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What makes a good gypsy guitar?

Using my own half a century experience of playing great guitars and the work of the best violin experts and great guitar luthiers who renovated about a thousand guitars for me (no joke), I wrote this article, inspired by this combined source. I do not pretend to be right but it might complement your own experience.

Remember: A guitar is a vibrating system, not a beautiful piece of art with its mandatory label. The label and the beauty do not make the sound.

Most vintage gypsy guitars have a long-standing myth of superior sonority.  It is the case with Busato, Bucolo and Joseph Di Mauro the Elder, the three undisputed masters a big notch above the others, but it is true also with Antoine Di Mauro, Castelluccia and most Symphonia, Paris Musical, Sonora and the old Beuscher, as they were made by these luthiers.
The superior sonority is true, provided the guitar was restored to its original quality, which, may I mention, is an almost unique feature of guitars I sell, which were restored by Martin Tremblay. If you cannot get one of these beauties to play, get a modern guitar made by some masters, or cross fingers when buying a vintage guitars from the usual sources.
Knowing how to re neck, adjust the neck angle, choose the right wood for the fret board, put frets, adjust the bridge height, and repair any crack so the right tap tone would come out is part of the mastery. How to put right many old and stupid "repairs" if any is part of the game too. Getting rid of parasite noises is an art in itself.
However, doing all this only makes sense if the deceased master luthier created a great guitar, which is the case with the names I mentioned earlier.

As for the varnish, scientists are skeptical of whether or not it is truly "key" to a violins (or a guitar) production (Hall, 2001; Schelleng, 1968). Scientific tests have shown that the most important thing seems not to be what the varnish is made of, but instead how thinly a coat can be applied (Hall, 2001). You may make the assumption that this is because the change in mass changes the sound. It is true that the addition of mass changes the frequency of a vibrating system. (This can be understood with a simple demonstration: take an empty teacup and tap the edge with a spoon—remember that pitch. Then, fill the teacup with water and tap the edge at the same point again. The pitch will be lower.) The formula for this is:

ƒ=(1/2
π)√(K/M)

ƒ being frequency, K being stiffness, and M being mass (Hall, 2002). However, the original vibration is not the body, but a string (Hall, 2002). The body is the resonator, pushing a greater amount of air so that we can hear the vibration of that string. Yet, the answer does have something to do with mass. John C. Shelleng performed an experiment in 1968 whish led him to the conclusion that the addition in mass is not insignificant, but what was more important was the effect that his had on stiffness. In a vibrating system like varnished wood a change in mass contributes to a change in stiffness (Shelleng, 1968). The immediate decrease in frequency of the vibrating body becomes somewhat self-cancelling because of the simultaneous change in stiffness. Yet, Shelleng states that the gradual changes in stiffness are cause for concern. Increased stiffness means that the wood is less responsive, and the sound level can drop (Shelleng, 1968).

Varnish thickness, the top thickness and the braces play a role and the best luthiers understand it. Try a vintage guitar renovated by Martin Tremblay or one of his Busatos to get the idea. Conversely, and I am sorry to criticize Maurice Dupont, but my original 1940 Selmer was renovated and re varnished by him and his coating of a very thick varnish killed the original sound qualities of the instrument. Many Montreal luthiers and players were mentioning this flaw in the first place as they liked the guitar, not the renovation. And they hated the orangey and thick varnish he applied to this wonderful instrument.

What is it in the tone of a great gypsy guitar, vintage or new, that many people think makes it distinctive? Put into tangible language is it the power of the tone? Is it soft but has excellent carrying power? Is it the color of the tone? Is it edgy or dull? Is it clear and resonant with an easy response? In my opinion, the only probable aspect of a guitar’s tone is power. Power can be measured in decibels. The really good guitars (ones that should be called concert guitars and the ones which are worth to be played by you) are powerful.

There are virtually no articles on the secret of great gypsy guitars but to the best of my knowledge nobody can say what it actually is in the tone the musicians and authors of these articles think that makes a given guitar superior. Could it be they don’t want to appear ignorant and say it is superior?
I have worked for years on the problem of thicknesses until a few years ago when I realized it was achieving very little. I decided to take drastic action. I knew it would be possible to improve the sound on a good guitar when I had experiments made on the braces below the bridge. I mean immediately below the bridge, around it let’s say. The tonal colors and power can be greatly changed manipulating the bracing around the bridge. Re graduating the top and back is impossible on a gypsy guitar. Having braces on the back is a stupid way to lose projection and bass response. I know, some grand model Busatos have it but they are not the best.

I gradually zeroed in on the area of the guitar near the bridge. That is where the energy comes from. The pick activates the strings, which in turn activate the bridge, which in turn activates the top and the rest of the vibrating system, the guitar.

I managed experiments on the top directly under the bridge, had my luthiers fed up and hating me, and gradually produced better and better results. The closer to the bridge, the more impact on the sound. I now get much more power, richness, clarity, no wolf tones and many other positive qualities. The thickness of the top under the bridge in good vintage guitars is always the same; ask Martin Tremblay he could tell you the ideal thickness you need if you ask nicely. The thickness of the top under the bridge on violin (not on gypsy guitars) is less than the one on the rest of the top. (violin: 2.4mm to 3.2mm under the bridge and 8 to 12 mm on the top). Meditate this for guitars. How to make a bracing system below the bridge which acts as thinner than the top? Answer is in the bracing of the top and the bracing under the bridge, as the old masters knew it. Everything is a balance between the top thickness and its bracing and the area below the bridge with its bracing.

How to judge a good tone on your guitar?

In a guitar a "good tone" is a complex mixture of qualities that blend together to create a pleasing sound. Some of these can be evaluated objectively (power, clarity, balance, evenness) and some are very much a matter of judgment and personal taste.

Power: There are hundreds of adjectives that describe the tone of a guitar: warm, lyrical, rich, clear, deep, smooth, brilliant, "and on and on. The most important one though, is power, as I said. A good guitar will be loud. Power is measurable in concrete terms. In other words: decibels. Decibels are facts. So much of judging the tone of a guitar is subjective, but decibels are facts. If two guitars are played exactly the same next to a decibel meter the meter can tell you which one is louder. Although there are many qualities to a good tone, power is the most important. I would never play, buy or sell a guitar, which is not very powerful.

Clarity: It is very important that the tone of a guitar be clear. A fuzzy unfocused tone will not carry and makes the player have to work too hard to get a good sound out of the guitar. A fuzzy, wooly tone might sound loud enough under the ear but it won't go very far, and will sound bad in comparison if your friend player has a bomb. In addition, it makes picking harder. A fuzzy note drops off much faster than a clear and resonant note. This makes picking changes, articulation, and smooth moving from one note to another more difficult, and make a blob when playing la pompe. Any difficulty in one area has an effect on another area. For instance, if you have to concentrate on articulation, you are distracted from your intonation, rhythm, etc. A fuzzy quality in the tone when playing very softly will practically disappear. A clear tone will make the player have to work less hard and concentrate on other things, like making beautiful music.

Balance: It is important all 6 strings have the same volume and all the notes on the strings have the same volume and quality. If a guitar has one weak string it can be a big problem. You either have to play louder on the weak string or softer on the other strings. Once again we have the problem of power, (of lack thereof) if you have to weaken the other five strings to compensate for one weak string. A real headache, and get rid of this stupid guitar is my advice.

Evenness: Quite often even on a good guitar there will be one or two weak notes or a wolf tone. Once again this presents a problem for the player to make the tone even enough to make the phrase work. The player doesn't want some notes that surge or some notes that practically disappear.

Warmth: A powerful tone that is strident, edgy and brassy without depth is not to be desired. Quite often a student guitar have these qualities. Generally speaking, a student guitar will be bright and brassy sounding in the lower register. On the other hand if the tone is warm and deep on the bass strings the other strings will tend to be weak and wooly. Virtually all of the vintage guitars have this quality.

Richness: This is a quality that can be hard to define. I like to think of it as full-bodied. In more concrete terms, it boils down to a good strong fundamental and sub overtones and few strong high overtones. The sound has to be dry with a bark, but interesting and complex. A good gypsy guitar does not have rosy cheeks, it bark and is loud with lots of projection and a warm tone.

Depth: It is hard to define the difference between a deep tonal quality and dark tonal quality. To me the viola has a dark quality in the lower register and the cello has a deep quality in the lower register, although the cello plays an octave lower than the viola. A dark sound would be a strong fundamental with not as many overtones as with a deep sound which has a strong fundamental plus good strong overtones. A good example of this would be a double bass playing the same note as a cello. The double bass would have a darker quality as the viols don't have as much sizzle as the violin family. Let us say the G string of a violin and to a lesser extent the D string should have some of the qualities and characteristics of a cello and a viola. Certainly not too much, though. It should still sound like a violin. A good strong fundamental plus few overtones. If a guitar has a weak fundamental or the action is too low it will sound tinny and brassy. The lower register of a guitar must be deep and rich but it must sizzle also.

Smoothness: This is another hard one. If the guitar sounds smooth under the ear it will tend to not carry well. It is more important to sound smooth to the audience than to the player. A guitarist has to get used to a certain edginess under the ear that the audience doesn't hear. This edginess is once again the preponderance of the higher overtones, which is one of the components that gives the tone its richness, but defines a crappy gypsy guitar. Many of my guitars have an absolutely gorgeous tone that carries to the farthest reaches of the hall. When I first started to play, I couldn't understand this. My guitars, vintage ones I mean, sound so great in the concert hall and on recordings but up close they could sound a bit scratchy and rough.

Brilliance: To me brilliance is synonymous with sparkling. A brilliant quality is very important particularly in the upper register. Virtuoso music tends to go up very high on the B and E strings. The higher you go up the tighter the string gets and the more brilliant the sound. Also as mentioned before, it is much easier to go high on the outer strings than the middle string. There should be a brilliant sheen to the tone even if it has a rich and deep quality. Once again the large mix of the few overtones combined with the strong fundamental. Hoping the vibrating system (the guitar) is good at producing sound with small length of thin strings. Small power of vibration must still project. This is where most modern gypsy luthiers fail to deliver. When I try a guitar I play the B and high E strings above the 8 th frets and if it does not project the only fate of this guitar is to a newbie player or possibly as a decoration on a wall. This being said, and with no intention of overly criticizing, 90% of new guitars fail the test.

Responsiveness: Responsiveness means how easy it is to get the tone out of the guitar. If it takes too much effort it makes other aspects of playing more difficult. If you have to work too hard to get the tone out you must break away your concentration from intonation, rhythm, phrasing, etc. Generally speaking if a guitar has a dark and wooly quality the responsiveness will be relatively easy, and if the tone of the guitar is on the bright side the responsiveness will tend to be hard. A balance between the two is best. A guitar with too easy a response can bring problems if you are nervous in a performance. The tone will tend to crack and squawk. A little resistance can be helpful at times. On the other hand, in the larger instruments such as the cello and bass, the easiest response is most desirable. There is much more physical exertion with these instruments and an easy response is very helpful.

Edginess: Edginess can also be defined as a lot of surface noise. In my opinion, if there is a good strong fundamental in the tone a good deal of edginess can be very helpful. The edginess is really a preponderance of higher selected overtones. The more overtones, the better for carrying power, but much less qualities to the sound, except if the gypsy guitar produces the right blend of fundamentals with few overtones but good lower harmonics. It is a fact that the human ear picks up the higher overtones better than the lower ones. Gypsy music or jazz usually puts the melody on the top and the accompaniment or supporting part on the bottom. Edginess without a good strong fundamental will sound brassy and squeaky. However, with the strong fundamental it will help carry the tone and will not sound edgy and brassy 20 to 30 feet away. The tone from a distance will sound warm, rich and clear. When a luthier who made mostly classical guitars, or jazz guitars or steel strings guitars makes gypsy guitars, you can throw them in the bin right away as they are full of overtones and sound crappy.

Resonance: Resonance is another very important factor in choosing a guitar. Without resonance or sustain the tone dies immediately after the picking changes direction. A gap between notes when playing legato passages is obviously very bad. If the tone dampens immediately after playing a short stroke such as spiccato or martele the musical phrase will sound dead and clipped. A nice resonant tone is ideal for a guitar. However, too much resonance is also not to be desired. (It is better to have too much than too little though). Imagine a piano without dampers. One tone would overlap into another and another, etc. Since a guitar doesn't have dampers the tone dies on its own if the player doesn't go to another note on the same string. Therefore if there is too much resonance you have the possibility of a piece of music that is entirely composed of double, triple and at times quadruple stops!

As you can see from the above, there is much to say about the right gypsy guitars. However, aficionados are few. Go figure! But any player will be capable of judging the sound of a good or great gypsy guitar. And, believe me, he does not have to have deep pockets and buy a 15,ooo$ to get a Busato.



 
 

A short but true story of Sicilian-French luthiers producing Gypsy guitars during the last century in Paris, France

The more you learn about the production of gypsy guitars in France made between 1938 and the mid 60’s, the more you realize that their story is far from being known right, and many wrong or incomplete facts are spread. It is ironic that for years the expertise was left to brokers and traders more capable of reading labels and invoices of guitars produced nowadays, most of which semi industrially. This is slowly changing but many are still tempted to believe brokers and pay big bucks when you can buy a great vintage with a lesser price and totally renovated. Just understand that nobody knows the perfect truth. Not the brokers who lie to protect their business or hide their limited knowledge for obvious commercial reasons, not the luthiers specialized in vintage gypsy guitars, most of them having repaired only a very small number of vintage guitars, not aficionados who play and collect these beauties, always in limited quantities and often concerning one luthier only. All pseudo experts and true experts, including us, might have a piece of the truth but some facts are proven and can be mentioned, and taken for a credible truth. This is what we are trying to do in this article. If you do not learn anything from reading it you are an expert yourself. If you do, you will save time, money, and some serious disappointment.
I have sold about two hundred of the finest instruments over the last two years, had all of them renovated to their best condition by a luthier, Martin Tremblay, who is probably today the world reference in vintage gypsy guitars luthiery, played them as a guitarist who has been playing for more than half a century. Also, and I think it is important to mention, I do not need nor try to make any profit doing this as I am retired and have a good day job. Call it passion, like most of you.

There were two places of production for these gypsy guitars. The Sicilian-French luthiers were in Paris and some others were in Mirecourt. Sicilian-French luthiers were brought to Paris from the mid 30’s by Vincent  Jacobacci and, as I was fortunate enough to know his two sons who were themselves luthiers in the 70’s and hand made more than a dozen guitars from me and my friend Pierre Cullaz, I learnt much from the horse’s mouth spending time in their workshop or having lunch with them, and I would assume I learnt much of the truth. Vincent (1895-1975) founded the family business in the district of Ménilmontant and, as I said, convinced most Sicilian-French luthiers to come to Paris, often giving them work. These guys came from Catania or elsewhere in Italy with the right techniques and Mario Maccaferri work with Selmer gave them ideas to come up with beautiful creations, most of which with round or oval sound holes.

The first thing to know is that you are in for a surprise if you go by the labels to establish provenance. This is for several reasons. The first reason is that these luthiers were trying to hide some of their production, selling in Italy without a label to somehow escape French taxes, the second reason being that they rarely delivered a guitar to a player. They were delivering to dealers like Paul Beuscher, Symphonia, Paris Musical or Sonora. Virtually all of these labeled guitars sound as good as a ‘true’ Busato, Bucolo, Castelluccia or Joseph the Elder Di Mauro. Only a reputable and expert luthier like Martin Tremblay or Benoît de Bretagne will be able in some cases to establish provenance.

The golden period of gypsy guitars made in France in the Parisian area or in Mirecourt by Sicilian French, Italian or French luthiers was spread between 1938 and the mid 60’s. Almost all of these guitars, even the ones that survived well, need various levels of renovations to play like new, and there are only a handful of specialized luthiers for gypsy guitars. Hackers and luthiers with quality but little experience will not do the job. The renovations only cost nearly eight hundred dollars for the least expensive (fret-board replacement, new frets and setup) to about double that amount, sometimes more, if the neck has to be reset and even reinforced or cracks must be repaired.
So let me give you a first advice, which will limit your risk if you intend to buy a vintage guitar from Ebay, France directly, le bon coin, a broker including the ones with a good reputation or a fellow guitarist. These are the expensive repairs, the ones that transform an apparent good deal to a spending nightmare.
1.     Cracks. They are visible so you should notice them. Each crack cost 25 dollars per inch and they need to be repaired by a good luthier. A guitar with cracks, even well repaired, attracts fewer potential buyers and its value takes one third off the value away. The central seam on the top, if opened, is to be considered as a crack, not that it reduces the value but it still needs to be repaired at 25 dollars an inch.
2.     The neck. This is the bad part. The neck is often bowed. You have three ways of seeing this. A little bridge height will give you a good indication, Stay away from a guitar with less than 18 mm bridge height, as this very often indicates a neck bowed or tilted upwards, in addition to limiting projection. Also press between fret #12 and with your other hand between the zero fret and fret #1. Do it on each string. You should be able to only slide a business card thickness between the string and fret #8. If more, run away as the neck is bowed and will cost you anything from 600 to 1200 dollars to reset and possibly to reinforce with composite material bars. The last way to see it is to play the guitar; it should play easily like a new instrument.
3.     The finish. If the guitar needs to be refinished partly or entirely, buffed, count from 500 to 1,200$ for this operation.
4.     The quality of the sound. Its projection, volume, balance. If average, no good. Bad, bad news although rare. Exceptional, excellent. A guitar sounding average has its price reduced by 20 to 40%. A trick also. Play notes on the last two small strings from fret # 8 up to the 16 th fret. If it does not project, do not buy the guitar. Also some guitars made by modern luthier play dis balanced sounds. If you get one of these Dupont guitars and find a good one, it was made by Maurice 20 or more years ago. Modern ones are just good for beginners with deep pockets or collectors who intend to put them on a wall. No kidding. Some guitars have just mids, and it often indicates a luthier who is afraid that the structure of the top will be too weak and make a top too thick. You won’t have this with the vintage Sicilian-French guitars.
5.     The label of an old vintage gypsy guitar. Personally I could not care less. A guitar is a vibrating instrument. Either it sounds superb and it is superb playing or it’s average or a pile of junk in which case I do not care for it. Brokers and traders love labels as they make more profits.
6.     The sound hole. I often see players who only want an oval hole. In the gypsy tradition many guitars had round sound holes. Many Selmer have round sound holes. But it is true that would-be players like to look like Django when they play. No comment. In this field like others ridicule is spread often.
7.     The possibility to have a Stimer pickup fitted on the guitar. If the clearance between strings when pressed and the top is too shallow, you cannot have a Stimer and it is a shame.

Gypsy music started for guitars in Paris with accordion musician accompaniment. Only later to the end of the sixties the Alsace, Dutch and German gypsies, influenced by the Eastern culture and accompanying violin players adopted this music.
The vintage guitar you want to acquire and play is from this period, 1938 to 1965, has new frets; neck reset if needed, neck reinforcement with composite material not steel bar when needed, and cracks repaired or better without cracks. The well-known luthier and expert Martin Tremblay recently renovated this kind of guitar and did as always a great job; so the new owner will have both the pleasure of having a fully renovated vintage instrument, and also playing as a modern guitar, suitable for the most demanding professional for the stage, club, studio and concert work.

Owning and playing a vintage guitar is a unique experience. Luthiers at that time made them by hand, and the wood aged so that their tone is unmistakable. Dry with a bark, loud, balanced and projecting. This guitar proposed by serious vendors must be one of these highly sought-after instruments. A demanding player or pro luthier will evaluate the resonance and sustain by a number of tap tones to have the top and the back resonate. These guitars are very responsive and its tap tones are loud, clear and articulate.    
Vintage luthiers had their well-kept know-how of building an optimal structure, selecting the woods and making guitars so they would sound superb. The shape of the headstock (tapered or not and the crown shape of the headstock) is almost invariably a strong indication of the luthier who made the guitar. The backs were ordered from the same source, from a common supplier, like tuners, tailpieces and often bridges. Construction methods were very similar: in most cases everyone used curved plywood backs and sides with sliced veneers of fine woods. Between two layers of this rare wood was sandwiched a layer of slightly stronger ordinary wood like poplar or mahogany. By gluing and clamping the wood sheets a curved guitar back that was strong and inexpensive was formed in a mold, thus avoiding the time-consuming work of joinery. Specialists in Mirecourt or Paris prefabricated the necks and bridges, while the various luthiers according to their designs made the soundboards. The soundboard with its specific bracing is the clue to trace the luthier and it is the part of the guitar with the most important impact on the guitar tone, volume and balance. In that respect, modern luthiers could often learn from the ancient masters. Many guitars had cheap tinted pear-wood fret-boards and these have to be replaced by ebony or rosewood. More expensive guitars at the time were fitted with a rosewood fret-board.

At that time, guitars were shown to potential buyers in Paris showrooms and sold by distributors like Symphonia, Sonora, Paris Musical or Paul Beuscher, who was the biggest of them. If you would live outside Paris your local instrument shop would order from one of these companies. Luthiers were rarely delivering directly to clients, even more rarely with their label. Some luthiers were the usual suppliers to these distributors and show rooms, amongst which Busato, Bucolo, Joseph Di Mauro the Elder, Mouly and Castelluccia. You might already have played one of these and they do not sound different from their less expensive guitars sold through distributors. Anyone who owns a guitar made for the distributors at that time knows they sound equivalent to the high-end instruments like the Busato Grand Model that fetch a 15k or more selling price.
All of these guitar backs have a pronounced arch for bass projection, and the shape of it is often in all considerations similar to the shape of a Busato Grand model arched back, as they came from the same sub supplier. If you would question Martin Tremblay about it, he would spend time explaining this important feature, which has a major consequence on the balance of tone and bass response and projection. The luthier who made these guitars kept an overall similar look but used his own bracing and tuning technology (the well-kept secret) and used his own sound-hole decoration and headstock shape. This is one of the ways to differentiate and spot the maker. Another way exists if the neck had to be reset; Bucolo, for example, used a unique small offset dovetail and his guitars are recognizable that way. The structure of the top also is unique as Busato or Joseph Di Mauro the Elder used 3 or 4 pieces tops. Sound-holes decorated with arrows are unique to Joseph Di Mauro the Elder and his followers. Other details like the neck glued directly to the sides level and not a bit lower is a Bucolo specialty and it is also a recognizable trait.

Numerous artists, players and collectors play my instruments, as I am very selective in getting them in France from the best sources and having them renovated by Martin Tremblay exclusively, a guaranty of quality. People also often sells at prices almost twice mine as they do not get my good contacts in Europe namely in Gypsy families, virtually never have the guitars totally renovated (new frets, new fret board, neck reinforcement when needed and any major renovation like a neck re-adjustment or reinforcement) as I do with one of the best luthiers in the world, Martin Tremblay. There are many ways to get good vintage guitars in a less expensive way, with the same or superior guaranty, and this is one.
It is nice to have a 14 frets to the body guitar with a gypsy cutaway, a big advantage although 12, 13 and 13 and a half frets are common and good, and the round sound hole of this moderate size gives it the sound of an oval hole with a tad more projection. Many gypsies played round sound-hole guitars with Django, and his brother Joseph Reinhardt played mostly guitars with round sound-holes. Django himself played round sound holes guitars before his exclusive commercial agreement with Selmer.
A top luthier for the largest retailer in the world made it at that time, Paul Beuscher, who is highly respected by gypsy players and collectors. The label inside the guitar establishes provenance and is saying a lot about the luthier who made it and the quality of the work, as mostly only the best Sicilian French luthiers like Busato, often Bucolo or Joseph Di Mauro the Elder supplied instruments to Beuscher as I said earlier, although it is not uncommon to see Castelluccia and Mouly sold through this distributor and retailer at the time.
Needless to say the sound of Sicilian-French made guitars is superb, loud, balanced, with a big projection. Buying a Busato or a Joseph will cost you two to six times for no real advantage.
These are great soloing instruments and also great comping one. The round sound hole as often played by Django himself or his favorite accompanists give a tad more projection. No feedback problem like D Holes.

If is worthwhile for a buyer to know some of the story behind guitar making and marketing at the time but nothing replaces sound clips, explanation for a reputable salesman and luthier. And of course playing the guitar shows it all and brings truly a unique experience. None of the expensive modern luthier guitars is quite as good as a great vintage guitar renovated by a master. Although you get wonderful instruments equal to vintage guitars from Killy Nonis, Martin Tremblay or Hahl. This guitar quality is to be both a great soloing and comping guitar, not limited to la pompe. My advice is to stay away from Dupont guitars or Barault guitars. Overly overrated, if you buy them you might regret it. Just an opinion but I advise you to believe it.

 
 

TO be or not to be … a luthier.
CAVEAT EMPTOR

Once in a while I have lunch with my luthier and we tell stories about the great guitars he has been working on since I was fortunate enough to find him. He has worked on the best gypsy vintage guitars; dozens of Busato, Joseph Di Mauro the Elder, Bucolo, Antoine DI Mauro, Castelluccia, even a Selmer. While we had our tacos, we remembered this Selmer, sold to me by Stan Laferrière. It was shipped to me with its original pictures before his luthier, Maurice Dupont, ‘renovated’ the instrument. The result was an instrument covered with a thick and unsightly layer of orangy varnish, killing the purpose of daring working on a great guitar. A joke or a tragedy; name it the way you want. But anyone capable of such a poor job should better drop the luthiery job and do something else where experience, dedication, talent and knowledge are not a must.
Maurice is a good luthier. He still is, but for the last two decades he is more of a marketer than a luthier. While a luthier like Busato could pass on his knowledge to the luthiers he trained in his shop, Dupont failed to do so. The result is in countless MD’s or Busato copies he has put on the market at a high price, which are more ‘industrially produced would-be-luthier-aided’ than works of true luthiery. As the creator of www.gypsyguitarfans.com I have quite a few emails about people doubting that buying a Dupont is the right thing. Once again Maurice is a good luthier, the only problem is that he does not produce the guitars he puts his name on. In a world dominated by harsh competition in these times of crisis, I fear that Dupont guitars are a thing of the past unless Maurice would drop his marketer suit and wear a worker’s outfit and chop wood.

Speaking of luthiers, the other day I visited Martin Tremblay’s workshop and, guess what, he was producing his own faithful copies of Busato. Super light, great woods, true 100% luthier-made instruments much less expensive than vintage Busatos. I think you will hear about them in 2014. Sound, balance, vibe and looks. They have it all. No wonder, Martin is a luthier in the tradition of the Sicilian French luthiers working in Paris 70 years ago, the guys who made immortal the best gypsy guitars.

I hope Martin will never become a marketer and abandon luthiery to gain market shares at the expense of quality. If you are a demanding player, you might have been lucky with your Dupont. You might have been disappointed too. There are some great luthiers out there, like Killy Nonis, Martin Tremblay or others. Why would you bother paying about the same price for something noticeably inferior?


 
 

Exceptional Gypsy Guitar
Attributed to Castelluccia 1940/1950
For sale. Contact me. Serious enquiries only.

Look at the following pictures, and enjoy watching a real beauty. This is an exceptionally playing and sounding instrument. It is attributed to Castelluccia who made this special model. The rope binding is typical of Castelluccia although Busato made them also occasionally. This Castelluccia special has a 675 mm string length from zero nut to bridge, a 39.4 cm width at the lower bout and 10 cms thickness of the body. It has 5 bars under the table and 3 bars on the back as Busato Grand Model. Braces are V shaped like Busato and body binding shape is like Busato.The 5 piece neck is typical of Jacques Favino.
Huge sound, huge bombeed pliage on the top and huge bombe on the back.
The guitar comes with its original wooden case, a rare feature done exclusively by Busato for high end guitars.
So, we claim it is a Castelluccia with a certain suspicion it is a Busato.
The top is made in a superb european spruce, back and sides in a terrific walnut, very figured.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

 
 

A European website belonging to Benoît de Bretagne, one of the best gypsy guitars experts and luthier in the world shows a guitar with the same 5 piece neck and fret board side decoration attributed to Busato (see two pictures below).

 
 

Look at this D Hole Busato owned by my friend Patrick Bitane (pictures). It has rope binding and fret board sides decoration as on this Castelluccia.

 
 

In September 2013 a similar guitar was found in Italy. Look at the 9 pictures below.

 
 

Play in tune with your guitar, please

I certainly would not dare giving etiquette lessons to anyone playing with me. I know that it is reported that Django had no tolerance for musicians who played with him if they did not have a sufficiently high level. But I am not Django.
More than often, though, I am pissed-off when playing with people. Not because of the quality of their playing, but because of their sloppy way of being or not in tune. Some of my students strive at playing better but, after they tuned up with one of these great tuners, I take their guitar off their hands and have to tune again, re adjusting. In 99% of the cases the guitar is much better tuned after I do it. Why?
Because I am a genius? Certainly not. Or because I am too picky? I don’t think so.

I remember what Wes Montgomery stated (I have the recording of it): ‘a guitar is never tuned. You can do it perfect and two minutes later it’s off a bit’. That is true but why don’t we try to be better tuned the first minutes, at least and also readjust periodically during playing sessions.

How do you do it better than most? How do I do it?
Well I am also using a tuner, which I am leaving on the headstock of my guitar.
·      I first tune up each string separately like most of you, EADGBE
·      Then I play the high E string and also the fifth fret, and readjust to get an A. In almost all cases I have to retune my E so I get an acceptable A on the fifth fret and I also play the twelfth fret to get an E. I do a trade off between the three notes.
·      Then same method for the B, with E at the fifth fret and also the B at the 12 th fret.
·      Same for each remaining string, G and its fifth fret D, D and its fifth fret G, A and its fifth E, E and its fifth fret A.
Maybe you play so well that you find this childish or too complicated, or you are a Gypsy, and Denis Chang who played with thousands of them, and the best, claim they do not really care if they are in tune or not. Denis by the way is always in tune.

I have been demanding like that with me, and others, for years and my ear has improved. Just think how you will like playing with a violin player who places his fingers approximately and see saw your ears. It is unbearable.

Doing it the way I do will not only give you the benefit of playing in tune. As I said it will give you a sharper ear and teach you much about:
·      Your strings becoming too old and needing replacement, as you cannot really readjust the tuning at the three levels whatever you do.
·      Your bridge, not at the right place. In 1981 I was fortunate to play in Paris a couple of tunes with Barney Kessel and he was taking his guitar on his lap and readjusting the bridge position, demanding the same from me. If the great Barney Kessel had to do it, why wouldn’t we need the same procedure?
·      Your luthier might be lousy and carve a bridge with a bad compensation for each string.

It is striking how many of us pretend to play with great instruments like Busatos, Di Mauro or Castelluccia or newer guitars like Hahl and have a less than optimized way of tuning them and keeping them at their best.

As I said, my intention is certainly not to teach you anything, which you do not really need, but what I wrote might open the eyes of certain guitar players who, so far, did not pay enough attention to this important subject. Those of you who will take the matter seriously will find that tuning only EADGBE only is not optimized at all, and hope you become as demanding as me when playing with people who play with you with an approximate tuning of their great guitar.

I remember a student of mine who would never play in tune and after a couple of months I told him I would still be happy continue teaching him jazz improvisation, but not on a guitar, as he did not deserve such a demanding instrument. I told him to sell it and buy a pipeau, one of these low cost flutes always in tune, relieving him from the daunting necessity of respecting his guitar,the music, the tune and his musician partner.
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Gypsy Guitar Picks

I have been playing the guitar for half a century and like most of you I ended up my quest selecting the pick working best for me. Until next time…
Before sharing my views with you on the subject I will tell you what picks don’t do the job. Thin ones, flimsy ones, the ones which sometimes fly off your grip or slip, or the ones which produce a dampen sound or a too bright sound when they hit the string. Picks are the link between your right hand fingers and arm action, and the strings. You need power and you need speed, the right shape and the right sound whether your comp or play solo singles notes or chording voices and, unless you want to collect them, you need one suitable for electric and acoustic guitars.
Some use picks you find in stores, some make them or use picks made by specialists. Django, who could play better than us, used big and sturdy picks made in a genuine tortoise shell button but this material is unlawful now. I know people like Denis Chang can play the hell out of any guitar with anything as a plectrum, but it is not my case.
I know that if I am not using the right pick I am getting a pick noise and it is bothering. I also want a crisp attack. Bone picks are bright and have a very focused hi-fi sound, horn picks sound good when I am plugged. Some picks have a foreign feel to my fingers, they do not warm up well and always feel like a bothering foreign and synthetic material. That is an unpleasant feel. I would never use now a thin and flimsy pick as there is just not the same power generated. And a pick which is really too thick is no good for speedy single notes.
Some pick wear too fast and cost you a fortune. You need a pick, which sticks to your fingers but slides off the string nicely.
I have been using Dugain picks in mammoth bones. Superb. I have a couple and one is at my place and I play it, one is my pocket if I play outside. They do not play the same, nor feel the same. The different mammoth tooth explains it and it is not an impression but a fact. Lighter mammoth tooth is brighter in tone, darker is more dull and wears off much faster.  
I have read and heard good things about Zaidman picks and I will be trying some in the weeks to come and run a comparative test.
If we play, we all know a lot about picks. And, yes, some are much better than others. Some will limit your power or your speed, generate disturbing plunk or work against you for chords or single notes. If you sound ‘thin’, it might be your guitar or your attack, a too low action or a pick far from the best. Do your homework.
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For sale, a great 14 frets Moyen Model Paul Beuscher from the fifties, all renovated by Martin Tremblay. For 2000$, real cheap. ASK PICTURES and SOUND CLIPS BY EMAILING to karczjp@videotron.ca

Listen to these sound clips and ask Martin Tremblay his opinion about this guitar. Unfortunately gypsy music players feel they play or sound better with an oval sound hole guitar or even a D Hole guitar, and they do not care much about round sound holes. I will avoid writing what I think about this turn-off, as this would lack elegance and hurt many. Most players care first and foremost about looking good with an oval hole guitar, and sound quality and projection comes after. They are ready to pay close to 4,000$ and more for an oval hole with an average sound and despise a great vintage instrument because it has a round sound hole at half the cost. Go figure! Play this one with friends who have a Hahl, Dupont or newer guitars and make them uncomfortable with the difference in favor of your Beuscher.
I bought this guitar from France for 500 euros, had it shipped here, paid 1,750$ additionnal to Martin Tremblay to put it as new, I am adding a new case so if you know how to count I am losing on it. Its your luck to jump on this opportunity. If you do not want it I will keep it for myself and I hope you enjoy your 5,000$ guitar as much.



Mid 1950’s Paul Beuscher Moyen Model 14 frets Gypsy Vintage Guitar


The golden period of gypsy guitars made in France in the Parisian area or in Mirecourt by Sicilian French, Italian or French luthiers was spread between 1938 and the mid 60’s. Almost all of these guitars, even the ones that survived well, need various levels of renovations to play like new, and there are only a handful of specialized luthiers for gypsy guitars. Hackers and luthiers with quality but little experience will not do the job. The renovations only cost nearly eight hundred dollars for the least expensive (fret-board replacement, new frets and setup) to about double that amount, sometimes more, if the neck has to be reset or cracks must be repaired.
Gypsy music started for guitars in Paris with accordion musician accompaniment. Only later to the end of the sixties the Alsace, Dutch and German gypsies, influenced by the Eastern culture and accompanying violin players adopted this music.
The vintage guitar presented today is from the end of the fifties, has new frets; neck reset and two cracks were repaired. The well-known luthier and expert Martin Tremblay recently renovated this guitar and did as always a great job; so the new owner will have both the pleasure of having a fully renovated vintage instrument, and also playing as a modern guitar, suitable for the most demanding professional for the stage, club, studio and concert work.

Owning and playing a vintage guitar is a unique experience. Luthiers at that time made them by hand, and the wood aged so that their tone is unmistakable. Dry with a bark, loud, balanced and projecting. This guitar proposed here is one of these highly sought-after instruments. A demanding player or pro luthier will evaluate the resonance and sustain by a number of tap tones to have the top and the back resonate. This guitar is very responsive and its tap tones are loud, clear and articulate.    
Vintage luthiers had their well-kept know-how of building an optimal structure, selecting the woods and making guitars so they would sound superb. The shape of the headstock (tapered or not and the crown shape of the headstock) is almost invariably a strong indication of the luthier who made the guitar. The backs were ordered from the same source, from a common supplier, like tuners, tailpieces and often bridges. Construction methods were very similar: in most cases everyone used curved plywood backs and sides with sliced veneers of fine woods. Between two layers of this rare wood was sandwiched a layer of slightly stronger ordinary wood like poplar or mahogany. By gluing and clamping the wood sheets a curved guitar back that was strong and inexpensive was formed in a mold, thus avoiding the time-consuming work of joinery. Specialists in Mirecourt or Paris prefabricated the necks and bridges, while the various luthiers according to their designs made the soundboards. The soundboard with its specific bracing is the clue to trace the luthier and it is the part of the guitar with the most important impact on the guitar tone, volume and balance. In that respect, modern luthiers could learn from the ancient masters. Many guitars had cheap tinted pear-wood fret-boards and these have to be replaced by ebony or rosewood. More expensive guitars at the time were fitted with a rosewood fret-board.

At that time, guitars were shown to potential buyers in Paris showrooms and sold by distributors like Symphonia, Sonora, Paris Musical or Paul Beuscher, who was the biggest of them. If you would live outside Paris your local instrument shop would order from one of these companies. Luthiers were rarely delivering directly to clients, even more rarely with their label. Some luthiers were the usual suppliers to these distributors and show rooms, amongst which Busato, Bucolo, Joseph Di Mauro the Elder, Mouly and Castelluccia. You might already have played one of these and they do not sound different from their less expensive guitars sold through distributors. Anyone who owns a guitar similar to the one shown today knows they sound equivalent to the high-end instruments like the Busato Grand Model that fetch a 15k selling price.
All of these guitar backs have a pronounced arch for bass projection, and the shape of it is in all considerations similar to the shape of a Busato Grand model arched back, as they came from the same sub supplier. If you would question Martin Tremblay about it, he would spend time explaining this important feature, which has a major consequence on the balance of tone and bass response and projection. The luthier who made these guitars kept an overall similar look but used his own bracing and tuning technology (the well-kept secret) and used his own sound-hole decoration and headstock shape. This is one of the ways to differentiate and spot the maker. Another way exists if the neck had to be reset; Bucolo, for example, used a unique small offset dovetail and his guitars are recognizable that way. The structure of the top also is unique as Busato or Joseph Di Mauro the Elder used 3 or 4 pieces tops. This one has such a top. Sound-holes decorated with arrows are unique to Joseph Di Mauro the Elder and his followers.

This is a really good vintage guitar offered at a premium price. I sold over two hundred vintage guitars over the last two years and I am the creator of the site Gypsyguitarfans, which gained a worldwide reputation. Numerous artists, players and collectors play my instruments, as I am very selective in getting them in France from the best sources and having them renovated by Martin Tremblay exclusively, a guaranty of quality. People also often sells at prices almost twice mine as they do not get my good contacts in Europe namely in Gypsy families, virtually never have the guitars totally renovated (new frets, new fret board, neck reinforcement when needed and any major renovation like a neck re-adjustment or reinforcement) as I do with one of the best luthiers in the world, Martin Tremblay. There are many ways to get good vintage guitars in a less expensive way, with the same or superior guaranty, and this is one.
It is a 14 frets to the body guitar with a gypsy cutaway, a big advantage, and the round sound hole of this moderate size gives it the sound of an oval hole with a tad more projection. Many gypsies played round sound-hole guitars with Django, and his brother Joseph Reinhardt played mostly guitars with round sound-holes. Django himself played round sound holes guitars before his exclusive commercial agreement with Selmer.
A top luthier for the largest retailer in the world made it at that time, Paul Beuscher, who is highly respected by gypsy players and collectors. The label inside the guitar establishes provenance and is saying a lot about the luthier who made it and the quality of the work, as mostly only the best Sicilian French luthiers like Busato or Joseph Di Mauro the Elder supplied instruments to Beuscher as I said earlier, although it is not uncommon to see Castelluccia and Mouly sold through this distributor and retailer at the time.
Needless to say the sound is superb, loud, balanced, with a big projection. Buying a Busato or a Joseph will cost you two to six times for no real advantage.

 
 

A Look at French Guitar Making Since 1850
By Daniel Friederich
Translated by Robert Page
Thanks to Danielle Ribouillault for permission to reprint this article.

This article is adapted from a longer piece which appeared in Les Cahiers de la Guitare, Numbers 41 and 42, published in 1992.

In 1950s France, you could count on one hand the professional guitarists capable of giving a one-hour concert, and accomplished guitar makers were just as rare. Just as the general level of guitarists has soared in the past five decades, that of the instrument builders has also gone up. Never in the last hundred or more years have there been as many original and talented luthiers in France as there are today.

To understand where French guitar making stands now, it is important to understand its history.

In the middle of the 19th century, Paris was the uncontested capital of cabinet making and instrument making in France. Pianos, organs, fine string and wind instruments were constructed in large quantities. But the production of guitars was much smaller.

For guitars, it was only in the little town of Mirecourt in the Vosges Mountains, ancient center of stringed instrument manufacture, where large numbers were made. At the same time, working in Paris were two very famous luthiers who dominated guitar making of the 19th century. Rene Lacote and Etienne La Prevotte were two of the most prominent of a small group of guitar makers who carried on diligent research that would pave the way for future developments.

The guitar of that time was a bit smaller, and can be compared to what today is known as the romantic guitar. With a smaller body, a shorter string length, gut strings and a narrower neck, it was easier to play but possessed a sound less rich although in some ways clearer than today's guitars. However, the guitar began flagging in popularity because of the rise of the piano.

As the Cottin brothers, popular guitarists, singers and composers of the period, wrote in 1892:

...the principal cause of the abandonment of the guitar was the perfecting of the piano-forte, the study of which attracted all those with musical ambitions, and little by little the guitar was forgotten (Manuel du luthier, in L'Encyclopedie Roret, 1894, p.223)

Around 1850 the modern classical guitar appears in Andalusia

While interest in the guitar was on the wane in France, historic advances were being made across the Spanish border. While the tiny town of Mirecourt continued to produce guitars in the romantic style, it was neither there nor in Paris where the instrument would undergo the changes that would transform it into the 20th century instrument we know today. Rather it was in Andalusia, Spain where Antonio Torres, a good observer and professional cabinet maker, brought together developments in construction already in use by separate makers. In 1853, he introduced his synthesis with some variations. We see in those guitars a body sometimes larger (from 35 to 36 cm), a bridge like today's, a thinner sound board with a fan bracing (created also in Andalusia 70 years earlier) and a wider fret board.

That guitar had much more body and depth of tone. It was more pleasing and was adopted by such influential guitarists as Julian Arcas and Francisco Tarrega.

That type of construction gradually won the day in Madrid where Jose Ramirez I directed his workshop and taught his younger brother Manuel who applied in his own work the concepts of Torres. One of Jose Ramirez's students was Julian Gomez-Ramirez who went to France and set up shop in Paris (possibly before 1919) to take advantage of the resurgence of the guitar there. (He is mentioned at that date in the directory Musique-Adresses as having already moved into 38 rue Rodier, Paris. This is the earliest trace found of him before his official listing in the commercial register from 1920 to 1940.)

Two guitar styles at the turn of the century

We see then that, along with the still popular romantic guitar, there appeared in France a demand for the new Spanish style guitars. Romantic guitars were still being produced at Mirecourt well into the 20th century, many of them were very well made and had ivory purfling which was then in vogue.

Yet the 1912 store catalogs of Joseph Fissore in Paris and P'lisson-Guinot-Blanchon in Lyon display only modern Spanish guitars. Just before the First World War, the popular catalog of the manufacture of weapons and bicycles known as Saint-Etienne advertised both types of guitars: it was truly a period of transition.

Julian Gomez-Ramirez introduced in Paris the new Spanish concepts which had major consequences for French luthiery. He taught Robert Bouchet who had bought a guitar from him in 1938. Bouchet himself started to build guitars after the Second World War. Bouchet passed on his knowledge to Christian Aubin, and later, Aubin would go on to teach the author of this article in 1954.

We have been concerned only with the nylon string classical guitar played with the right hand fingers, which was very appreciated in artistic circles. But other types of guitars with steel strings also had success in France in accompaniment and solo performance for jazz, tango and popular dance music.

The Italians arrive

During the 1930s, the guitar was played by such popular musicians as the singer Tino Rossi, and a jazz artist like Django Reinhardt took it to the highest level of esteem and created a demand which was satisfied by the new luthiers who came with the cabinetmakers from Italy to Paris during the 20s. Some of them came from Catania, Sicily, a manufacturing center which furnished a lot of cheap instruments for the popular music market.

The first to open a workshop in Paris was V. Jacobacci whose workmen were to become many of the luthiers of the future.

These new arrivals were named Pappalardo, Di Mauro, Amico, Anastasio, Busato, Bucolo, Castelluccia, Favino, Oliveri, Burgasssi, Martella, Grizzo, Rossito, Petilio, etc. They built mandolins, banjos and guitars in large quantities.

They worked hard and produced very fairly priced instruments. Some of their sons, like Pappalardo, Favino, Anastasio and Castelluccia, still carry on their family enterprises today.

One of these emigrants had a remarkable international destiny. His name was Mario Maccaferri, born at the beginning of the century near Bologna.

Having studied guitar playing and guitar making with Luigi Mozzani in that city, he moved to Paris in 1919, then to London (according to Tom Evans) and began a career as guitarist, luthier, engineer and business man. Around 1930 he developed three guitar models for the French firm of Selmer: classical, jazz or orchestra, and Hawaiian. The classical and jazz models had a unique appearance and featured a large cut-away on the upper bout so the left hand could easily reach the highest notes.

Classical guitarists did not adopt that feature, but jazz players made it a great success, Django Reinhardt first and foremost. The production of these guitars by Selmer lasted only a short time because of a disagreement between the two partners. The design eventually entered the public domain and was taken up for many years by the Italian luthiers of Paris.

Just before the Second World War (1939-1945) Maccaferri emigrated to the United States and started a successful company that made clarinet and saxophone reeds. Shortly after 1954 he invested a lot of money in the manufacture of plastic guitars which were cleverly designed and very affordable, but they proved to be a failure. However, his ukuleles made of the same material became a huge success and more than nine million were sold.

The 1930s

The Italians of Paris were not the only guitar makers in France at that time. Large numbers of mandolins, banjos and guitars, among other instruments, were being made in by Frenchmen in Mirecourt.

Construction methods were very similar: in most cases everyone used curved plywood backs and sides with sliced veneers of fine woods. Between two layers of this rare wood was sandwiched a layer of slightly stronger ordinary wood like poplar or mahogany. By gluing and clamping the wood sheets a curved guitar back that was strong and inexpensive was formed in a mold, thus avoiding the time-consuming work of joinery. The necks and bridges were prefabricated by specialists in Mirecourt or Paris, while the soundboards were made by the various luthiers according to their designs.

Guitarists who wanted a solid wood instrument made from rosewood or other sawn woods (not sliced veneers) had to pay much more and could order from Julian Gomez-Ramirez (1879-1943) on the Rue Rodier in Paris, whose construction was of high quality.

Guitars from master Spanish luthiers were bought by a few devoted amateur and professional players, among them the well-known animal trainer Martin Guerre who owned several fine guitars including one by Francisco Simplicio. (It was a Simplicio guitar that I tried to copy briefly in 1955 to make my own first guitar.)

While instruments by Domingo Esteso, Santos Hernandez, Torres and Manuel Ramirez were highly appreciated in France, guitar dealers sold mostly guitars made in France. That afforded regular work to many builders, though it was poorly paid. These habits changed progressively beginning in 1955 and the opening of the common market.

In 1940, war came. People stayed at home and traveled less. However, a few guitar circles existed during that period such as The Friends of the Guitar, organized by Andre Verdier, which met on the Rue Saint-Louis-en-loile in Paris. Several classical guitar teachers such as Romain Worchech, Jean Borresdon, Jean Lafon and Martial Farrail gave basic instruction, but it wasn't until after the war and the advent of nylon strings that the popularity of the classical guitar grew swiftly along with that of the steel string guitar.

The guitar flourishes in the 1950s

Several guitar styles came into fashion during the 1950s. Andres Segovia performed regularly in Paris: his concerts were well attended and drew critical attention. Many singer-songwriters appeared accompanying themselves on the guitar (the new troubadours) and quickly became famous like Henri Salvador, Felix Leclerc and Georges Brassens. The public discovered with rapture the Ballets de l'Amerique latine which visited Paris in 1952 accompanied by the Quatre Guanis with their charangos, guitars, cuatros and harps playing new rhythms with sonorous names: Bailecito, Chacarera, Zamba, Carnavalito, Malambo which remained popular for 25 years performed by the uncontested masters Atahualpa Yupangui and Eduardo Fal.

There was also the music for the film Jeux interdits (Forbidden Games also known today as Romance or Spanish Ballad) played by Narciso Yepes that everybody wanted to play. And the duo Presti-Lagoya enjoyed a triumphant career up until the tragic death of Ida Presti in 1967.

The flamenco guitar was not to be outdone and Robert Vidal presented a weekly radio broadcast called Sortileges du Flamenco (Flamenco Magic). He also founded the Concours International de Guitare on the radio in 1958.

Just as at the beginning of the 19th century, Paris welcomed classical guitarists from around the world.

In 1954 Spaniards like Jose-Maria Sierra and Ramon Cueto played almost every night in a little basement spot called Club plein Vente (42 Rue Descartes) where the excellent French guitarist Christian Aubin also often performed on his fine Torres. Other foreign arrivals were Antonio Membrado, Miguel Castaos, Manuel Carrion and Alberto Ponce who won first prize in the Radio France and many other competitions.

They all came with their Spanish guitars and the first Ignacio Fleta guitars showed up in Paris in 1955 in the hands of Sierra and Cueto. They were immediately greatly admired and gradually caused the guitars of Torres, Manuel Ramirez, Esteso, Simplicio, Garcia, etc. to be put back in their cases.

Other makers, such as Conde Hermanos, Mateu, Vicente Camacho, Arcangel Fernandez and De la Chica, found a place on the French market where they sold hundreds of their instruments.

French builders generally could not produce this type of guitar in solid wood of the highest quality which required special techniques as well as special procedures for the marquetry and the purfling. They were accustomed to simple neck joints and rapid manual operations and so left that higher quality construction to the Spaniards. To satisfy the great demand, they turned out countless moderately priced guitars both at Mirecourt and in Paris.

However, a few determined Parisians decided to construct high quality instruments along the lines of the Spaniards. None of them were originally luthiers.

The first was Robert Bouchet, a painter and illustrator who had played the guitar off and on for a long time and who had watched Julian Gomez-Ramirez at work in Paris (and afterward Marcelo Barbero shortly before his death in 1956). A sharp observer and very clever with his hands, he produced guitars, using poor quality materials, starting in 1950 and these were surprising for their good sustain and generally fine characteristics.

Ida Presti, around 1958, was won over, as were Alexandre Lagoya (who met her at Bouchet's workshop) and Julian Bream. Orders then began flooding in from all over and a happy time began for him. He perfected his original bracing system for his soundboards preserving the traditional seven-bar fan but adding a small transversal brace under the bridge (which he had noticed in his 100-year-old Lacote).

The second was Christian Aubin, a young professional guitarist who gained his technical guitar making knowledge from Bouchet. In 1952 Aubin had completely taken apart and reconstructed his Torres guitar which he had dropped. He was bitten by the guitar making bug and started making copies of his restored guitar that were very easy to play and close to the original.

He had the kindness to initiate me in turn in 1955. He spent several hours teaching me the general principles of Spanish style construction. That is to say: how to join the neck to the body by making two saw cuts on either side of the heel where the guitar sides are inserted, how to glue the braced soundboard to the end of the neck at the top of the heel, then after inserting and gluing the sides, as well as the bottom lining, the backing of the sides and the small blocks of wood to which the top is attached, proceeding to fit and glue the solid wood back, all done in an exterior mold containing the instrument.

Already established as a cabinetmaker, at the end of 1959 I launched my career as professional guitar maker and decided to show one of my guitars (it must have been the fifteenth) to Robert Bouchet who welcomed me with his usual cordiality. The instrument must have been quite rudimentary, but he gave me advice without discouraging me and afterward I paid him visits which were both educational and friendly .

In 1962 Alexandre Lagoya introduced me to the musical acoustics laboratory of the University of Paris VI. Our guitaristic directions at the time were moving in separate directions. I was 30 years old and still had much to experience, but like Robert Bouchet, I built my first guitar for my personal use lacking the money to buy one and possessing a burning curiosity.

During that time in Paris there was also a talented man who built high quality guitars in his dining room. His name was David Enesa who was destined to pass away in 1957 from a throat ailment.

A little before 1960 Antonio Luis-Lopez, a young luthier from Granada and nephew of De la Chica, set up shop in Paris. Having to contend, like French luthiers, with the Spanish competition he gallantly took his chances and worked hard up until he passed away from an illness in 1990.

In Marseille Arthur Carbonell II was actively producing fine guitars until he ended his very full career in 1975. His father had been a guitar maker in Valencia before he opened a workshop in Marseille around 1922 where he taught his son the craft. After the second world war the son turned to the construction of concert guitars (numbered from about 300 to 580). He taught the craft to Joel Laplane who took over the workshop in 1975.

Around 1960 in Lyon Alexandre Boyadjian, who had been a cabinetmaker and played a little guitar for some time, began building. He set up a professional workshop in 1963 and still makes guitars today.

Here ends the list of the principal high quality guitar makers whom I am familiar with.

1960: the decline of Mirecourt and the success of Spanish luthery

At this time the workers at Mirecourt were leaving their jobs. After centuries of earning a well-deserved reputation as violin and guitar makers, they were still being badly paid and so gradually they left to work at the American military base in Etain or elsewhere. French guitar dealers had developed a taste for the instruments imported from Japan, Spain, Germany and Czechoslovakia and the last two large factories in Mirecourt closed in 1967 and 1969.

In 1992, after all those years of instrument making, there were only four artisan guitar builders left, the two Gerome brothers, Claude Patenotte and his assistant, along with five or six violin makers. The school of luthery which was started a few years ago in Mirecourt so far offers training only in violin and bow making but there is reason to hope for a renewal of interest in guitar making there.

The 1960s saw the triumph of fine Spanish guitar making and its leading masters. Ignacio Fleta and his two sons in Barcelona hold the first place for quality and fame. John Williams, Alberto Ponce, Turibio Santos, Oscar Caceres, Eduardo Falu, Segovia, and J
rgen Klatt were their ambassadors.

Nevertheless, the guitar was still very popular at that time in France and the demand was met by the so-called Italian makers of Paris along with the workshops of Chauvet, Mouly, Segalas and Fontaine (who specialized in 1/4, 1/2 and 3/4 sizes and was notable as a pioneer in France for his total investment in semi industrial production which reached approximately 6,000 guitars per year!), as well as the brothers Gerome, Louis Patenotte, and Henri Miller at Mirecourt. They all constructed large numbers of moderately priced folk, jazz and classical guitars.

As for high quality instruments, Antonio Ruiz-Lopez, a luthier belonging to the Paris Academy of the Guitar, around 1964-65 taught Francois Perrin who had just finished his violin making apprenticeship at Mirecourt. Perrin worked for the guitar academy up until 1968 when he opened his own workshop and produced fine guitars until 1974, then he went back to successfully making bowed string instruments.

Ruiz-Lopez also taught Guy Daurat who later turned to building viol de gambas and other instruments of that family.

1970: expansion of Spanish luthery

Around this time a guitar builder in Madrid, Jose Ramirez III, saw his fame grow from year to year when Yepes, Segovia, Lagoya, Ghiglia and hundreds of others started using his instruments. He had a great worldwide success and was able to meet the demand while not neglecting the quality of construction nor the newly developed, very durable polyester varnish of his best model.

Several of his workers set up shops of their own, Manuel Contreras in 1962, Paulino Bernabe in 1969. Madrid became an important center for high quality guitar making. Granada also saw an exponential increase in its guitar makers, while the mass production of guitars stayed traditionally concentrated in Valencia.

These contemporary guitars are more difficult to play and are heavier than earlier guitars, requiring better technique but giving more power, nuances and variations of tone and dynamics.

At the same time Victor Bedikian, Pierre Jaffre and Daniel Lesueur in Paris started building high quality guitars. The sons of the so-called Italian luthiers of Paris, like Antoine Papparlardo, Jacques Castelluccia and Jean-Pierre Favino, became interested in making finer guitars.

French luthiery picks up the challenge

Happily for French guitar makers (well-named guitarreros in Spanish) imitation and conformity has not been the rule. Previously, when Segovia or another famous maestro changed his guitar, he brought along a whole camp of followers, amateurs or professionals, who had to have the same guitar. That state of affairs is much less apparent today. Guitar teachers and professional musicians try to find the instruments that suit best their tone, their attack, and work best for their style of playing.

That has given more opportunities for today's luthiers. In France the network of high quality builders has grown and extends to almost all parts of the country. Some of the new names who should be mentioned are: Olivier Fanton d'Andon in Chateaudun, Bruno Perrin in Toulon, Michel Donadey and Joel Laplane in Marseille, Dominique Delarue in Carpentras, Thierry Jacquet and Martine Montassier in Montpellier, Pascal Quinson near Montauban, Antonio Arroyo in Saint-Jean-de-Luz, Richard Caro and Jean-Luc Joie in Bordeaux, Maurice Dupont in Cognac, Pierre Abondance near Nontron, Jean-Marie Fouilleul near Rennes, J.C. Malherbe in Ploughgauven, Alain Raifort in Tours, Dominique Field, Alain Quequiner, Dominique Bouge and Vincent Corbiere in Paris, and Corbelari, Bertrand Martin, Vincenti and Maurice Ottiger in neighboring Switzerland.

Today there are some 70 workshops in France for the repair and construction of all sorts of classical guitars. As I said at the beginning, the general level of quality has much improved. One reason for this was the acceptance of classical guitar makers around 1980 in the Concours des Meilleurs Ouvriers de France (Best Craftsmen of France Competition). That allowed many luthiers to be rewarded along side the winners of the Concours International des maitres guitariers (International Competition of Master Guitar Makers ) organized by Robert Vidal.

A Short History of the Concours des Meilleurs Ouvriers de France

To create a chef-d'oeuvre so as to gain the title of qualified craftsman (called compagnon, or companion, in the past), to arrive in time at the level of mastery needed to open a workshop and be recognized by the older masters of the craft is a practice hundreds of years old.

Henri IV in 1599 established precise statutes for the incorporation of music instrument makers in Paris which included apprentices, craftsmen and masters. According to these statutes the sons of master craftsmen could take on their fathers titles without producing a chef-d'oeuvre and the fathers, in their role as master-judges of works submitted, awarded such titles less and less frequently. The result was that master craftsmen were selected from a more and more narrow circle, sometimes just from within families.

As a result, beginning in the 16th century artisans sought to organize themselves more closely than before independent of their employers. Brotherhoods of craftsmen took on more importance and became organizations designed for struggle, solidarity and the professional and spiritual education of its members. Quasi-religious rules evolved which embraced obligatory celibacy, baptism and attribution of a new name, rigorous customs, initiation ceremonies around an altar and belief in Christianity.

Little by little the various fraternities of artisans developed their own networks in France and established for members aspiring to the title of companion their own requirements above and beyond the obligatory production of a chef d'oeuvre.

But opening a workshop of one's own remained just as difficult of attainment and just as costly.

By the end of the 18th century the winds of liberty were felt blowing and in 1791, in a spirit of equality, the Constituent Assembly completely eliminated those corporations and forbade masters and companions from entitling themselves either presidents or secretaries, from associating with one another, from keeping registers, etc. It declared that everyone was free to exercise whatever profession, art or trade they pleased.

However, crafts societies were reborn after the Restoration in 1815 and they reached a peak in 1848. The dawn of the 20th century saw these organizations again put to the test by the growth of industrialization and unionism.

During the 19th century the right to work at the profession of one's choice remained in effect but to have the title of compagnon was still an advantageous and honorable distinction.

Certain requirements of the old crafts societies have been retained by the Best Craftsmen of France Competition and its parent organization, the M.O.F.

Founding of the M.O.F

In 1924 the French government decided to reward excellence in manual work by giving the title of One of the best workers in France to creators of hand-made articles chosen by a jury in order to improve professional education, strengthen the corporate spirit, develop the taste and the attachment of the worker, the craftsman and the technician to their occupation, to allow each one to express their personality, taste, initiative and enjoy the benefits of their labor. (First article of the general regulations)

The entry must be a very traditional instrument as described in the competition's official instructions. Obviously not all the luthiers in France can compete at the same time, but all instruments worthy of the M.O.F. designation receive their rewards. Each contest can have one or several or no outstanding guitars. A luthier who is awarded the title of M.O.F. becomes officially qualified as master.

 
 

I got a nice message mid January 2013 from Samson Schmitt. He just was telling me that his father, Dorado, and his accompanist Francko Mehrstein, who bought two Busatos from me last year, were <fous de joie with them> (madly happy with them. Samson wishes me to find for him a great one, he says he is jealous and it is his dream. Guitar legends know Gypsy Guitar Fans and trust me as they know I sell only la creme de la creme guitars.
Samson is a superb guitar player, one of the five sons of Dorado. Dorado wants each of his sons to get a Busato from me. I will try to make him happy over a period of 2 to 3 years as these are becoming difficult to find at good prices. Of course if you have deep pockets some brokers will be glad to sell a grand model.

 
 

Messages from our fans.

This message was received on February 10th 2013: (I sold a 1950 Jean Baptiste Castelluccia with its label and original tailpiece two weeks ago to John S in Chicago. While these go for 4,5k elsewhere, he got it for 1.8k with a couple of fine tuning to be done. This is his message today as he got the guitar a couple of days ago.
JP,
This is a very powerful guitar. I've been to the shop in Chicago, Palm Guitars, Francois Charles' and have played a good number of these guitars. The good ones don't end up in such places. I've never played a Selmer or a Busato.  Only 2 of the ones I've played can compare. A 12 fret D hole Berault and Kevin Nolan's Aylward. I've owned 3 Favinos, a pretty good Del Arte and some real cheap ones.
My playing and execution have improved already. She is very even across the fret board and has no weaker areas. She is very light. There are intonation issues I think I can improve. The fret board is wavy and the neck angle odd, but it works OK the way it is. And the tail piece pressed flush with the top? All part of the compensations in the setup. The frets are a little sharp on the bottom edge. Nice thick fret board . I gigged with her this weekend using an ATK pro 70 mic and a Fender Vibro Champ the first night and ran direct thru the PA the second . It was a vast improvement over the 80's JP Favino I've been using. This sounds like an OLD guitar. Having no position markers on the side of the fret board has been challenging. There are remnants of them having been there once.    
This is a lot of guitar for 1800 and I am very pleased. If you know anything more about her please share.
Thanks,
John S



Hi Jean Paul
The guitar arrived safely . What a voice it has - incredible! I have an Antoine roundhole which I've always loved but this one is in a different class.
I was wondering what your opinion was on the extra screw holes around the tailpiece - did it have a different one at some time ?
Thanks for the Busato information , very interesting - have you received the latest one yet ?
Best regards
Roy (sent from Hong Kong on January 26th 2013)
(Roy bought from me a superb Joseph Di mauro the Elder with brazilian rosewood, with a voice truly superior to the heart guitars the Elder is famous for. I could negociate after the purchase of the guitar from the French previous owner the original pre war Di Mauro tailpiece and equipped the Di Mauro with it so the guitar was restored to its full original condition. When I told Denis Chang that I was selling this guitar, he told me it was a big mistake to let go such an instrument. True. But I also have many Busatos...)


Jean Paul:
I want to thank you for the fabulous guitar.  (Gran Model Fournier) You were totally correct. It is in a different class than any Favino I have owned or other Selmer style guitars. I will highly recommend you to anyone looking at guitars you might sell. I also enjoyed your site.  Please feel free to use my name on your site as  you wish.  If you ever come to Tucson AZ, please call me.
By the way I have two vintage project guitars you might know about.  I have a Henri Miller, built and sold in Paris.  The other I believe to be a Castellucia.  Perhaps I could send you some photos and you might identify it for me.  
Best regards,
Chip

Another message sent on November 28th, 2014 from Brian, who bought from me a 1930's Busato with oblong hole.
JP, The guitar made it here safely.  I've been playing it all weekend. Very nice.  Haven't played a 12-fret guitar much in the past, so it takes some getting used to. The guitar has a mature tone and is impressively balanced over the entire neck. It's just what you said it was. Thanks.
I wish I could find someone in L.A. who knows how to set up a guitar like this.
Brian

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.


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Behind every initiative there is a motivation. My urge for creating Gypsyguitarfans came from the fact that very little info is available about high-end gypsy vintage guitars, except for the excellent book from François Charles on Selmer. So far, the whole available info on Busatos, as an example, was holding on two pages. I wanted to remedy it.
I must also confess I had another motivation. Some brokers of vintage guitars lord the market and call the shots, and do not necessarily welcome a new comer. Some are ready to do a lot to protect their juicy business. They often have a couple of high-end guitars which do not find a buyer before months or years, and I can understand they can be pissed-off seeing I am able of selling similar guitars at half the price of what they offer, as it is not a business for me but a passion.
While I understand that everyone tends to protect his business, potential clients have an interest in having one more expert supplier. I buy from proven sources in Europe, collectors and brokers who have not traded only one or two dozens high-end Busatos but have traded ten times more over the last thirty years, and are also luthiers. Busatos were made in France and were played in Europe before the relatively recent appeal for gypsy music in North America. European experts have as much credibility as North American brokers, probably more. Last week Dorado Schmitt and his guitarist Francko Mehrstein bought two Busatos from me although they had been touring North America for more than a month and decided not to buy from North American brokers. Let us say that Dorado knows what a Busato is, and he knows what a good one is also. Dorado has played dozens of Busatos in his long career.
One of my suppliers from Europe supplied many guitars sold by one North American broker, who was the first to start the Busato business, and who grabbed the opportunity of adding a comfortable margin on top of his cost. These days are gone, as he now has no access to this reliable and reasonably priced source. Also my luthier Martin Tremblay is an expert and delivers estimates. I believe these remarks had to be made.

We are happy to share with you pictures, descriptions and articles, videos, and information on some great vintage gypsy guitars. Busatos with provenance, Busato related guitars and Sicilian-French guitars are exceptional instruments, and many gypsy guitar fans like to browse the Internet to gather information about them. We hope they will find useful information here. Our main objective is not to sell instruments, although we do it occasionally, either directly, or through other channels. This Website was created to provide a source of information to players and collectors. It is our hope that luthiers, brokers, collectors, players and others gypsy guitar fans will contribute to make the information contained in this Website as genuine and complete. Please send us emails with comments, pictures, new information, and videos. Any constructive criticism is most welcome. www.gypsyguitarfans.com will be updated regularly to incorporate new information, so do not hesitate to keep us in your favorites and visit us often.

Montréal, November 28 th, 2012
Jean Paul Karcz


 
 
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