The Selmer-Bundy Co. was an American-based music company with European roots. The history of the company's flutes combines Old World craftsmanship with American ingenuity. The Selmer family were first-class clarinetists and clarinet makers whose company introduced its first flute in the 1920s. Selmer-Bundy specialized in making affordable, high-quality musical instruments; many young flutists begin their careers playing a Selmer-Bundy flute.
Historical Origins of Selmer-Bundy
The Selmer-Bundy Co. dates from the last part of the 19th century and brothers Alexandre and Henri Selmer, clarinetists and graduates of the Paris Conservatory. Alexandre immigrated to the United States to pursue a career as a professional clarinetist, performing with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic from 1895 to 1910. He also opened a music store in New York, while Henri founded a clarinet shop in Paris in 1900. The Paris, Boston and New York connections all played important roles in the evolution of their company. The Selmer brothers won a gold medal for their clarinets at the 1904 St. Louis World's Fair, greatly enhancing the popularity and sales of Selmer clarinets.
The First Selmer-Bundy Flute
Alexandre returned to Paris in 1918 to assist Henri in the family business while George Bundy, one of Selmer’s New York employees, took over managing the U.S. side of operations. Bundy expanded the retail and distribution efforts, and the company began carrying instruments from other musical companies, such as Vincent Bach, Ludwig and Martin. Bundy’s desire to expand the business led him to venture into flute manufacturing. He hired George W. Haynes, who came from a prominent flute-making family, to design the first Selmer flute. The flute manufacturing side of the business moved to Boston for a time to take advantage of the large pool of skilled flute makers there. The company hired Kurt Gemeinhardt, a German flute craftsman, to oversee production. Selmer’s first flutes were modeled on Louis Lot flutes, which many professional flutists played in the 1920s. The Selmer model was based on a flute owned by Henri and Alexandre's brother Charles, who was the first-chair flutist with the French-based Opera Comique and Concerts Colonne Orchestra.
Creating Affordable Instruments
In the 1920s Selmer relocated to Elkhart, Indiana, because of its skilled labor pool and lower production costs. Bundy bought the business from the Selmer brothers in the late '20s. The New York retail shop started by Alexandre stayed in business until 1951. Bundy’s American side of the company specialized in mass-produced, inexpensive instruments for amateur musicians, while the Paris location focused on high-quality instruments for professionals. Jazz greats who played the Paris instruments included Louis Armstrong, Benny Goodman, Coleman Hawkins and John Coltrane. In 1948 Selmer produced its first plastic molded clarinet, the Bundy Resonite 1400, modeled on Benny Goodman’s clarinet, which was produced by the Paris version of Selmer. The 1400 showed that it was possible to produce high-quality instruments at affordable prices, a turning point in the production of musical instruments.
Contemporary History of Selmer Instruments
The Baby Boom generation created a large market for affordable musical instruments in the 1960s and ‘70s, and Selmer found a niche making instruments for school music programs, orchestras and bands. Selmer acquired Steinway Musical Properties in 1995 and in 2003 merged with the C.G. Conn Co. to create Conn-Selmer.
Robert Russell began writing online professionally in 2010. He holds a Ph.D. in philosophy and is currently working on a book project exploring the relationship between art, entertainment and culture. He is the guitar player for the nationally touring cajun/zydeco band Creole Stomp. Russell travels with his laptop and writes many of his articles on the road between gigs.