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The story of Pierre Fontaine

ChrisMartinChrisMartin Shellharbour NSW Australia✭✭ Di Mauro x2, Petrarca, Hoyer, Epiphone x2, Burns x2, & Paul Beuscher resonator.
So what does anyone know about the GJ guitars from Pierre Fontaine?

From what I have seen they are fine guitars, but his name is not one that most people think of for a top quality instrument.

The reason I say that is because for what little fame he does have in guitar making it is either as having worked for Busato (which can only help) but he is maybe better known as the man who made thousands of cheap guitars for beginners. As there was so little known, and my curiosity always gets the better of me I decided to translate a lengthy feature from one of the Vintage Vertigo magazines that was published a couple of years ago in France. I did this for two reasons; one, he is one of those that not much is known about in English, and two, while reading through I found he was making guitars for Pierre Bucolo.

I have asked elsewhere about P. Bucolo on here, see other post, but I thought the Fontaine story may be of interest to some too.

I have attached the PDF of the Fontaine story to this post. I started by translating it literally from the French which can make for some rather flowery prose, so I then edited it again just a little to make it easier to read, but some of the meanings, and metaphors, do not always read well in English, however I thought it better to stay close to the writer’s original copy and let the reader find their own meanings.

I hope it all makes sense.

Chris
altonMichaelHorowitz
«1

Comments

  • scotscot Virtuoso
    Posts: 568
    Great job, Chris - both for finding this fine anecdote and for the excellent translation.

    I went to Rome Instruments several times in the 90s, mostly because I had gotten some sketchy information that Rue Rome was where you could find guitars. It's actually where you can get "quartet" instruments and woodwinds, not so much guitars. Plus it was right around the corner from the "Roue Fleurie" bar owned by Serge Camps. There were always several Fontaine guitars for sale there; in my memory, those Fontaine Selmer style guitars were pretty good, though at the time I did not have a lot of experience with this kind of guitar. They were plain, the headstock was not as refined as a Favino and they were very light. He must have made a lot of these guitars, I always wondered why you almost never see one for sale.

    It's just amazing how people keep finding stories like this!
    ChrisMartin
  • Wim GlennWim Glenn oƃɐɔᴉɥƆModerator 503
    Posts: 1,184
    Do the French really say the "chicken" that laid the golden egg (instead of the goose)? I never noticed that before.
  • ChrisMartinChrisMartin Shellharbour NSW Australia✭✭ Di Mauro x2, Petrarca, Hoyer, Epiphone x2, Burns x2, & Paul Beuscher resonator.
    Posts: 631
    Wim Glenn wrote: »
    Do the French really say the "chicken" that laid the golden egg (instead of the goose)? I never noticed that before.

    Yes ok, it does say 'poule' which is goose. However, if you read my notes again you will see I explained that I did edit some of the French prose as not all the metaphors make sense to everyone. Where I grew up in the English countryside the saying was for a chicken, but if anyone prefers goose, please feel free to mentally substitute that word at the appropriate sentence. So sorry, I sincerely hope it did not spoil the story too much for Wim. There has always got to be one hasn't there.................
  • Wim GlennWim Glenn oƃɐɔᴉɥƆModerator 503
    edited September 2017 Posts: 1,184
    No need to be touchy, I was just curious on this bit of trivia.

    Well now you're confusing me ever more saying that in English countryside you'd say chicken too (because goose is oie and it would be poule for chicken). I never heard that in my life ..
  • ChrisMartinChrisMartin Shellharbour NSW Australia✭✭ Di Mauro x2, Petrarca, Hoyer, Epiphone x2, Burns x2, & Paul Beuscher resonator.
    Posts: 631
    Wim Glenn wrote: »
    No need to be touchy, I was just curious on this bit of trivia.

    Well now you're confusing me ever more saying that in English countryside you'd say chicken too (because goose is oie and it would be poule for chicken). I never heard that in my life ..

    Ok, if you really want to take pedantry to new horizons, I have attached a scan from the Collins French Dictionary in which it defines poule as both a noun for hen, and in the phrase 'la poule aux ouefs d'or' as 'the goose that lays the golden egg. It could mean either, most people would accept either phrase, just because you have never heard it only means you need to listen more.

    Il n'est pas difficile de confondre l'un qui veut être confus.
  • ChrisMartinChrisMartin Shellharbour NSW Australia✭✭ Di Mauro x2, Petrarca, Hoyer, Epiphone x2, Burns x2, & Paul Beuscher resonator.
    Posts: 631
    scot wrote: »

    He must have made a lot of these guitars, I always wondered why you almost never see one for sale.

    It's just amazing how people keep finding stories like this!

    I do wonder if all of his guitars had a Fontaine label after opening the shop in 1980. I suspect despite the quantities mentioned, 250,000 in the Legrand story, or 150,000 on the Rome Instruments website, most were, and still are, not identified as Fontaine guitars. Compared to all of the other names we are familiar with there are very few advertised. Le Bon Coin only has one Fontaine guitar listed at the moment, compared to several from Castelluccia, Di Mauro or Favino. Guitare Village has a later Fontaine GJ guitar (and like DjangoBooks, has sold a few now and then), but these were apparently made in much smaller numbers and not part of the mass-produced entry level market but in the '80s and '90s he was still making the simpler classic and folk instruments too.

    As for finding stories; I can recommend the three issues of Vintage Vertigo published so far for anyone who reads French - I hope there will be further volumes. There is another story which has the most info I have yet read about Busato so far. There is a lot of info about the mysteries of the Gypsy Jazz luthiers, although not exclusively so. Try F. Charle for copies.

    I also would recommend a copy of 'Luthiers et Guitares d'en France' which, published in 1996 may be hard to find now and may be expensive if you do. It covers the history of luthiery in France and features many of the new generation, some electrics and modern designs as well as stories on Castelluccia, Dupont, Favino, Jacobacci, Maccaferri and Pappalardo.

  • Wim GlennWim Glenn oƃɐɔᴉɥƆModerator 503
    Posts: 1,184
    Chris, you seem to think I was attacking your translation, and getting defensive about it. That's not the case, I was just remarking on a curious difference in how this ancient Greek fable ended up getting credited to different birds in the English and the French languages.

    "la poule aux oeufs d'or" 104,000 hits (note spelling oeufs not ouefs)
    "l'oie aux oeufs d'or" 2710 hits
    "hen that laid the golden eggs" 5650 hits
    "goose that laid the golden eggs" 297,000 hits

    Goose wins in English by a big margin, and hen wins in French by similar margin. Silly little things like this interest me for some reason, but maybe that's only interesting to me and I shouldn't have bothered to mention it. Carry on.
  • scotscot Virtuoso
    Posts: 568
    Of the many things in this article that I did not know, one that really surprised me was how many guitars were sold in France in the 1960s. When I think of French popular music from those days, Gainesbourg, Brel, Barbara etc, I don't think of guitar-driven music like I do with Anglo-American pop music. French popular music is nothing like our popular music. Though in fact, guitarists we are familiar with here like Marcel Bianchi, Jean-Marie Pallen and even Matelot Ferret played on many recordings of popular music. There is a lot of interesting modern French popular music on Spotify and a guitar is nearly always present but it is rarely guitar-driven. It just goes to prove once again that the guitar is truly the most versatile of all instruments.

    I think that guitar makers like Fontaine, Gerome, and Patenotte who produced simple, good-sounding guitars of reasonable quality at a low price were once common in every country where they play guitars, and still exist in Spain and Mexico, probably in other Spanish-speaking countries, too.
  • BonesBones Moderator
    Posts: 3,057
    More poultry info please!!! :-)
    Wim GlennBucoMichaelHorowitzvanmalmsteenBill Da Costa WilliamsLango-Django
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