Selmer Company

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The Selmer Company was founded in Paris at the beginning of the 20th century and manufactured musical instruments . Selmer was known for high quality woodwind instruments , especially saxophones and clarinets . Numerous well-known jazz musicians such as John Coltrane , Benny Goodman , Coleman Hawkins , Louis Armstrong and Harry James preferred instruments from the Selmer brand.

In 1995, Selmer Industries , the holding company of the Selmer Company, took over Steinway Musical Properties , the holding company of the piano manufacturer Steinway & Sons , and changed its name to Steinway Musical Instruments.In 2003, Steinway merged the Selmer Company with another subsidiary, the brass instrument manufacturer C.G. Conn , to Conn-Selmer, Inc.


Towards the end of the 19th century, the brothers Alexandre and Henri Selmer completed their studies in clarinet at the Conservatoire de Paris . At that time, musical instruments and accessories were usually made by hand. Professional musicians couldn't help but learn how to make the necessary accessories and repair or change their instruments themselves. By 1900 Henri had built a reputation for his reeds and mouthpieces and opened a shop with a repair shop in Paris. Soon he expanded his field of business to include the manufacture of clarinets.

In the meantime Alexandre had emigrated to the USA , where he was first principal clarinetist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra , the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and finally the New York Philharmonic Orchestra between 1895 and 1910 . Soon after Henri started making clarinets, Alexandre also opened a shop in New York City selling instruments and accessories made by his brother. In 1904, the Selmer clarinets were awarded a gold medal at the World Exhibition in St. Louis , which benefited both the company's image and sales of its products.

After World War I , Alexandre returned to Paris in 1918 to get involved in the family business, leaving an employee named George Bundy to look after his interests in the United States . This expanded the sales and retail components of the company and expanded the range to instruments from other manufacturers such as the Vincent Bach Corporation , Martin and Ludwig-Musser .

Soon after, Bundy decided to start producing flutes . As a designer he hired George W. Haynes, who came from a well-known family of flute makers. For a short time, Selmer relocated the production of the flutes to Boston , where several well-known flute manufacturers were based, in order to benefit from the availability of qualified specialists there. Bundy also hired the young German artisan Kurt Gemeinhardt , who also helped develop the Selmer flute.

At the beginning of the 1920s, Bundy felt the conditions in New York were too limited for his growing company and moved the production facilities to Elkhart , Indiana . Several other instrument manufacturers were already based there, so that one could fall back on well-trained specialists. The building in New York served as a wholesale and retail trade until 1951.

In 1927 or 1928 - the sources are divided - Bundy acquired the American parts of the company from the Selmer brothers and henceforth called them "Selmer USA". Although they were now purely legally independent companies, Henri Selmer Co. Paris and Selmer USA each retained the exclusive distribution rights of the other's products. The French company concentrated on high-quality and correspondingly expensive instruments for professional musicians, while the American company mainly manufactured cheaper models for students and amateurs in large series. In America, the Bundy brand name was increasingly used from 1941 onwards .

In the course of the 1940s, plastics gradually found their way into the still relatively manageable instrument industry. In 1948 Selmer USA constructed a commercially successful clarinet made of plastic injection molding under the model name "Bundy Resonite 1400". During the Second World War , production and imports from France came to a standstill, and from 1944 to the spring of 1946, the Selmer USA works were almost exclusively used to manufacture packaging material for overseas export as part of war production.

The baby boom and an increase in school music education led to strong growth in wind and orchestral instruments in the 1960s and 1970s. Selmer benefited from this and began to take over other instrument manufacturers such as Vincent Bach (brass instruments) in 1961, Glasel String Instrument Service ( violins ), the drum manufacturer Ludwig-Musser and the Lesher Woodwind Company ( oboes and bassoons ) in 1967.

Selmer UK

A semi-independent branch of Selmer for Great Britain was established in 1928 under the leadership of the Ben and Lew Davis brothers. The main focus of their business was not production, but licensing, import and distribution. By 1939, Selmer UK had grown into the largest company in the British musical instrument industry.

In 1935, Selmer UK began producing public address systems for the Selmer brand. In 1946 they expanded their production capacities by taking over another amplifier manufacturer called RSA. In 1951 they began manufacturing electronic organs and in 1955 they acquired the sole licensing rights to manufacture Lowrey and Leslie loudspeaker cabinets in Great Britain. In addition, from the beginning of the 1950s to the early 1970s, Selmer UK was the most important importer and distributor of guitars from the then very well-known German brand Höfner in Great Britain. In 1967 Höfner produced a small range of semi-acoustic and acoustic guitars especially for Selmer UK. They bore the Selmer logo and most of them had a characteristic Selmer tailpiece in the shape of a lyre . The model names of these guitars were Astra, Emperor, Diplomat, Triumph and Arizona Jumbo.

When skiffle music and finally rock and roll became increasingly popular in the 1950s , Selmer UK began manufacturing guitar and bass amplifiers . Despite the apparent market dominance, Selmer landed in the early 1960s, far behind, in second place, because the Shadows and the Beatles preferred the Vox brand . Selmer's management reacted with some superficial attempts to win emerging pop musicians as advertising media, but in the mid-1960s they increasingly distanced themselves from developments in pop culture - they saw their role as more of supporting “real” or established professional musicians rather than the epigones the pop industry. In retrospect, that turned out to be the beginning of the end for Selmer UK.

In the early 1970s, Selmer UK was taken over by Chicago Musical Instruments , the former parent company of Gibson , whose guitars Selmer sold in Great Britain. At the time, Marshall was the undisputed market leader in guitar amps, while Selmer's unprofitable production turned into a bottomless pit. The Selmer tube amplifiers from the Treble and Bass model series looked like old-fashioned relics from the 1950s at that time. Production was then moved to the Essex countryside in a disused factory for paint brushes and coconut mats for the Music and Plastic Industries . The move turned into a disaster, as it was accompanied by an unsuccessful overhaul of the Selmer loudspeaker cabinets and the introduction of a range of poorly designed transistor amplifiers.

After changing owners several times, Selmer finally came back into the possession of Gibson, but this time not directly, but through a holding company called Norlin Music USA . As part of a marketing initiative, management allowed distributors to loan Gibson instruments on short notice for demonstration purposes. Many very expensive instruments were indiscriminately loaned out to any musician bands, used or even damaged, and then returned to the British warehouse unsold. There they tried to repair them despite the limited possibilities on site, because the sales agreement with the headquarters in Kalamazoo , Michigan did not provide for taking back defective items. In 1977, over 1000 damaged, destroyed or dismantled Gibson guitars were temporarily stored in an unheated warehouse in Braintree , Essex .

The factory in Braintree also Lowrey keyboards from kits manufacturing headquarters began CMI in Chicago to assemble. These instruments were technically very advanced, but very poorly processed compared to the first Japanese keyboards that were imported to Europe at the time. In order to generate additional income, the company marketed an inexpensive organ imported from Italy as a Selmer product in large numbers by mail order. Again there were numerous returns, this time due to transport damage. The management then decided to change the brand name and from then on operated as Norlin Music (UK) , but did not care about the really urgent problems, but primarily tried to reduce costs. In 1976, Norlin Music Inc. began to liquidate Selmer UK bit by bit due to the growing mountain of debt, until only a repair center for the Lowrey organs with a single employee remained. This also closed its doors in the early 1980s.

Although they are comparatively unknown in the USA, Selmer guitar amplifiers from the early 1960s are gradually becoming collector's items for fans of tube amplifiers .

Selmer guitars

In 1931 Selmer teamed up with the Italian guitarist and luthier Mario Maccaferri to produce a range of different guitar types (the "Orchester" model, a concert guitar, as well as Hawaiian and tenor guitars) based on the specific construction of the Italian. Maccaferri's partnership with Selmer ended in 1933, but Selmer built the N ° 807 model until 1952, which was also played by Django Reinhardt .

As far as the “Orchester” model is concerned, a distinction can be made between the Maccaferri models (1932–33) and post-Maccaferri guitars (from 1934). The former had a D-sound hole ("grande bouche"), a scale length of 640 mm and an internal resonator for sound amplification. The body of the Maccaferri models started at the 12th fret. With the Selmer guitars, as they were made after Mario Maccaferri left, the internal resonator was abandoned because it did not bring any significant improvement in the sound of steel-string guitars. The sound hole of the "post-Maccaferri" guitars was now oval ("petite bouche"); the length was 670 mm, the body began at the 14th fret.

A Selmer guitar is very well balanced on the body and in the hands of the musician, a cutaway ( cutaway in the body for better access to the upper frets) was immediately part of the construction. Due to a special construction of the sound body, the guitar is very loud, so it turned out to be ideal for jazz . Depending on the sound hole, a distinction is made between the D-Hole, which is primarily used by rhythm guitarists, and the Oval-Hole, which can be used by rhythm and lead guitarists. In addition, the transitional model "bouche ovale" or a tenor guitar with a round sound hole ("Eddie Freeman Special") was manufactured. The Selmer develops its sound characteristics best with silver-wound copper / steel strings, which the musician usually strikes with a pick . This is usually several mm thick and consists, for. B. made of plastic, bones, tortoiseshell, wood, various semi-precious stones and also of gold.

A real Selmer guitar in good condition may U. can cost up to EUR 30,000 and above. Various replicas are made individually by guitar makers in many countries. Well-known names are Dupont, Favino, Dunn and Hahl. The international corporations have also rediscovered the Selmer guitar; to mention are Saga Gitane, Aria, Richwood, Kirkland and others

Selmer guitar, replica by Kirkland

List of historical instruments from the Selmer brand

Clarinets - Paris

  • without model name, called "Brevete" (before 1928)
  • Radio Improved or RI (approx. 1930)
  • Balanced Tone or BT (1930s)
  • Metal clarinet without model name (1930s)
  • without model name, called "Deposé" (1930s, 40s and 50s)
  • 55 (1940s)
  • Centered Tone (1950s)
  • Series 9 (1960s, 70s and 80s)
  • Series 9 * (1960s)
  • Series 10 (1971–?)
  • Series 10G (1970s and 80s {also 90s?})
  • Series 10S (1977–80s {also 90s?})
  • Series 10S II (1993-)
  • Recital (1984-1990s)
  • Odyssée (2002–)
  • Signature
  • Saint Louis
  • Privilege
  • Arthéa (2006–)

Note: The harmony clarinets made by Selmer Paris (clarinets other than Bb and A tuned clarinets) are mostly referred to by model number rather than name, although there are, for example, RI bass clarinets and Series 9 alto and bass clarinets.

Clarinets - USA


  • Bundy (flutes)
  • Emerson brand flutes were also sold


Selmer-Maccafferi-Guitars (Selmer style, Gypsy-Jazz-Guitar, Gypsy-Guitar) Edition of approx. 300 pieces built. Appeared on the market in 1932 and enthusiastically discovered by Django Reinhardt.


  • Lesher
  • Selmer
  • Bundy
  • signet
  • omega

Saxophones - Paris

One of the last Mark VI tenor saxophones - 1975

Saxophones - USA

  • Bundy
  • signet
  • Aristocrat


  • Chorus 80
  • Chorus 90
  • Concept TT
  • Invicta
  • Radial 66, 75 and 99 (respectively 11.66, 11.75 and 11.99 bore) in Bb, C and Eb / D (1968 - 1978)
  • Sigma


In 1929 the H. Selmer Company took over the workshop of Adolphe Sax , the inventor of the saxophone, on Rue Myrha in the 18th arrondissement in Paris. It was expanded and remained one of the most important production facilities of Selmer Paris until 1981.

Sources and web links

Individual evidence

  1. "Maccaferri" was not a brand name in itself
  2. see The Maccaferri Internal Resonator (English)
  3. Standard strings are Argentine strings by Savarez