One of the biggest rumors in the SML world is that SML never actually
produced their own horns. Assembled them, definitely -- several folks
have been to the SML plant and seen their production process -- but
there has always been the question of whether or not SML actually
fabricated their own horns.
One of the "prime suspects" that allegedly produced SML
horns was Beaugnier,
a small shop from Mantes, France that produced a variety of stencils
for a bunch of companies, including Olds, but it is better known as
a "wholly owned subsidiary" of Leblanc.
A part of the fun I've been having recently has been researching
the Leblanc company through the various patents that have been granted
to them (check out ep.espacenet.com).
* The patent for the "switchable" G# that is found on most
SML models is actually held by Beaugnier (patent FR979343)
* The patent for the "rocking" thumb rest found on some
SML models is also held by Beaugnier (patent FR904355)
I started to despair of the actual origins of the SML saxophone,
because it was next to impossible to find even a single patent on
them -- which generally means that the horn I'm looking at is a stencil
of some kind, that there is no technical innovation of any kind that
was introduced in the horn (as with Keilwerth) or the patent expired
prior to 1920 (and SML was founded in 1935).
Persistence paid off, though: I found a patent issued to SML -- for
the Gold Medal, no less (the octave key mechanism, specifically).
Unfortunately, I can find no other SML saxophone patents. There are
lots for oboes. Some for clarinets and flutes, but no other saxophone
Now, as some have pointed out, one patent does not necessarily mean that the horn
was fabricated by SML, it just means that SML had a hand in their
design, as with the case of such companies as Lyon
and Healy: they designed some of their horns, but had other folks
actually fabricate and assemble them (Martin and Holton, to name some
in L&H's case).
The main reason for this controversy, in my opinion, is because of
horns like the Heimer -- this is a
horn that was possibly built with the SML tooling, from all indications, yet
it doesn't play anywhere near as well because of poor brass (very
thin) and poor quality control. Fortunately, all SML-made horns are
extremely high quality instruments.
Anyhow, I don't think it's really that much of an issue: yes, it's
100% probable that SML had another manufacturer actually cast the
body of the horn and all keywork, but it appears incontrovertible
that SML did design their own horns and if a different company fabricated
all the parts, it was to SML's specifications.
Finally, as mentioned, the main "contender" for the assumed
fabrication of SML horns by another company is Beaugnier, as SML seems to have used two of their patents, as mentioned above. The number one main
reason I don't think that is the case is because Mr. Vito Pascucci,
the president of G. Leblanc -- which owned Beaugnier -- says that he'd like to have bought SML so he could be producing saxophones
of that caliber again. If Beaugnier produced SML, why would Leblanc
need to buy them out?
Postcript: several people asked, "Well, why don't you send Leblanc
an e-mail aking them to actually say that they've never had anything
to do with producing SML horns?" The simple answer is because
they don't give out that kind of information. I was informed in an
e-mail by a Leblanc official that that kind of information is proprietary.