When I read the e-mail, the information didn't register completely. A musical-instrument dealer had found two SML saxes - a tenor and an alto - in brand new condition. He said they were still in their wrapping paper.
He hadn't heard of SML before, so he went on the Internet and found my article about the company. He knew I would appreciate these horns and wanted to know if I wanted to buy them.
The offer had to be a mistake of some kind, I thought. But, when I checked the guy's credentials, I realized I wasn't dreaming. Please
excuse any cliches, because I still can't think straight about this.
I asked him to tell me the serial numbers and what was written on the bells. The horns were both in the 13,000 range and the engravings matched the numbers. These were clearly late 1950s models. And brand new. With their original cases and contents.
I sent the dealer a bank check by FedEx. I won't reveal the amount, but I'll say this: I consider it a bargain. However, the market value today is irrelevant; there is no way I'm parting with this matched pair. I'm planning to sell my older SMLs. Even someone as crazy as I am can't justify owning two tenors and two altos by SML. Can I?
I had to wait a week for UPS to deliver the horns. I tracked the package every day on the UPS website. The waiting was physically
painful. I entertained all kinds of scenarios about how these priceless horns were lost. I was at the front door when the truck
pulled up, but the deliveryman wouldn't let me carry my package to the house.
When I dove into the Styrofoam packing peanuts and pulled out the alto, I gasped audibly. The case on the horn was so luxurious that
it could have had a Gucci or Coach tag on it. A coffee-colored leather with elegant white stitching and brass latches. It was heavy as an anvil.
I opened the top. The horn could have been gold jewelry resting on plush blue velvet. The original packing tissue was still in
place. The sax came with a "Steel Ebonite K5 Meliphone Special" mouthpiece, brass ligature and cap. Also included were a can of
Alexandre cork grease, a simple neckstrap and screwdriver.
The bell engraving is elaborate, but not quite as baroque as the engraving on the "Gold Medal" models that came a few years later. However, the clothing guard on the horn is engraved, which is unusual.
Another feature that came as a surprise was the thumb plate under the register key. It's on a swivel so that, when you depress the
register key, the thumb plate bends downward. This feature makes it easier to hit the key, but takes some getting used to.
The tenor case and accessories were similar to the alto's. However, the tenor mouthpiece was a "Steel Ebonite D7" made by The Woodwind
Co. of New York. The mouthpiece came with a No. 1 Alexandre Paris reed. And, inside the case was a removable clarinet case. Set into
the inside of the lid of the tenor case were slots to hold a flute. Also, there was a leather strap to hold the tenor's bell in place.
A warranty post card was included. It had to be mailed to Ernest Deffner, Division of Pancordion, Inc., 601 West 26th Street, New
York 1, N.Y.
Hanging from the neck of the tenor was a tag boasting about SML's two first prizes (gold medals) at the International Music Festival
at The Hague in Holland. Here's the text:
"Judged by the artist for award-winning performance...rich deep tones, resonance and volume enhanced by remarkable playing ease.
The delight of the amateur and professional musician alike. Judged by the craftsman for award-winning workmanship in the inimitable
French style...artistically designed with maximum balance and graceful contours. The envy of craftsmen who recognize precisioned
Inside the bell was a bonus--newspapers from Paris. A copy of Le Parisienne was dated "13-4-57," April 13, 1957. I had a mental
picture of the craftsman at the SML offices on Boulevard de la Villette bunching up the papers and stuffing them into the bell.
I'm sure he would be surprised to know I was the first one to play his horn 42 years later.
The tenor had eight cork shims in place to prevent the keys from moving in transit. The cork was evidence that no one had played
the horn before. However, it's apparent someone tried the alto; all the cork shims were gone.
How did they sound? Just like SMLs. As good as the ones I've been playing. The quality of the altos and tenors made by SML is
remarkably consistent. I've received mixed reviews on the baris. Sopranos are too rare for generalizations.
Only problem so far is minor leakage on the alto's lower notes. My repairman is fixing the problem. The pads on both horns look new,
but they're a bit dry. I expected them to be like potato chips, but they held up very well. I treated them with neat's-foot oil.
How do they handle? The mechanics are liquid. Not a drop of key oil was required. There's a major difference in handling between the
"new" horns and my old horns. Whenever I picked up a new sax in a store and felt the ease of motion, I wished that the horns of
yesteryear weren't so clunky. Well, it turns out that SMLs weren't clunky. It's just that horns that have been played a lot aren't as
smooth as they were when they were new.
I look at these saxes (a lot) and I'm grateful for the opportunity that came my way. And, I know that this remarkable gift would never have been mine if it weren't for the Internet.
I'm so glad Al Gore invented it.