How do I set up an archtop for gyspsy jazz?

in FAQ Posts: 5

Hi there, at my age and where I live it is impossible to afford or find a gypsy jazz guitar and even if I could it'd be impossible to afford one, one day I stumbled across a kramus archtop in a pawn store and bought it immediately, its definely old and has been used as I can tell because by the looks of it the headstock been repaired, which takes heavier gauge strings out of the upgrade list, any ideas on how I can optimize my archtop for gypsy jazz?



  • stuologystuology New
    Posts: 196

    I would just go for a professional setup and maintenance job and get the guitar into the best possible shape. Gypsy Jazz can be played on any guitar, even Django played on archtops and flattops from time-to-time. I have put Argies on my '62 Hofner with mixed results, it's a cheap and easy thing to experiment with but otherwise I'd just focus on what the guitar needs and use playing technique as a route to getting a more authentic sound.

    Jim KaznoskyBillDaCostaWilliamsrudolfochristWillie
  • Lango-DjangoLango-Django Niagara-On-The-Lake, ONModerator
    Posts: 1,852

    This is a golden age for cheap Asian GJ guitars.

    Don’t know how serious you are about playing this style, but imho as a starter guitar, an archtop is going to be much less user-friendly than an inexpensive Asian knockoff...


    Paul Cezanne: "I could paint for a thousand years without stopping and I would still feel as though I knew nothing."

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  • BillDaCostaWilliamsBillDaCostaWilliams Barreiro, Portugal✭✭✭ Mateos, Altamira M01F, Huttl
    Posts: 628

    I’ve never come across a kramus archtop (I imagine there isn't much of a range of jazz guitars in S Africa) but I would second @stuology’s advice: Argie 10s helped one of my vintage guitars play and sound a whole lot better for GJ and they don’t exert a lot of tension on the neck.

  • pdgpdg ✭✭
    Posts: 449

    Did you mean Framus?

    Anyway, you could try bronze extra lights, or whatever strings start with 011s and sort of track the gauges of Argentine mediums. Then, if the guitar has an adjustable bridge, raise the action higher than slinky, so that you have to at least slightly dig in.

  • Russell LetsonRussell Letson Prodigy
    edited March 2021 Posts: 355

    Another vote for just getting the guitar into decent playing shape via a good setup. Don't expect lighter strings to change any archtop, cheap or expensive, into an imitation Selmer-style--all it will do is make the guitar sound thin and weak. (I have played dozens of inappropriately-strung archtops of all brands and vintages, and light strings make them sound like crap.)

    The secret to playing gypsy jazz is mostly in the hands of the player. The late Dudley Hill, a founding member of Pearl Django, played an L5 and sounded just fine.

    There's a limit to the range of sounds any given guitar can produce, and it can take a lot of effort to produce them, which is why a genre-traditional instrument (Selmer, orchestral archtop, dreadnought, Telecaster, whatever, depending on the style) helps. But finally it's up to the player. Though if you want to produce Djangoesque two-step bends and slinky vibratos, heavy strings are going to get in the way.

  • juandererjuanderer New ALD Original, Manouche Latcho Drom Djangology Koa, Caro y Topete AR 740 O
    Posts: 205

    You trade it for a Selmac

  • MikeKMikeK Asheville, NCNew Altamira M-10, Epiphone Zephyr Regent
    Posts: 379

    I think there are 2 schools of thought here, and my suggestion would be to go with the path that inspires you the most.

    Path 1 is to keep your archtop and let it be the tool that inspires you to be the best gypsy jazz guitarist that you can be. Unlike some players, I love Django's electric stuff and cant seem to get enough of it. Hearing his gritty reverb-soaked solos on classic recordings like his electric versions of Belleville, Night & Day and Nuages are very inspirational to me. Maybe get some cheap D'Addario Nickel Wound 11's (or spend the $ on some Thomastik Bebops), get a decent setup from a good luthier and dig in.

    Path 2 is to do it kind of in the order that Django did. Start with a manouche guitar (buy an inexpensive Asian used one, it's not hard to find a stellar one for under $1K if you educate yourself about them), get your la pompe & arpeggios up to snuff, and then add that archtop to the mix as a tasty alternative to your Manouche guitar. That path has worked wonders for me.

  • Posts: 5

    Thanks for all the help guys and yes, I meant to type framus, as much as I'd love to get a guitar made for manouche the sad truth is where a guitar costs about 1000$ in America it would cost 2000$ in South Africa, and I've only been able to ever find one manouche guitar in south Africa before and that was going for about 3000$ which is way to much for a 16yr old to afford. Otherwise I'll go to a Luthier and get it set up as good as it can thnx guys👍

  • Posts: 5

  • juandererjuanderer New ALD Original, Manouche Latcho Drom Djangology Koa, Caro y Topete AR 740 O
    Posts: 205

    I wouldn't worry too much about setting it up to sound like a guitar it's not. Rather, get it set up to where it's performing as good as possible and practice whatever music you want to play on it. The lighter gauge strings used in the style are probably not going to drive your archtop as they would a guitar with lighter construction like a Selmac, the scale is going to be off, too, so I'd just have it set up to my liking within the parameters it's intended to. The way I see it; if you aim to get the sound you're after with technique and touch, you'll get farther ahead than messing with the guitar.

    Over the holidays, I visited my parents and almost passed out cringing when I discovered that my dad had put phosphor bronze strings on a classical guitar... Obviously, you're not going anywhere near that extreme but I couldn't help but be reminded. 😣

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