PARIS ‘Concept’ for alto saxophone.

In the classical world, choice of mouthpiece has historically involved a trade-off between power, brightness, and flexibility of timbre on the one hand, and control on the other. As a general rule, the narrower the tip opening (the distance between the tip of the reed and the tip of the mouthpiece) the greater the consistency of timbre and ease of control, at the expense of projection. On learning that the Concept features a considerably narrower tip opening than any of the mouthpieces currently favoured by classical saxophonists (Selmer S80 and Soloist C*s, and Vandoren AL3s and V5s), you would be forgiven for thinking that this signalled a swing towards musical conservatism at the expense of excitement. Not so. The mouthpiece combines the best features of the AL3 – even response, ease of articulation, consistency of timbre, and a stable low register – with the more exciting, extrovert, and protean characteristics of the Soloist. The sound is incredibly focussed, vibrato is malleable, and Selmer have genuinely managed to even out the vagaries of intonation across registers. These observations hold true even when putting high volumes of air through the instrument in large ensemble and solo settings.

In terms of its design, the Concept eschews the square and arch shaped throats favoured in Selmer’s recent offerings in favour of a circle (used in the original Selmer Soloists of the 1940s), and the beak is longer, with a narrower profile at the tip resulting in a smaller ‘bite’.

Although Selmer are keen to tell us that the Concept belongs firmly within Selmer PARIS tradition, cosmetically it signals a major departure from both the Soloist – with its neo-classical styling – and the chunky, workmanlike S80. The Concept is distinctly ‘designer’, and while it may well have been ‘Inspired by the flowing lines of a water drop’ as Selmer put it, it looks more like something conceived in a wind tunnel, with its sweeping lines and aerodynamic profile. Saxophonists typically have something of a love-hate relationship with Selmer (more love than hate), regarding the inconsistencies of their products as quirks that go hand-in-hand with their unique qualities; from the Concept’s packaging – adorned with quasi-scientific diagrams – it is clear that Selmer are keen to transcend this image. They tell us that ‘ultimate digital manufacturing technology enables perfect reproducibility of the Concept’, and judging by the consistency of the examples I tested there might well be some substance to this. In mouthpiece manufacture, hundredths of a millimetre really do make a difference.

The Concept is by no means the final word in mouthpiece design and manufacture, but within the current market it does seem to be the best thing on offer. At £132 it is the most expensive classical mouthpiece available, but I would argue that it constitutes a major step forward in an industry for too long dominated by the same tired promises of ‘warmth’, ‘playability’, and ‘depth of tone’. For once, the Concept delivers on all of these and more, and we can only hope that it instigates an arms race in the saxophone world. Selmer are soon to release soprano, tenor, and baritone versions of the Concept, and I look forward to measuring these against the success of the alto model; historically, a one-size-fits-all approach hasn’t worked across these instruments, and Selmer will need to work hard to accommodate their unique demands.

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The Clarinet and Saxophone Society of Great Britain is a company limited by guarantee registered in England No. 3010228, whose registered office is at 48 Henniker Point, Leytonstone Road, London, E15 1LQ. Email: finance (@) cassgb.org. Tel: 0845 644 0187

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