Reinhardt and other guitarists of the Quintet of the Hot Club of France used Selmer-Maccaferri acoustic guitars
produced guitars between 1932 and 1952. Although they produced a wide variety of
instruments, they are particularly known for the 'Modèle Jazz' ( changed to 'Modèle
Django Reinhardt' later), made famous by Django Reinhardt.
popularized by the great gypsy jazz guitarist, Django Reinhardt, who
began playing them as soon as they appeared on the market and played
them throughout his career. Today, they are thoroughly associated with
his playing and with gypsy jazz. Few of the Selmer Maccaferri guitars
were ever made, thus they are extremely rare and much sought after. Yet
because they are so significant to the development of 20th century
lutherie, they merit appreciation in a work as comprehensive as possible
in terms of information and illustration
Henri Selmer and Company - the book now out of print - outlining the life and times of the illustrious guitarist, luthier, and inventor Mario Maccaferri, without whom there would probably have been no Selmer guitar or story at all. Key design changes made to the guitar by Selmer craftsmen after Mario Maccaferri left the company in 1933. Outlines exactly what differentiates a Selmer guitar from a Selmer "Maccaferri" model and helps us understand what has heretofore been an obscure body of esoteric guitar knowledge.
the 1930's there were many Italian Luthier's settling in France. One who
was to become the most enduring was Mario Maccaferri who was born in
1900. An accomplished guitarist himself, he also had an interest in the
making of many stringed instruments which he had learned as a young man
as an apprentice to the famous Italian luthier Luigi Mozzani which he
took up in 1911. During this period he took an interest in playing the
classical guitar and at the age of sixteen had gained a high reputation
of being a concert guitarist.
After a falling out between Mario Maccaferri and the Selmer Company, the petite bouche (or Oval Hole) was developed. These guitars feature a very long scale, 670 mm, and feature a 14th fret neck joint. These were used by Django later on, and are considered by most the "lead guitar" for Gypsy Jazz.
Mario Maccaferri 1900-1993
Ray Gallo son of Louis Gallo
Louis was a great teacher and expert on all things Django. He was also a great friend of Mario Maccaferri and did much to promote the 1970s CSL Maccaferri remakes. These were the brainchild of Maurice Sommerfield, produced by Ibanez and approved by Maccaferri himself. The early models are much sought after instruments. Ray has some photographs of his father with Mario Maccaferri which may soon be available. These have not been published before! In addition Louis was a big friend of the Luthier, Marco Roccia who worked for Clifford Essex music shop in London. He it was who made Selmers from remaining parts available when the Selmer guitar factory closed. Louis Gallo and Mario went to France to buy remaining parts stock amongst other luthiers who sought after the residues.
Internal Resonator The original Maccaferri Grande Bouche models featured a wooden resonator behind the soundhole.
The guitars designed by Mario Maccaferri and the Selmer Company are some of the most unique instruments made in the last century. They are an ingenious combination of flat top and arch top guitars with some of the qualities of both. They were originally built early in the jazz age when guitars of greater volume and projection were necessary in order to be heard over the wind instruments typical to jazz ensembles. Guitar manufacturers in this country like Gibson and Epiphone were developing the arch top design that produced a mid-range dominant tone that had the volume and cutting power necessary for live playing situations, but these were rare and very expensive in Europe. Mario Maccaferri’s design produced a guitar with many of the same qualities of tone at a fraction of the cost. While these are magnificent instruments in their own right, I contend that we have learned a few things since 1930 that can be incorporated in Mario’s design to make it better serve the player in the 21st century.
Mario Maccaferri was a classical guitar performer and luthier who studied with builder-musician Luigi Mozzani in Cento, Italy. (Francois Charle, The Story of Selmer-Maccaferri Guitars). The instruments he built with the Selmer Co. were influenced by this tradition, but Mario was always an independent and creative thinker. He designed several models for Selmer, but the two that have become most popular) thanks to celebrity endorser Django Reinhardt) are the Orchestre Model – known as the Model Jazz or Grande Bouche- and the Selmer Model known as the Petite Bouche. Mario’s major innovation on these guitars was the use of a highly domed top that allowed the bridge to be of sufficient height so that a tailpiece could effectively be used.
The primary movement of a floating bridge under string tension is vertical, with very little torque or rock, which is why the tone is mid-range dominant. The wide, glued on bridge of a flat-top guitar is driving the soundboard in a more complex way that favours fuller overtone development. The amount of down-pressure on the bridge greatly affects both tone and volume. Greater load favours the fundamental pitch and more volume, while lesser load makes for a richer tone with more harmonic overtones but somewhat less volume. I build my tailpieces with height adjustment screws that allow the player to balance the instruments fundamental/overtone mix by changing the break angle over the bridge. Bridges on these guitars are hollowed out to reduce mass and increase volume. Players today prefer much lower action than in the past, so it is sensible to make the bridge with an in-set saddle for easy adjustment to various string attack.
The dome shape of the top is crucial to the tone and functionality of this kind of instrument. This dome is accomplished in Maccaferri’s design by gluing arched braces to the top that run perpendicular to the grain of the spruce with two short vertical braces under the bridge. This creates a cylindrical section, with the entire arch in one plane. Forcing the top down at the neck and tail blocks attains the dome, which creates a lot of uneven stress on the top. The back is built in a similar way – like most modern flat tops. The tone of these guitars is predictably dry and lacking in overtones. In my experience, ladder bracing favours the fundamental pitch of any note at the sacrifice of the rest of the overtone range. I believe this is because the top is divided by the braces into only a few essentially rectangular vibrating plates. Ladder bracing is used in lute construction, but gluing the braces slightly off parallel ameliorates this problem.
A better solution is to X brace both the top and the back. This creates the compound-complex dome in one setting, with minimal stress on the glue joints of the neck and tail blocks. This allows more of the plate to be free to move as a unit – the trampoline effect. Additionally, breaking the soundboard into more odd sized areas encourages fuller overtone development. It is necessary to support the bridge with additional X bracing under the tails to prevent collapse (discovered the hard way). I like to brace the upper bout solidly to support the fingerboard end for clearer high note playing. It helps to think of the bracing as creating a top with graduated thickness like a violin or arch top guitar.
X bracing the back has the effect of re-enforcing bass response considerably, both in this style guitar and in regular flat tops. When all the tension of the arch is held by the braces, the back is able to pump air more freely and efficiently. Add a cross brace between the X in the lower bout for extra support. The tap tones are very lively with a back braced like this. The backs of Selmer-Maccaferri guitars were laminated, but using solid woods is clearly an improvement.
Use a sanding dish that allows for a 5/16" arch to sand the interlocked XXX top braces as a unit. They can then be easily go-barred to the prepared soundboard in the same dish using paper as a pad. Using more arch risks splintering the plate from too great a stress (the hard way again). The rib assembly can be shaped for a perfect fit in the sanding dish too. Rough plane the sides before the linings are attached using the sanding dish as a pattern. A 4½ degree angle on the blocks is about right to accommodate the dome. Don’t forget to make a side pattern for the next time once you’ve got it right. With the ribs in the mould, rotate on the sandpaper until sanding marks appear on all the linings and end blocks.
Grande Bouche (Big Mouth) model has much more mid-range tone than a good
flat top guitar, but it is considerably more rich than a good arch top
guitar. The original had a 12 fret neck, and was preferred for rhythm
playing. Most modern makers have given it a 14 fret neck for practical
reasons. The "Model Manouche" has a broader tonal spectrum than ladder
braced instruments, and is more versatile in its uses. The Petite Bouche
(Small Mouth) model has a long 26.25" scale and is preferred for solo
playing. The tone is more treble, being closer to an arch top guitar. I
have been putting a sound port on the upper bass bout that has opened up
the tone of this guitar considerably. Not only can the player hear the
instrument better, it has allowed the box to breath, and increased
volume and responsiveness. That little hole is cute, but it’s just not
big enough to let the sound out. Sound ports are as close as we get in
this world to something for nothing! The "Model Eclipse" is very open
toned and is capable of a wide variety of tone colours.
Selmer Maccaferri Reproductions
Godefroy Maruejouls Guitars
Royal Jazz Guitars
R J Aylward Guitars
John Le Voi Guitars
38 Hillary Road
David J Hodson Guitars
It is with great sadness that we learned that UK Luthier David Hodson has passed away. Our deepest condolences and thoughts are with his family.
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