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Conn Selmer Premiere PBS380V baritone

Conn Selmer Premiere PBS380V baritone reviewOrigin: Taiwan
Guide price: £4500
Weight: 5.88kg
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 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.

Conn Selmer Premiere baritone bell braceThe 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.
Conn Selmer Premiere baritone sling ringAn 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 kilogrammes.
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.
Conn Selmer Premiere baritone  low C toneholeHere's 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.

Conn Selmer Premiere baritone  point screwOn 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.

Conn Selmer Premiere baritone low A keyThe 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 in feel).

Conn Selmer Premiere baritone  top stackSpeaking 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 there shouldn't be any problems with heavy-handed players putting the key regulation out.

Conn Selmer Premiere baritone octave mechThe 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.

Conn Selmer Premiere baritone key braceThere's 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 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.

Conn Selmer Premiere baritone gorchaFor 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.

Conn Selmer Premiere baritone  padsThere's 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 marks there.

Finally, the action is powered by a set of blued steel springs.

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.

Conn Selmer Premiere baritone  bellTonewise 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 that too.
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.

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