The Selmer Varitone Electric Saxophone

Let's take a look at the Selmer (Varitone) electric saxophone.

The musical industry had its fair share of rapid evolutions, constant technological improvements and new design techniques

in the course of the last 2 centuries, some of these changes rapidly growing roots and establishing themselves in the hearts of players, while others were oftentimes regarded with reluctance or at least lack of enthusiasm. One instrument that can easily be included in the last category is the electric sax.

It was designed and produced in 1965, by H & A Selmer, Inc. They worked hand in hand with Electro Voice. At that time, jazz music still had a great impact and the saxophone was the instrument of choice for many artists of the time. The idea of having an electric sax that could basically enhance one’s performance through electronic technology was considered futuristic at that time, if not far-fetched. But the company still went out with the plans and produced the electric sax.

Initially, it had just a few “tweaking options” available, including a built-in means of sound amplification, reduction of acoustic feedback and a few other small changes. In the next versions however, technology took its toll: complete control over tone quality, volume, ability to add tremolo or echo to the tonality of the saxophone and a sub-octave synthesized tone are just some of the new features that the improved electric saxophone brought with it.

Selmer Electric Saxophone with Varitone Amplifier

Although these improvements were considerable and could have changed the way saxophones were played, this saxophone did not have the success it should have had, mainly because of two reasons. First of all, the changes were too large and were implemented too quickly, making the sax players of the time stick with their “old” classical instruments instead. They did not want to adapt to a completely new instrument when they had spent several years of constant practice with the classical sax.

The other reason that hindered the Selmer electric saxophone’s popularity was the thought that having too much technology will heavily diminish the player’s role in the quality of the musical piece. Which, if we think about it, could be true, since having the options that this saxophone offered, players could easily correct their flaws while their qualities didn’t stand out as much.

The stir created by the electric sax at that time has died down, but over the last decade or so, it began to gain back some popularity. Today, the electric saxophone (obviously a new and improved version of the 1965 version) is continuously gaining more and more fans, reason to believe that time has finally caught up with this marvelous piece of musical technology.

Original 1965 Vintage Selmer Saxophone Mark VI with pickup and Varitone amplifier system (Watch/listen):

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