Conn Selmer Premiere PBS380V baritone
Guide price: £4500
Date of manufacture: 2023 (serial range:22050xxx)
Date reviewed: May 2023
A new midrange standard-setter?
So you're in the market for a new bari but your
budget is limited. You have more to spend than the cost of a cheap
Chinese horn but not enough to push you into Yamaha territory. What're
you gonna do?
Well, there's the Jupiter and the Buffet (OK, but unexciting) and
the Thomann BariPRO series at £3000+ - and thereafter it's
pretty much Mauriats all the way up to the Yamaha 480 at £5,000+.
Howevere, a quick glance through any of my Mauriat reviews will
show you that I'm less than impressed with the build quality of
the action. So there's always been something of a gap in the market
for those players who want a workhorse baritone without having to
take out a second mortgage.
Enter the Conn Selmer Premiere 380V.
Now, isn't that imposing? I'm not a huge fan of
bare brass/antiqued finishes but on this baritone it somehow seems
to add a sense of heftiness...like it's the sort of baritone that
Arnold Schwarzenegger might play. And he'd probably be able to handle
it quite well given that at 5.88kg it's up there with the heavier
baritones on the market.
But imposing looks aren't everything, and the big question is "Does
the build quality of this horn match its rugged looks?"
Let's find out...
The construction is semi-ribbed - which means
most of the pillars are fixed to long plates which are then fixed
to the body. Because of the length of the body tube some of these
ribs have been broken up into smaller sections...hence semi-ribbed.
There are also a few plates (smaller groups of pillars fitted to
a common base) and the usual handful of individual pillars. All
very neatly fitted.
bell is detachable by means of a clamp at the bottom bow joint and
a removable bell brace. This is a four point bell brace, which means
it has a perpendicular arm that is fixed to a point on the topside
of the body tube. This is a very worthwhile feature because it adds
a great deal of stiffness to the brace and really helps to keep
the bell in alignment in the event of the inevitable knocks and
bashes it's likely to receive down the years. And given that I spend
a lot of time realigning bashed bells it's a feature I'd like to
see on all horns.
There's also a detachable semicircular compound
bell key pillar - and take note of those shoulderless point screws
sticking out of it...we'll come back to those later.
Complementing the bell brace there are a pair
of braces for the top bow - and the top bow is detachable via a
clamp fitted to the top of the main body tube (as can be seen in
the shot of the octave mechanism further down the review).
There are pros and cons to having the top bow detach from the main
body tube - as opposed to having it detach from the upper bow. The
biggest con is that should you wish to service and clean to top
bow 'pigtail', you have to take a whole bunch of keys off first.
The big pro, though, is that if the body gets bent you can get tooling
down the bore without having to unsolder the top bow from the body
or take the bell off. Swing and roundabouts, but my preference is
to see a top bow that detaches from the main body tube.
There are a bunch of other useful features such
as adjustable bumper felts on the bell key guards, a detachable
side/chromatic F# key guard, an adjustable metal thumb hook (though
only a flat plastic thumb rest) and double key cup arms on the low
C, B and Bb keys.
unusual feature is the triple sling ring, with 17/9mm rings.
This gives the player the opportunity to tweak the balance of the
horn for preference - or when using it in the seated position. It
might not seem like much of a benefit, but being able to shift the
centre of gravity even only very slightly can make a big difference
to your comfort when handling a horn that weighs in at almost six
While we're here, note the fork and pin connector for the side key.
Simple and efficient.
The toneholes are plain drawn - and neatly finished.
My remit on this job was to precision level them, and when I tested
the bell key toneholes for level I found that they were pretty much
dead flat. Result! I usually advise bari players to at least have
the bell key toneholes levelled because they're usually warped -
but not on the Premiere.
However, the honeymoon didn't last very long because beyond the
low C# the toneholes were distinctly average. I suppose at least
they weren't noticeably warped - which is a good thing.
the low C - and you can see a fairly typical high spot in the middle
(with a similar high spot on the opposite side of the tonehole).
Although it's excessive in my books it's not bad enough to stop
the horn dead in its tracks because baritones are pretty leak-tolerant
on the whole, but it will reduce the response of the horn and lead
to a leak as the pad settles. A spot of levelling will ensure a
much 'poppier' response and ensure those low notes keep pumping
out with ease down the years.
The finish is, well, there isn't one. It's a bare
brass horn. OK, they've dipped it to add an antiqued effect, but
they've also gone for that 'steampunk' sort of look and left lots
of heat and flux marks on the horn. I've seen this sort of finish
before - and it may well be an entirely personal opinion but it
seems to me that it seldom works very well. However, I have to admit
that the Premiere carries it off quite well, and that's perhaps
because it's a little understated.
There are pros and cons to a bare brass finish (and no, it makes
no difference to the tone) but by far the biggest drawback is that
players who're are inclined to dribble over their horn will find
that cleaning up after a gig is vital unless they don't mind it
gradually turning green. The simple solution would be to buy the
lacquered model - but alas, they don't seem to do one. At least
not yet, as far as I can see. Finishing up the body is some nice
engraving on the bell, though I should point out it's a little rough
to the touch.
to the action now, and right off the bat I have to say that I was
extremely pleased to note that all of the keywork was nice and tight
on its pivots. I really couldn't find any slop in it at all. That's
impressive. Full marks there.
As far as the keys that are mounted on rod/hinge screws go this
means that the key barrels have been drilled/reamed with accuracy
- and the point screws are of the shoulderless variety. This is
a very nice feature because it means they're constantly adjustable
to take up wear and tear down the years.
That said, it's a slightly weird implementation because most of
the tip of the screw does nothing at all - and it's only that taper
(arrowed) at the base of the tip which makes contact with the key
barrel. I suppose I can't complain too much because I'm always banging
on about how important I feel it is to have proper point screws
with a degree of adjustment built into them - and this design certainly
ticks those boxes...but it just seems a bit, well, fussy.
low A mechanism is of the Selmer Style (SA80II), which is to say
that connecting arm runs down the rear of the body tube rather than
over or under the front - such as on the Yanagisawa and the Yamaha.
It's a decent mech - certainly a notch up from the Yanagisawa mech
and almost as good as the Yamaha - and feels quite positive in use.
There are a couple of adjusters on the mechamism; one for the low
B/Bb keys and another for the low A - and between them both you
can dial in adjustments to regulate the relationship between the
keys. In this respect it scores slightly better than the Yamaha
- which although it also has a means of adjustment, it's far more
fiddly and a great deal less 'player friendly'. All you need is
a torch, a screwdriver and your mouthpiece - and by peering down
the bell with a torch shining on the underside of the pads from
outside the bell, you can tweak the regulation to diminish or remove
any regulation leaks. Very nice, very handy.
On the down side the thumb key pivots from the
left, and I find it a bit less responsive than the Yamaha mech which
pivots from the right. It might just be me but I find the latter
feels more natural under the thumb. That said there's really not
a great deal in it - so it's by no means a deal-breaker...and it's
still better than the Yani mech (which tends to be somewhat spongy
of feel, there's a nice set of very slightly concave abalone key
pearls fitted, with a slightly domed one for the Bis Bb. You also
get a pair of flat oval pearls on the G# and side F# touchpieces.
Note the adjuster on the lower right of the shot; this is to adjust
the regulation of the front top F key.
Lots of horns have a similar feature, but it usually means having
to move a pin back and forth along a key. It's not terrible user-friendly
- which is why the top-down adjuster on this baritone scores maximum
points for ease of use. You might find you never use it, but if
you're going to dabble with the altissimo range it'll allow you
to adjust the response of the top F on the fly...or just help you
to tune the F to your preference. On the down side - this, the adjusters
for the low A mech and the usual Bis Bb/G#/low C# are all you get.
There are no stack regulation adjusters, which is a little bit disappointing
considering how the horn excelled in so many other areas.
If there's one problem with this top F adjuster it's that it rather
limits how much you can bend the touchpiece. You can see there's
quite a big gap between the tip of the touchpiece and the B key
pearl. I'd generally like to see less of a gap here and would typically
bend the F key arm to move its touchpiece closer to the B - but
doing so will move the adjuster off the link (to the top F) key.
It's not a completely insurmountable problem as you can move the
link key arm some...but you're likely to run out of space pretty
quickly - and you can't really move the B key arm back because that
would increase the distance to the Bis Bb pearl.
They've made good use of a mix of composite cork
and felt (along with a few plastic sleeves here and there), and
about the only negative thing I can point to is that some of the
corkwork was rather less than neat. It's a small thing, and it won't
affect how the horn plays - but it would have been nicer if they'd
kept things tidy.
Another notable feature is that almost all of the point screw mounted
key barrels are nickel silver. This is a smart move. It's a little
bit stiffer than brass - and on a baritone you need all the stiffness
you can get when it comes to those long keys. It looks nice too
- adds a silvery counterpoint to the antiqued finish. As for the
rest of the keys I'm pleased to report they they're reasonably stiff
too...so there shouldn't be any problems with heavy-handed players
putting the key regulation out.
octave key mechanism is the usual modern swivelling type. This is
always a good place to look when you want to know how well a baritone's
been put together because it's here where sloppiness in the keywork
is going to be very evident. No such problems here though - everything
was nice and tight.
a reassuringly sturdy triple brace for the bell key barrels.
This is a nice feature. Long key barrels tend to flex rather a lot,
and this can lead to some imprecision at the pad seat - so anything
that helps to stiffen up such long barrels is always going to be
a good thing. In days gone by it was common to see cup-style braces
(such as that which you can commonly see supporting the G key),
but these only prevent the key from flexing downwards. An enclosed
brace, like this one, stops the key flexing in any direction.
On some horns these braces are adjustable in height - and first
sight I thought this one was; but it's not. It's no big deal really,
it just means that the brace itself is less likely to be responsible
for inducing flex - but provided the horn is well-built it really
isn't that much of an issue.
What is something of an issue are the screws that hold the clamp
in place. There's one each side of the brace, and they're incredibly
small and fiddly...so if you can possibly avoid removing them, you'll
have a much nicer day.
If you do need to remove the bell keys you might be better off just
unscrewing the brace from its base and taking off the bell keys
as one group.
Just a minor whinge though - I'd far rather see a decent brace like
this fitted than not at all.
the techs/geeks among you I have to report that the Premiere has
a 'Gotcha' built into it.
You can't remove all the lower stack keys without first removing
all the bell keys - bar the low C# cup key. This is because the
key barrels trap the low F and D keys; they won't slip out through
the stack pillars (believe me, I tried...and tried) and have to
be lifted up and out of the stack. But the bell key barrels are
in the way. It's a bit of a faff, especially dealing with the triple
key brace doohicky.
Just something to bear in mind should you need to work solely on
the lower stack keys.
a decent sets of pads fitted - Pisoni Pro, no less. Better still,
there's a goodly amount of glue (hot melt glue, in this case) on
the back of the pads. This means two things; the pads are unlikely
to fall out, and when someone needs to reset a pad there's plenty
of glue to accommodate a change in the position of the pad. Full
Finally, the action is powered by a set of blued
The horn comes in a large box-style zippered case,
though it does have a pair of luggage straps built in. These will
come in handy when (not if) the zip fails. It's a bulky affair but
it does at least mean there's plenty of storage space for all your
bits 'n bobs. There's also a set of wheels fitted to the case but
I'd caution you about using them on anything other than a flat and
smooth surface - because they're a little bit on the flimsy side.
Finally, there's a Rousseau JDX mouthpiece thrown in for good measure.
It might not be everyone's cup of tea but it's at least a quality
piece, and a very welcome bonus at this price point.
Under the finger the action felt smooth and tight.
Better than that, I'd rate it as being really rather good.
I didn't notice any problems with the ergonomics, and I'd say it
was on a par with pretty much any top-tier baritone. As mentioned
earlier I wasn't a big fan of the low A thumb key arrangement but
it really didn't take all that long to get used to it - and the
action was reasonably firm. I should also say that there was very
little tweaking of the springs required; the out-of-the-box setup
was really rather good.
it's obviously a contemporary baritone. It's powerful and punchy
and doesn't quite have the warmth and openness that you'd typically
get from a vintage low Bb baritone. That may or may not be bad thing
depending what you intend to do with the bari. If you're in a big-band
line-up or a soul section, you're going to need that power and punch.
But the Premiere does have a little trick up its sleeve because
it's just a little bit restrained when it comes to the upper harmonics
around each note. It's just enough to maintain the clarity and yet
just adds a touch of roundness to the notes. I like it - it just
moves it slightly apart from the competition and lifts it out of
the merely functional.
It's also quite evenly toned, which is a nice
surprise. Baritones often exhibit a change in tone when moving up
the second octave (they can get a bit 'nasal'), but the Premiere
seems to smooth out this inevitable change quite gracefully. I like
I mentioned that I'd precision levelled the toneholes, and I was
curious to see just how much of a difference it would make. The
horn certainly had plenty of punch straight out of the box - but
after the tweakery it took on a bit more nimbleness. By far the
biggest improvements were the stability at low volumes and the speed
with which the bell notes popped out.
So far so good - but there's a something of a
fly in the old ointment; it's only available in a bare brass (antiqued)
finish. This is fine if you like that sort of thing, but a bare
finish can be tricky to keep clean - and if you're a wet player
you might well find the golden hues of the antiqued brass soon turn
a bit, well, green. It something to bear in mind.
As mentioned earlier it doesn't look like Conn-Selmer do a similar
model in a lacquered finish. There's just the Avant 180 at around
£800 less - and while it's likely to be quite a decent horn
I couldn't honestly say how it compares to the Premiere without
having had one on the bench. But as I said earlier, I've been impressed
with Conn-Selmer's offerings in recent years, so I doubt the Avant
would be a risky proposition.
Final impressions? Very nice. The build quality
is really very good for the price - even to the point of putting
more expensive horns to shame. The shoulderless point screws are
a very worthwhile feature, as are the extra adjusters on the low
A and top F mechs. Bung in a reasonable case and a decent mouthpiece
and it all adds up to quite a formidable package. I'm more than
happy to recommend this bari - and I think I'll go step further
and say that it's quite a bargain.