The "Varitone" electric saxophone system made by H.&A.selmer Inc. (= the so-called Amesel), which appeared in 1965, was well known among some enthusiasts and collectors, but the number of existing instruments is extremely small, and the entire system, including the amplifier, is not complete. The details of the "Varitone" have remained largely unknown. Even its existence was about to be forgotten.

THE used music store had acquired a complete Amesel "Varitone" tenor saxophone system in excellent and beautiful condition from an overseas route several years ago. However, although the saxophone itself was in near-new condition, the electrical system was more than 40 years old and had only a few working parts.
The saxophone system had been in a state of "storage" for some time, but with the help of our expert technical staff, the system is finally on track to be fully restored, and we have created a special page for it.

We are pleased to present a two-part series of articles on this pioneering electronic wind instrument.

This is a detailed explanation of the "Varitone" that is rarely seen anywhere else in the world.

This instrument is introduced in "SAX & BRASS Vol.10" (published by Ritto Music), p.083 "PRECIOUS HORN Cafe".

Part I - Introduction

It is rare for a product that is a strong innovation to be accepted by the world with praise. The more radical the product is, the more it seems to be doomed to end up as a mere flower of the times as the wall of preconceptions looms over it.

The electric saxophone "Varitone" introduced in 1965 by H&A.Selmer Inc.

At that time,coneandKingand other long-established American wind instrument makers were gradually losing momentum, the company, which had been dominating the American saxophone market, dared to take on the challenge with this semi-experimental hybrid model.
From the late 1950s, jazz entered the era of "free jazz," which was extremely lofty and difficult to understand. While jazz was on the decline commercially, rock and roll and soul music were emerging in the American music scene, and electric instruments began to play a leading role.
As music continues to become more and more electrified, acoustic wind instruments will be relegated to the corners of the music scene. The A. Selmer Company, which had grown enormously during the era when jazz and other forms of unplugged music were popular and commercial music, must have had some misgivings.

The development of the electric saxophone, which now seems reckless at first glance, may have been a great challenge not only for the saxophone instrument but also for the survival of the A. Selmer Company.


>> Selmer's latest arrivals

Explanation of saxophone body

The "Variton" electric saxophone developed by A. Selmer is a fearless and unrestrained "modification" of the MARK VI (American Selmer Mark VI), a famous instrument that still shines brilliantly in the history of wind instruments.

The body is an American Selmer tenor saxophone in the 140,000 series. The body is in excellent condition. The 140,000th was made right after the minor change of the Mark Six. The body, neck, and bell have not been modified in any way, and the form is exactly the same as that of the normal 140,000 Series Six.

The paint is peeling and there are only a few scuffs and scratches. It may have only been used a few times or inspected and checked for operation. All of the pads installed are still original.

The key action is surprisingly precise and light. It has a dense mid-bass and a very clear and thick treble. This is an authentic Mark Six tenor saxophone that can be played with pride.


First of all, the neck. It is a late model shape right after the minor change as "Six" and the main body. It is in excellent condition, with no accidents or damage. A piezoelectric pickup microphone, a new material that was gaining attention at the time, is attached to the neck. Many people may wonder why a microphone is installed on the neck, which is an important part of a saxophone. There are many who may wonder why, but there is a solid reason for this point (see separate system explanation).

The Selmer Varitone microphone is located 50 mm from the tip of the neck. It is fixed on a brass base welded to the neck. Therefore, the neck cork is wound a little shorter than a normal six. It is about 19 mm in diameter. The height with the pedestal is only about 14mm. It is extremely small for a microphone of that time. Naturally, it does not obstruct the player's view.

The cable extending from the microphone connects via a mini-plug to a jack welded to the top of the body. The plug is pluggable, so the neck can be attached or detached, and the angle can be adjusted freely, just as on a regular saxophone.

The microphone is connected to the jack by a thin, bare cable, which runs through a ring on the side of the neck and does not interfere with the octave key.


The brass rods that protrude from the back side of the body like blood vessels contain the microphone cable wires. The purpose is to protect the cable, and at the same time, it is based on the design concept that the electrical function does not restrict the player's performance in any way. Of course, the brass rods are also welded at the time of manufacture and coated with a naturally drying lacquer along with the body.

They are welded perfectly to the body, gently avoiding the slight gap between the tone hole and the octave key, so that the cables do not interfere with the key operation in any way.

In order to ensure the straightest possible cable line, the rod is slightly floated over the leg of the key guard, and is bent to follow the curve of the body just before the body ring that connects the U-tube, and then passes through to the front side of the body.

The controller is 100 mm long, 60 mm wide, and 35 mm thick, designed to fit the size of the key guard to which it is fixed. The controller must be located where it does not interfere with normal key operation, sound, or pitch, and where the player can operate it himself while playing. Compared to the smart installation of microphones and cables, the appearance of the controller may seem forced, but the controller itself is lightweight, so it does not bother the player at all.

The cable runs from the underside of the body through the inside of the U-tube, exits the brass rod, and passes through the ring on the body ring that connects the bell tubes.♭The cable runs through the brass rod and connects to a controller mounted on the key guard of the Low B, B


The cable runs from the underside of the body down the inside of the U-tube, exits the brass rod, and passes through the ring on the body ring connecting the bell tubes to the controllers on the Low B and B♭The cable runs from the underside of the body to the controller mounted on the key guard of the Low B, B


The saxophone itself is, surprisingly, a normal saxophone, although the neck with the microphone embedded in it and the cable cover that emerges like a blood vessel may be a bit disconcerting for a moment. There is no indication that any special neck shape or instrument design changes were made in the process of electrification. Parts and cabling that would interfere with the key action have been successfully avoided. The weight of the controller is hardly noticeable. The controllers are very smooth and compact for normal playing. The characteristics of Amecel are maintained. If the electrical system is not activated, the Amesel tenor sounds just as you are accustomed to hearing it (i.e., great).

Therefore, the key to the development of the "Variton" was to link the electrical system, including the microphone and dedicated amplifier, to the instrument itself, without compromising the characteristics and features of the Mark Six, which is a highly accomplished acoustic instrument.

The following explanation of the system is given by Tomita, a specialist who is in charge of the popular "Amplifier Mannyoji" column that boasts an overwhelming number of hits on our website, and who has been struggling day and night to completely revive this system, which had been in hibernation for half a year. For those who normally play wind instruments, this is a very maniacal and detailed explanation, but it is worth reading, including Selmer's unknown achievements. It is also worth reading to understand how radical the development of the "Variton" was at the time.

System Explanation

In 1965, H&A Selmer Inc. developed an electric saxophone based on the concept of "maintaining the basic sound quality and performance of a saxophone. The electric saxophone, like an electric guitar, is not far removed from the original acoustic instrument, and while it is capable of electrical amplification and various effects, its tone is the sound of the saxophone, without any restrictions on the player's performance. In order to realize this concept, many attempts were made and discussions were held with many saxophonists.

The first task was to collect the sound of the saxophone in order to amplify it. To this end, Jean Selmer, a technician at H.Selmer et Cie in Paris, went through a series of trials and errors in attaching a microphone to the saxophone body. As you know, it is very difficult to capture the entire sound of a saxophone with a single microphone, because the acoustic peak point inside the saxophone varies depending on the pitch and technique. Ideally, it would have been best to install a microphone in each of the sound holes, but this was not feasible, both in terms of ease of use and cost. For this reason, he collected a variety of acoustic samples and used their values to determine that all frequencies were concentrated in the mouthpiece and neck. Because this point determination is ineffective even if it is off by a few millimeters, the microphones are not removable, but are fixed to the neck of the saxophone at the time of production.

H&A Selmer Inc. then commissioned Electro Voice, then known as one of the leading audio equipment manufacturers in the United States, to design and produce the electronic part. At the time, Selmer was still manufacturing amplifiers at Selmer UK, based in London, but Selmer UK's amplifiers were mainly tube amplifiers for electric guitars used in rock music, and Electro Voice, a Michigan-based company specializing in microphones and audio equipment, was hired by Selmer Inc. However, Selmer UK's amplifiers were mainly tube amplifiers for rock music and electric guitars, so using the technology of Electro Voice, a Michigan-based microphone and audio equipment specialist, was the best choice.
Electro Voice was founded in South Bend, Louisiana, in 1927 by Al Kahn and Lou Burroughs, about the same time H&A Selmer Inc. was founded. At the time, the company was called Radio Engineer, repairing radios and manufacturing microphones, and reportedly had as little as $30 to invest.

In 1930, at the request of Knute Rokney, coach of the University of Notre Dame football team, they created a PA system to amplify the coach's voice on the playing field. Rokny called it "Electro Voice," and they renamed the company Electro Voice.
As a side note, Knute Rokny, the godfather of Electro Voice, was a heroic figure with a record of 105 wins, 12 losses, and 5 draws in his 12 years as coach at Notre Dame, including a legendary win over the Military Academy that was later made into a movie. The legendary battle won against the Military Academy was later made into a movie, starring a young Ronald Reagan. (Knute Rockne: All American/1940 Warner Brothers/Directed by Lloyd Bacon/Starring Pat O'Brien)

In 1934, Electro Voice developed a noiseless microphone that used humbucking coils and became the leading brand of microphones. In 1946, the company moved its headquarters to Buchanan, Michigan, and expanded its business into the audio equipment sector, particularly speakers. In the 1960s, when the world's attention turned to space exploration, it was Electro Voice's microphones that flew in space with astronaut John Glenn under NASA's Mercury program. Meanwhile, during the heyday of Hollywood movies, Electro Voice won an Academy Award for its sound collection microphones used in movies.
Selmer Varitone Electro Voice, which was then flying high as a leader in sound and microphones, received a request from H&A Selmer Inc. The request was to design a microphone that would maximize the effectiveness of a single sound collection point, and to produce an amplifier to amplify it, as developed by Jean Selmer in Paris.

Electro Voice tried various microphone designs based on Jean Selmer's ideas. At the time, ribbon microphones (velocity microphones) were the most natural sounding and had excellent frequency response. However, ribbon microphones were notorious for their humidity and susceptibility to wind pressure. For this reason, Electro Voice used piezoelectric elements (see piezocrystals/piezoelectric pickups), which were attracting attention as a new material at the time. This material, which senses vibrations and converts them into electrical signals, was ideal for picking up the sound of a saxophone, and because it could be manufactured in a very small size (approximately 19 mm in diameter and 12 mm thick), it was possible to achieve maximum effect at a small sound collection point without interference from wind pressure and unnecessary vibrations.

A controller was mounted on the right hand side of the thumb hook to control the volume of the amplification and other controls while playing. With this controller, the player could not only adjust the volume, but also determine several different tones and use effects such as tremolo, reverb, and octave (notation: octamatic). Considering that reverb was first used in electric guitar amplifiers around 1963, it is easy to see how cutting-edge it was. Octave is a function that blends a pitch one octave lower by halving the frequency of the input signal using a frequency divider with diodes, etc. Although it was first used in analog synthesizers at the time, it was very rare as an effect for musical instruments, and in a sense, it was more advanced than electric guitar effects. In a sense, it is no exaggeration to say that it was even more advanced than electric guitars.
The amplifier section, which was the outlet for all sound, consisted of a preamplifier designed with a dedicated high-impedance input and an output section using FETs to handle the output from the piezoelectric element, and the tremolo and octave effect circuits were also installed in the preamplifier section and activated by a signal from the controller. The tremolo and octave effect circuits were also mounted in the preamp section and activated by a signal from the controller.

Preamplifier installed in the ceiling of the enclosure

The optocoupler for the Selmer Varitone tremolo circuit is marked with the name of Raytheon, a well-known munitions manufacturer. Also mounted on the back of the head section is a spring-reverb unit, also designed for high-impedance use.

The spring reverb unit is built into this unit.

It can be attached to and detached from the main unit by means of magnets. The output section is also fixed to the bottom.

FETs are used as the main amplification elements.

The EV (Electro Voice) logo can also be seen on the base of the output section.

In this era when vacuum tubes were still the mainstream, the use of FETs (Field-Effect Transistors), which had just been invented, in the output section succeeded in producing a clear, straight tone with little distortion and rich sound volume. The speakers were equipped with one SRO12 12-inch alnico speaker, which was considered to be one of the finest at the time.


The SRO12 speaker was the first speaker to be manufactured at this time and had an output level of 103db, 3db higher than normal Electro Voice speakers, and a peak range of up to 300W, which was hard to believe at the time.
The combination of the new FET technology and the high quality, extremely tough speaker produced a very clear and loud sound. The sound of the saxophone literally jumps out at you, and you will be amazed at the sound pressure, which you would not expect from a single 12" speaker. It is unfortunate that there are no data on the output, but the audible volume is quite loud, and considering the specifications of the output section and speakers, it must have the same power as the 100W-class speakers of recent years. When the octaver is turned on, the roaring bass sound is ferocious, even heavier and louder than that of modern electronic instruments. Of course, the saxophone has enough quality to produce expressive and beautiful saxophone tones when used in an orthodox way, and any kind of tone making is possible depending on the player's image.

Unfortunately, it is not a successful model from a sales point of view, but it is a crystallization of the "seriousness" of the two companies, Selmer and Electrovoice, which can be said to be the top brands in the world even today. The collaboration between Selmer and Electrovoice, two of the top brands in the world even today, was a collaboration that stepped out of the box in the rising tide of the 1960s. This model continues to exude such an aura.

>> The latest arrival of bargain saxophones

Part I - Conclusion

After investing a great deal of money and technology, "Varitone" has reached a high level of perfection as a product. However, no saxophone player had yet been able to use 100% of the functions of the "Varitone," and no music had yet emerged that would demonstrate the avant-garde electric sound of the "Varitone.

In fact, five years after the release of the "Varitone," Miles made an effect-treated wind instrument a reality in the form of the "Electric Trumpet. Miles inserted a Barcus-berry pickup into the mouthpiece shank of his trumpet.

The atypical sound of a trumpet distorted by a wah pedal amidst a tremendous electronic rhythm had a powerful impact. The same system is still used today by trumpeters such as Randy Brecker of the Brecker Brothers and others, including Toshinori Kondo and Nils Petter Molvell.

Meanwhile, the electrification of the saxophone was finally accepted by the music market by being completely separated from the saxophone itself. The Lyricon (=Lyricon), launched in 1974 by the U.S. company Computone, was the first, followed by YAMAHA's WX and AKAI's EWI, whose patents were purchased by Computone. Today, they are called wind synthesizers, and as you know, many players are using them.



Part II
Controller Explanation by Soundfile
Demonstration Performance
In the next issue, we will focus on the "Varitone" sound, which is the most important part of the system. We will deliver the sound of the varied tones made possible by this system, with an explanation of the controller! Stay tuned. ...To be concluded.