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.
Strasser-Marigaux S.A. (SML)
144-146 Boulevard de la Villette
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
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
(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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
When I play your horn, I sound like Paul Desmond.
Phil Chester, my teacher