Well here is a post on the probably less desirable (smaller) non cutaway vintage gypsy guitars. They have been made by the same luthiers and in the same way as the vintage Selmac type guitars: lightweight, ladder braced, floating bridge, laminated (often braceless and arched) back and sides and should also be strung exclusively with light gauge (gypsy guitar) strings. Maybe they deserve a little more recognition and if you own or have played some of these guitars then with your help this post could help people looking for a vintage gypsy guitar to know a little bit more about these models. There are quite a lot of these guitars out there, and only vintage ones (please correct me if i am wrong). The contemporary luthiers only build the big cutaway Selmac gypsy guitars if i am right. A lot of these vintage smaller sized gypsy guitars will probably end up being collected by our garbage men and women.
Maybe the best way to introduce them is watching and listening a famous gypsy jazz guitarist play on them, so here is Favino Lorier & l’ensemble Swing du Rhin in 2 videos. In the first video Favino Lorier plays on what I think is a Patenotte (judging from the headstock shape and the looks of the floating bridge that is seen very often on these Patenotte’s). The other guitarist Judicael Lienhard plays on a Castelluccia. In the second video Favino Lorier plays on what looks like a “model Brassens” made by Gérôme.
I will start with a few thoughts and history of my own. For starters I am not so much of a gypsy jazz guitar player, so maybe i am not the best judge when it comes to judging these guitars for gypsy jazz, i have been playing other styles of music and for the last 10 years mostly acoustic blues. I started playing guitar when I was 15 years old on a nylon stringed Spanish Juan Salvador guitar, I loved the attack on this practise guitar (difficult to give a good description since it is always very personal when it comes to describing a sound). I have also played on some dreadnought guitars but soundwise they never pleased me. There are of course very good sounding dreadnoughts, but it has never been what I was looking for.
Then one day I held a 40s or 50s Catanian Salvatore d’Angelo e Figli guitar in my hands and got fascinated by its sound, it was a steel stringed (more of a parlor sized) guitar with cutaway and a floating bridge. Very dry sound, and very present bass tones. This started my search for these types of guitars and soon found the franco-italian connection with the french guitars. Since I live in France I started looking for the french guitars from this era. The first one I got was a Louis Patenotte, then an Antoine Di Mauro and then many more. Since they are all basically gypsy guitars I also started to learn playing gypsy jazz rhythm on these guitars and have now also been looking for the big cutaway / Selmac style guitars. From what I have learned from these guitars is that most of them are in bad condition when you find them. Often sunken tops and a fretboard that try to make their way into the body. Some of them have (had) an arched top. The necks are usually quite ok. The “lutherie” is in most cases a bit lousy, you can see in the inside of the guitars they didn’t put too much attention or effort in it. That is also the case with many of the vintage Selmac style guitars. There are however some that are really nicely build, for example the inside of a Joseph Di Mauro guitar cannot be compared with his brother Antoine’s work. To make money they had to work fast and produce a lot. Who blames them? I for one don’t. They are among the original gypsy guitars and have great sound and character and they can be repaired to be played for another 80 years or more.
Maybe they are not as loud as some of the big cutaways, but you can be surprised how much volume some of these have. I have two unlabeled ones where the highs are so sharp and loud I sometimes wonder if they could give me a hearing problem later on. Some really have “the sound”, others less. I have to note that there are also some bigger non cutaway gypsy guitars which have as much volume as the cutaways. I know Joseph Di Mauro made some (I own one which has 39cm at the lower bout and Willie has one probably been build by Joseph Di Mauro as well with 40cm at the lower bout). Henri Miller made some big ones and there is one very nice looking big 1930s Busato non cutaway for sale at gypsyguitars.com .
Let’s stick to the french / franco-italian ones for now, since there are also a lot of these guitars that have been made in Italy, mostly in Catania.
I have also included in this post the “model Brassens” (named after Georges Brassens” I don’t know how many of you know about this guitar, maybe it deserves a post of its own, it is a hybrid guitar with a classical bridge but can also be strung with argentine strings since it also has a tailpiece for argentine strings. I read on the internet that Django Reinhardt also played on a model Brassens made by Gérôme, mostly to compose and used it as a practice guitar. I cannot verify if this is true, I know there are a lot of speculations and people trying to boost prices with hearsay. This guitar has been sold at an auction house (Drouot Coutau-Bégarie & Associés) for 2447 euros. You can look it up.
Known models by the french / franco-italian luthiers (list might be incomplete as this point):
Antoine Di Mauro (modèle 5 Poema/ often referred as Parlor) (including the “model Brassens” guitar)
Joseph Di Mauro (the elder)
Busato (modèle 40, genre espagnole) (including the “model Brassens” guitar)
Pierre (and Horace?) Bucolo
Carbonell (including the “model Brassens” guitar)
Favino (“model Brassens “guitar)
Gérôme (including the “model Brassens” guitar)
A lot of these models can be found without label or marque au fer, probably the most of them being made by Pierre Fontaine
Resellers / brands:
Gaillard et Loiselet