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Busato Bio & Shops


This is a rare picture of Bartolo Busato (credit Michael Dregni)

These are different labels with the rue orgemont (1934-1943) and later the Cite Griset address. Square and white until 1951, they were oval, green or white until 1960 and were bearing the signature of Busato from his own hand.
Notice on the pics guitars with the rue d'Orgemont address the shape of the top brace, which is pointy.


It is striking how very little is known about Busato and his guitars. Knowledge is limited, some people know a few scarce things about him, sometimes wrong, but there is no place, no website or no book where complete information is available. This website tries to remedy this situation and welcomes anyone who has some information about Busato, hoping he will bring his precious input, benefitting the community of Gypsyguitarfans. While Busato is revered for his guitars, he deserves his true and complete history to be known.

Some luthiers have thoroughly studied Busato guitars, like Martin Tremblay in Canada, who has analyzed and repaired more than a dozen of his best instruments. No wonder why Martin produces great instruments as the study of the master’s secrets is indeed a door to perfection. Some other luthiers have repaired one Busato without getting full knowledge of the secrets of the master. Most players who play Busatos love them, but as the price of these elusive guitars has been growing from 15 to 20% per year over the last ten years, they are not affordable for everyone. Besides, it becomes extremely difficult to find Busatos for sale. Like Selmers, it is likely that Busatos will become one day the Stradivarius of gypsy guitars.

His nickname was Pablo, as he worked for a while in Argentina, but his first name was Bartolo, or Barnabe. Many believe he died in 1952, but there are Busatos signed by him on labels until 1958. Thanks to some recent extensive research by reputable researchers in France, we know that Busato died in 1960. The luthier Pierre Fontaine was a very good friend of Busato, and they both lived in the Champigny area, where Busato finished his life. Michael Dregni found information about a Bartolo Busato, born in Chiuppano, Italy in 1902 and officially naturalized in France in 1951 (see picture). Busato had two daughters and one son and probably some relatives are still alive in Italy.

Busato guitars have gained a wide recognition from players of gypsy swing music around the world. The reputation of these rare instruments is well deserved. Busato was part of the Italians who emigrated to France in the 1930’s. The first Sicilian luthier to emigrate from Catania and settle in Paris was Vincenzo Jaccobacci, who later had two sons, Roger and André who made half a dozen jazz guitars for me in the 70’s and they both were my friends. Vincenzo Jaccobacci arrived in France in 1920 and he soon travelled many times to Catania to find more luthiers and brought them to France, with a solid working contract. This is how Sicilian luthiers started making wonderful guitars in Paris from 1930 until the late 1970’s. The poor economy of the Catania region highly contributed to the huge migrant wave in the 20s towards France that gave birth to an extraordinary school of French luthiery. Some luthiers from Catania are to be mentioned: Di Mauro, Anastasio, Bucolo, Favino, and Burgassi. All these great luthiers, trained in the prestigious school in Catania, mastered good technique that offered certain advantages of strength to the instruments and their sonority, and a very particular bracing taken directly from the Milanese luthier Mozzani gave the guitar and its metallic strings a particular sonority that seduced many musicians, including Django Reinhardt. The ladder bracing was born, giving this very specific dry sound with few overtones and harmonics and strong fundamentals and sub harmonics. You will find on this website some interesting sound spectral analysis with curves, comparing a Busato with some other guitars (1940 Busato moyen model against a Favino, a Dupont, a Hahl and a Vendramini). These comparative tests made by two engineers are most demonstrative and scientifically illustrate the feelings that musicians have when comparing different guitars intuitively! When you play a Busato together with other guitar players, your guitar will cut through! Mario Maccaferri, who worked with Selmer to design the Selmer guitars from 1932, was a friend to all these Sicilian luthiers and was personally linked to the Groso family (he made guitars in Paris in 1927 and the luthier for whom he was working then sold his business to Groso, an accordion maker. When he left Selmer in the early 30’s, he was cooperating with most of his Sicilian French luthiers friends living in the Paris area and the combining of their mastery of luthiery and strong tips from Maccaferri helped producing guitars which are now a legend for those who could play them. The other region of production in France was Mirecourt, and although many quality instruments were produced there, they cannot really compete with the Parisian production by Sicilian-French luthiers.

Busato produced guitars for more than 30 years, from 1925 till 1960, in three different locations and employed from 26 to 30 people (officially) and up to 60 workers (including non declared workers and subsuppliers working for him in his premises), some of which were producing accordions. Barnabe Busato loved mechanics and he was a master at building and repairing accordions, and it is reported that he enjoyed it a lot. The second producing facility was located at 4, Cité Griset in the 11th district in Paris, and this is the address on the rectangular white labels on the block inside the guitar bodies. Busato also produced drums, mandolins, banjos, accordions and some wind instruments, although he might have sub contracted them. A rare Busato catalog from the 1940’s mentions “any special instrument on request”, so when you see a guitar which does not look like one of the most produced guitar models, think twice before claiming that it is not a Busato. Conversely, of course, do not claim that it is a Busato too early.

Many famous luthiers were trained at Busato’s, like Jacques Favino, Siro Burgassi and Gino Papiri or Anastasio. Like in any company back then or today, there was some personnel turnover so we can imagine that some luthiers trained at Busato later produced guitars, which incorporated all the construction and sound qualities of Busato guitars, without bearing the name of the brand. This website will show some nice examples, what we call Busato Related Guitars. These guitars sound like Busatos, were fully analyzed structurally by reputable luthiers who know Busatos, and the conclusions of their expertise is that they were either made at Busato’s or made by experienced luthiers who later worked in their own shop. These guitars obviously do not command prices similar to Busatos, but they provide an opportunity to own and play a similar guitar. Experts can help but as someone said that wars are too serious to be left to generals, it is true that recognizing the likely provenance of an instrument is not only to be left to experts who, often, have an agenda where profit is present.

We can therefore split Busatos in three distinct categories:

1. Busatos with provenance. They can be grand models, moyen models, or special models. They match all Busato characteristics and have either a white rectangular label, a later green oval label or / and a headstock losange plate with the rue de Ménilmontant address. Prices are the highest. Although all Busatos sound fantastic, some are truly exceptional and command prices of a couple of thousand dollars more. A Grand Model goes from 13,000$ to 17,000$ (2012 prices), a Moyen Model or a Special Model goes for 11,000$ to 14,000$.
2. Busato without provenance, which also can be grand models, moyen models or special models. They match all Busato characteristics but have no label and no losange plate. Many of these, and rightly so, were sold by reputable brokers. Prices are almost as high as the ones with provenance.
3. Busato Related Guitars. They sound as exceptionally good as Busatos, they match some characteristics of proven provenance Busatos. Prices are lower, about a third or half of Busatos. They are amongst the best deals that players can get and go for 4,000$ to 7,000$. It is still possible to find these Busato Related Guitars, but they circulate less and less as most players keep them. Some of these have no labels, some have a label for Symphonia, Paris Musical, Sonora, and some Paul Beuscher guitars were made by Busato also. These are a way of playing a Busato while paying a fraction of its cost.

Obviously the most sought after Busatos have 14 frets to the body and an oval sound hole. D Hole, oblong holes or round sound hole command prices which are lower (30% less than oval holes) and 12 frets go for half of the price of 14 frets.

In the 1930’s Busato produced guitars with a special shape body (3 guitars showed on this website, two 12 frets and one 13 frets, two with oblong hole and one with D Hole), as can be seen on a sheet music found in Paris by Michael Dregni, showed in one of his books and on this website. At the mid 1930’s this shape was discontinued and the Selmer type body with 14 frets to the body and an oval sound hole became more popular. However there are nice examples of 14 frets Busatos with D Hole and there is on this site a superb grand model with a round sound hole and 14 frets, which would overpower and sound better than most oval holes. The pliage / bombé on the top of this round sound hole Busato with a Cité Griset label is spectacular.

Apart from some special models, like Busato F-Holes of which you will find three guitars on this website, or guitars with a most unusual rounded cutaway (a rare Paris Musical on this website), and apart from Spanish type guitars of which you will see a superb looking and sounding copy on this website, Busato produced five models in the 1940’s:

• Model 43 with a cutaway, in mahogany with often a scratch plate and the famous Busato type tailpiece. Tuners were standard Delaruelle with yellow buttons.
• Model 43 bis, same 40 cms lower bout width, with sides and back in mahogany or maple, or Brazilian rosewood, and tuners, which could be either SB Bilardi or Busato Delaruelle with clover covers.
• Model 44, the famous grand model with a 41 cms lower bout and often two braces on the back (not always), often also a three piece neck (not always though), in Brazilian rosewood, with BB Busato gold tuners and tailpiece, buttons could be metal or else.
• Model 45, same model but bindings are white (look at the F-Hole in beautiful Brazilian rosewood on this website, this particular F-Hole Busato has a spectacular bombé on the top and the back).
• Model 46, in black finish with a decorated scratch plate, with white rhodoïd bindings.

Busato and the master luthiers who worked for him would sometimes express their creativity by decorating the headstock, the fret board or some other parts of the guitars with mostly red or green parts, surrounded by metal nails.

In the 1950’s Busato continued to produce guitars similar to those in the 40’s but made also a lot of special models (two guitars shown on this website, one which looks like a Castelluccia, one very similar to Selmer with a flat back. This guitar sounds truly awesome and it has been my favorite guitar for many months).

At the time when these Sicilian-French luthiers were producing guitars, there was much more demand than what luthiers could produce, and relatively few guitars were sold directly by luthiers to clients, although Busato had a showroom at Rue de Ménilmontant, the address on the losange plate on head stocks. This also explains why the labels are so scarce. Luthiers were mostly marketing their instruments through dealers with large shops like Paul Beuscher, Symphonia and Paris Musical in France, and Sonora in Italy. Many Beuscher and most Symphonias, Sonoras and Paris Musical guitars were actually built by Busato. These guitars sound superb and are still less expensive than Busatos. Many of these instruments are 12 frets, but a lot also have 13 frets to the body, a way of possibly spotting an instrument made by Busato. When you come across a guitar with no provenance and 13 frets to the body, try it. You should be impressed by the sound, because the guitar was probably made by Busato. Also try to feel the player’s side lower bout as explained in the technical primer.

A lot of Busato guitars do not have a label on the neck block or a plaque on the headstock. Also Busato produced five different guitar models plus many special models, as clearly indicated on their catalog. There is only one kind of catalog surviving for a specific period, most probably the 1940’s. Many specialists who buy and sell Busato guitars know mostly the grand model, the famous #44 model, while admitting that moyen model exist (43 and 43bis), although if you check what North American brokers sold, it was only a handful of these guitars. There are more moyen model Busatos in Europe which circulate. However, the existence of the moyen is well documented, and you will find on this website some pictures of moyen models with proven provenance (label and plaque). They also sound superb. It is also obvious that a larger quantity of moyen models were then produced by Busato, as the grand model was more expensive and players, as you know, do not always have deep pockets.

Bartolo Busato Main Dates
(I am using here public domain info, as such free to use, and Busato fans can refer to a good article published recently in France for more information on Busato life and professional achievements)

- Bartolo Busato was born on January 1902 in Chiuppano, a hamlet of the Carré town.
- Bartolo Busato arrived in France in 1925.
- His first luthier shop was located 34 rue de Chaligny, in the 12 th District of Paris. He officially registered as a commercial business in February 1931 under "Musical Instruments Works and Repairs".

- After his marriage, he moved his workshop to 40 rue d’Orgemont in the 20 th District of Paris and stayed there from 1934 till 1943.
- In 1943 he opened a shop called "Everything for Music" on 140 Boulevard de Ménilmontant in the 20 th Paris District.
- At the end of 1943 his workshop moved from the rue d’Orgemont to #4 Cité Griset in the 11 th Paris District.

- At the end of the 1940’s, the Cité Griset shop employed up to 43 employees, of which 36 were officially declared and on the payroll. There was also a lot of sub suppliers, including some who were working within Busato premises.
- Busato opened a production site 73 Avenue de Coeuilly in Champigny sur Marne, in the Paris outskirts.  In 1957 the production shop located in Champigny sur Marne takes over most of Cité Griset and is declared officially as such.
- At Busato’s death, one of his employees who was trained at Busato, takes over the Cité Griset shop.
- On July 4 th 1960, Barnabe Busato died from heart attack at his house located at the same address as his shop in Champigny.

Busato, the early years, the genesis.
Busato arrived in France in 1925. He opened his first shop in 1931 Rue de chaligny in Paris, and in 1934 he moved to rue d'Orgemont and continued to produce guitars there until 1943.
What is ludicrous and what is always pissing me off till today, if I may express my feelings about this, is that many pseudo experts, ot brokers, or collectors, call genuine Busato guitars only the Grand Model Busatos made by Busato himself in Cite Griset, where he moved in 1943. These Grand Models were the models studied by luthiers like Favino who learnt his art at Busato till 1946. Even expert collectors have the wrong info, but believe they can decide what is a Busato and what is not. They just know Busato from 1943 and forget that he perfected his art during 12 years, first in rue de Chaligny (1931-1934) and rue d'Orgemont (1934-1943). There is a well known Busato collector in Chicago who is undeniably an expert on Grand Models but refuses to acknowledge any pre Cite Griset production. The grand model would have never existed without Busato research and development made during his 12 early years, from 1931 till 1943. Busato probably worked somewhere from the very moment he arrived in Paris till 1931, but nobody knows anything about this period.
I never came accross labels from rue de Chaligny (1931-1934), but I have seen many rue d'Orgemont labels and guitars. These guitars are slightly smaller than the Grand Models produced later in Cite Griset but sound fabulous. Here are two examples from Prague, with labels. One is similar to the guitars I sold to Dorado Schmitt and his accompanist Francko Mehrstein. Notice the rope binding on the top and the guitar size. I sold one of these fabulous
rue d'Orgemont  Busato to Todd, a beautiful maple Busato with a cedar top. This is what he wrote about it. A message from Todd. He owns 3 Busatos bought from me. He is talking here about the second one he bought, a moyen model Busato related, with maple back and sides and a cedar top. This guitar is depicted in the gallery. This message was sent on December 1st, 2012.
"JP, I love the maple cedar, I'ts an amazing guitar, It kicks the shit out of Tim's Bob Holo, which until now I thought was great, but against the maple cedar it sounds like a mid rangy pile of junk. "

As far as the two guitars also made by Busato in  rue d'Orgemont, ask Dorado Schmitt and Francko Mehrstein and Samson Schmitt what they think of these earlier Busatos.

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