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SML

Strasser-Marigaux (SML) Saxophones

By Fred Cicetti, July 1997



INTRODUCTION

Several months ago, I purchased an SML alto sax. The sound of this sax was so big and so beautiful that it startled me. I hadn't heard of SML before, but I knew I had to buy this sax. Later, I started asking questions of authorities on musical instruments and was surprised to discover that not much was known about SML.

The search for information was fun, but difficult, because much of what I needed was in France. Unfortunately, France is far away from my home in New Jersey, and the people there speak French.

I want to give special thanks to my Parisian friend, Dominique Cruchon, who acted as my intermediary with the French; Nicole Petitpierre of SML; Morgan Witthoft for his excellent French translations, and Dr. Margaret Downie Banks, a musical instrument scholar at the University of South Dakota.

This report is in two sections. The first includes just the facts I've been able to confirm. The second section is a collection of quotes. There are holes in this story that I couldn't fill without going to France and digging around myself. I'm planning a trip to Paris next year, so I might write a sequel to this story.

THE FACTS


             Strasser-Marigaux S.A. (SML)
           144-146 Boulevard de la Villette
                    Paris, France
                Tel: 33 1 42 08 40 79
                Fax: 33 1 42 08 99 40

Rumors of SML's death are highly exaggerated. The company is still doing business at the same location where it began.

The company maintains offices and workshops in Paris, and a manufacturing plant in La Couture Boussey, 100 kilometers west of the city, a region famous for making woodwinds. The company now has 60 employees.

SML makes oboes, English horns, oboe d'amore, musettes (small bagpipes) and clarinets. It also has an import/export business that distributes the products of Yanagisawa, Rico, Vandoren, Otto Link, Berg Larsen and other companies.

Strasser Marigaux & Lemaire was founded in 1934 by three partners: Charles Strasser, a businessman who was born in Switzerland; Marigaux, an instrument maker who trained at Buffet-Crampon, where his father was "premier ouvrier," and Lemaire.

After the death of Lemaire many years ago, Strasser and Marigaux bought their partner's shares and the company became known as "Strasser-Marigaux." Marigaux died in the early 1970s, leaving Strasser the sole owner of the company. Strasser then sold SML (it continues to use these initials) to a holding company -- Strasser-Marigaux S.A..

Since its earliest days, SML has been known for its oboes. Marigaux was considered one of the world's best oboe-makers. The company made a broad line of woodwinds that once also included saxophones, flutes and bassoons.

SML began making saxophones when the company was founded -- two years before Selmer introduced its revolutionary Balanced Action saxophone. SML ceased production of saxes in 1982; at the time, the company was making 400 saxes a year. It was also selling saxes to King Musical Instruments, which marketed them under the name,"King Marigaux." A company spokesperson said SML stopped making saxophones because "we just couldn't compete with Selmer anymore."

(Sorry, but SML couldn't provide serial numbers for their saxophones.)

SML made sopranos, altos, tenors and baritones. To date, I have located several gold-plate SMLs and one, all-nickel-plate alto. I have not found a silver-plate SML yet. SML plated other instruments in silver, so, I presume there are some silver saxes somewhere.

In an undated catalog that several experts placed at 1955-65, SML offered altos, tenors and baris, but no sopranos. The altos and tenors came in three models each: "Standard," "Gold Medal" and "Gold Medal 2-Tone." The baritones came in only the "Gold Medal."

The Standard is not described as a student or intermediate model, but it was clearly SML's non-pro model. It came in a "Perma-Gold" lacquer finish.

The Gold Medal, which also came with a lacquer finish, was promoted as the "ultimate" in saxophones with "22 outstanding mechanical features not found on American or European saxophones. Used exclusively by top American and European symphony and dance-band artists."

The two-tone model was a Gold Medal with nickel-plate keys and guards.

For your amusement, here are the list prices (not including cases): Standard alto, $350; Gold Medal alto, $415; Gold Medal 2-Tone alto, $435; Standard tenor, $400; Gold Medal tenor, $475; Gold Medal 2-Tone, $495; Gold Medal Baritone, $625.

The 22 mechanical features SML boasted about were:

1. Removable neck lock. A 4-slot ring exerts an even pressure on neck without leakage.

2. Improved octave key features a bearing-type, rocker-arm mechanism for faster action. Facilitates wide jumps and assures a full-bodied middle D, especially on tenor.

3. All screws are made of first-grade tool steel. Pivot screws are hardened to blue grade for long life.

4. All key mechanisms are hand forged.

5. Individual screw adjustments permit perfect key alignment.

6. Properly cupped pearl buttons are scientifically located to encourage flying fingers.

7. Ribs of key cups (tone hole covers) reinforce entire cup diameter.

8. D, D# and F keys are mounted on a single plate for security of posts in fastest passages.

9. Main actions are anchored to a single plate for greater strength.

10. Optional articulation feature with adjustable G# lock permits both group and individual execution of G# to C#, B-Bb. Makes entire action easier!

11. Side and main action rods are hand-ground ("swedged") for precision fit.

12. Set-screw adjustment for G# key.

13. Extra large (6¬") bell (tenor only) affords unusual carrying power and clear, pure pianissimo.

14. Set screw permits a better adjustment on lever that operates Bb key.

15. Clothes guard on back of instrument eliminates possibility of catching clothes under keys.

16. Entire bell, from opening to bow, is exquisitely hand-engraved.

17. Removable key guards allow easy access to low pads.

18. Low B and Bb handle smoothly because of special SML jam-proof rollers.

19. Drawn tone holes with precision-rolled thin-gauge edges allow maximum air passage without leakage or cutting of pads.

20. Adjustable bumper felt pads to permit tuning adjustments on low B, Bb, C and Eb.

21. Brilliantly hand-burnished from bell to neck. Protectively coated with a flawless lacquer finish applied by the exclusive Multi-Coat Process.

22. Precise intonation in the entire range!

My personal experience and comments I've gotten from knowledgeable saxophone players indicate that SML saxophones are among the best ever made.

Are they as good as Selmers, the industry standard?

Allow me this observation: Selmer, Buffet and SML are three great woodwind makers in France. Professional musicians choose Selmer for saxophones, Buffet for clarinets and SML for oboes. I believe the quality of the instruments made by the three companies is in all their products, not just one.

QUOTES

To my knowledge, nothing has been written on SML in the Saxophone Journal. I've compiled wisps of information on the company over the years, but nothing more substantial than the internet banter of the last few months. I have tried a few SMLs, and I agree - they are fine instruments.

Paul Cohen

I have played about six SML saxes. And the ones that have been properly set up and maintained played wonderfully. It is a mystery to me why they were--or are--not more popular in this country or Europe. About the most famous SML player I have ever known is Carmen Leggio, who played tenor for Woody Herman.

Brian Axelrod, USA Horn

I have an SML King Marigaux tenor and I find it usually better than a Selmer SA80. And very solid too! Once, in an elevator, a fall of a meter resulted only in a small dent.

Giovanni Terzi

Do these things have a roaring giant sound or what? I love 'em.

Morgan Witthoft (Owner of an SML alto, tenor and bari pictured in SML Gallery)

I just got back from my big band rehearsal. The guy who plays there with an older Selmer tenor noticed the sound of my SML immediately.

Harri "Sax on the Web" Rautiainen

SML was a pretty serious company comprised of workers who left the Selmer factory perhaps a bit pissed at not being paid enough for their craft. They did make some great horns, and if you can find them in good shape they are as good or better than some of the finest Selmers ever made. They really perfected the combining of the best of both Conn and Selmer into one horn with some of their own innovations that Selmer was too set in it's own ideology to try.

Bri22@juno.com

I bought my King Marigaux new in 1980. But it did take the dealer about six months to get one. All in all, it's a good semi-pro horn, but I'd trade it for a Mk VI or Mk VII in a heartbeat.

Ross Klippert

I've had a King Marigaux alto and thought it was a fine quality horn patterned after an SBA. I especially like the articulated G# lever.

Gayle Fredenburgh

I used to own an SML alto. They were made by three french companies Strasser, Marigaux and Le Maire. They were known for their fine tone and were definitely a conservatory level instrument. Later on, King distributed them under the Marigaux name. That's all I know.

Mel Martin

SML was a revolutionary concept in saxophone design that sought to replace the confusing Eb/Bb and Soprano/Alto/Tenor saxophone terminology with a much easier to understand Small/Medium/Large taxonomy. Under their system, Eb alto became small, Bb tenor became medium, and Eb bari became large. Their original marketing scheme was intended to expand into other sizes - petite (soprano), XL (bass), and XXL (contra bass) but the concept proved to be too far ahead of its time and the company eventually folded.

B.B. Bean

SML were French-made and, by all accounts, pretty good instruments. Some of them are frighteningly powerful, too. Much more so than anything being made these days! Sound, well-made instruments. Perhaps a little awkward to the modern hand which is used to the conveniences of Yamahas, etc.

Michael Wells

I have owned and played several of these (SMLs) and loved them all! When it comes to value, they are considered "sleeper" horns, sought after by people in the know. I think the people who like them are pretty zealous about them. But, alas, the Selmer mystique is a hard dragon to slay, even for an excellent company like SML.

Jason DuMars

When I play your horn, I sound like Paul Desmond.

Phil Chester, my teacher


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.. ©1997-2005 Harri Rautiainen and respective authors
 
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Created: July 1997.
Update: October 15, 2005.

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