There is something different about a Selmer saxophone. Maybe it’s the tone, mechanics, or craftsmanship. Or the fact that just about everyone I have admired has performed on one. Whatever the reason, Selmer saxophones were, until recently, my instrument of choice for over 35 years. And where I still consider myself a fan, I have to be honest that some of the company’s past decisions have left me scratching my head. I have never been a big fan of the Series III saxophones and as the proud owner of a vintage 57xxx Mark VI, parallels drawn between it and the Reference series are like saying Manischewitz and Bordeaux are similar because they both use grapes.
So, the Axos has had me equal parts intrigued and skeptical. Judging from the number of posts and discussions on social media, it has had a similar effect on the saxophone. The Axos is a professional Selmer saxophone that is part of the company’s new Seles division. This division is tasked with creating affordable professional instruments while maintaining the characteristics and traditions that are unique to Selmer. Targeting the sub-5K consumer, the Axos offers the player the sound and quality of a Selmer but at a more conservative price.
In researching the instrument, I discovered a lot of conflicting information. So, before I get into my observations of the Axos, I want to share with you what I discovered. I thank both Scott Campbell from Conn-Selmer and Florent Milhaud from Selmer-Paris for their time helping answer my questions.
The Axos is not a Taiwanese saxophone. I reviewed the Selmer La Voix saxophone (a Taiwanese-made Selmer) for Jazz Times Magazine when they first came out, and I can tell you that, aside from the name Selmer, there are no parallels between the two instruments. The majority of the instrument, including body, bow, bell, and neck, are manufactured in the same French factory where Series II, III, and Reference saxophones, are made. Some, but not all, of the key work is outsourced
"overseas." Additionally, the instruments are rough assembled at the same overseas facility before shipment back to France for final adjustment and playtesting. Those instruments sent to the United States are given additional adjustment and playtesting at the Conn-Selmer Faculty. The process of making the Axos is like that of any other Selmer saxophone.
Just exactly where the "overseas" work is performed is a closely guarded secret. I can only assume that this outsourcing has something to do with a lower price point (more on that later), or is a way of dealing with a notoriously expensive and temperamental French labor force. Additionally, there is still a stigma that exists about some locations of manufacturing. Regardless of location or reason, it was articulated to me that all steps in the manufacturing process are under Selmer control and oversight.
I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised by the Axos. The tonal footprint is unmistakably Selmer, with a sound this is reminiscent of the Series II but with greater ease of response and clearer projection. The sound has the vastness of Series II but with a tighter core than the Series II or III.
The response of the Axos was immediate and offered very little resistance. I was able to access a variety of tonal colors without much adjustment. Where I appreciated the ease of response, I felt this also led to some pitch instability. Coming from a Yanagisawa WO 10 I found the pitch to be good but not as dialed in as I would like. I found the upper register to play a bit sharp, yet I found the middle C# to be noticeably flatter than on my instrument. Again, this could have something to do with a difference in neck bore or taper. A lack of resistance and ease of response can sometimes come at the sacrifice of pitch stability. All this being said, I had no significant issues adjusting to the instrument, and once I was ready to take the Axos into performance situations, found it not to be an issue at all.
The keywork of the Axos is well designed, offering a comfortable and ergonomic feel. The keys fit my larger hands well, especially the left-hand palm keys. I was pleased that the palm keys fit my hand but were not so large as to be an issue for those with smaller hands. The low Eb and C keys were in proper alignment allowing for smooth operation although I noticed that the left and right-hand table keys were flatter than most Selmers I’ve encountered.
I did notice little differences with the Axos. There are small differences with the design of the octave thumb key. Unlike other Selmer models, the lyre housing is not located at the same location next to the neck screw. Instead, the lyre unit is located on the body of the instrument. So those of you who wish to keep using your ergonomic neck screws will find it difficult if not impossible. There are adjustment screws on the side C and side Bb/A# keys. These adjustment screws are a nice change allowing for key height to be adjusted rather than the typical placement of cork under the key arm. Likewise, I appreciated the bumper behind the octave thumb key. It offers the player a solid and secure feel during operation.
Esthetically, the Axos looks like a Selmer. Hand engraving is hand applied, although it is sparser than on other professional Selmer models. The design is simple, and I thought, slightly dull. I did find it strange that my test model had engraving coming out of the seam where the body and bow meet, as well as a small place under the side Bb key. I am not sure if this was done in error on my test model, I had or if Selmer feels the market is wanting engraving under some of the key arms. One thing missing is the trademark blue logo on the neck. I understand that it may cost more for a worker to prepare, paint, and finish each neck, but the absence of the blue "S" made the horn look cheap in comparison to other Selmers. This does not affect the playability of the instrument, but for Selmer fans its absence is conspicuous.
The Axos comes in what would best be called a BAM-like case. Made from injected foam with a Cordura outer shell, the case offers solid protection for the saxophone. The equipment compartment is amble, and the neck fits snuggly in a specially designed recess. The case has backpack straps but oddly no music pouch. The only drawback to the case is that the lid is top heavy, causing the lid to slam shut when you take your hand off of it. Where this isn't a huge problem, it could be a nuisance if you have your hands full or are rushing to assemble your saxophone.
All in all, I found the Axos to be a fine instrument in the Selmer tradition. I see the Axos being a counterpart to the Yamaha 62 III and at a similar price point. At $3,300 it is similar in price to the Yamaha and being slightly more expensive than most Taiwanese/Chinese instruments, yet while offering better overall performance. Those who long for that Selmer sound and feel, yet can’t afford to spend the money for an artist-level Selmer, the Axos is a welcome option.