Comparative Tests - Vintage Gypsy Guitars - Busato- Favino-Di Mauro-Castelluccia

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Comparative Tests

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Guitars comparative tests: lab tests or live tests:

Nobody would buy a guitar on the only basis of comparative tests with sound spectral curves. Trying a guitar, playing it for a while and deciding if we like it or not is the right way to do. I remember an argument I had a couple of months ago with one broker located in North America selling Busatos. He was claiming that the sound quality and the specific sound signature are of virtually zero help to determine if a guitar is a Busato or not. I told him that if it is what he believes he’d better go and sell vegetables on a market and stop selling high-end instruments, at least Busatos, as any players who owns a Busato can very precisely recognize a Busato and comment about its sound quality. No wonder why this broker does not bother to present video clips on his Website!

If at the end only your opinion counts, it is worthwhile asking friends-players to give their honest opinion. If all of the great players you know like your guitar and say "Wow" when playing it, you probably have a winner. It is the case with all the Busatos and Sicilian-French luthier’s guitars I’ve owned.

It is interesting that the conclusions and the findings of scientific comparative tests correlate with most player’s own feelings, opinions, and conclusions. Some gypsy guitar fans might then find it interesting to read the comparative tests we made with some guitars. These tests were carried out in January 2012 by Christine Tassan and Jean Paul Karcz, both players and engineers, with professional equipment and a sufficient know-how after a good preparation (microphones, electronic card, computer program, and these tests were analyzed using a specially written Excel spreadsheet).

The five guitars we compared were the following:

A 1940’s moyen model Busato with back and sides in birdseyes maple. I bought this guitar from The Fellowship of Acoustics and later sold it through Michael Horowitz at Djangobooks after having played it for six months. Whoever bought it must be in heaven playing it, as this guitar is truly fabulous. This guitar is shown on this website in the presentations.
A 2005 Stefan Hahl Gitano La Lumière. This is a 15,000$ plus guitar made with the best 60 years old woods that Stefan got. Superb luthiery and great sounding guitar. One of the very best modern instruments I owned, and I owned many, but it has a tinge of overtones/harmonics which do not bother 99% of players. I sold the guitar through Michael Horowitz as I am too used to playing Busatos, and Busatos have usually very few harmonics/overtones which come in the way of strong fundamentals and sub-fundamentals. I was told this particular 2005 Hahl was the first one that Bireli Lagrene tried and he said about it "it has the sound of the angels". After trying it he started to use Hahl guitars on stage.
A great Favino made originally for Romane and sold by Stan Lafferriere to a friend of Christine Tassan.
A 2002 Dupont MD50. This is the workhorse for many gypsy players, and it is a half luthier’s made and half an industrial made instrument. Much better than industrially made guitars, but it is far from playing in the same league as vintage Busatos or Sicilian-French luthier’s guitars. It has a good playability, a decent volume and projection, but has a wet sound, not dry enough, with tons of overtones and harmonics spoiling the fundamentals. I find it expensive for what it is, and both live tests and scientific tests illustrate the lack of true quality. There are quite a few modern luthiers who offer 100% luthier’s made guitars which sound better, for the same price.
A 2012 Vendramini, a true luthier’s made guitar owned by Christine Tassan. The guitar was just delivered from France and was much too "green" to really deliver its best. Buying a new guitar, which did not have the time to mature, is indeed a risk, because it could never mature. There is a good analogy with 1975 French Bordeaux wines.  This was supposed to be one of the best years for Bordeaux, like 1949, but they never opened. I still own a couple of bottles and the wine experts claim these 1975 Bordeaux will open up one day. Guess what? I might be dead before they do. Follow the same principle with guitars. The one you buy must sound great right away, do not speculate that it might open up with time. I owned a great AJL made in January 2012 and AJL guitars have a rare quality, they are already very mature, even new, as woods are artificially aged by a special process. The great player Denis Chang owns an excellent AJL. Also, anybody who played gypsy guitars with cedar tops know how great they are. They have a mature sound right away!

We started the tests by first playing all the guitars for a couple of hours. Single notes, comping with la pompe, with different tunes. We based our opinion on the following parameters:

Quality of bass notes (ringing or not), mids (round and pleasant or not), and highs (cutting through and powerful or weak).
Quality of the highs in the most difficult register, on the three higher strings between frets 10 to fret 18 (this is where many guitars, including no-so-bad-ones, fail the test).
Balance between the lowest notes and the highest notes of the guitar register.
Overall pleasing tone or not.
Volume and projection.

We tried not to be influenced in our evaluation of the sound qualities by the playability of the guitars. Anyway all guitars were set up by first class luthiers so it was not an issue, also the size and the shape of the neck could have been, namely for Christine Tassan who has relatively small hands. She is still the best gypsy swing guitar female player I have heard so far.

Our ranking of these five guitars gave the following results, before the scientific measurements:

The Busato came first with great bass, superb mids and powerful highs, overpowering any other guitar of the test. Superb balance in all the register, loving sound, big bark and the feeling of driving a racing car or a vintage Corvette. Christine stopped eating the pizza and the only thing coming out of her mouth was "wow!" during a couple of minutes. This was the first Busato she ever tried and it was a real shock for her.
The Favino came second, with a great vintage tone.
The Hahl came third, with the restriction of a tinge of wet sound, not really bothering but preventing this great guitar from reaching the perfection of the Busato or the great vintage tone of the Favino.
The Vendramini came next, in spite of being too new to deliver its potential.
The Dupont MD 50 was last, quite far away from the rest of the guitars. Very wet sound and a noticeable lack of balance over the register, even if the power was masking these defects to an untrained ear.

Scientific evaluation:

We measured many notes on each guitar and we plotted the following:

Volume and projection of the fundamental frequency. The more the better.
Volume and projection of each overtone and harmonics. The less the better.
Ratio overtones and harmonics on fundamentals. The less the better.
Volume and projection of sub harmonics. The more the better as they are of great help to the fundamentals.
Balance of these measures over the fret board. Making sure that the same qualities are consistent for bass notes, mids and highs.

Conclusions of the Scientific Tests:

The best spectral curves profiles were measured for the Busato. The fundamentals were the most powerful, the ratio of overtones and their number on the fundamentals was the smallest, and the sub harmonics were huge.
Not too far from the Busato, the Favino yielded very honorable results, although the volume and projection were noticeably less.
The Hahl was at mid point from the two best and the two worst guitars.
The Vendramini had some good points but was very uneven over the whole spectrum.
The Dupont MD 50 yielded the worst results. Few sub harmonics, reasonable fundamentals but a profusion of overtones and a large ratio of overtones to the fundamentals. All these measured parameters explain the wetness / reverb of the guitar, which is bothersome.

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