The Selmer Company

The Selmer Company

The Selmer Company was a manufacturer of musical instruments started in Paris, France in the early 1900s. Selmer was known for its high-quality woodwind instruments, especially saxophones and clarinets. The Selmer brand was preferred by many well-known jazz artists such as John Coltrane, Benny Goodman, Coleman Hawkins, Louis Armstrong, and Harry James.

Selmer Industries, the parent company of The Selmer Company, acquired the Steinway Musical Properties company, the parent company of piano manufacturer Steinway & Sons, in 1995 and changed its name to Steinway Musical Instruments. In 2003 Steinway merged The Selmer Company with another subsidiary, the C.G. Conn Company (makers of brass instruments), to form Conn-Selmer.

"For information on the current company, see Conn-Selmer."


In the late 1800s, brothers Alexandre and Henri Selmer graduated from the Paris Conservatory as clarinetists. At the time, musical instruments and accessories were primarily hand made, and professional musicians found it necessary to acquire skills allowing them to make their own accessories and repair and modify their own instruments. By 1900 Henri had gained a reputation for his reeds and mouthpieces and he opened a store and repair shop in Paris. He soon expanded into the construction of clarinets.

Meanwhile, Alexandre had moved to the United States, where he performed as principal clarinetist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra from 1895 to 1910. Soon after Henri began making clarinets, Alexandre opened a store in New York City to sell his brother's instruments and accessories in the U.S. The Selmer line of products gained a great boost in reputation and sales by winning a gold medal for their clarinets at the 1904 World's Fair in St. Louis, Missouri. In 1918 Alexandre returned to Paris to assist in the family business, leaving their U.S. interests in the hands of his employee George Bundy. Bundy expanded the retail and distribution component of the business, carrying instruments from other companies such as the Vincent Bach Corporation, Martin and Ludwig-Musser.

Bundy quickly decided to expand into flute manufacturing, and hired George W. Haynes (from a family of well-known flute makers) to design the Selmer flute. Selmer flute manufacturing briefly moved to Boston, Massachusetts, home to several reputable flute makers, to draw on the existing skilled labor pool there. Bundy also hired Kurt Gemeinhardt, a young craftsman from Germany with a growing reputation, to assist in the design of Selmer flutes.

By the early 1920s, Bundy was finding New York City too cramped for the growing company, and he moved the manufacturing facilities to Elkhart, Indiana. Elkhart was already home to several other instrument makers, and had a skilled labor pool from which to draw workers. The New York facility remained in operation as a retail store and distributor until 1951.

In 1927 or 1928 (sources differ) Bundy purchased the American business from the Selmer brothers. The American business was named Selmer USA. Though technically independent, the Henri Selmer Co. of Paris and Selmer USA remained the exclusive distributors of each other's products. The French company concentrated on high quality, expensive instruments for the professional musician, while the American company concentrated on mass-produced, less-expensive models for students and amateur musicians. Many of the American instruments were produced under the Bundy brand name, started in 1941.

Growing industrial expertise in plastics throughout the 1940s eventually spread to the still-small world of musical instruments. In 1948 Selmer USA produced a commercially successful molded-plastic clarinet, called the "Bundy Resonite 1400." World War II brought a halt to the manufacture and import of the Paris instruments, and for a brief time (1944-early 1946) Selmer USA plants were used almost exclusively for export packing as part of the war effort.

The baby boom and an increase in school music programs led to a substantial increase in the band and orchestral instrument business throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Taking advantage of this growth spurt, Selmer began acquiring other instrument manufacturers, including The Vincent Bach Corporation (brass instruments) in 1961, Glasel String Instrument Service (violins), the Ludwig-Musser Drum Company, and the Lesher Woodwind Company (oboes and bassoons) in 1967.

elmer UK

A semi-independent branch of Selmer for the United Kingdom was created in 1928 under the leadership of two brothers, Ben and Lew Davis. They concentrated primarily on licensing, importing and distribution rather than manufacturing, and by 1939 had grown to become the largest company in the British musical instrument industry.

In 1935 Selmer UK began producing sound reinforcement systems under the Selmer name. They expanded their manufacturing facilities by purchasing another P.A. company called RSA in 1946. By 1951 they were manufacturing electric organs and in 1955 they gained the exclusive licensing rights to make Lowrey organs and Leslie organ speakers for the UK. They were also the primary importers and distributors for Höfner guitars, a well-known German guitar company, from the early 1950s through the early 1970s. In 1967, Höfner actually produced a small range of semi-acoustic and acoustic guitars for Selmer UK These were badged with the Selmer logo and most had a Selmer "lyre" tailpiece. Model names were the Astra, Emperor, Diplomat, Triumph and Arizona Jumbo.

With the growth of skiffle music and the arrival of rock and roll in the mid-1950s, Selmer UK began producing guitar and bass amplifiers. In the early 1960s, despite Selmer's apparent market domination, The Shadows' and The Beatles' endorsement of Vox amplifiers relegated Selmer guitar amplifiers to a distant second place in sales. The management of the company made various luke warm attempts to gain endorsement from aspiring musicians but became increasingly distant from the developments in pop culture from the mid 1960s considering that its role was to support "real" or established professional musicians and not the headliners of the pop industry. This was the beginning of the end for Selmer UK.

By the early 1970s Selmer UK had been purchased by Chicago Musical Instruments, then the parent company of Gibson Guitars, which Selmer was distributing in the UK. By this time Marshall guitar amplifiers had cornered the market, and the Selmer manufacturing facility was an expensive drain on resources. During this period, the Selmer range of Treble & Bass 50 & 100 valve amplifiers appeared to be stylistic relics from pre-1959 and the decision was made to move the manufacturing facility to a disused brush and coconut matting works dating from 1914, based in rural Essex. The factory which purchased from Music and Plastic Industries. This was a disaster, coupled as it was to an uninspiring reworking of the Selmer range of speaker cabinets and the introduction of a poorly designed range of solid state power amplifiers.

After being passed around several other owners, Selmer once again found itself owned by the Gibson Guitar parent company, this time through a holding company called Norlin Music USA. The marketing policy adopted by management involved allowing its distributors to arrange short term loans of Gibson instruments on a trial basis. This was considered an excellent marketing ploy had it been controlled but the reality of the situation was that instrument loans were made freely available to any musician and bands who made a request. The consequences were that these very expensive musical instruments were used, damaged, and returned unsold to the UK warehouse, where attempts were made to repair them with the limited facilities on hand, as the distribution agreement with the manufacturing base in Kalamazoo, Michigan did not allow for the return of defective items. At one time in 1977 there were over one thousand damaged, broken and disassembled Gibson guitars stored in an unheated warehouse in Braintree, Essex.

The factory in Braintree also developed the manufacturing of Lowrey keyboards from KD kits exported from the Chicago manufacturing base of CMI. These instruments were technically advanced but the build quality was poor compared with keyboards which were just beginning to reach the UK and European markets from Japan. To supplement earnings the company took the decision to import a low cost Italian designed organ marketed as a Selmer product which was distributed in large numbers by catalogue sales. Again the return rate, this time due to damage in transit, was significant. In spite of a rebranding as Norlin Music (UK) the management of the company failed to address the key factors preferring to effect a range of cost cutting measures. In 1976 Norlin Music Inc., faced with mounting debts, began dismantling Selmer UK piece by piece, until the only facility was a repair center for Lowrey organs with a single employee. This shut down in the early 1980s.

Despite being largely unknown in the U.S., Selmer guitar amplifiers from the early 1960s have begun to gain a reputation as vintage collectibles among valve amplifier enthusiasts.

elmer Guitars

In 1932 Selmer partnered with the Italian guitarist and luthier Mario Maccaferri to produce a line of acoustic guitars based on Maccaferri's unorthodox design. Although Maccaferri's association with Selmer ended in 1934, the company continued to make several models of this guitar until 1952. The guitar was closely associated with famed jazz guitarist Django Reinhardt. (see also Selmer-Maccaferri Guitar and [ About Selmer-Maccaferri guitars] )

Historical list of Selmer Instruments

"For a list of instrument models currently in production, see Conn-Selmer."

Clarinets - Paris

*no model name, often called "Breveté" (1900s, 10s and 20s)
*Radio Improved or RI (ca. 1934-1936)
*Balanced Tone or BT (ca. 1936-1940)
*metal clarinet, no model name (1930s)
*no model name, often called "Deposé" (1930s, 40s and 50s)
*55 (1940s)
*Centered Tone (ca. 1954-1960)
*Series 9 (1960s, 70s and 80s)
*Series 9* (1960s)
*Series 10G (1970s and 80s {and 90s?})
*Series 10S (1970s and 80s {and 90s?})
*Series 10S II (1970s and 80s {and 90s?})
*Recital (1980s-20**)
*St. Louis

Selmer Paris sold less-expensive clarinets under the names Barbier, Bundy (Paris) and Raymond until ca. 1935, after which they focused exclusively on professional clarinets.

Note: Selmer Paris harmony clarinets (sizes other than B♭ and A soprano clarinet) are mostly called by their model number rather than a name, but there are, for example, RI bass clarinets and Series 9 alto and bass clarinets.

Clarinets - United States

*Bundy (resonite) plastic
*Signet (usually plastic, but not always)
*"(need list)"


*"(need list)"
*bought Emerson flutes


*"(need list)"
*Guitar with a special 7 strings. Selmer decided to make a guitar for chamber music.$950.00-any price.
*Series 666 - Selmer's best guitar in production
*Signet series ended in 1970 (rare) especially 12 strings.They are usually custom made guitars for professionals. Their cost aredepending on wood and upgrades like tuners, frets, size,etc...



axophones - Paris

*Modele 22 (1922–1925)
*Modele 26 (1926–1929)
*Super "Cigar Cutter" (1930–1932)
*Super (1932–1933)
*Radio Improved (1934–1935)
*Balanced Action (1936–1947)
*Super Action (1948–1953)
*Mark VI (1954–1973)
*Mark VII (1974–1980)
*Selmer Super Action 80 (1980–1985)
*Super Action 80 Serie II (1985-)
*Super Action 80 Serie III (1994-)
*Reference 54 / Reference 36 (2000-)

axophones - United States

"(need dates of manufacture)"
*Aristocrat (Currently Taiwanese)
*La Voix (Currently Taiwanese)"For a list of instrument models currently in production, see Conn-Selmer."


*Invicta C/Bb model

Other instruments

Piano accordionInvicta and Invicta lugano


In 1929 the H. Selmer Company purchased the workshop of Adolphe Sax, inventor of the saxophone, on the Rue Myrha in Paris's 18th arrondissement. After expansion it remained one of Selmer's primary production facilities until 1981.

References/External Links

* [ The Selmer Company website]
* [ Steinway Musical Instruments]
* [ Henri Selmer Company]
* [ Selmer Guitar Amplifiers]
* []
* [ Serial numbers for Conn & Selmer instruments]

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