12 step plan for making a Gitane sing...
"How I learned to stop worrying and love the Gitane D250M."
(with apologies to Dr. Strangelove)
By the way - it goes without saying that if you don't have some woodworking and preferably guitar-tech type experience - don't just dig in to your guitar... Visit Frets.com and look for Frank Ford's in depth illustrated instructions on guitar setup and repair and determine whether you should try any of this. Disclaimers aside... here's what I did and it made a huge difference.
1.) FRET LEVEL: Fret level and (re)crown - not much was neeed but it had a few slightly high frets and there was a little rise around the neck joint.
2.) BRIDGE RE-DO: Formed a new bridge. The Gitane bridge is OK and could be shimmed up - but it has IMHO too much crown and I think mine was ebonized rosewood anyway - which is not as hard as ebony and not as brilliant sounding. Michael Horowitz let me take a look at his guitar's setup when I took a course from him this summer. I really liked it and so I drove to Seattle and visited his luthier at Dusty Strings Guitars who hooked me up with a raw bridge blank and... man... bridge making is finger busting work. I've been doing woodworking as a hobby for quite a while and have developed strong hands - but this was ridiculous! It was fun and turned out gorgeous, but it took a long time and hurt way too much. Get the bridge made for you if you can afford it (and definitely don't try making your own bridge unless you have a lot of experience with close-tolerance woodworking. Bottom line, I'm now at 9/64" on the low E and 8/64" on the high E.
3.) RELIEF: I wound up putting just a bit more relief in the neck during the final setup - it started out pretty flat - and it now has about 0.009" at the 7th fret - so it's still pretty flat.
4.) TUNERS: I put some high-ratio Grovers on it. Not only are they more accurate but I swear they made it sound better. Maybe they make better contact with the headstock? Maybe it has something to do with mass? Who knows.
5.) TAILPIECE MOD: The tailpiece is a real weak spot for the D250M - but easy to fix. I've heard people say it buzzes... but it's not really that - it's just light and undampened and it vibrates... and... well... yuck. Some tailpieces are designed to vibrate. The frequensator tailpieces on vintage Epiphone archtops work with the strings to put out quite a bit of sound, but it is tuneful sound - almost like reverb. However, this bugger just sounds like someone taped a pie-tin to the lower-bout. So, I took the tailpiece off and took that plastic insert out. I steel-wooled it to get rid of that wacky high-gloss - but decided to keep it - as it's nice and dense and I hate carving ebony. (fingers still sore from making the bridge) I bound the plastic back in the stamped brass frame with a liberal dose of cyanoacrylic glue taking care not to get it on the front of the tailpece - only the back. Then, I backed the whole thing with a nice piece of cowhide.... (courtesy of a 50cent used leather checkbook cover from Goodwill ) This helped quite a bit. I don't think stepping up to a top of the line tailpiece would improve things much more.
6.) FINAL SETUP: I took a fairly decent amount of time to do the final setup & intonation via bridge placement and fitting the bridge to the top and setting the relief. All this stuff is inter-related and you don't want to monkey with it unless you understand how it all works together, and you have the proper tools, and you have a lot of patience. The final setup feels perfect at 9/64"-8/64" at the 12th fret - and 0.009" relief at the 7th fret - I went back and slightly eased the edges of the bridge foot. Looking at your guitar's top in a strong raking light - you may see that the bridge sometimes 'dimples' the guitar top at its edges - this uneven pressure can affect tone and - worst case - put you at risk for cracks with exposure to pressure/temperature/humidity changes. Fitting the bridge to the guitar top is REALLY important but often overlooked. The goal is to get the fit so good that the string thinks the bridge is one with the top - no gaps or dimples from uneven pressure.
OK, so there weren't 12 steps - but only 6. Lucky you, you finish early and get a gold star for reading this far.
Does the guitar sound better? (emphatically) Yes! it is a lot louder, the mids are punchier, the tone is snappier, and the bass is more solid. It used to sound more like a Gibson J200 than a Petit Bouche - now it sounds more like a Petit Bouche than a J200... Mission accomplished.
Is it the last Gypsy guitar I'll ever own? (emphatically) No! This guitar is so much better than I had expected it to be - it is loud - it is punchy - it has a pretty decent dose of gypsy tone.... but it does get bloaty when you strum hard near the center of the tonehole. Also - its tone is a bit too pure. The tone I'm looking for is that Busato oval hole sound - maximum crunchitude. If you've not heard Django's Tigers - go hear them. Jason Okamoto occasionally hauls out his '50's Busato and it is an experience to hear him play it. That is the tone I'm seeking.
You get one chance to enjoy this day, but if you're doing it right, that's enough.