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12 Step plan for making a Gitane D250M sing...

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 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.


  • nwilkinsnwilkins New
    Posts: 431
    Bob Holo wrote:

    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.

    The bridges on gypsy guitars are almost always ebonized Rosewood, not ebony.
  • Josh HeggJosh Hegg Tacoma, WAModerator
    Posts: 622
    Thanks for all the tips Bob. I think that you are on the right track here when it comes to the Saga. I too did most of what you said to my own 250M. The only difference was I ordered a Dupont bridge and set up with that.

    As far as bridges go I have started to make my own not only because I like doing it but also I wanted to fallow the original Selmer plans. The Dupont is really close but I just like doing it from a raw chunk of wood. It's also fun and interesting to build out of different types of wood to hear what they sound like.

    Thanks for the post!
  • CynekulCynekul New
    Posts: 38
    is 9/64" the same thing as 4mm? What is the standard action supposed to be at for these guitars? I'm getting ready to buy a new bridge for mine and I need to know what height to get.

    ~Paul V.
  • JackJack western Massachusetts✭✭✭✭
    Posts: 1,748
    Cynekul wrote:
    is 9/64" the same thing as 4mm? What is the standard action supposed to be at for these guitars? I'm getting ready to buy a new bridge for mine and I need to know what height to get.

    ~Paul V.

    Hi, Paul.

    In the end, I think your action will be up to you, but as a reference, **** at Dell'Arte suggested 3.5/32nds on the bass and 3/32nds on the treble for a friends Dark Eyes model. A millimeter is about equal to 1/32nd of an inch, so 9/64" is about 4.5mm. I think. Depending on how close the conversion is, I think that might be a bit too high, but again-follow your ears.

  • Bob HoloBob Holo Moderator
    Posts: 1,252
    The 9/64" - 8/64" setup is quite high. Many people who claim "high setups" use 8/64" - 7/64" or less. If I used 11's or some other heavier string - I'd probably go with 8/64 - 7/64. The reason I went so high was to model my guitar's setup after Michael's Favino. I really like the high setup, but it took me about two months to get used to it .

    Here is a great tool for converting units of almost anything.

    By the way, unless you're great with a caliper, the best way to make these measurements is to find something that you can put in between the fretwire and the string to measure the distance. I use loops of copper wire because they're fairly resistant size change from heat/water/etc... and because they're round, they only make one point of contact on the string and one point of contact on the fretwire.. It's tough to see when the wire is making contact, but you can tell by sound. When you have the wire measuring loop in there pressed against the fret - lightly run the pad of your finger over the string back near the bridge where you won't press the string down... just rub across it enough to generate a tone. If the tone is raspy, you know the wire is touching both the fret and the string... so raise the action further.. etc.. You can get wire to make measuring loops in a lot of different sizes at Home Depot or whatever, and if it's a little big, you can carefully, evenly hand sand it with fine sandpaper - like wet-dry 1000 grit to get it exact. A caliper is necessary to measure the wire accurately and then you use the wire to measure the setup distance. Some people who have access to old flatwound bass guitar strings make measuring loops out of those which don't bend out of shape and tarnish like copper.

    A quick way to do the math on how high your bridge needs to be to get a certain height is to measure your existing bridge height and your existing setup height at the 12th fret now. Because the 12th fret is halfway between the nut and the bridge - you need to raise the bridge height by 2 units to get the action to raise 1 unit at the 12th fret. So - take the amount you want to raise your action from where it is today... double that and add it to your existing bridge height. Go just a tiny bit higher than that so you will have room to sand the bridge down a little to make it fit the top.

    You'll have to sand the bridge to make the crown of teh bridge's foot fit anyway - Josh outlined how in another post. His technique is a little differnt than mine. I take the strings and the moveable part of the bridge off - then get white LOW_TACK masking tape (at art supply stores) and put it on the guitar for several inches on either side of the bridge opening so the finish is covered and protected... then I tape my sandpaper to that low-tack tape or put adhesive sandpaper on that tape. the point is to make the sandpaper fit the arc of the top accurately and securely without wrinkles. The low tack paint doesn't pull up the finish when you take it off after you finish, but it anchors the sandpaper securely enough to do its job. Then carefully, solidly, with both hands, and being careful not to put uneven pressure or rock back and forth, I put the bridge in place on the sandpaper - right there where it will eventually sit... only it is on top of the sandpaper... and rasp the bridge slowly back and forth till the base is sanded to fit the top exactly. This may take a long time, and if you stop often to brush off the sandpaper, it will last longer and cut the wood better. Lastly, I very gently ease the corners and inside edge of the bridge so they aren't sharp and don't dig into the top if the bridge rocks or sags over time.
    You get one chance to enjoy this day, but if you're doing it right, that's enough.
  • Craig BumgarnerCraig Bumgarner Drayden, MarylandVirtuoso Bumgarner S/N 001
    Posts: 795

    I respect your advise to have someone make a bridge for you but being an unrepentant "do it yourselfer", I'm afraid I'll have to give it a try. I have some rosewood and woodworking experience, so.......

    I asked Josh Hegg over in Gypsy 101 but thought I might address the same question to you.

    How did you machine or carve the curved faces of the bridge below the ridge? This seems like a three dimensional area that does not lend itself to machining yet must be very hard to keep fair using hand carving tools. Any irregularities will really show badly.

    Your post on fitting the bases to the top was very helpful, thanks!

  • Josh HeggJosh Hegg Tacoma, WAModerator
    Posts: 622

    I have made many bridges from raw wood and I'm not sure what you mean by "How did you machine or carve the curved faces of the bridge below the ridge?"

    Can you be a bit more specific so I might lend some advice? The would suggest you get the Selmer plans from or from StuMac. The plans are at 100% size and really great. They show templates for 3 sides so you can get it right on.

    There have been enough questions on this that I might think about offering a one day workshop on bridge building. I wonder if that would be of use to any one? Your thoughts...

  • Bob HoloBob Holo Moderator
    Posts: 1,252
    The method I used for getting that curve was so simple and worked so well that it was just one of those woodworking epiphanies.

    I keep PVC pipe in a rack on the ceiling because another hobby I have is loudspeaker design and I use it for the ports... well, I was swinging something around trying to clear space to make the bridge because I was getting frustrated at trying to use my thumb to machine that curve and trying to find excuses for my failure, like... Um... Not enough d*** room in this shop... etc... you know what I mean - the "swearing" phase of the woodworking project....

    While doing this, I bumped the pipe rack and a piece of 1.25" PVC pipe slid out and battering-rammed me on the back of the head. When I stopped swearing and picked this thing up to (roughly) put it back in the rack, I noticed that the outer diameter of a 1.25" PVC pipe is about 1.6+" which is pretty much the arc you need to make in the bridge... hmmm... so I cut a decent sized... maybe 4" long... chunk of it off, wrapped a piece of 150grit around it, hunkered down and tried to get my body mechanics as rigid as possible so I could apply a lot of pressure without wobbling... If you've seen how Japanese woodworkers use thier hand tools, you know what I mean - you either lean aganist something or sit in a chair - suck you arms up to your chest and try to take your wrists and elbows out of the equation so you can really lean into it and to precise repeatable strokes.. (or build a jig to help hold things still etc...) I found that I could easily get that arc by hand with accuracy using a somewhat contorted body position that I'm not really sure I remember or could duplicate if I did remember... It worked like an absolute charm. Then I used successively finer grades of sandpaper to polish it up - and had a nice bridge. In retrospect, if I'd started with the "pipe" solution up front - it may have turned out to be pretty easy to make the bridge. Oh, and a 2" PVC pipe makes a great sanding block to put the curvature on the short side of the bridge...

    Also - on this project I discovered another cool little thing... the ends of guitars strings that you cut off when you string up the guitar make great "saws" for notching bridges. There is often a 4" long chunk toward the end of a wound string where the windings are loose and make great little teeth. So, you notch your bridge gently with a razor blade "v" shape... then very gently "floss" the right shaped notches into the bridge... not too deep or you'll dull the tone. The string notch should only be 1/3 to 1/2 the depth of the string's diameter and it should be exactly the size of the string. If you start out by only making the notch 1/3 the depth of the string - the string will press itself into the bridge over time and you'll wind up with a 1/2 depth notch in a month or so ... which is where you want to be.
    You get one chance to enjoy this day, but if you're doing it right, that's enough.
  • Craig BumgarnerCraig Bumgarner Drayden, MarylandVirtuoso Bumgarner S/N 001
    Posts: 795

    I thought that might not have been clear. At the risk of belaboring this, the faces I'm talking about are the long vertical faces on the forward and aft sides of the bridge below the ridge where the strings rest. These faces transition from concave to convex across the faces. Combined with the ridge not being parrallel to the base of the bridge this makes for a pretty complicated shape in hard wood. I was wondering how you make these cuts. I picture rough cutting as much wood away as possible, then using chisels and gouges to get close, then sandpaper on blocks to sand the faces fair. Just wondered if you had any other tricks for this.

    The cavity under the bridge actually seems fairly straight forward with a small gouge.

    I have the Francois Charle plans for the oval hole Selmer with the bridge details (great set of plans BTW). I'm slowly working on the whole guitar. I have the neck made, the body molds made and parts cut for the body. I owe my wife a cabinet for the living room, so the project is on hold. I do need a bridge for my Gitane as I currently have three .40" shims under each base. BTW, do you know what "env." means as a prefix to dimensions in the plans?

    I'd love to come to your bridge making workshop, but for the price of an airline ticket from the east coast, I could buy 10 bridges :P Seriously, the workship sounds like a good idea, I'd come if I was close by.

  • Craig BumgarnerCraig Bumgarner Drayden, MarylandVirtuoso Bumgarner S/N 001
    Posts: 795
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